Monday, 22 April 2013

World War One Soldier's Story - Alonzo Swallow

From the first moment I found Alonzo Wilson Swallow marrying Florence Larkin, the OH's first cousin 4x removed I've been fascinated by his name.  Middle names aren't that common amongst the working classes of Barnsley in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and you must admit Alonzo initially strikes you as a fairly unusual name for a chap from South Yorkshire! 
Marriage Certificate for Alonzo Swallow and Florence Larkin 13 Apr 1914 (from Ancestry)
Alonzo was living at 50 Station Road, Barnsley and Florence at 22 Baker Street, Barnsley when they married on 13 April 1914.  His father, George Swallow was a drayman or teamster or miller's carter depending on which census you read, and Alonzo himself gives his occupation as Corn Miller on his marriage certificate.  There was a large Corn Mill on nearby Summer Lane, run by the Barnsley Co-operative Society, Alonzo and his father may have both worked there.
Barnsley Corn Mill on Summer Lane (from YOCOCO)
Further research showed that George Swallow had a younger brother Moses Alonzo Wilson Swallow, who died aged only 6 months old in 1869.  Moses Swallow was our Alonzo's grandfather, and his wife was Sarah Ann Wilson, who incidentally had an illegitimate child in 1859 who was baptised Alonzo Wilson but who died within a few months.  It looks like Sarah reused the names of her lost baby together with her husband's name for their second son, who also unfortunately died young.  She didn't give up though as her next son is called Wilson Swallow (b.1877), then there's a Moses Swallow (born and died 1879).  The Swallows youngest son was called Archduke Swallow (b.1881) - I wish I knew what was the inspiration for that name!

A quick search of FreeBMD for anyone called Alonzo up to 1869 reveals that the name was in use from the beginning of civil registration in 1837 but started to become more popular in the mid 1850s, with 30 or so babies a year being the name by the mid 1860s mostly in the growing industrial areas of the Midlands and West Yorkshire.  So it wasn't as uncommon as I'd first thought.

Back to the war - Alonzo and Florence are living at 69 Farrar Street, Barnsley when he enlists in the 2/5th battalion of the York and Lancaster Regiment on 14 December 1914.  Florence's brothers Walter and Thomas had joined up in September and were both in the 13th York and Lancaster, the 1st Barnsley Pals and his uncle, Wilson Swallow is in the Army Service Corps.  Alonzo is, at this point, 25 years old and he and Florence have no children yet.  He, along with all the other men in Barnsley who joined up in the rush to volunteer in 1914 and 1915 must have thought they were off on a great adventure - and remember, everyone thought the war "would be over by Christmas", he wouldn't have wanted to miss out.

Alonzo and Florence do have one child, a son, George, born in the final quarter of 1916, so he must have managed to visit home a few times from the various training camps around the country.  In July 1916 Alonzo is punished for overstaying his leave by 52 hours - he is Confined to Barracks for seven days and has to forfeit four days pay.  Florence must have been visibly pregnant by then, it would be nice to think he wanted to stay with her a little while longer and that's why he got into trouble.  I hope he managed to see his son before he was sent overseas.
Detail from Alonzo Swallow's Service Records (from Ancestry)
The 2/4th and the 2/5th battalions did not go to France until January 1917 (information from the Long Long Trail website) meanwhile Alonzo had been transferred to the West Riding Divisional Cyclist Company in the previous November.
Detail from Alonzo Swallow's Casualty Form (from Ancestry)
After his arrival in France on 15 January 1917 he is transferred again, this time to the 18th Corps Cyclist Battalion but he is still attached to the Yorks & Lancs.  Cyclists were used as messengers and to patrol vulnerable areas such as the banks of canals. 

The next note is that he was Killed in Action in the Field on 22 October 1917.  This date ties in with the 1st Battle of Passchendaele which took place from 12 October 1917 - the 2nd Battle of Passchendaele began on the 26 October 1917.
Barnsley Chronicle 3 Nov 1917 (from Barnsley Archives)
An item appears in the casualty lists in the Barnsley Chronicle in November 1917.  The paper gets the Swallow's address a little bit wrong, putting 9 Farrar Street instead of 69, but we do get confirmation that he had worked at the Co-operative Flour Mill on Summer Lane, Barnsley.

His captain has written to Florence,
“Dear Mrs Swallow, Please accept my sincere and heartfelt sympathy for you in your sorrow. Your husband had served since 1914 and I have always found him cheerful and willing under all conditions.  Believe me I cannot find words to express my feelings, and I know how much you will feel the loss of such a noble husband.”

Captain Harold Gummer was a local man, from Rotherham, and had probably known Alonzo from the very start of his service.  I found his medal card on Ancestry and it says he was in the 5th Yorks & Lancs and attached to the Army Cyclists Corps.  As far as I can see he survives the war.

In the same edition of the Barnsley Chronicle an entry appears for Alonzo in the Deaths column - a poem is dedicated by his parents and "his brother[s] Walter and George somewhere in France".  Walter may be Florence's brother Walter Larkin, but George must be Alonzo's own brother George James Swallow (b.1892).  I can't pick his medal card record out of the several dozen George Swallows who served, and his service records must be amongst the 60% lost in the blitz in the Second World War.  However he survived the war and married in Barnsley in 1919.

Alonzo Swallow is remembered on the memorial wall at Tyne Cot, a large cemetery in Belgium, seven miles north east of Ypres.  We visited the cemetery in 2009 and were able to find Alonzo's name on panel 154 as indicated on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.
Swallow A W - entry on the Memorial Wall at Tyne Cot
Nearly 35,000 officers and men who have no known grave are remembered on the Tyne Cot Memorial. 

In 1918 Florence was sent her husband's few personal effects. 
The return of Alonzo's property in March 1918 (from Ancestry)
As he has no known grave I can only imagine that he either left the items, letters, photos, cards, his wallet and watch with a friend when he went out on patrol - or maybe he was buried by his comrades, but his grave was subsequently lost as the ground was fought over again and again.  He was 27 when he died - he'd been married for less than three years and had barely seen his wife and child for most of that time.  It's nice to think he had photos of them and family letters to read and re-read while he was away from home.

Look at Florence's address on the top of the form above - it's 22 Baker Street, the address from which she got married.  I think she must have had to go back to live with her parents as she would only have had a small pension to live on.  She may have left little George with her own mother while she went out to work. 

Oddly enough, I know who is living in the Swallow's old house in 1919.  When George James Swallow, Alonzo's brother, marries Eliza Ellis at St George's church in Barnsley in March 1919 she gives her address as 69 Farrar Street.  What a co-incidence! 

Florence married again in 1926 to a William Hannam in Worsborough.  They had one child, a daughter, Alice born in 1929.  Florence died in Barnsley in 1980 aged 88 years old.   


jackojillo said...

Young Linda it was only by chance several weeks ago that i found this site and found the items you speak of so well put together.I'm not the only one who likes social history in barnsley but your items are a pleasure to read.The foot notes that conclude some of your item (war widows re-marrying some not)place of marital home,occupations of people.Your sincerely Robert Hardy 133 blenhiem road barnsley S706AX

BarnsleyHistorian said...

Hi Robert,
Thank you for reading my blog and for your kind comments. It's nice to know that Barnsley people are reading about Barnsley history.