Tuesday 20 July 2021

Public Engagement - Reactions to First World War Local History Posts on Facebook

Today I was very happy when a couple of posts I made on Facebook produced information useful for my research. 

As part of the research for my PhD I have been searching through the local newspapers on Find My Past for mentions of war memorials, rolls of honour and other types of physical commemoration. The search term 'memorial' is proving very productive as it brings back 'memory' and 'memories' as well. Following up a lead from an 'In Memoriam' notice in 1929 I found this report in the Mexborough and Swinton Times (MST) from June 1958. 

MST, 7 June 1958, p. 16.

This article is a report of the donation of a number of small pieces of furniture to All Saints Church at Darfield, near Barnsley. The report notes that they were 'gifts from various parishioners in memory of parents and relatives'. The last item listed was a small oak table presented by 'Mrs. Greenhow in memory of her husband Mr. Albert Greenhow, who was killed in the war'.

I was already familiar with this little table, you can find a post about it here. My husband had spotted and photographed the table in 2014 when I was giving a local history talk at the Darfield Parish Hall in aid of the work of the Friends of Darfield Churchyard. When I found the cutting I was surprised at the length of time (nearly 40 years) that had elapsed before his wife had marked his death with this donation.

Being a tangible item in commemoration of a conflict the table was a war memorial and thus was listed and recorded by the Barnsley War Memorials Project. Albert Greenhow is also commemorated the website (now the Barnsley & District War Memorials website) on the Wombwell war memorial outside St Mary's Church, on a family gravestone in Darfield Churchyard and (oddly) on a Second World War Memorial in Wombwell Working Men's Club (this is a mistake, as he died in 1918, it may be his nephew, Arthur Greenhow, ... I must investigate that). 

As a result of finding this cutting I decided to investigate Albert Greenhow in more depth. I looked up census returns on Ancestry and found his marriage register entry on Find My Past. I searched for any children born to Albert and his wife Elinor (nee Williams) on the General Record Office Online Indexes to Births and Deaths. I looked up his Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) record and his Pension Cards via the Western Front Association website plus any other military records for him that could be found on Ancestry. Sadly his Army Service Record had not survived. Finally I searched for any more newspaper cuttings mentioning his name.

Albert was born in Darfield in 1889. His father was a coal miner and Albert worked down the pit himself in 1911. He married in St Matthew's Church in Darfield in June 1911. St Matthew's was a daughter and mission church attached to Darfield All Saints. By 1913 Albert was working as a motor bus driver and he enlisted in approximately July 1916 (calculated from the gratuity paid to his wife at the end of the war). He served as a lorry driver in the Army Service Corps, and was attached to the Canadian Corps Siege Park (a kind of motor pool for moving artillery from place to place). He was killed on either 2nd or 3rd October 1918 in action in France. Elinor did not remarry, and she died in 1965.

I posted my initial findings and the cutting about the donation of the table on the Barnsley's History - The Great War Facebook page. Within a few hours a member had replied that the Greenhows were family friends and he had photographed Albert's CWGC gravestone for them in 2019. He even attached the photograph to his reply. Another member commented that like her own grandmother, Elinor had been widowed at a very young age. 

I wrote up my full post that afternoon, including some newspaper cuttings and the photo of Albert's gravestone and commemorative table. I had decided to make a feature of the long duration of Elinor's dedication to Albert's memory. She appears to have inserted an 'In Memoriam' post for him every year from 1919 to at least 1935 (subject to confirmation as not every year of the MST or its sister newspapers (which often contain the same articles and notices) the Penistone, Stocksbridge and Hoyland Express and the Eckington, Woodhouse and Staveley Express are available online yet). I included two notices which gave her address and one which I had found particularly moving - the final line before the sign-off was, 'God's Greatest Gift - Remembrance'.

Eckington, Woodhouse and Staveley Express, 6 October 1928, p. 16.

The following morning, I reviewed and spell checked the post and then published it online on my Barnsley's History - Commemoration & Remembrance blog and added a link to the Facebook page.  Comments this time included a lady who commented that she had found Elinor's story of love and her life after Albert's death fascinating, especially as she was aware that so many war widows had quickly remarried to avoid poverty.  The man who had posted the CWGC photo the previous day had been inspired to visit Darfield Churchyard that afternoon (I hope he waited until it had cooled down a bit - we are currently having a major heat wave) and tidy up the grave plot where Albert is remembered. He attached two more photos, one of the whole plot and one a close up of Albert's inscription. I thanked him and asked for permission to use them on the B&DWM site, which he gave very quickly.

The Williams Family plot in Darfield Churchyard
Photo by MH, taken 19 July 2021.

As you can see above, Albert is not remembered on a Greenhow plot, but on a Williams plot. Mary Harriet and William Williams were Elinor's parents. The family must have thought a great deal of Albert to have included him in their commemorations.

My correspondent also noted that the Darfield Remembers: The First World War book contains a transcription of a letter sent to Elinor from Albert's section officer. I had to explain that although I have the book, because I was visiting my daughter and new granddaughter for a fortnight, the book was about 100 miles away! A short while afterwards the same man added a newspaper photograph of Albert taken from a local history website. It turned out that this page also included extracts from the letter to Elinor and gave a newspaper reference - MST,  26 October 1918. As this newspaper is on Find My Past (FMP) I could not understand why it hadn't come up on my searches the previous day. So I had a look at the British Newspaper Archive, which is the same company as FMP, has the same newspaper issues  but uses a slightly different search format.

Index entry for the article about Albert Greenhow on the BNA

The above transcription snip shows that Albert's surname had been mis-transcribed as Oreenhow! No wonder I hadn't found it. Helpfully the BNA search engine also gives you the page reference so I could go straight to the right page on FMP. The article was quite long, included a photo and a very full transcription of the letter I had been told about. At the end of the piece about Albert was a short paragraph about Pte. Edward Williams, of Stoneyford Road, Low Valley. This was Elinor's brother!

MST, 26 October 1918, p. 6.

My previous research had shown that after the war Elinor, Edward and his wife were all living at 65 Stoneyford Road. I wonder if Elinor had moved in to help support her sister-in-law? Although this is straying away from my original research it would be interesting to know if Edward had children, or if his internal complaint continued to bother him after the war, necessitating assistance from his sister.

What I have learnt:

Share research with other people with an interest in the subject - they may be able to help you with your research or point you in the direction of other useful sources.

Try alternative search engines when looking for online resources.

Writing about something that is at quite a tangent to my main PhD aims is not a waste of time if it helps highlight a particular aspect, such as a very long period of remembrance for a man killed in the war. 

Always check the original, neither the Darfield History Society or the Dearne Valley History people had spotted that at the foot of Albert's obituary was a piece about his brother in law, and they had only published edited extracts of the letter from the officer reported in the newspaper article.

Not all war widows remarried.

Families provided support both emotional (there were a lot of 'In Memoriam' notices for Albert posted by both his and her family in 1919) and physical - Elinor living with her brother for reasons yet to be determined - after the war.

Check other people's posts on the older websites for errors due to lack of knowledge at the time - the plot in Darfield Churchyard where Albert was remembered was not that of Albert's parents, but his parents-in-law. And the Albert Greenhow on the Second World War memorial in Darfield Village Club has been incorrectly linked to the First World War Albert - it is probably his nephew.

What I might do with this knowledge:

Would research into 'In Memoriam' notices be a unique and significant contribution to knowledge about Remembrance processes?

Were any of the other items donated at the same time as Albert Greenhow's table also war memorials?