Archive for June 2012

Spotlight on Uncle Tom & Auntie Nellie

Category: Sharing Memories

I've created a new blog category called 'Sharing Memories', to which this post belongs.

I remember Uncle Tom (Thomas Smale) very well - he lived to be 95 years old and died in 1991. He came to my house when our son was a baby and we had a photograph taken of 5 generations but I seem to have mislaid the picture for the moment. The generations included, our son, me, my mum, my gran [Phyllis Grace Geake (nee Weaver)] and Uncle Tom, who was my gran's uncle. I can remember visiting him once at his home in Sunshine Terrace in Tavistock, however, there were numerous times when I met him at my grandparents' house. I can't remember if I ever met Auntie Nellie (Nellie, nee Ball) - I might have done.

I've managed to find a colour picture of Tom & Nellie in one of my gran's photo albums. It looks as though it was taken on the same day as an old newspaper cutting that I have announcing their golden wedding anniversary.

Tom & Nellie Smale
Tom & Nellie Smale

The cutting mentions that the couple met at the Lydford Pony Show. Does anyone have any further information about this event? Their wedding day in 1924 at Gulworthy Parish Church, was apparently a wash-out with torrential rain!

Some time after Auntie Nellie died, Uncle Tom gave me a little ivorine Book of Common Prayer which had belonged to her. I vaguely recall he left a vase to my gran in his will and I believe my brother has a Crown Derby tea set that was once Tom and Nellie's.

Uncle Tom was a signalman on the railways and he still used to ride his bicycle when he was well into his 90's.

My gran told me that Uncle Tom and Auntie Nellie had wanted to adopt her after her own grandmother, who was looking after her, died. Gran was 9 years old and an orphan. At that stage, Uncle Tom and Auntie Nellie had only been married a very short time so how true this story is, I'm not sure. The couple never had any children of their own so it might have been something they may have expressed retrospectively. In the event, my gran went to live with another aunt and uncle because reportedly, they were in greater need of the extra cash that was available for orphans from the First World War. This is not to suggest that they weren't good 'parents' to her because they were.

[Note: All content on the Hibbitt & Barnes Family History website and blog is copyrighted. Click here for conditions of use.]

Military Monday: "Three other Ranks were killed"

Category: Sharing Memories

There's a story which has been passed down through our family about how, on 8th September 1916, my great-grandfather, Henry James Weaver, died. During WWI, he was reportedly killed alongside two others by a bomb or hand grenade accidentally detonating in a soldier's hand while resting at the base in France after serving in the trenches.

My gran told me this a number of years ago. I've often wondered about the accurancy of the information because the details must have been second-hand; gran was orphaned before the age of 5.

Henry James Weaver's Memorial Plaque (Death Penny)</
Henry James Weaver's Memorial Plaque (Death Penny)

The family has two pieces of evidence to support the story, or at least the fact of it having been an accident. Firstly, a photograph issued by the War Office showing the original wooden cross and Henry's grave. The inscription on the cross mentions Henry was 'accidentally killed'. The second piece of evidence is a death notice in an old newspaper cutting which my gran kept for most of her life. Dated 1921, the notice is about gran's mother but it includes the following....

"...Pathos is added to this very sad case by the fact that Mrs. Weaver's husband, who was a private in the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry during the war, was killed by a bomb at the base in France just after leaving the trenches for a brief respite..."

Of course, I wasn't sure if this was published on the basis of what the family had told the newspaper so I still needed further evidence.

A few days ago, I posted a message in the Great War Forum and another member very kindly responded. He had a copy of the war diary for the 2/1 Battalion Oxfordshire and Buckingham Light Infantry - Henry's battalion. The story bears out...





At noon a Bombing accident occurred, owing to the premature explosion of a Bomb. The Battn. Q.M. - LIEUT. D WALLER and the Bombing Officer 2/Lieut. A.J. SMEE 3rd WILTS, attached 2/1 BUCKS Bn. were both wounded. Three other Ranks were killed and 4 other Ranks were wounded.

9. - 10.


Five words, 'Three other Ranks were killed', makes for stark reading when you consider this phrase embodies the tragic news of the death of my great-grandfather.

What heartbreak for my great-grandmother, Florence. Married less than a year, she was heavily pregnant at the time. It's believed the news arrived around the time she gave birth to my gran, ten days after Henry's death, but that she wasn't told until my gran was ten days old. Apparently Florence was becoming increasingly anxious to know why she hadn't heard from Henry. It doesn't bear thinking about! No wonder Henry's headstone reads...


When Florence died of meningitis, my gran was left without parents. To add insult to injury, gran passed the necessary exams to qualify for the grammar school but, because she had no father, another girl was given her place. Times were certainly tough. Such missed opportunities!

Despite various set-backs, gran was the type of woman who rolled up her sleeves and got on with it. She was full of vitality and always offered hospitality. There was certainly no side to her. Perhaps her difficult start in life was what grounded her.

I've posted before about how gran always wanted to see her father's grave, something she finally did at the age of 83.

Incidentally, the Quartermaster who was wounded was a Daniel Waller, born in Great Chishill, Cambridgeshire. He survived the war and lived until 1950, aged 82.

The two other men who were killed with Henry were Lance-Sergeant AW Mead and Private JS Litchfield. The three of them are buried beside each other in Merville Communal Cemetery Extension in Merville, France.

Henry's name appears on the War Memorial in his home town of Curry Rivel, Somerset, and also in Tavistock, Devon, Florence's home town.

[Why Military Monday? This phrase has been included in the title in order to take part in Blogging Prompts at Geneabloggers]

[Note: All content on the Hibbitt & Barnes Family History website and blog is copyrighted. Click here for conditions of use.]