In February 2015, staff from the Museum of Richmond joined residents from Abbeyfield’s Palmer House in Kew for a reminiscence session. Using objects from the museum’s WWI collection and recordings of popular songs, we shared some of the stories recovered as part of the HLF-funded Richmond at Home and at War project.
The visit prompted recollections of the residents’ own WW1 stories; accounts of the experiences of mothers, fathers, and uncles. We were delighted to be able to return to Palmer House to record these reminiscences: Our Elders are a living link with history and can help us gain an insight into the time.
Arthur Champion and Marjorie Ghrimes
Maureen Knight’s parents both volunteered to serve during the First World War. Her father, Arthur Champion, was 21-years old when he was sent to fight in France in October 1914. He was a private in the Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars, a volunteer cavalry regiment in the Territorial Force:
Arthur was awarded the Military Medal and returned to France after recovering from his wounds. He was transferred to the Royal Field Artillery in March 1917, serving until he was demobbed in December 1919. Maureen’s mother, Marjorie Ghrimes,volunteered for the VAD and was also sent to France, where she met Arthur:
Marjorie and Arthur had known each other before the war, living near Ringwood in Hampshire. But Marjorie had been engaged to someone else, a farmer’s son called Jack Bramble. Jack and his brother Gerald had died just two days apart in July 1916.
Marjorie Amphlett’s story shows how the war changed personal histories, bringing people together who otherwise may never have met.
Marjorie’s father, Jack Rea (pictured left) was very young when the war started. Marjorie remembered hearing that her father lied about his age to enlist, joining the Royal Flying Corps. It was difficult to confirm records of his service: No ‘Jack’ could be found on the records digitised so far although there were several ‘Js’. At this stage we are unable to verify which one of the records belongs to Jack but it is most likely that he volunteered for the Liverpool Regiment before being transferred to the RFC.
The 1911 census records show that Jack, born in 1897, was a 13-year old school boy in Manchester in 1911, meaning he would have just turned 16 at the start of the war. Jack’s service record confirms that he gave his date of birth as 1895 when he volunteered. He was one of the brave and eager boys who pretended to be older in order to volunteer. He was also wounded in service:
Marjorie’s mother Dorothy also volunteered. Marjorie thinks she was also motivated by the desire to do her bit and experience the excitement of leaving home.
Dorothy Milloy was born in Ayreshire. By the start of the war she had left school and was working as a cook, possibly in Glasgow. Her skills were in demand and Dorothy volunteered for the WAAC as a cook, joining the muster on the steps of the Turnberry Hotel.
From 1916, she worked mainly with the RFC, possibly in Etapes, a major Allied camp behind the Front Lines with several hospitals and convalescent camps. Dorothy and Jack most likely met here before the end of the war, while Jack was recovering from his wounds. In 1918 the RAF was formed and while Jack was transferred to the RAF, Dorothy was transferred to the WRAF.
Dorothy and Jack were married on 28 August 1919 in London.
Lawrence Faucett, Mariel Barr, and Allan Barr
Frances Stacey’s parents were also brought together by the war. Her father, Lawrence Faucett, was born in 1892 in Illinois and graduated from the University of Chattanooga in 1915. He was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University, but shortly after his arrival he enlisted in the British forces (the US didn’t join the war until April 1917).
Lawrence was a Lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps, but it has been difficult to find much detail about his service. This is possibly because he was not a British national, and is not recorded in the service medal records.
On 18 July 1918 he married Mariel Grace Margaret Barr, Frances’ mother, and after Armistice returned to his studies. He went on to become a respected professor of English.
Mariel’s brother Allan also fought in the war, surviving a gas attack that permanently damaged his lungs. Frances remembers her uncle and that he could never shout at her if she was being naughty!
Allan had been serving in the army before being honourably discharged due to the affects of the gas attack. The photo below shows Lieutenant Allan Barr leading his troop in March 1917, in Peronne, before the attack. The area was part of the Second Battle of the Somme in the summer of 1918. Allan was transferred to the RFC, and this may be how his sister and Lawrence met.
Shirley ‘Mairi’ DeCourcey-O’Grady’s father was John Alexander Macnab. Mairi recalled that he had served in the RFC/RAF in both the First and Second World wars. And John was listed as a retired pilot officer on the RAF Active service records in 1939.
Research actually identified John as having served in the RNAS, the Royal Navy Air Service, which merged with the RFC to form the RAF in 1918. This has made finding full details of John’s service difficult so far. But Mary remembered stories he had shared:
A copy of John’s service record from 1916 also notes that he was “very keen” and had done “much good observing work under fire”. He was a pilot and also a photographer, collecting information about the enemy’s positions.
Aeroplanes were first used for aerial reconaissance during the war. In fact, the first use of planes was to spot and record enemy movements on the ground; it was only later that the air combat role developed. The first records were hand-drawn maps, but by 1915 cameras were being used to photograph enemy positions, with pilots dangling from the side of the cockpit with their cameras!
Our thanks to the Abbeyfield staff and residents of Palmer House, Kew.