Sunday, November 18, 2007

A little family history

My brother is sorting out old photos and papers left by my Dad and bringing them over to me in my self-appointed role of family archivist. He brought the first batch today, which included a soldier's issue New Testament from the First World War - kind of timely after my musings about the Great War last week. The cover is stamped "Active Services" Testament, 1916, and inside the cover it is engraved as follows:

Lord Roberts's Message to the Troops
25th August 1914
"I ask you to put your trust in God. He will watch over you and strengthen you. You will find in this little Book guidance when you are in health, comfort when you are in sickness, and strength when you are in adversity."
Roberts 1914
On the flyleaf is written
235566 Pte.Thos.Mead A.S.C. Remounts
Presented by the Friends of Avonmouth Soldiers Institute
Christmas 1916
Fight the Good Fight.
Inside the back cover is a "Decision Form" signed to say that he accepts Christ as his personal Saviour, and the following inscription:
I cannot see beyond the moment
Tomorrow's strength comes not today
But Blessed Lord I trust Thy keeping
For just the next step on my way.
- suggested by my dear wife, Jan 20th 1917
Thomas Mead was the husband of my father's Great Aunt Rose. "Aunt Rose" brought up my grandmother, whose mother (Aunt Rose's elder sister) died when she was little more than a baby, leaving four daughters and a husband who, from what I have been able to piece together, promptly went off to London to join his brothers there and left the four girls behind. I am not sure when Thomas died, but I am fairly certain he survived the war. Aunt Rose lived into her nineties and I remember visiting her for tea - oddly it was the only place where I would drink tea, which I never liked as a child. Maybe I found Aunt Rose too venerable to refuse? She was very much the family matriarch, and there was some consternation that I was not named Rose in her honour. I can't imagine myself as a Rose, but I did redress the balance slightly by using it as Little Cherub's middle name. The family were staunch Methodists, so the signed statement of faith comes as no surprise.

The Lord Roberts of the inscription was the Grand Old Man of the British Army, a hero of the Anglo-Afghan War of the 1880s and former Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army who died late in 1914. He was a personal hero of Rudyard Kipling, who wrote no less than three poems about him, including this memorial - Kipling was shown visiting "Bobs" in last week's TV movie, My Boy Jack. The historian in me just loves making these connections!

After a bit more Googling I worked out that Thomas Mead must have been serving in the Army Service Corps Remounts Service, which trained and supplied horses and mules to the rest of the Army. According to this summary at its peak in December 1917 the Remounts were training 93,847 horses and 36,613 mules, obtained by compulsory purchase. This gives another nice literary connection: War Horse by Michael Morpurgo, a rare piece of historical fiction for children set during the First World War that tells the story of a horse requisitioned for army service.

2 comments:

Theresa said...

Fascinating!!

Anonymous said...

I can imagine you named Rose!

KS