Frederick George Balcombe (1876-1958)

Born in 1876, Frederick George Balcombe, was the son of John and Jane Balcombe, both natives of Bletchingley whose marriage was registered in 1872. At times the surname is given as Balcomb, and it appears this was also Jane’s maiden name. It appears John was probably married before, the birth of a son John Christopher had been registered in the 3rd quarter 1870. At the 1881 census, John, Jane, John Christopher, Frederick and 8 month old Clara Florence were living at Dormers, Bletchingley. John was a labourer in the local quarry (described as stone pits).

By 1891, the family had moved to Stychens (still in Bletchingley). John Christopher had now moved out. John (39) was still a “quarryman stone”, Jane was now 37. Frederick, just 14, was general labourer. Clara was a 10-year-old scholar, two younger sisters had now joined the family, Alice Mary (birth registered 4th quarter 1884), and Lilian Jane (birth registered 3rd quarter 1889). It was probably also about this time that Frederick started ringing. He rang his first quarter peal (the third to Grandsire Triples) on Christmas Day 1894, “Jno Balcomb”, presumably his father John, was ringing the treble. He rang another on 13 February 1897, again the third to Grandsire Triples. On Easter Monday 1898 (16 April) Frederick was named among the newly elected members of the Surrey Association, at a quarterly meeting at Betchworth. He rang his first peal on 12 November 1898, once again ringing the third to Grandsire Triples, another Bletchingley ringer on the roll, William Mayne was also ringing. He rang another on 25 November 1899, again with William Mayne, and also George F Hoad (Reigate) and Thomas Coppard (Bletchingley).

Frederick George Balcomber married Kate House at St Mary’s Bletchingley on 11 December 1899. On 21 July 1900 a Surrey Association held a meeting at Bletchingley, the notices published beforehand indicate that those wanting tea at the meeting should send their names to “Mr Fred Balcombe”, Stychens Cottages, Bletchingley – suggesting he was acting as tower secretary at Bletchingley. At the 1901 census he and Kate were living at 9 Stychens, Bletchingley. He was now 24 and working as a house painter – 5 out of the 11 ringers who went to war from Bletchingley had this as their occupation. No other records have been found for him until the 1911 census, when he and Kate were still at Stychens, and he was still a house painter. Now living with them was Reginald Cooper (5), described as an adopted son, born in Fulham.

On 30 April Frederick rang the 6th to a quarter peal of Grandsire Triples at Godstone. J Balcombe (his father John, still ringing?) rang the treble, also ringing were L Goodwin, G Potter (both Bletchingley) and W T Beeson jr (Godstone), all listed on the roll of honour. There was also a visitor in the quarter, Corpl W Cockings. No details as to his unit are stated, but the most likely candidate appears to be William Cockings of the Bedfordshire Regiment, originally from Turvey.

The Surrey Recruitment Registers show that F G Balcombe, a painter aged 40 years and 3 months attested at Guildford on 31 July 1917. He was described as being 5’6″, weighed 210lbs and had a 42″ chest with 2″ expansion. On enlistment he joined the 26th Training Reserve Battalion. Given his age it is perhaps unsurprising that the next surviving record relates to his discharge. He was discharged on 14 December 1918 due to sickness – he had not served overseas. At the time of his discharge he was a sapper in the Inland Waterways and Docks section of the Royal Engineers. There is no further information as to his role, but given his civilian occupation, it seems reasonably likely he would have been painting the boats used by the Royal Engineers.

After the war he does not appear to have rung any further peals or quarter peals – in fact there is no definite proof of any further ringing. However, electoral rolls mean we can trace his movements in general. In autumn 1919 he and Kate were still at Stychens, and the same again up until at least 1923. In 1924 they were registered at Hill Top, Caterham. By 1934 they had moved to The Garage, Old Quarry Hall, Bletchingley (there were also a Leonard and Annie Elizabeth Balcombe at Old Quarry Hall Cottage, but it is not clear if they were related at all). They were still there at the outbreak of war in 1939. From 1938 Bletchingley’s bells were out of action until 1948 after death watch beetle was found in the oak beams of the bell frame (restoration was presumably slowed by the war). By 1945 Frederick and Kate were living at 236 Wapses Lodge, Caterham. Fred died on 12 October 1958, and was buried in the churchyard at Bletchingley on 16 October. The burial records show his address at death as 236 Croydon Road, Caterham (given the identical street number, possibly this is actually the same address as 1945).

Balcombe is the first man where the main details of his life can be found in Lives of the First World War rather than in this blog. His profile can be found here

The centenary begins in earnest

Tomorrow (28 June) is the anniversary of the assassination in Sarajevo which would prove to be the spark that would ignite into a worldwide war.  Though various commemorative events have already occurred, and the BBC has also already begun it’s related programming, this is the date which quick the commemorations into high gear.

28 June sees various events in Sarajevo itself, including a concert by the Vienna Philharmonic which will be broadcast around Europe.  Also the BBC will be running a “live” blog, reporting on the day as it happened, but with analysis from their current team of correspondents.  All at A special Foreign Office twitter account (@WW1FO) will also begin a series of tweets based on the information originally received from British Embassies around Europe in 1914.

There’s also a full day conference at The National Archives, looking at the diplomatic situation in the lead up to the war, and thereafter.  Various other organisations have their own events going on too.

Lives goes live, and other updates

I’ve mentioned the Lives of the First World War project in a few previous posts. The site has now been generally available (though by no means finished in terms of functionality) for a few weeks. I was invited to write a guest post about how I’ll be using the project to record information related to Halfmuffled, and I also looked at how important I think the site will be. As a first step towards integration, I’ve created a “Community” for the Surrey ringers.

In addition, a few new or updated sources which may be useful have come online. Although Ancestry have had the surviving First World War army service records for many years, FindMyPast have now released their version (which is also incorporated into Lives). They’ve taken a very comprehensive approach to indexing the material, even pulling out brief mentions in other’s records – wartime economy measures meant that entries were often recorded on the back of scrap paper, which had often been used previously. This can include things like casualty lists, and sometimes the mention of a name on one of these, incorporated into the record of someone else entirely can now be the only surviving mention. They’ve also treated WO 363 and WO 364, the burnt and unburnt records 9the second of these series are referred to as the pension records by Ancestry), as a single record set, so both are searched at the same time, and with exactly the same options available. Paul Nixon has put together some useful tips on searching these records. This may reveal additional information I hadn’t previously managed to find.

Other new material has been released by Surrey History Centre, indexes of Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment Prisoners of War 1918 and East Surrey Regiment 1st Battalion. Their material digitised in partnership with Ancestry has also been updated, such as the registers of births, marriages and deaths I’ve referred to previously on this blog.

Operation War Diary is also proceeding apace, along with further releases of digitised war diaries from The National Archives. Volunteers are now also being sought to help with physically resorting diaries for the next phase of digitisation work. This requires spending a minimum of one day a fortnight at The National Archives building in Kew. The first data from Operation War Diary has also now been released, it is described here, with a link to the data pages. This material will also be incorporated into Lives in due course.

This should all help keep me busily researching!

Army-Navy peal 1914: Frederick James Souter (1892-3 June 1953)

This is the fourth in the series on the eight ringers who rang the first peal by an armed forces band, it follows on from the previous article on Alfred Arthur Playle.

Frederick James Souter (1892-3 June 1953). Served c1913-c1934.

The birth of Frederick James Souter was registered in the Bosmere registration district, Suffolk, in the third quarter of 1892. He must in fact have been born right at the beginning of June, or maybe later May as at his death on 3 June 1953 he was stated to be 61 years of age. It’s also worth noting that his name was actually registered as James Frederick, but as his father was also James, presumably he was known as Frederick right from the beginning. The family lived in Mendham, Suffolk. The marriage of the elder James Souter and Eliza Prentice had been registered in the Ipswich registration district in the fourth quarter 1891.

The family was already full of bell ringers, with the elder James’ himself along with other Souter’s, Charles, James and William all being ringers in and around Stowmarket (I haven’t quite established the exact family links). They all appear regularly in the columns of Bell News in 1891 and early 1892. Soon after Frederick’s birth, the family moved to Essex. The first record indicating this is ringing at Ardleigh on 9 October 1892 where J Souter is said to be a Little Bentley ringer, late of Stowmarket. However, he then seems to disappear from ringing records for a few years. Charles Henry Souter was born in the Tendring registration district (which included Little Bentley) mid 1894, sadly he died aged 3, in the first quarter 1897. The birth of William Stanley Souter was registered in the third quarter 1896, the 1901 census gives his place of birth as Mistley.

A new ring of bells was dedicated at Mistley on 25 April, cast the previous year to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. Presumably James Souter soon started ringing there, but the report of J Souter (presumably Frederick’s father) as a bellringer at Mistley, is of his ringing 720 changes of Kent Treble Bob on 14 January 1900, and the same method on 4 February and 7 February. The band rang the same again on 1 March, in honour of the Relief of Ladysmith the same day, and on that occasion J Souter conducted. On 16 April they rang 720 Oxford Bob Minor. On 4 July, they were ringing Double Court Minor. On 2 December they rang Double Court and Plain Bob minor. According to the later obituary for Frederick Souter, he was taught to ring by his father and uncle aged just 8, but that was supposed to have been at Stowmarket – his age would put this around 1900. On 31 January 1901, James Souter rang Oxford Bob Minor and on 20 March 1901, Double Court and Plain Bob minor. At the time of the 1901 census the family were living at Cross Road, Mistley. James (33) is shown as being a carter on a farm, Eliza (32), James Frederick (8) and William (4). Around the end of July (no precise date is given) “Jas Souter” rang in a 720 of Cambridge Minor at Mistley, claimed to be the first time the method had been rung at Mistley, though it was subsequently pointed out that the method had been rung at the opening of the bells. After this success, no reports of ringing have been found until a peal of various minor methods was rung at Mistley on 13 April 1904, with James Souter on the treble. This was the first peal on the bells at Mistley. The next report that’s been found is for a 720 of Bob Minor on 9 October 1904 at Mistley.

The reports then again dry up for a few years, until on 9 January both Frederick (aged 14), and James, are reported to have rung in a 720 of Cambridge at Mistley, the first by an entirely local band (and the first 720 rung by Frederick at all). Frederick (listed as J F, aged 15) repeated the feat at Great Bromley on 2 March. Frederick was obviously now a keen ringer, as he was ringing Bob Minor at Mistley on 12 March, though the specific reports then dry up until 16 November when father and son rang 720s of Cambridge and Double Norwich at Great Bentley (the ringing having been arranged specially for them). In December, both rang at the dedication of a new ring at Tendring. On 9 February 1908, both rang in a 720 of Oxford Treble Bob at Mistley, and a touch of Cambridge. Frederick also rang a 720 of Plain Bob Minor on 12 March. On 17 June father and son rang in a date touch of 1908 Bob Minor at Mistley, along with some shorter touches. This was repeated six months later on 16 December.

On 10 January 1909 father and son rang in various touches which marked the departure of the Revd Noel H Johnson (probably a curate) who was about to take up missionary work in India. No further reports of ringing have been traced until 24 June 1910 when Frederick and James, along with S Souter (Stanley?, who would now have been about 14) rang 1910 Bob Minor at Manningtree, where the Revd T Kensit Norman (also Rector of Mistley) was being inducted as Vicar.

At the time of the census in 1911 the family was at Horseley, Cross Road, Mistley. James and Frederick are both described as horsemen, while William Stanley is listed as a general farm hand. No occupation is given for Eliza, but it is shown that she had been married for 19 years, and had had 3 children, one of whom had died. In September 1911, James, Frederick and, presumably, Stanley rang a date touch of Plain Bob Minor on 9 September, and on 28 September 720 of the same method. In 1912 there was a date touch of Plain Bob Minor again on 24 February, along with some other ringing, and more the following day, all in honour of the birthday of the rector’s wife. On 25 September, James and Frederick rang a 720 of Bob Minor.

Frederick joined the Essex Regiment around March or April 1913 (his service record will still be held by the Ministry of Defence, but analysis of regimental numbers close to his of 10188 suggest this date). He would probably first have trained at the regimental depot at Warley, and was then posted to 2nd Battalion which in 1913 was at Bordon, near Aldershot, but was then transferred to Chatham by 1914. Although no reports of ringing by him have been traced in this period, he must have made himself known to the local ringers, and more importantly those who were also members of the armed forces, as he was selected to join the peal band on 8 January which was the first peal by an all armed forces band, and his first peal at all. His younger brother, William Stanley also joined the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion in about June of 1913 (he was given the number 3/1937, 3/1938 joined on 11 June). It was actually quite common to join the Special Reserve, and then subsequently transfer to the regulars, so it’s possible that Frederick also followed that route, but as he would have been given a new number on becoming a regular, it is impossible to be certain without obtaining his service record.

2nd Battalion remained stationed at Chatham, a quiet posting, but then on 28 June 1914 came the assassination in Sarajevo, and ultimately, Britain’s declaration of war on 4 August. On mobilisation, 2nd Battalion, Essex Regiment formed part of, 12 Infantry Brigade, 4th Division which was initially retained on home service, in case of German invasion. Stationed initially in Norwich, and then on the Norfolk coast at Cromer, they were then moved to Harrow, Middlesex. On 22 August they moved at last to France. This was the very day that British forces first came into contact with those of Germany. They moved up from their landing place at Le Havre, and made contact with the rest of the British Expeditionary Force on 25 August. The BEF had now entered into the Retreat from Mons, and the following day Souter’s battalion was thrown into the holding action at Le Cateau. Of around 40,000 British troops committed to the action during the day, 7,812 would end it killed, wounded, missing or captured. Fortunately, Souter was not one of them so far as we can tell. He remained with the battalion throughout the war, which played its part in most of the major actions of the war. He is known to have had some leave in February 1918 (by which time he was a corporal), and took that chance to return to the bell tower at Great Bromley, along with his father, on 24 February. He ended the war an acting serjeant. So far as is known, he did not receive any major injuries. His brother William was not so lucky. He was presumably called up from the reserve at the outbreak of war. Still only 18, he would not have been eligible to go overseas immediately (the minimum age was 19). As soon as he reached that age, he was posted to 1st Battalion, Essex Regiment, which had landed on the Gallipoli peninsular on 25 April. He arrived on 25 May, unusually arriving as a lance corporal (generally those who had obtained rank at home reverted to private on posting overseas). Five days later he was dead. He is remembered on the Helles Memorial.

The war over, Souter could have left the army with his basic five year service with the colours complete, and served out the remainder of his 12 year enlistment on the reserve. However, he opted to continue serving. 4th Division was broken up in early 1919, and 2nd Battalion, Essex Regiment, was posted to Malta, and then in 1920 to occupation duties in Turkey. However, based on the evidence of his personal life, it seems likely that Souter was transferred to 1st Battalion, which after the war went to Kinsale, Ireland, and was involved in trying to put down the Irish War of Independence. Following the Anglo-Irish Treaty, 1st Battalion was posted to Bordon in 1922. Souter married Kate Griggs back in the Tendring registration district in the 2nd quarter 1920. The birth of Lillian K Souter (mother’s maiden name Griggs) was registered in the Tendring registration district in the 4th quarter 1922, followed by Dorothy J Souter registered Romford RD, 3rd quarter 1924, and Robert J Griggs, Colchester RD, 3rd quarter 1926. 1st Battalion had been posted to Colchester in 1925.

Despite these home postings, Souter does not seem to have found any time for ringing during this time – or at least not for quarter peals and peals (1st battalion moved on to Pembroke Dock in 1929 and Catterick in 1932). The first report of a return to the belfry was a halfmuffled peal of Kent Minor on 12 March 1932 marking the death of his father (registered Tendring RD, 1st quarter 1932). It is described as his first peal of minor. James Souter had been a member of the Mistley ringers for 34 years. Souter presumably left the army about 1934, but remains elusive in ringing reports. At some point he settled in Prittlewell (near Southend), but exactly when is not clear. No more ringing has been traced before the outbreak of the Second World War. This of course largely curtailed ringing until 1943 when the danger of invasion was past, and permission was granted for bells to be rung normally again. During this conflict Souter reportedly trained the Home Guard.

Rather unexpectedly the birth of David M C Souter (mother’s maiden name Griggs) was registered in the 1st quarter 1944, in the Southend RD. I cannot trace another Souter-Griggs marriage, so presumably this was their son, despite the gap of almost 20 years from their previous child! Unfortunately the brief obituary published subsequently makes no mention of his family.

On 19 May 1945 he rang in a peal of Bob Major at Fobbing (near Basildon), and later in the year a quarter peal of Kent Major at Prittlewell on 28 October, followed by Grandsire Triples there on 11 November (despite the date, this does not appear to have been halfmuffled, or explicitly for Armistice Day). He finished the year with a peal of Kent Royal (his first) on 15 December, and a quarter of Bob Major on Christmas Eve at Prittlewell (his surname is given as Sowter in this report). A report of a touch of Grandsire Doubles on 27 January 1945 was stated to include a Frederick Lowler – possibly this was a misreading of Souter.

1946 began with a quarter peal of Grandsire Caters on 6 January at Prittlewell, followed by a peal of the same on 20 January (the 100th peal on the bells). On 23 February a peal of Grandsire Cater, his first (and the first for several other members of the band). The quarter of Grandsire Triples was repeated on 24 March. On 6 April he rang a peal of Bob Royal. On 21 July, a quarter of Kent Major. On 19 October a peal of Kent Royal. Two days later, on 21 October, came a handbell peal (his first) of Bob Minor. This was rung at 73 St Mary’s Road, Prittlewell, presumably either Souter’s home, or that of one of the other two ringers, Edgar Rapley and Frank Lufkin.

1947 proceeded in similar vein, with a peal of Cambridge Major at Stanford-le-Hope (the first in the method on the bells) on 8 March. Then, at Prittlewell on 7 April a record length (9000 changes) of Bob Royal. This marked the bicentenary of the Cumberland Youths, though it was rung for the Essex Association, and the band was mixed, with at least one College Youth among them. An ordinary length peal of Kent Major followed on 15 May, a quarter of Grandsire Caters on 17 August, and a peal of Bob Royal on 8 November. 1948 began with a quarter of Stedman Triples on 18 January but seems to have otherwise seen only a quarter of Grandsire Caters on 7 November, and Bob Royal on 5 December. 1949 began with a quarter peal of Grandsire Caters on 2 January, followed by Kent Royal on 2 May, a peal of Stedman Caters (his first in the principle) on 28 May, a halfmuffled quarter peal of Stedman Caters on 6 November. In 1950 he managed a peal of Stedman Caters on 18 February, Bob Major on 11 May, and a quarter peal of Kent Royal on 28 May.

Sadly about this time his health began to deteriorate, and he disappears form ringing reports, other than his election as a life member of the Essex Association at the AGM on Whit Monday 1952. After three years of illness he died on 3 June 1953, aged 61. His funeral was on 11 June, the bells of Prittlewell being rung halfmuffled by the local band. His obituary describes him as “an enthusiastic ringer and [..] excellent striker”. At the College Youths’ dinner in 1953 he was named as one of the members who had died during the year, but does not actually seem to be included among the online membership lists.

Beta testing Lives of the First World War

In addition to continuing to add the current series on the men who rang in the first Army-Navy peal, I’ve begun doing some of the beta testing on Lives of the First World War. A slow and steady approach is being taken, starting with the simplest features, and building in more complicated ones as time goes by, and the bugs are worked out. This approach also means that the site is less prone to being overwhelmed by the initial inrush of users, as accounts are only being given out slowly. Those involved in the testing can also suggest additional features they would like to see, which can then be voted on by others to help set priorities for development.

Army-Navy peal 1914: Alfred Arthur Playle (12 March 1893-1980)

This post is the third in the series on the eight men who rang the first peal by members of the Armed Services, following on from the second post on Frederick Augustus Holden.

Stoker 1st Class Alfred Arthur Playle (12 March 1893-1980). Served 8 November 1911-21 March 1917.

Alfred Arthur Playle was born at Barking on 12 March 1893 according to his Royal Navy record, although censuses give his birthplace as Dagenham. He was the second child of George William Playle and Alice Amelia (nee Sparrow) – their marriage had taken place in the Romford registration district in the second quarter of 1889. Their first child, Edith Emily, was born two years later, presumably after the census which shows just George and Alice at Crown Street, Dagenham. The birth of Sissy Elizabeth was registered in the third quarter 1895, she seems to be known variously as Lizzie and Cissie in subsequent censuses. George Isaac was born in the second quarter of 1897.

Ringing first came into the family around 1898 when George William is said to have begun ringing at Laindon, he is also reported to have been present at the opening of a new ring of bells at Rayleigh in June 1898. The bells were largely funded by local freemasons, and the report also suggests he was a mason. The family continued to grow, with John William being born around the same time. By the time of the 1901 census, the family were living at 3 Station Road, Dagenham.

Later that year Emily Caroline was born, Ellen Alice was born in early 1904, and Florence May in late 1905, and Rose Bessie in early 1908. George Playle is said to have started ringing at Dagenham around 1904, and became steeplekeeper soon after. There is not much reported of his ringing until 1907, when he seems to have taken a more active part in the band’s ringing activities, including some conducting. The first mention of Alfred ringing is in connection with a touch of Plain Bob Minor at Dagenham on 12 May 1908, followed by another on 17 May (after evening service), both conducted by his father. On 8 July, both rang in a touch of 360 Double Court Minor, George was conducting once again, this ringing was for a wedding. Then, on 20 September, 720 of Double Oxford. Sadly, late in 1908, Ellen Alice Playle died, aged just four.

On 27 January 1909 Alfred made his first peal attempt, they rang for 2 hours 50 minutes, so were probably not far short of success, but the ringing came to grief. Alfred was ringing the second, the report states, “This is the longest length by all except the conductor. The ringer of the 2nd is not sixteen years of age before March next.” (Bell News, V28, 8 May 1909, p143). No more ringing seems to be recorded until 4 July, when there were several pieces of ringing in relation to services and the parish flower show, and then on an outing to North Weald on 10 August.

A tenth child, Lily Dorothy, was born in early 1910. On 10 April Alfred and his father rang in a date touch of 1910 changes in various minor methods. On 12 June they rang at Holy Trinity, Barking Road, Canning Town. Sadly, Lily died in early 1911, before she was a year old, and before the 1911 census. On Sunday 5 February, Alfred and George rang for Sunday service, morning and evening. At the census, the family were living at 21 Vicarage Road, Dagenham. All the children, including the two who had died, were included on the schedule, but Ellen and Lily were subsequently crossed out. George (42) is shown as a farm labourer (as in previous censuses). The eldest daughter, Ellen (19), was a storekeeper at the telephone works (presumably the Sterling Telephone Works). Alfred (18) was following his father as an agricultural labourer. Cissie (15) was a fitter at the telephone works. George Isaac (14) has left school, but has no occupation. John (11), Emily (9) and Florence (5) were all at school. Rose (3) was too young for school, so presumably stayed at home with her mother Alice (39).

The week after the census, on 9 April, George and Alfred were among the band (both morning and evening) who rang the first touches of Cambridge Surprise Minor rung by the local band in Dagenham. On 18 June the ringing again included Cambridge, among various other methods. On 16 August, the Dagenham ringers went on an outing, by horsedrawn brake, leaving at 8:30am, they travelled the 15 miles to Orsett via Rainham, Wennington, Aveley and Stitford. They spent the rest of the morning ringing at Orsett (joined by some of the locals), and then lunched at the Fox and Hounds. They then travelled to Stanford-le-Hope and rang there. There was going to be a service there at 6pm, so they headed back to Orsett for a little more ringing. After a photo, and a little more ringing, they had tea, and then rang some more. A final drink, and then they set off for home, arriving back in Dagenham at 10:30pm. On 22 October they made the trip to Canning Town again, ringing for evening service there. On 5 November they were back home ringing at Dagenham, now also joined by Miss C Playle – Cissie. Female ringers were still a rarity at this time, with the Ladies’ Guild of Change Ringers not being formed until 1912.

On 8 November Playle joined the Royal Navy as a Stoker 2nd Class. He joined for the standard 12-year engagement, he was described as 5’5″ tall, with a 35″ chest, dark brown hair and eyes and a fresh complexion. He went to Chatham for his initial training at the shore base and barracks, HMS Pembroke. He was home on 26 November for Sunday evening ringing, when Cissie rang her first touch of 720 Plain Bob. Alfred was home again on 3 March 1912, ringing for morning and evening services, along with his father and Cissie.

Playle was posted to HMS Vanguard, a dreadnought battleship, on 10 April 1912. She was part of the Home Fleet, based at Devonport. A year after joining the navy, was promoted Stoker 1st Class. On 12 January he and his father rang with the College Youths at St George-the-Martyr, Southwark, it does not appear that either was ever elected a member. On 26 March 1913 he returned to shore at Chatham. It seems his sister Cissie may actually have beaten him to ringing a first peal, she trebled to Bob Minor at Dagenham on 16 April, conducted by their father. She was the first woman to ring a peal for the Essex Association (and was the only female ringing member of the association at the time). Alfred was posted to HMS Endeavour, a survey ship on 6 June. Cissie and their father visited Kent in July, ringing at Milton-next-Gravesend on 12 July. Alfred wasn’t ringing, although both Victor Jarrett and James Bennett who would ring in the 1914 peal did take part. On 4 September, Alfred’s younger brother, George Isaac, followed in his brother’s footsteps and joined the Royal Navy as a Boy 2nd Class, he was just 16, he went to HMS Impregnable, the boys’ training establishment at Devonport. He had also been learning to ring for about four months before joining up. Alfred rang a peal at home in Dagenham on 1 December, it’s not actually marked as his first peal, so it may be he had actually rung one previously which is yet to be found. All three were ringing at Dagenham on Christmas Day, and rang together in another peal at Dagenham on 27 December.

On 8 January came the armed forces peal at Gillingham, Alfred’s first peal on eight bells. He was still posted to HMS Endeavour, which was based at Sheerness at the time. George Isaac was promoted to Boy 1st Class on 14 May 1914, and posted to the elderly cruiser HMS Gibraltar. Alfred remained posted to Endeavour until with war imminent, he was posted to HMS Leander, an elderly second class cruise serving a destroyer depot ship, on 1 August. He probably just missed George Isaac who was posted to Chatham that day. Alfred probably actually served on HMS Esther, originally a surveying vessel (based on a trawler design), which in wartime was to serve as a minesweeper. He transferred to HMS Halcyon, another minesweeper, on 14 November. George Isaac was briefly posted to the Union-Castle liner, Edinburgh Castle, pressed into naval service as an Armed Merchant Cruiser from 17-24 September, and thence to the pre-dreadnought battleship HMS Goliath on 25 September. Goliath had been ordered to the East Indies station on 20 September, so it’s not clear exactly when George Isaac physically joined the ship. She was involved in escorting convoys carrying Indian Army troops in the Persian Gulf in October, and then in operations off German East Africa, including the bombardment of Dar es Salaam towards the end of November. From December 1914-February 1915 she was refitted at Simonstown, South Africa, before briefly rejoining operations off German East Africa, and was then ordered to the Dardanelles on 25 March 1915, in preparation for the campaign there.

Head and shoulders shot of a boy in seaman's uniform, cap ribbon reads HMS Impregnable

Seaman G I Playle, published in The Ringing World, 2 July 1915, page 335

On 21 February 1915, Alfred rang at home in Dagenham for evening service with his father and sister. On 29 March, George Isaac, turned 18 and was rated Ordinary Seaman. Less than two months later he was dead, along with almost 570 of his crewmates, when Goliath was torpedoed on the night of 12-13 May. A memorial service was held at Dagenham on 26 May, followed by halfmuffled ringing. A brief obituary was published in The Ringing World on 11 June, followed by a photograph on 2 July, taken probably not long after he joined the navy, his cap tally reads HMS Impregnable.

Alfred remained posted to Halcyon until 30 June 1916, when he returned to Chatham. He had managed to ring at home on 18 June, halfmuffled following a memorial service for Lord Kitchener. He was promoted to Leading Stoker on 23 September. On 19 October, he was posted to the destroyer, HMS Archer, she seems to have been based at Devonport at this time, as he was carried on the books of HMS Vivid II. He returned to Chatham on 25 November. On Sunday 28 January 1917 Alfred rang for evening service (with his sister and father) while home for a few days’ leave.

At some point in the first quarter of 1917 Alfred married Ellen Williams in the Medway registration district (which included both Chatham and Gillingham). On 21 March 1917 Alfred was discharged from the Royal Navy as a result of “fibroid phthisis” – tuberculosis. As we saw previously with Frederick Holden, TB was rife in the navy due to the living conditions onboard ship, and in the barracks ashore. Despite this, Cissie C Playle was born in the 1st quarter 1918, Betty G in the 4th quarter 1919, George A H in the 3rd quarter 1923, Megan W A in the 2nd quarter 1930 and Barrington I in the 1st quarter 1934 – all in the Romford registration district. However, there does not seem to be any further trace of Alfred ringing. He is not mentioned in the obituary of his father published in The Ringing World on 18 December 1953. Alfred’s death was registered in the 1st quarter 1980, in the Havering registration district.

Army-Navy peal 1914: Frederick Augustus Holden (1884-1931)

This post continues the series on the eight men who rang the first peal by members of the Armed Services, following on from the previous post on William Austin Cooke.

Flight Sergeant Frederick Augustus Holden (31 August 1884-6 August 1931). Served 23 September 1904-11 January 1928.

On his enlistment in the Royal Navy Holden stated he was born in Bath on 31 August 1884, but no birth registration has yet been found. The 1891 census however, while agreeing about the place of birth, states his age as eight (putting his birth in 1882 or 1883, but again no birth registration). His short obituary in The Ringing World in 1931 describes him as about 48. In 1891 he was living at 19 Queen Street, Aldershot, with his grandmother, Emma Squire, a 58-year-old laundress. She is listed as married, but her husband was not present. By 1901 they were both with his aunt, Constance S Sykes and her daughter Vera Isabel Sykes, at 8 Camden Cottages, Church Walk, Weybridge. Emma was now widowed, but though aged 69 still working as a laundress. No occupation is shown for Constance (29), and she is listed as married and only as wife to head of household, but again her husband is not present. A wide range of birthplaces are given: Constance in Cork, Vera in London and Emma in Exeter – was there previous history of military service in the family? To add to the confusion, there a baptismal register entry for Frederick Augustus Holden in Weybridge on 1 April 1898, giving his date of birth as 1 September 1882, and his parents’ names as Henry and Georgina, and Henry’s occupation as storekeeper. Interestingly several of the baptisms around this time were of teenagers. The 1891 census does list a Henry (46), a wine merchant, and Georgina R Holden (28) living at 13(?) London Street, Paddington (right next to Paddington Station). Henry was born on the Isle of Wight and Georgina on the Cape of Good Hope. They also had an 11-month-old daughter, May R, born Kilburn. They have not been traced in the 1901 census.

Also then living in Weybridge was Alfred Winch (listed on the roll of honour as a Leatherhead ringer), who would also go on to become a well known bellringer. At 21, he was a few years older than Holden, but was also working as a house painter. The Bell News of 24 August 1901 (V20 p 201) reports them ringing together at Guildford on 14 July. Holden rang his first peal, at Staines, Middlesex, on 2 November 1901 (treble to Grandsire Triples). He and Winch also rang at All Saints’ Fulham and Holy Trinity, Barking Road. The following year he was also elected a member of the Surrey Association, listed as a Leatherhead ringer (which was also Winch’s tower – Bell News 5 April 1902, V20 p578). John Webb was elected a member at the same time. The rest of the year included various further ringing with Winch in Surrey and nearby. In March 1903 it appears Holden was living at Providence Villa, Fairfield Road, Leatherhead, as that was the address published in Bell News when asking a former ringer at Staines to get in touch with him. The rest of 1903 and into 1904 followed a similar pattern of ringing. The 27 February 1904 issue of Bell News (V22, p587) carries an advert from him seeking work as painter “constancy preferred”, and giving his address as 31 Russell Road, Wimbledon, SW (the same road on which Stanley Smith, of Mitcham, and his family lived). The same advert continued to appear for a couple of months. On 7 May 1904 he rang his 50th peal, rung for the Surrey Association but at All Saints’ Fulham. The band also included Winch, Arthur Otway (both of Leatherhead), J H B Hesse (Kingston).
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