Category Archives: Family History

Grandad Edward’s War

I’ve spent the last few months sifting through all the family documents that have survived the last 150 years. Amongst the usual birth, marriage and death certificates, family photo’s and newspaper cuttings, I’ve come across a collection of 20 or so documents that Edward Fernley kept from the end of the First World War. I’ve not had the opportunity to read through them all yet, but I’ve already found one or two fascinating one’s.

My grandfather, Edward Fernley, was called up for service in the army towards the end of World War One, in July 1918. Although he’d technically attested (sworn), his willingness  for service in 1915, his call-up was deferred, for some reason, for two and a half years.

Looking back he was one of the lucky one’s: called up too late to face hostilities. But he wouldn’t have known this at the time. Edward would have just been another name in the long list of the next wave of recruits to be sent to the trenches.

By the time his training was over the war was nearly at an end. Edward was posted overseas, and spent some time in Germany at the end of hostilities, but he didn’t have to fight. I suppose it was what would have been called ‘an easy war’.

I’m really pleased that this amazing collection of documents have survived. I’ll be writing about some of these in more detail later, but for now here’s a taster, of what’s to come.

Off to War

By the time Edward was called up, his tiny village of Charlesworth would have got used to seeing it’s young men march off to war. Edward would have just been one of many. Edward was called up into the 7th Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment, as the certificate below shows. This is the only formal document I have of Edward’s war service, and it’s a lucky survivor. The vast majority of ordinary soldiers first world war records were destroyed in a fire in London in 1942, so it’s now surprisingly difficult to trace their military service.

Transfer to the Reserve

This card was issued to my grandfather at the end of his army service. It shows he was attested (part of the process of joining the army) in 1915, but wasn’t actually called up for service until July 1918.

In the Naafi?

I can’t find my grandfather on this picture but, as it was in his possession, I guess these must have been some of his ‘pals’ from the Cheshire Regiment.

Keeping a Record

Amongst Edward’s collection of war memorabilia is a small battered notebook, with about 30 pages in it. This is the diary that Edward kept of his war service, and I’m genuinely excited about it. I think having a written first hand account is extremely rare. What makes it unusual too is that it’s a record of the last days of the war and it’s immediate aftermath. I can’t recall having seen many.

Edward's Diary

Here’s a tale to be told. I can’t wait to transcribe it.

Postcards Home

Amongst Edward’s war papers are at least a dozen postcards. Some of these he wrote and sent home to his wife and father, some he just appeared to have collected for their own sake.

Most of the cards are of Germany, where he was stationed, but one or two are official Cheshire Regiment cards, presumably produced for the troops to send back home.

Here are two of them. I think the one home to his wife is quite sweet, in a corny sort of way.


New Year's Card

This copy of a Cheshire Regiment New Year’s card is the one Edward Fernley sent home to my great grandfather, also named Edward. A short but sweet message.

Edward spent some of his army service in Germany. Bornheim is a suburb of Frankfurt. Clearly Edward is missing his wife, they were married just before he was called up for service.

Looking Back

Amongst the papers is a letter from one of Edwards fellow recruits. It was written after they’d both presumably finished their military service. I’ve no idea who J. Clarke is, but that’s something to look at in the future.

Looking Back

This letter, dated December 1919, is to ‘Ted’ (presumably my grandfather), from an old army comrade, J. Clark. The letter is reminiscing about their early service days. I think, by this time, Edward was out of the army.

Living in the Past

Don’t ask me why, but as I’ve got older, I’ve become more drawn towards tracing my family history. I’ve always been interested in where  I came from, but recently it’s become a minor obsession.

It’s curious that, as many people get older, they become more interested in their family history. Maybe it’s because they have more time and money to spend on the research, maybe people become more curious about their origins, or maybe people just want to leave a record behind. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a combination of all these that has fuelled my search into my family’s past.

After a few false starts, I finally began to make a serious attempt to research my family history at the start of the year. The catalyst was a conversation with my sister early in 2016: we agreed that we needed to leave a record of our family behind. We were both surprised at how quickly living memory fades, meaning that something more permanent was needed.

To start the project I read as many books as I could find on family history. There’s lots of material out there, in print and online, and it took a while to figure out the best way to do the research. Many people launch straight into internet research, paying lots of money for a membership to one of the many genealogy site available. This isn’t necessarily the best way to go about things, and a more considered approach can produce better, and cheaper, results.

Thinking carefully about it there seem to be four stages to tracing family history.

1 Methodically tracing sources of information from different sources and recording them. This is probably the driest and least interesting part of the work as far as I’m concerned, but it’s probably the most important. I’ve had at least three unsuccessful attempts at tracing my family history, and they’ve all failed because I wanted to get onto the more interesting bits.

2 Interpreting the information to try and get a coherent picture of the family history. This is where it gets interesting. I’ve been surprised by how little trace people left behind them before the digital age, so it’s not unusual to have gaps in your knowledge that can’t be filled. Often the best you can do is make an educated guess to fill the gaps, and it can be fun doing this.

3 Putting family history into a wider context. This is where family history turns into local history, and I find it fascinating trying to relate the past lives of my family to the times they live in.

4 Using all the research to write something creative and interesting. There are lots of different options, including traditional family histories, biography, or fiction. I’m not sure what I want to create yet, but I want it to be more than just an annotated family tree.

At them moment I’m still at stage one, doggedly recording what information we already know and searching out additional facts. It’s really difficult because I want to jump ahead, complete the family tree and get writing. But for once I’m trying to be self disciplined, and being mostly successful.

Even at this stage, I’ve unearthed some interesting glimpses of family rifts, sad casualties of war, and ordinary people living extraordinary lives. There don’t appear to be any millionaires or nobility lurking in the background, but I’m happy with the mill workers, engineers and coal miners I’ve found so far.

Finding out about my family history is proving to be really satisfying. It’s not a quick process, but well worth the effort.