Tag Archives: ancestor

CWG: Private William Earrey

William George Earrey was born in 1900, the eldest of three children to William George and Rosina Earrey. While he was baptised William George, later records – including those for his military service – show him as George William; presumably this had avoided any confusion with his father as the young William was growing up.

William Sr worked as a ships boiler maker and, while they appear somewhat disparate over the census records, the Earreys were based in Gillingham, Kent. (Given his employment, this would ensure William Sr’s proximity to the dockyard in Chatham.)

While his enlistment records are not readily available, William Jr appears to have signed up as soon as his age allowed. He enlisted in the Surrey Yeomanry and was shipped to Ireland, where the regiment has two reserve bases.

On 10th October 1918, aged 18 years old, William was returning home on leave from Ireland. He was one of 500 military personnel on board the RMS Leinster, which also had around 200 civilian passengers and 77 crew on board. Just after 10am the ship was around Kish Bank, just off the coast from Dublin, when passengers reported seeing a torpedo pass just in front of the ship’s bow. This was quickly followed by a second torpedo, which hit the ship on the port side. While it was being turned about to seek shelter back in port, a third torpedo struck, causing an explosion and the RMS Leinster sank.

The crew had managed to launch a number of lifeboats, while other passengers were able to get into the sea, clutching life rafts. Many people – William included – died during the sinking, while some of the survivors also subsequently perished.

The exact number of dead in the torpedoing of the RMS Leinster is not known, but it is estimated that at least 560 souls were lost, making it the biggest maritime disaster in the Irish Sea.

Newspapers of the time heralded the nation’s uproar at such a maritime tragedy – the sinking of the Leinster was the largest loss of life at sea around the British coast since the Lusitania three years earlier. The Derry Journal reported on the ‘fiendish crime’, that had occurred as a result of the ‘German policy of frightfulness at sea’.

The article went on to describe some of the challenges facing Dublin in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.

Owing to a strike in the undertaking trade, considerable difficulty is experienced in making arrangements for the burial of the victims. There is an insufficiency of coffins in Dublin, and all but three posting establishments are closed. The Lord Mayor is endeavouring to arrange the suspension of the strike till the Leinster victims are buried. It is stated that on a very rough estimate about three hundred bodies have been recovered…

Derry Journal: Monday 14th October 1918

Sadly, William Earrey’s body was not one of those to have been recovered; this undoubtedly left a lack of closure for his family at the lost of their young son.

Private Earrey is commemorated at the Hollybrook War Memorial in Southampton.


William George Earrey was my first cousin twice removed.

CWG: Lance Corporal Charles Stubbles

Charles Frederick Stubbles was born in Tottenham in 1892. One of eleven children to Richard and Mary Ann Stubbles, by the time of the 1911 census, the family were living in Edmonton. Charlie and his brother had found employment painting gas stoves, while his father was a building foreman.

Charles enlisted in the army in 1916, aged 25 years and 11 months. His service records show that he stood at 5ft 2ins, weighed in at 69lbs; his health was classified as C2 – Free from serious organic diseases, able to stand service in garrisons at home, able to walk 5 miles, see and hear sufficiently for ordinary purposes.

Joining the Labour Corps of the West Surrey Regiment, Private Stubbles initially served on the home front, before being transferred to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force in March 1917.

Charlie seems to have been a bit of a character and was pulled up a few times during his service. On 10th April, he was charged with “committing a nuisance in the barrack room”, for which he was confined to camp for eight days. On 21st August he went AWOL for nearly a day; he was docked eight days’ pay. On 28th October he appeared unshaven and dirty for the 7:15am parade; he was confined to barracks for seven days.

On 4th January 1918, Charles was admitted to a field hospital with diarrhoea; while there he was diagnosed with tuberculosis; he succumbed to this two days later, dying on 7th January 1918. He was 26 years old.

Lance Corporal Charles Stubbles is buried at the Haringhe Bandaghem Military Cemetery in Poperinge, Belgium.


Charles Frederick Stubbles was my great great uncle.

CWG: Sergeant Thomas Griffith

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Thomas Griffith was born in Fulham in 1891. He was the eldest of five children to John Griffith and his wife Emma, although John had been married previously (to Eliza, who had died in 1880), and so Thomas had a further six half-siblings.

By the 1911 census, he was 20, working as a printer’s apprentice, while his father was unemployed and his mother worked as a charwoman.

The Great War had been fought for a year when Thomas enlisted in August 1915. He joined the 8th (Service) Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment. The regiment fought in most of the battles on the Western Front, and, during his time there, he was promoted to the role of Sergeant.

Beyond this, Sergeant Griffith’s service records give little more information about him. His war pension and the Register of Soldiers’ Effects show that he was killed in action on Monday 17th April 1916. He was 25 years old.

Sergeant Thomas Griffith is commemorated at the Essex Farm Cemetery in West-Vlaanderen, Belgium.


Thomas Griffith was my first cousin three times removed.

CWG: Rifleman Harold Shelbrooke

Harold Edward Shelbrooke was born in Poplar, East London, the eldest son of Edward and Jane. One of seven children, Harold lost his father – a labourer in the local gasworks – when he was only eight.

To support his mother – most of his sisters having moved on – he soon found employment as an umbrella maker, and by the 1911 census he had worked his way up to the position of warehouseman.

In July 1915, he married Alice Pulley; six months later their son, George was born. The young family had moved south of the Thames by now, and were living in Greenwich.

Private Shelbrooke’s military records are pretty sparse; he enlisted after marrying Alice – their Banns show him as an umbrella maker – and served in the King’s Royal Rifles.

He saw battle on the Western Front and was involved in the Battle of Menin Road Ridge at Ypres. Harold’s military documents record him as wounded and missing on the day of that battle – 20th September 1917 – and he was officially declared dead on 9th November that year. He was 33-years-old.

Private Shelbrooke has lost his father at the age of eight; his son, George, was not even two years old.

Private Harold Shelbrooke is commemorated at the Tyne Cot memorial in Zonnebeke, Belgium.

Harold Edward Shelbrooke was my first cousin, three times removed.

CWG: Private Frank Woods

Frank Ernest Woods was born in 1885, one of seven children to Thomas and Alice. Thomas was a labourer and he raised his family in Worcestershire.

Frank left home early – by the time of the 1901 census, he was living as a gardener for the Cornforth family, who were grain merchants in South Claines, near Worcester.

Frank’s work with the family continued; the 1911 census show that they had relocated to Kensington. The Cornforth family were now running the Eaton Court Hotel, a boarding house with nineteen rooms; the 25-year-old Frank had been elevated to the role of waiter.

Another of the Cornforths’ staff was a housemaid, 20-year-old Ethel Elizabeth James; within a matter of years, the couple were courting, and Frank and Ethel married in November 1915.

The Great War was already being waged across the Channel, and Frank enlisted, joining the Rifle Brigade in June 1916. Within three months, he was fighting on the Western Front.

Private Frank Woods was killed in action in Belgium on 1th January 1918. He was 33 years old. He is remembered on the Tyne Cot Memorial in Zonnebeke.


Frank Ernest Woods was the first husband of my Great Great Great Aunt, Ethel Elizabeth James.

CWG: Corporal Sidney Hornby

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Sidney Horace Hornby was born to John and Emily in March 1880. John was a tailor’s assistant from Paddington, and the family – Sidney was the eldest of six siblings – initially lived in the Greenwich.

Sidney enlisted in the army in 1898. He joined the East Kent Regiment for a short service of seven years and was sent to South Africa. In March 1900 he was wounded at the Battle of Driefontein. His service, though, saw him promoted through the ranks from Private to Sergeant.

Something must have happened during his enlistment, however, as on 2nd September 1901 Sergeant Hornby’s military record marks him as having deserted.

Sidney’s records pick him up again on 24th April 1908, when he is put on court martial. Found guilty of desertion, he is reduced to the ranks and sentenced to three years’ penal servitude (later reduced to two years’ hard labour).

His attitude seems to continue, however, as within a matter of months he was discharged due to misconduct and denied any pension for his previous service.

Sidney’s family had moved from Greenwich to Kent at some point before the 1901 census, and his father died three years later. By the 1911 census, he had moved back in with his mother, and worked as a labourer to help look after them.

The Great War called, however, and it seems that Sidney’s previous misdemeanours did not excluding him from fighting again. He joined the Royal West Kent Regiment although his full service for the 1914-18 campaign are not accessible. Again, his service seems to have been good, as he was elevated to the rank of Sergeant for a second time.

Hints of Sergeant Hornby’s rebellious nature remain, however, as he was court marshalled again in February 1916. He was convicted of drunkenness, and reduced to the rank of Corporal.

That was the summer of the Battle of the Somme, and by the autumn Hornby was one of the many who fell during that time. He died on 4th October 1916 and was 36 years old.

Corporal Sidney Hornby is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.


Sidney Horace Hornby was my 1st cousin, four times removed.