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Guest Ian Bowbrick

Gypsies in the Army

46 posts in this topic

Further to a discussion with SueL at the NA the other Saturday, here is a picture of 'Moleskin' Joe (on left) who served with one of my great-uncles in the War in the 178 Coy Labour Corps.

Joe was a real character and had a way with horses apparently.

Does anyone have any other anecdotes about gypsies serving in the War or pictures?

Ian

post-3-1057843881.jpg

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Thanks Ian for posting the picture - gypsies seem to be a difficult group to pin down. In researching my own family I have found very few men who enlisted, bearing in mind the enormous size of many of the families. It was, apparently, easy for the men to avoid national registration, and although many of them were 'settled' for the winter months, would have no problems with moving on for long periods of time if they wished to avoid conscription.

Surnames in the gypsy community were fairly limited, but many of the popular gypsy surnames were frequently found in the ordinary population as well, so a search of CWGC and 'Soldiers Died' doesn't help a great deal [if at all], with names that include Boswell, Bosworth, Lee, Smith, Penfold, and Loveridge. It is only possible to be fairly certain of a mans background if his forename is also one used predominantly by the travelling community, such as Samson, Goliath, Dangerful, Noah etc. I have been lucky, inasmuch as my paternal grandmother's maiden name was Gumble, and that would seem to occur almost exclusively within the Romany gypsy community, but because of its scarcity as a name, yields very few men.

Then, as now, gypsies have often been shunned and abused by the gorgio communities, and many would never have chosen to advertise their background, particularly within an 'enclosed' group such as they would find in the Army, for fear of being treated differently. Having said that, the ones that did enlist were admirably suited to the type of life they encountered, although not always suited to the discipline that accompanied it. I know of one or two people who are actively interested in researching gypsies in the war - a fascinating area to study.

My own father, a regular soldier for a very long time, enlisted between the wars, never breathed a word about his background, as he thought it would hinder his chances of promotion, and returned home on leave to pick lavender, and once again hitch the horse to the rag and bone cart!

Regards - Sue

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Sue is so right about the difficulties of defining the group as not all descendants of gypsies are particularly keen to acknowledge their origins which is a great shame and a sad commentry on the attitudes of parts of our society which obviously make them feel the need to deny a heritage. To return to the thread - I researched a relative for an old New Forest gypsy family a few years ago, they had never really known what happened to a Grandfather during the War, other than to know an approximate date of death. It transpired that he had enlisted long before conscription, had won the MM and was killed during the latter stages of the battle of Cambrai. He was commemorated on the memorial to the missing of the Cambrai battle and the last I heard the family was proposing to visit the memorial, pleased to have added something to an already rich family history. Obviously no conflicts regarding partiotism and committment there!

Mike

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Thanks for the replies. Interesting about the 'Moleskin Joe' connection; perhaps it was a common nickname at the time. The back of the picture has the inscription 'Moleskin Joe and Bailey sitting on the job. Somewhere in France'.

Sue - Interestingly both these soldiers were in the Infantry Labour Company Hampshire Regiment before it was subsumed into the Labour Corps. (Joe was 3rd & Bailey 1st).

Ian

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It is only possible to be fairly certain of a mans background if his forename is also one used predominantly by the travelling community, such as Samson, Goliath, Dangerful, Noah etc.

Sue,

On a recent visit to Epehy CWGC I noticed a headstone to a soldier called Goliath Tuddenham. Is he likely to have been a gypsy?

Regards

Hedley

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Hedley - I don't know if the surname is associated with the travelling community, but the first name is highly indicative of a gypsy connection. It would be a more definite sign if the man had been called, for instance, 'Goliath Boswell' [dead cert!], as presumably there must have been a few Goliaths born to non-gypsy Christian families along the years! But it was common then among Romany travellers - my G.G. grandfather was Samson Light, although he gave his boys some fairly conventional names.

Ian - when you first put the picture up I assumed that if Joe was on the left, then the man on the right was a relative of yours [which may be true]. What gripped me rather, was the similarity of the man on the right [bailey?] to my father. It's difficult to find a photo to compare, but I've put one at:

My Webpage

So either 'Bailey' and my father may well be distantly connected, or else you and I must be cousins :lol::o

Regards - Sue

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Sue,

No - I am not related to Pte Bailey at all. He was, I believe from the Southampton area, although he did lodge with my family after the war for some reason, possibly to find work in London. What became of Joe, I don't know.

I have identified both Joe & Pte Bailey from the records (rank, number & units) and have some more work to do on these guys, but I can mail you them off forum if you like. There does seem to a resemblance between your father and Pte Bailey.

Ian

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I too am interested in gypsies who served in the Great War. Their world, too, was changed for ever by the war.

Here's a picture of Sweetheart Heron, taken somewhere in Kent, 1913.

post-3-1057928371.jpg

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Very interesting thread. Gypsies sometimes have a need for lawyers and for years I have represented a family and went to many soical functions. There is a terrific book on modern gypsies, Bury Me Standing ( I have spent my whole life on my knees)

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I was interested to hear about the book, Paul.

Found a review, just ordered the book from Amazon!

Tom :D

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Ian

Further to Terry's remarks. You may be interested in reading Dick Sullivan's "Navvyman" Publish 1983 ISBN number 0906280109 which is very interesting on the role played by Navvies during WW1.

Also your photograph was taken sometime after the war ended - probably 1919 - they are wearing LC cap badges.

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Amongst some of the “local” men I have been researching is one John Aldridge of the Duke of Wellington (W/Riding) Rgt. He is buried at Etaples and I presume sadly died of wounds a month before the Armistice having been evacuated back to OC20 Base Hospital in that region. I believe he was nearly 19, although I think CWGC may have him down as early 20’s.

His family address was The Fairground!! His previous occupation was a “travelling showman” and amongst the few personal belongings returned to the family were two metal rings. Before going to France he was twice up before the CO, once for being three days absent and the other for being unshaven on parade. A stereotypical “traveller”??

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Going way off the Great War, but following on from Tom's picture of Sweetheart Heron, Radio Kent have some wonderful pages devoted to the Romany culture, and an excellent archive of photos at:

Romany Voices

Regards - Sue

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The Romany and Traveller Family History Society website can be found by clicking here.

I've recently read Seven Steps To Glory (published by R&TFHS), the story of a gypsy called Walter Pateman from the Orpington area who was conscripted in June 1916, served with 2/Middlesex and was KIA 27 February 1917. An interesting read.

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Ivor,

What cap badges did the Labour Corps wear in 1917/18 if not the one in the picture?

Thanks,

Ian

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Ian

On formation of the Labour Corps the men continued to win their regimental badge.

During August 1917 this was changed to the General Service badge. The change did not go down well with the men!

It was only in October 1918 that approval was given for the Labour Corps cap badge as seen in your picture. We do not know exactly when they were distributed but it was probably not until December 1918 or January 1919.

As a matter of interest I have a picture of a LC unit taken in July 1919 in which many of the men are wearing regimental badges and some LC badges!

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Ivor,

Many thanks - that clears up another puzzle and something in a family album!

This might sound a bit way off, but is this why so many LC men who died are recorded under their previous regimental details on CWGC & SDGW?

Just a thought?

Ian

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Ian

The War Office decided that if a man died whilst serving in the Labour Corps his grave should bear the badge of the first unit he served in.

So the CWGC records frequently show the Labour Corps as the secondary unit. I am sure Terry will be able to explain this far better than I can.

In addition it must be remembered that many men were in the Labour Corps for only a relatively short time. A man injured/ill and medically downgraded may well be transferred to the Labour Corps. But men were often medically reviewed and an improvement in health would see them transferred back to front line units. I am sure you have seen numerous MICs where you see a front line regiment then the Labour Corps then another (often different) front line regiment.

Also, another of my hobby horses, SDIGW is not the most reliable of historic documents. Not surprising when one considers how it was put together. As I have mentioned in the past in the case of SDIGW the Labour Corps shows about 5000 men but CWGC records show over 9500. Must admit I have often wondered what the figures are like for other regiments?

Ivor

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Ian

The War Office decided that if a man died whilst serving in the Labour Corps his grave should bear the badge of the first unit he served in.

So the CWGC records frequently show the Labour Corps as the secondary unit. I am sure Terry will be able to explain this far better than I can.

In addition it must be remembered that many men were in the Labour Corps for only a relatively short time. A man injured/ill and medically downgraded may well be transferred to the Labour Corps. But men were often medically reviewed and an improvement in health would see them transferred back to front line units. I am sure you have seen numerous MICs where you see a front line regiment then the Labour Corps then another (often different) front line regiment.

Also, another of my hobby horses, SDIGW is not the most reliable of historic documents. Not surprising when one considers how it was put together. As I have mentioned in the past in the case of SDIGW the Labour Corps shows about 5000 men but CWGC records show over 9500. Must admit I have often wondered what the figures are like for other regiments?

Ivor

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Oops - sorry pressed button twice!

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I know this is an old thread , But I think its the most appropriate place to put it . I would be grateful if any member can help me find some info on this man ? His name is Noah Willett (or Willitt) Its hard to pick the badge on his cap ? but as he came from Newport on the Isle of Wight (and I believe he is buried there ?) I reckon it could be the Hampshire Regt ? Its believed he was a professional soldier (or may have stayed on after being called up ?) and was in the army for 12 years. Its also believed he was in India at some time ? (7th Batt Hants?) A mate of mine knowing of my interest asked if I could find out anything about his service, Hence my post. Hope you can help? Cheers and Kushti Bok "MO"

post-13272-1171553631.jpg

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Mo,

Thanks for resurrecting this very interesting thread, and for posting your splendid pic of Noah Willett and his canine friend. I'm puzzled, though, as to why you think this thread is the right place for him - unless he was also a gypsy and you just forgot to mention it.

Mick

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Hello Mick , Of course he was Romani, Where else was I to put him :D ? I just thought If I put his pic under the appropriate Thread heading people wouldnt have to ask ? guess I was wrong ? :)

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Great photo

Willett is a typical gypsy name. Of the three Noah Willetts on the 1901 census one is aged 44 and a flower hawker supposedly born at Brighton and living in a van at Hailsham with his wife Raven(?) and 5 children, including 6 year old Noah. Another Noah , aged 8 and supposedly born at Seal in Kent, is shown to be living with his father Joseph (ag lab) and 7 children, daughter in law and grandson in tents at Seal.

Andy

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