Greater love hath no man…

Dockside     Drawing by Jack.

A few weeks ago I purchased an old drawing book which belonged to Jack Valentine Gardner*. It has taken me a while to find him in the records but I have managed to find a little bit about him and his family. His book is full pencil sketches of boats and ships, the sea and lighthouses. It also has this drawing of the rather grand churchlike building.  I haven’t been able to identify any of the places Jack drew nor can I give them an exact date. He certainly loved his drawing though, as you can tell by the detail he has put in to these two pictures.

*I have found the family name varies between Gardner/Gardener/Gardiner depending on source checked.

I first found the family in 1901. They were living beside the River Thames at Limehouse, a poor area at that time, next door to the Richard Cobden pub.  They had one floor of 32 Repton Street, the other being occupied by a couple and their three sons, the youngest  just 1 week old.

Many of the houses in this (and lots  of other) areas were divided in to two or more dwellings, rooms within these dwellings were sometimes sublet to other families. It would have been a noisy, crowded life.

Mary, who is a 35 year old widow, gave her occupation as a worker in a draper shop, where she spent her time selling lengths of material. She was born  in Limehouse though her children, Jack and Dorothy, were both born in West Ham about 4 miles away.

Jack and his little sister Dorothy wandered along to Dagleish Street School every day, it was just a five minute walk from home. Perhaps Mary was at home waiting for them when they arrived after school, although more likely Jack took Dorothy home and found her some bread and jam to eat while they waited for mum to finish her days work. Perhaps they played in the street with the neighbourhood children, or wandered around the docks looking for treasures to take home.

The school admissions book notes Jack’s birthday as 14th February 1893 (hence Valentine) and Dorothy’s as 12th November 1895. Dorothy began school on the 13th February 1899 aged just 3 years and 3 months, young but fairly standard then. Mary is listed as their parent, but with no fathers name given we can assume he was no longer with his family after January 1899 when Jack began at this school. The family may have lived elsewhere prior to this as Jack probably attended another school. Perhaps Mary moved back to Limehouse to be closer to friends or family after the death of her husband.

I have nothing to tell you of the Gardners over the next ten years, except that Jack left the school in July 1900 and Dorothy in July 1901. They were both far short of the leaving age of 12. They must have continued their education….but where?

By 1911 the family had moved onwards and literally upwardish, 70 miles northeast to Suffolk. They were now living in Bridewell Lane, Bury St Edmunds. Just how and why they have moved must remain a mystery unless some kind soul can put us out of our misery and tell us.

Mary (who has carelessly lost 3 years from her age..) was now working from home as a self-employed Needlewoman, Dorothy was a live-out domestic servant and Jack was serving out an apprenticeship with the local Blacksmith as a Striker – using a sledgehammer to strike larger pieces of metal working alongside his master.

There is a new member of the household, 13 year old Londoner Nelly May Wood, who was living with the family as a ‘nurse child’.  This usually meant a child who was being cared for by someone in their home for payment from the birth mother, father or- where a child had resided in the workhouse – the Parish from which the child was born in paid a weekly sum to the foster carer.

Some forward thinking people believed that city workhouses were no place for  young children and it was better for them to be bought up in the good clean country air until they became of an age ready to be trained up for useful work. Sometimes the child would have been adopted by the ‘someone’ or perhaps returned home if or when the situation which had caused the child to be removed was remedied. ‘Parish’ children would be returned to the workhouse until a place could be found for them to learn a trade.

And so life went on quietly, except perhaps for Jacks incessant hammering, until war was declared on Germany in 1914. Jack signed up and joined the 7th Suffolk Regiment. He and a new pal Arthur Hicks did their training together and went off to fight in Belgium and then to France in June 1917 to fight in the trenches, side by side. They swapped photos and really were good mates looking out for each other.

Early in October 1915 Mary received a long letter from Arthur, which was reproduced in the local paper the Bury Free Press. He had written to tell her that Jack had been killed on the front line, and he wanted her to know what had happened before she received the official telegram from the war office. Arthur wrote to Mary explaining how it had happened, to let her and her daughters know how brave her son was and how proud he was to have been his friend. He knew how distressed she would be but she must bear up as best she could, knowing her only son died a true British soldier trying to save his comrades. He told her how the pair had just moved forward into a new trench after walking for some days onto newly won ground. That night a terrific shelling began and some of the men in the trench were buried under rubble. Arthur, Jack and some other soldiers had rushed over with shovels to dig them out and save them from further injury when they suffered a direct hit and Jack, along with two other men, died instantly.

Arthur continues to tell Mary how he and Jack thought of each other as brothers, and he had written so she knew he didn’t suffer. He wrote ‘Greater love hath no man but this, that he lay down his life for his friends’.  It must have been a difficult letter to write, sitting in a muddy cold trench in France. He signs himself Private A S Hicks 14197 7th Suffolk Regiment.

The article finishes by mentioning that Jack had previously worked for Messers T.H Nice and Co Engineers in the Buttermarket, Bury St Edmunds. The Buttermarket was badly damaged in during a raid from a Zeppelin in April 1915.

Jack Valentine Gardner was killed in action on the 1st of October 1915. He is commemorated at Loos in France.

Arthur Sydney Hicks was killed in action on the 14th of August 1917. He is commemorated at Ypres in Belgium.

As for what became of Mary, Dorothy and Nelly, I am sorry to say I don’t know. The trail goes cold in 1915.


Lest we forget.

daniel t kay

Lest we forget.

Today being the 11th of November I thought it fitting to remember a soldier from my family  who died at the end of the Great War of 1914-1918. Thank you to mynwent for kindly allowing me to use the photograph.

My mum has written his story for you….

Daniel Thomas Kay was born in Stepney, London on the 11th October 1896, the son of Robert McGowan Kay and Ellen Catherine Nolan. As was often the case in those days he was named after his grandfathers. The Nolans had lived in the area for many years but the Kay family had moved from Oxfordshire where Roberts Scottish grandfather had worked for the Churchill’s at Blenheim Palace.

The young family lived and worked in East London, Robert was in his early 20’s and worked in a horseshoe factory as a labourer, possibly keeping the fires hot enough to melt the metal or moving sacks of coal around to the blacksmiths. It would have been hot and uncomfortable work. Ellen was a seamstress before her marriage and probably continued sewing to help support the family.

Three year old Daniels life changed for ever when, on the 2nd of March 1900, his father died from pneumonia and his maternal grandfather, Thomas, succumbed to bronchitis. Daniel and his mother seemed to part ways at this point, the little boy moving in with his widowed maternal grandmother Joanna and her children, while his mum, who was just 21 years old, moved in with her in-laws. Life was hard in those days with no real financial help for families where the breadwinner had died. It must have been a difficult time for Ellen – living apart from her son so she could support him and herself by returning to work.

The following year, when the 1901 census was taken, Daniel was still living with his grandmother, his uncle Thomas and his aunts Teresa and Annie where, according to family legend, he was spoilt rotten. Meanwhile a couple of miles away in Poplar, Ellen was still with the Kay family. Amongst the family there was her widowed brother in-law Charles and his 4 year old daughter Jane. Charles and Ellen became a couple soon after this and happily Daniel was re-united with his mother. Ellen married Charles in 1908, by this time I think it was almost acceptable for this to happen – before that it was illegal. As Ellen was a catholic I won’t mention the fact that they had already had two children together!

A month before the 1911 census the couple had their 5th child, Ellen. 14 year old Daniel was working in a paint factory with his stepfather Charles, and his stepsister Jane was a feather curler – curling feathers for ladies hats, which for some reason gave the family a great deal of amusement.

On the 9th of September 1914, just over a month after Britain entered the Great War, Daniel went to the local recruiting office and signed up.  He was a few weeks short of his 18th birthday but gave his age as 19. His service records tell us he weighed 118lbs had dark brown hair, blue eyes, was 5 feet 4 and 3/4 inches tall. He joined up at Greenwich and joined the London Rifle Brigade. He was then sent off for basic training.

By the autumn of 1915 he was in the trenches somewhere on the front line in France. On the day of the 23rd of September he came face to face with a German soldier of about the same age. The two youngsters hesitated while they took the situation in for a couple of seconds. Finally a decision was made and the other soldier fired. The bullet hit Dan’s chest pocket containing his grandmother Joanna’s bible and entered his upper arm. He was reported as missing in action, and later his family were told he had died of his wounds.

However, it later transpired through the Red Cross that he had been taken prisoner and had had to have his arm amputated. He was among first of 300 British officers and men to be sent to neutral Switzerland where he arrived on the 30th of May 1916. These men were chosen from German prisoner of war camps because they were regarded as being unable to take any further part in the war due to their injuries and wounds.

As they arrived in Switzerland people came out to cheer them along their way. Many of these men were suffering from terrible depression after being held prisoner for so long. The men made their own entertainment in their new home, they put on concerts and plays and those that were able could enjoy some freedom by walking and exercising. They could write to their loved ones and receive parcels from their families. Efforts were made to enable wives and mothers to visit them while they waited to be allowed home and many women did undertake the rather perilous journey across the sea to spend a few weeks with their men.

His mother Ellen made several attempts to see him, once her boat had to turn back after being torpedoed, but eventually she did manage to see him and when he told her about his grandmother’s bible saving his life she told him that Johanna had died at about the same time. Ellen reported back to the family she had left him in good spirits and they had talked about him returning to England after the war.

Unfortunately they were not to meet again. Daniel died from pneumonia, a complication of the influenza he fell ill with in November 1918. On the evening of the 5th of December a Catholic Priest sat with him briefly on his ward visit as he did each evening with many of sick and dying men, and later that night Daniel passed away in his sleep. He was just 22 years old.

Daniel was buried in a small graveyard and later he was re-interred in the larger cemetery at Vevey, Switzerland in a commonwealth grave. He is with 87 other men who died of wounds or influenza while waiting to go home to their families. His mother was allowed to choose the words to go at the bottom of his headstone – He died that we might live.

His brother and sisters had happy memories of Daniel. Ellen was three years old when he left for war but always remembered him swinging her round and making her squeal with laughter.