My grandfather was born on the 26th October 1885 in Wingland Marsh on the border between Norfolk and Lincolnshire just by the Wash.
His father was Edward William and his mother Fanny Lee, who were married on the 30th August 1885 in the parish of Terrington, Norfolk in respectable time for his birth. Edward was an Agricultural Labourer. 70% of the population in those days worked on the land and this was perhaps one of the most common occupations.
Although grand-dad had three names, Frederick Robert William, he obviously preferred William, as this was the one he used in the army and I remember him being called Billy.
On a postcard written in 1905 by his future wife to him at Warley Barracks, she calls him 'Willy'.
In the 1891 census, when William was 5 years old, the family appear in Rotherhithe, Kent on the Thames coast. His father's occupation is 'Gas stoker' and Evelyn Rebecca his sister is 4.
In the 1870's, agriculture slumped and people began moving into the cities looking for work. The Industrial Revolution was in full swing so there was a large migration of people into industrial jobs. Rotherhithe was a small port and close by was the biggest plant in Europe producing 'coal gas' which was made from coal by partially burning it and extracting and storing the gas is gigantic cylinders. The residue was coke which was sold as fuel. When natural gas from the North Sea was discovered in Britain, the old gas producing plants were phased out.
Another daughter, Alice was born in 1894, but sadly Fanny died in November 1895. Her death was caused by 'Phithis' an old latin term for any wasting disease. In her case it probably was Tuberculosis. Conditions in Rotherhithe were grim with overcrowding, poor hygiene and disease brought in by the visiting ships.
The result of Fanny's death was that the 3 children were placed in foster homes, not council nominated families as in the present day, but with friends and family.
The 1901 census has William living back in Norfolk in the Parish of West Lynn. He is described as a nephew and is working as a General Labourer. The house is between the Rectory and the Cherry Tree Inn , number 119 near the church, and he is living with William Merry who is a dairyman 'working on his own account'. William Merry was the brother of Rebecca Merry who married Henry Lee in Kings Lynn in September 1862. They were Fanny Lee's parents, therefore William Merry was William's great uncle. There are also an Annie and Albert Lee, described as niece and nephew.
In the 1901 census Evelyn was living with the Whitby family in Norfolk and Alice was with the England family in Somerleyton, Suffolk. In both cases the sisters married members of their host families.
Up to the present no record has been found of what happened to Edward William. On William's 1910 marriage certificate his father is noted as deceased.
He joined the army on 1st December 1903, aged 18,and was probably sent to the depot of the Gloucestershire Regiment in Bristol. The 2nd Battalion returned from the Boer War in 1904 when he joined them at Warley Barracks.
It is a mystery why a Norfolk born boy would join a county regiment across the country, but possibly the recruiting sergeants travelled all over the country, or William had read about the regiment in the romantic literature that was published about the Boer War. The siege and relief of Ladysmith, in which the 1st Gloucesters took part, was big news at the time and would have stirred any young mans patriotic feelings.
There is a postcard dated November 16th 1905 addressed to Private W.Chapman, 2nd Gloustershire Regiment at Warley Barracks, Brentwood , Essex.
Another postcard dated October 8th 1907 is addressed to Bandsman Chapman at Aldershot. He was in the Corunna Barracks, Stanhope Lines. He played the clarinet and told me once that he had been to Kneller Hall which was the Army Band School.
The 2nd Gloucestershire Regiment also spent time at the Tower of London and Portsmouth.
The next document we have is his marriage to Annie Pemberton on the 26 December 1910 at the Parish Church, Hornchurch, Essex. He is described as a “traveller”, which in those days was the name for a salesman or rep, so he had left the army. From his military record, there is no indication of him leaving the army at this time, but his discharge date in June 1915 after he was wounded. The historian at the Gloucestershire Regimental museum wrote that it was normal practice in those days to release a soldier after 7 years service, but keep him on the reserve list to be called up immediately on declaration of war. This is what happened as war was declared on the 4th August 1914 and William was landing in France with his regiment on the 13th!!
My father William Robert, was born on the 23rd October 1911 at Ethelburga Road, Harold Wood, Essex. His father William's occupation is “Millers Traveller”. The exact address is not indicated, but the 1911 census, which was taken on Sunday 2nd April, shows that William and Annie were living with her parents Robert and Mary Ann Pemberton on the corner of Ethelburga Road so it is assumed that my father lived with them.
A daughter, Nancy was born in 1913, but died in 1916 when she was only 3 years old
In August 1914, when the First World War started, William was called up as a reservist with his old regiment the Gloucestershire Regiment, and was wounded in January 1915 which ended his military service. He was discharged from the army on the 8th June 1915.
He had 2 more children after the war, Ernest Edward, born the 3rd September 1917 and Kathleen, born in 1925. (GRO reference 2nd quarter, vol 4a page 1013, Romford district).
Ernest's birth certificate indicates that they lived a 3 Elizabeth Cottages in Ethelburga Road. William's occupation is Explosives Examiner in Arsenal. Woolwich Arsenal during WW1 was dedicated to making artillery shells and employed 80 thousand people. William would have made an ideal examiner having been blown up by one himself!
After the war, he found a job as a signalman with the LNER, probably called the Great Eastern Railway in those days. He was in charge of the signal box at Harold Wood station.
Bill and Alice Ling were married in 1935 and William's occupation was given as Station Porter. He became Station Master shortly before his retirement.
During this time he lived at 11 Ethelburga Road in the end cottage of a row. The advantage was that he had a large garden and was able to grow vegetables and flowers. During the 1939-45 war, when food was rationed I remember going every Sunday with my dad on the crossbar of his bike and coming back with a bag of mixed vegetables.
He died at Brentwood Hospital on the 6th February 1980 aged 94.