Entries in Northamptonshire Regiment (3)


Ball, Thomas (1835 - 1886). SOLDIER OF EMPIRE

Thomas Ball 1835 – 1886


We first find Thomas Ball in 1841 aged seven living in Ringstead, with his parents Daniel, a shepherd, and Phoebe and his brothers, “Daniel, John, James, Samuel and Elisher”. On 12 September of the same year he is baptised at Ringstead Parish Church with three of his brothers. Perhaps there was a reduction for a job lot. In 1851 he is still living with his parents but at seventeen he is now an agricultural labourer.

Then, like his siblings George, Daniel, Sarah and John and his younger brother Elisha, he disappears from the censuses. Most have gone to the New World but George and Thomas prove more elusive to trace although fragments of Thomas's life appear. Unlike Elisha,  he does not reappear again in Ringstead with children whose birth places tell of his travels.

There is one possible siting. On a Stray Marriages site I found the following:

BALL Thomas of Raunds, age 21 bachelor, father Daniel, shepherd Sarah GALE otp age 21, spinster, father Henry, carpenter 18 Oct 1855 Pertenhall BDF {Bedfordshire}

It does give his home parish as Raunds rather than Ringstead but it seems too much of a coincidence: same name, same age, same father with same occupation! Also I cannot find any siting of another Thomas Ball in later censuses to fit this same description.  Assuming that this is the correct marriage there is more confusion because some five years later, in the 1861 Census Sarah is still living with her parents, Henry and Mary, in Pertenhall, and is surnamed Gale, not Ball. It appears to show her as married and certainly there is a marriage certificate. By 1871 she has disappeared and I have been unable to trace her. In 1881 her mother, Mary Gale, now aged 79 and a widow is visiting George Pearson, a labourer, living in "The Bear, St. Mary's Street, St Neots in Huntingdonshire. George's wife is Sarah, aged 45 and born in Pertenhall. Could this be Sarah Gale? I have not yet traced any marriage. In 1891 George, now a gardener, and Sarah are living in Yaxley in Huntingdonshire.

Of course this may all be a false trail but Thomas's story is one of alleyways and cul-de-sacs. If we have the right person, the fact that she is put as Sarah Gale and not Ball is a strong indicator that something has gone wrong. There is no sign of Thomas either in 1861 or 1871

In the 1881 Census, thirty years after his last appearance, we find a Thomas Ball living at 1 London Wharf, High Street, Chatham, Kent. This Thomas is only 37 (not 47 as we would expect) but it does show his birthplace as Ringstead, Northants. His wife is Emily J Ball aged 31 and born in Cathrington, Hampshire. They have a son Edgar J aged two months old and born in Chatham, Kent. Thomas is also shown as a Chelsea Pensioner so we know that he had been in the army. Although the Census describes them as married, I have been unable to find a record of their wedding.

Looking at the birth certificate for Edgar John Peter Ball we see that Emily’s maiden name was Ellis. Emily too is something of a mystery and she variously is shown in the Censuses as coming from Cathrington, Chichester and Frogmore. It also shows Thomas as a labourer so he is still trying to earn a living. A Pensioner was allowed to work for a living, for a pension would not have been enough to live on. The great majority of Chelsea Pensioners received outpayments and did not lodge in Chelsea and wear the familiar red uniform.

With this lead we turn to the British Army Records for Chelsea Pensioners in the National Archives of the Public Record Office in Kew (and now increasingly online). Suddenly those missing years are filled in. Here is one of a number of Ringstead farm labourers who has left the security, and insecurity, of a Northamptonshire village for a world full of excitement and danger but one which gave him the chance of earning a living.

What we see are his discharge papers recording his service and his entitlement to a pension. It also tells us a little about the man. He was 5 feet 8 inches tall, of fresh complexion with grey eyes and brown hair. His only scar is from a cut on the end of the forefinger of his left hand. Few coming out of the army would have got away so lightly.

It also confirms that he was born in Ringstead and was a labourer before signing up. He "attested" for the 48th, The Northamptonshire Regiment of Foot , at Northampton on 28th September 1857, at the age of 21 years 10 months which means that he was born in November 1835. Was his enlistment connected to his 'marriage' to Sarah, some two years earlier?

He had been in the army for 21 years so where had Private 2548 Thomas Ball been up to his final discharge on 8th October 1878? We are told that for the first 7 years 14 days he had been a private in the 48th but that on 11th October 1864 he transferred to the 3rd Rifle Brigade with whom he remained until his discharge. It is also recorded that he served abroad for 13 years 77 days of which 28 days were in Gibraltar and 13 years 49 days in India.

The Northamptonshire Regiment of Foot had fought in the Crimean War with distinction and when that conflict had finished moved first to Malta and then Gibraltar for about a year.  The Northamptonshire Militia Regiment had re-embodied (re-formed) in 1857 when news came of the Indian Mutiny. It assembled on 27th October 1857 and proceeded by rail to Plymouth on 4th December. The militia remained in Plymouth until May 1858 when it received orders to return to Northampton to be disembodied. Did Thomas travel down with the Militia and then sail out to join the regular Northamptonshire Regiment in Gibralter. perhaps as one of the replacements for the losses suffered in the Crimea. He was only there for a month when orders were received from London and the regiment embarked for India. Apparently, the 48th had behaved well in Gibraltar and they were given a hearty send-off by crowds of local people as they marched to the docks behind various regimental bands.

SS Hindoostan (from an Indian stamp isued in 1997)

It was the 15th September 1858 when the regiment left Gibralter on the steam transport ship Jura and a week later landed in Alexandria in Egypt. It was transported by rail to the terminus but from there travelled by donkey across the desert to Suez. Thomas and the other soldiers would have seen the construction of the great canal in progress but it would be another 11 years before it was opened for shipping. At Suez they boarded the P & O Steamer Hindoostan and after an unpleasant overcrowded voyage, (there were only enough bunks for half the men), arrived in Calcutta on 20th October They had been at sea for a month and must have been grateful to get their own bunks in the barracks at Barrackpore. It was on the Barrackpore (Barrackpur) parade ground that a single sepoy had first refused to use the alleged "cow and pig fat" bullets, the action that had triggered the rising.

The regiment had just missed the vicious fighting of the Indian Mutiny and it seems that its time in India was comparatively uneventful. They were stationed, over the next seven years, at Allahabad, Calpee, Cawnpore, Lucknow and Calcutta. These had had been places where the rising had been at its most vicious. It is not for us here to allot guilt but, certainly, terrible massacres were carried out by both sides. Although armed hostilities were over it must have been a tense time both between British and Indian soldiers in the army but also between the army and the civilain population. It was because of the Mutiny that India came directly under the Crown rather than the East India Company.

On 1st January  1865 the Northamptonshire Regiment of Foot sailed for home on the S.S. Patrician but Private Thomas Ball was not with them. Nearly three months earlier, on 11th October 1864, he had transferred to the Third Battalion of the Rifle Brigade. We can only speculate as to his reasons for this move. What seems certain is that he realised that this would prolong his time in India. Perhaps he enjoyed the life in the sub-continent and he seems to have been a model soldier. Although he was never promoted, he was never court-martialled and gained five good conduct badges and one good conduct medal in his career. There is also the possibility that we are right in our unproved theory that something had gone very wrong in his marriage and he wanted to keep out of England. The records we have do not help and give no details of his marital status or children.

 Rifle Brigade Uniforms 1871

History of the Rifle Brigade (The Prince Consort's Own). William Henry Cope

The Rifle Brigade was a famous fighting force with their colonel being Field Marshall H.R.H. The Prince of Wales. Its title usually had "Prince Consort's Own" in brackets after the brigade name. It had been formed in 1806 (check) to make use of the new more accurate rifles in the Napoleonic Wars and was famous for having a green, rather than the usual red, uniform. It is difficult to work out if the two forces were stationed close to each other at the time of Thomas's transfer, but it does not seem likely with the 48th in the east near Calcutta and the Third Battalion of the Rifle Brigade in the west around Rawal Pindee (Rawalpindi). Perhaps Thomas and others who elected to stay travelled partly by the Indian railway system which was one of the legacies that the British left.


A Murree bridge in 1865. Could this be the road that Thomas worked on?


The 3rd battalion moved around the North-West area in what is now Pakistan : from the headquarters at Rawal Pindee to Peshawar and Nowshera. In 1866 and 1867 they worked on a road from Murree to Abbottabad. Thomas was probably one of these road-makers because on 26th April 1867 he was re-engaged at Rawal Pindee.

                            North West India

       From the New Pictorial Atlas of the World (Odhams Press. No date)

On January 10th 1869 the 3rd Battalion left Rawal Pindee and marched to Moradabad and Seetapore. From there they travelled by rail to Allahabad and on to Bombay. Their tour of duty was over and on 21st November 1870 the brigade embarked on H.M. Troopship Euphrates. This time Thomas was on board.

On the way home they stopped at Aden for a week before leaving on December 7th on the final lap of their journey on the Troopship Seraphis . The brigade finally arrived in Portsmouth harbour on 30th December 1871. Even though they had spent much of the time in the cooler highlands of  north-west India an English winter must have come as something of a shock. They occupied the Clarence barracks and were joined by the Depot companies from Chatham. Over the next six years the Battalion moved between Exeter, Darmoor, Plymouth and Winchester before moving to their permanent barracks in Chatham. Each year there would be manoeuvres but Thomas would have no more active service. By luck he had missed both the terrible European and Indian conflicts.

One can only speculate as to Thomas's state of mind on returning home. There is no sign that he went to see his relatives and old friends in Ringstead. Was he pleased to see his home shores after so many years or was he worried about just what awaited him in England.

Thomas left the army with a £5 gratuity and a good conduct medal for his years of service. He also had a small "Chelsea Pension". He still had to work as a labourer, for a pension was not enough to live on. It is also about this time that he probably met a woman called Emily Ellis. The Censuses variously give her birthplace at various places in Hampshire so it is possible that they met while Thomas was stationed or on manouevres in the south west. On his discharge form, in September 1878, he gives his intended place of residence as No. 4 Lower Church Path, New Brompton, Chatham.

As we have seen in 1881 his residence is given as 1 London Wharf, High Street, Chatham and his son Edgar is just two months old so Emily and Thomas  met , if not before he left the army, at least shortly after. It must have been something of a change for an army man in his forties, used to barracks and army discipline, to find himself with a wife and a young family. It is possible that his labouring work was in one of Chatham's military establishments so perhaps he did find an environment with which he was familiar.

Unfortunately for Thomas he was not long to enjoy his new life. After many years of living in the tropics and enduring the tough dangerous life of a soldier, on the 11th April 1886 at Old Luton Road, Chatham, he died, a civilian in England, aged just forty nine. His death certificate records that he is an army pensioner. It also records that he died of Phthisis Pulmonaris an old name for Tuberculosis (TB), a feared disease in the nineteenth century and one that is still a killer in the world today. It was rife in England at this time and much of the milk was contaminated with it.

For Emily his death also meant that she would have to struggle to bring up her young family. The 1891 Census shows Emily Ball, as a widow, aged 41, with her sons Edgar aged 9 and Charles aged 7, both of whom were born in Chatham. She now lives at Church Path, Chatham. Emily is a laundress, one of the occupations resorted to by women who feared the workhouse. This is the address (or close to it) given by Thomas at his discharge. Perhaps it was a friend or relative of his or Emily's which they stayed in for a time after he came out of the army and which she either rented or inherited some time after his death.

In 1901 Emily, now 50, is living with her two sons, Edgar (20) and Charles (19) at 10 Butter Farm (?) Street, Gillingham. She also has a boarder, Jesse Woods, a sixty-five year old house painter from Leeds. It does not show Emily as working but the two sons are both Assistant Corn Factors. By 1911 Emily is aged 68 and shown as coming from Frogmore in Hampshire. She is living at 17 Albany Road Gillingham, still with her two sons, now 30 and 28 and unmarried. Edgar is a carter for the District Council and Charles a General Labourer at the Government Shipyard. For the first time, in 1911, the residents filled in the Census forms themselves. In this case it was Edgar, and we must presume that her age is correct and that she was born in about 1842, rather than the 1850 that we might expect.

Could Edgar have been wrong or had she lied about her age all these years? I believe that Edgar married Olive Trice in 1915 in the Medway District and that Emily died in 1920. Did Thomas tell Emily and his sons of those times in India and have they become part of a family tradition or has Thomas's life, like most, been  lost to his future family. 


Censuses 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871. 1881, 1891, 1901, 1911

Ringstead BMD (NRO)

Birth Certificate for Edgar John Peter Ball 24th January 1881

Death Certificate for Thomas Ball

England & Wales FreeBMD Marriage Index 1837 - 1915 (Oct - Dec 1855 St Neots District Vol 3b p 727)

British Service Records - Other Ranks 1760 - 1913 (NA Ref. WO97 / 2158 / 71 Public Record Office) and transcribed on 

History of the Northamptonshire Regiment 1742 - 1934. Lieut - Colonel Russell Gurney (Gale & Polden Ltd. Aldershot 1935).

History of the Rifle Brigade (The Prince Consort's Own). William Henry Cope. (Chatto and Windus 1877). This book has been reprinted and has also been digitised on





The Peacock Family. A Tale of Many Colours


The Peacock family is one of the oldest in Ringstead, stretching back at least into the seventeenth century. We will pick up the family with Thomas Peacock who married Susannah Smith on 6th April 1793 In Ringstead Parish Church. The couple had six children before Susannah’s death, aged 46, on 19th September 1813. Thirteen Years later Thomas, a local farmer, married again to Elizabeth Mayes and had a further five children. Seven of the eleven children died before they were twenty years old, most in infancy. Only Elizabeth, who married Thomas Abbott and Thomas from the first marriage and Reuben and Richard from the second survived to have children of their own. Of these, Reuben died when he was only thirty-three years old.

A simplified chart of the Peacock family.

 Main people covered are shown in bold and siblings not shown. Birth dates approximate.


William Peacock (1831 – 1891)

We will be looking at some of the descendants of Thomas, from the first marriage, who was born on the 8th May 1807 and Richard from the second, born in about 1837 and baptised ion the 26th May of that year. Two step brothers born thirty years apart.

Thomas junior had married Sarah Ward on the 12th October 1830 and first we will look at their eldest son, William, born some six years before his Uncle Richard. There are two baptisms for William and often this would indicate a “replacement” son but as there is no sign of a burial it seems that he was indeed baptised twice, first on the 6th November 1831 and then again with his brother John on the 11th November 1832.

This double blessing did not set a seal on William’s life and too much water was not to be the cause of his problems. His mother, Sarah, died in 1840, just a few months after the birth of a sixth child, Charles. The 1841 Census shows Thomas, at thirty-five (possibly thirty-four) a young widower with five children, aged from to two years old. Living with them there appears to be Robinson Phillips, twenty years old, and probably acting as a housekeeper to the young family. By 1851 Thomas is still a widower and his eldest and youngest sons are shoemakers but John and Robert are agricultural labourers like their father. The only daughter, Susannah is sixteen and not shown with any occupation. It seems likely that she has now taken over the role of housekeeper.

The first time that William seems to have troubled the law was shortly after the Census, on the 22nd July 1851. William Weekley Ball, although he had not been charged with the murder of his mistress, Lydia Attley, was believed by many of the locals to be guilty. Local animosity forced him to leave Ringstead and set up business again in Ramsey in Huntingdonshire. Ball was trying to leave the village in a wagon piled up with his furniture and possessions. It appears that there was an angry crowd seeing him off but also some friends. Thomas Dunmore, a tailor, tried to stop people from cutting the ropes that held the furniture on the wagon but William Peacock immediately struck Thomas on the head with his fist. At the Petty Sessions William was fined five shillings with costs of £1 8s. 6d.

Ten years later finds Thomas, aged 53 and still a widower with William, at 27, now a shoemaker, as is youngest son Charles. Susan, at 24 (actually 26) was still a housekeeper and this is a role that she keeps for the rest of her life.

On 2nd April 1870 the Northampton Mercury reported that:

On Saturday last the 26th Thomas Peacock, labourer, of Ringstead, aged sixty years, was found dead in bed. He had been living with his daughter and two sons. Of late he has been as well as usual and never complained. The previous evening he went to bed in his usual good health.

The three siblings never married and lived together for most of their lives. We do not know whether alcohol played any part in William’s attack on Thomas Dunmore but we do know that it was going to bring him into constant trouble for much of his life. There is a later case of drunkenness involving his brother Charles and Robert too has brushes with the law but it was William who could be rightly called, if a Peacock can be, the black sheep of the family.

On 11th January 1869 William first appeared in the Northampton Mercury charged with drunkenness and riotous behaviour on the 8th December at Thrapston Petty Sessions. Other convictions were also proved against him and he was ordered to pay a fine and costs amounting to 14s. 6d. and to find sureties for his future conduct and in default to be committed to Northampton Gaol for two months. One can only guess that he spent his time in prison.

He came up again before the courts in September of the same year when, along with Noah Dicks and Alfred Wilson he was charged with drunkenness on the 21st August in Ringstead. The Mercury reported

Defendant did not appear, and service of the summons was proved in the usual manner, and the usual process resorted to.

By 1871 William was lodging with shoemaker William Bull and his wife in Shop Street and is now shown as an agricultural labourer. His three unmarried siblings, Susan, Robert and Charles are still living together in Church Street. Has William’s behaviour caused a falling-out? It is likely that the number of Ringstead men brought to trial for drunkenness would have been affected by the attitude of the local police constable and whether he was stationed in the village. Certainly with William there seems a gap in his court appearances in Thrapston but there is another explanation for this break.

There is a police record of a William Peacock aged forty from Huntingdon Gaol. He had been found guilty of stealing a hat and dog chain on 15th July 1871 and sentenced to six weeks hard labour. His intended place of residence after he has served his sentence is given as Ringstead. We do get a rare description of an ordinary person from this time both from his written particulars but also from the new procedure of photographing prisoners. Petty criminals often did not have to move far to leave their past behind and often took on numerous aliases. These photographs were part of an attempt to stop this deception.

William was described as 5 foot. 7½ inches tall with dark brown hair, grey eyes and with a fresh complexion. The photograph also shows his mutton chop sideboards and also the bulky coat and waistcoat and battered hat. Protection from the elements was more important than being too hot even in July when we must assume that this photograph was taken.

By 1881 William is back living, as head of the house, with his sister and brothers. It confirms that he is now a farm labourer. Unfortunately either he has avoided the local courts or his drinking once more seems to take over and he falls foul of the law. Inspector Tarry charged him with being drunk and disorderly on the 7th September 1881 and he was fined £1 with 10s. 6d. costs and committed for one month in default of payment. He was again accused of being very drunk and abusive by P.C. Elias brown on 20th February 1883. He did not appear in court and was fined 20 shillings with 10 shillings costs or a month in gaol in default. There was a similar appearance and sentence in April 1884. In January 1888 he was accused of stealing an elm pole worth two pence on the previous December 22nd. The prosecutor withdrew the case and William was discharged with a caution. A few months later, however, he was again accused of stealing some wooden rails, the property of the Reverend G.H. Capron. The local police constable had found two of the poles in his barn but William claimed that: 

                . . .  he thought the rails had floated down with the flood from Addington or Irthlingborough.

He was sentenced to fourteen days hard labour.

It seems that the drinking as well as the hard labour took their toll. On Monday 2nd March 1891 the Mercury reported:

On Monday morning a man named William Peacock was suddenly taken ill. The doctor was sent for, but he died a few hours after. No inquest was held, the doctor being able to certify the cause of death.

The three remaining siblings, Robert Susan and Charles never married and continued living together into old age. The 1891 Census recorded them now in Denford Road and in 1901 they are living at 3 Drayton Cottages. Charles, the youngest, who had been summoned for drunkenness died first in 1906 and Susan(ah) the following year.  By 1911, Robert, now 70, and still a farm labourer, is living by himself in Agutter’s Farm Cottages. He died in 1915.


Ringstead Censuses ( and ).

Ringstead Parish Registers (NRO and ).

Northampton Mercury ( ).

Victorian Crime and Punishment. ( ).


John Thomas Peacock (1863 – 1896)


As we have seen William Peacock and three of his siblings never married and spent most of their lives living together. He had one brother, John, baptised, with him in 1832, who did marry and have a large family. John married Jane Bates on 25th July 1856 in Ringstead Church and they had eight children. We will be looking at two of these children, John Thomas, usually known as Thomas, born in 1863 and baptised on the 22nd May 1864 and a child of his younger brother, Arthur Henry, baptised three years later.

John Peacock, the father was a shoemaker. He and his wife, Jane were living in Church Street in 1871 with children William, aged 14 and an apprentice shoemaker, Eliza 10, (John) Thomas 8, Arthur 4 and youngest child Agnes two years old. By 1881 Thomas had also become an apprentice shoemaker. Also living in Church Street was an army shoemaker called Michael Bellamy. He had been born in Sudborough but had married Ringstead girl Charlotte Childs and by 1881 there were seven children. Martha Ellen, the eldest, was seventeen years old and was a shoe stitcher. She like John Thomas preferred to use her second name.

The two obviously got to know each other because they married, both aged 20, on the 4th October 1883 in the local church. Perhaps surprisingly, at this late date, when John Thomas could have attended the village school he made his mark on the Marriage Register although Martha Ellen signed her name in a clear hand. By 1891 the couple had four equally spaced children with Albert, the eldest seven and the youngest Oris (Horace) just one month old. There was to be one more child, called Thomas but a terrible tragedy struck the family before his birth

Ellen, pregnant with Thomas went to bed at about 11 o’clock on the 15th January 1896. She left her husband sitting by the fire reading by the light of a paraffin oil lamp. A few minutes later, he finished reading and started up the stairs to bed, carrying the lamp to light his way. Ellen heard a shout and then the crash of the lamp falling. She rushed out of their bedroom to see what had happened.

She saw Thomas enveloped in flames and ran back into her bedroom and opened the window and screamed for help. Amos Weekley, a neighbour, heard her screams and forced the door open. He found John Thomas in flames and running about the house. Amos helped put out the flames and Thomas told him that that he had trod on his long shoemaker’s apron on the stairs and fell forward on the lamp which at once caught fire and ignited his clothes.

A doctor was fetched and Thomas was taken to Northampton Infirmary suffering from severe burns to his right thigh and both hands. He survived for some six weeks but died on 27th February from “the shock to his system and the burns”. His long survival may indicate that it was an infection which finally killed him for this was still the most usual cause of death in burns cases.

At the inquest the jury returned a verdict of accidental death and the coroner, in summing up:

. . . commented on the regrettably large number of accidents caused through people using improper and unsafe lamps. He did not wish to praise any particular lamps but it was a grave misfortune that so many people had common lamps which easily caught fire, while there were so many kinds which did not allow the oil to escape into the flames.

Ellen was left a widow with her young family and by 1901 she was living at 30 High Street in Ringstead with her five children aged from seventeen to four. Her younger sister, Ethel, a boot closer, was staying with her, perhaps also helping with the children. A year later, Ellen married widower Benjamin Phillips, a shoe worker in a local factory. In 1911 Benjamin and Ellen are living with Bert, Benjamin’s young son from his first marriage and four of Ellen’s children. Bessie aged 21 is a heel builder and Thomas at fourteen is a “factory lad”. Horace, aged 20, is working on a farm but it is Cyril who is 21 and whose occupation is something of a surprise, for he is a hairdresser. We will come back to Cyril in a later biography.



Northampton Mercury 6th March 1896; 1st January 1897. ( )

Ringstead Censuses. ( and ).

Ringstead Parish Registers. ( and NRO).



Richard Peacock (c 1836 – 1917)


We will now return to Richard who was the youngest son of farmer, Thomas Peacock (born about 1763) and his second wife Elizabeth Mayes.  He was the step brother of Thomas junior whose descendants we have so far considered.

The 1841 Census Ringstead Census shows Thomas, aged seventy-five and now of independent means. Living with him is his second wife, Elizabeth and children Reuben (13), Hannah (12), Catherine (10), Mary (8) and Richard (6), Thomas died on April 22nd 1847 aged eighty-five.  The 1851 Census shows Elizabeth (58) as a widow and housekeeper with her sons, Reuben (23) and Richard (16) both journeyman shoemakers. Since the 1841 Census this second family have had some tragic losses. Mary died on June 11th, aged ten, Catherine aged fifteen on October 2nd of the same year. Hannah died aged eighteen died a few months after her elderly father on December 4th 1847.

More sadness followed for the 1861 Census shows the oldest child, Reuben, aged thirty-two, working as a carpenter, with his wife Mary from Marker Harborough.  A few weeks after the Census was taken Reuben too died, leaving only Richard as the only surviving child of Thomas’s second marriage. Three of the six children of Thomas’s first marriage to Susannah Smith also died in infancy so it was a family used to sadness.

Richard married Mary Ann Gray, daughter of a shepherd from Titchmarsh on 13th October 1856. Mary had worked as a cook at Clapton Hall prior to her marriage. The 1861 Census shows the couple with their three-year-old daughter Ellen. They are living a few doors away from his stepbrother, Thomas, some twenty-seven years his senior and recently widowed and beyond him live his oldest brother, Reuben who has only a few weeks to live. In the other direction lives Thomas’s son, John with his wife, Jane, and their two children. For good or ill they are rarely far from other Peacock family members through the passing Censuses.

The 1871 Census shows Richard and Mary in Church Street with their four children. He is now thirty-six and a shoemaker and grocer. Next door are his stepbrother’s unmarried children, Susan, Robert and Charles. Although the Census shows Richard as a grocer it is likely that his wife, with eldest daughter Ellen run the shop while Richard carried on with his craft. The 1881 Census recognized this by showing Mary as the grocer with possibly daughters Sarah and Elizabeth now helping in the shop and also with the two-year-old daughter, Annie. Ellen, the eldest had married shoemaker Ebenezer Mayes in 1876.

By 1891, now fifty-six, Richard is shown as the grocer and it may be that he had given up his shoemaking either through age or the scarcity of work in the industry. The 1901 Census tells us that they were still grocers and that their address was 21 Church Street. Only the youngest daughter, Annie, is still at home and working as a boot closer. Living next door now is Arthur Peacock, the grandson of Richard’s stepbrother, Thomas, with his wife Emma and their eleven-year-old son Arthur. We will write of him next.

May Ann died on 15th February 1910, aged 73 and the 1911 Census still has seventy-six year old Richard working as a shopkeeper on his own. It may surprise some younger readers that even until the 1970s many larger villages would be dotted with small grocery and sweet shops, perhaps with some other sideline, which were kept going usually by elderly women. They would have relied mainly on their longstanding older customers and profits would have been very low and dwindling.

Richard died on April 18th 1917 aged 82 and he and his wife are buried in the Ringstead Cemetery under a solid headstone with two hands , one perhaps welcoming the other into the afterlife, carved at the top. For the most part it is the headstones of the tradesmen and farmers that have survived from this period. The stones of ordinary shoemakers and labourers, if they ever existed, have largely disappeared.


Arthur Edward Raymond Peacock (1890 – 1914)

Throughout the nineteenth century, especially when agriculture or shoemaking were suffering hard times, young men from Ringstead left to join the army, marines or navy. Some returned but many settled elsewhere or died in service. Two of the Peacock family served in the First World War but had very different experiences.

Arthur Henry Peacock was the son of John and Jane (nee Bates) Peacock and the grandson of Thomas and Sarah. He was born on the 18th August 1866 and baptised on 23rd March 1867 in the parish church. John had become a shoemaker and the 1871 Census finds the family living in Church Street with their five surviving children. Two girls called Sarah had died in infancy.

Arthur was the youngest son and by 1881, aged 14, he had also started work as an army shoemaker. He probably married Eliza Emma Sophia Bugby from Raunds sometime around 1890. It is a little unclear because, probably due to a bureaucratic anomaly, the marriage of Arthur and Emma, (as she was usually known), is not on the National Register of Marriages. On 3rd May 1890 their first child, Arthur Edward Raymond Peacock, was born. The couple only had a further two children, both sons, Leslie Montrose, baptised on 15th May 1903 and Harold William, who was born on the 14th February 1908. This would normally have meant that other children had died in infancy but the 1911 Census makes clear that they only had three children, and had lost no other children. Of course there may have been early miscarriages but as increasingly most children survived infancy, and there was increasing access to contraception the large Victorian families began to decline and the small modern family began to emerge.

Arthur Edward Raymond, always known to his family as Raymond, perhaps because the military boot industry was going through one of its periods of depression, signed up with the Northamptonshire Regiment. After the Boer War a recruit could sign up for twelve years but opt to be on active service only for the first three years. He then would have nine years in the Reservists but, in time of war, would have an obligation to return to the “Colours”. I have sought advice on the Great War Forum website and Stebie9173 advised that that Raymond was almost certainly a Special Reservist who had signed up  for a “Six Year Special Reserve” term.

His Regimental Number 3/8607 is a Special Reserve number dating from January 1909 and the first letter we have from him is from “The Barracks”, which was the Gibraltar Barracks on Northampton, and dated January 1909. This starts:

                Dear Mother and Father

I hope that you are in the best of health as it leaves me the same. I received your letter with love and was very pleased with it. The reason I have not written before was because I thought I would wait till I could send something. I went to the football match on Saturday, but I could not see Dad, and when he came down to the barracks with the other chaps it fair made me jump I was so glad.

This affectionate letter assures his mother that he is getting enough to eat and he is sorry that his baby brother is not well. He signs off with nine kisses and:

                PS.          Tell Ralph the barber his fags were alright and thank him for them.

                PPS.       Give my love to Rose and the others [and another seven kisses]

Raymond’s letters tend to follow this pattern but with glimpses of his army life. The letter in April remarks:

While I am writing this I am very near asleep for we are digging trenches this morning. I think I shall get a job in the sewer when I come home.

This time he fills half of the page after signing off with kisses for his younger brother, Leslie and Larry [Harold].

Raymond would have served a five month training period and in May he tells his parents that he has paid 2 shillings and 10 pence to get his boots repaired. He also fills in a little more detail about army life:

We have to get up at half-past five in the morning, and we are done for the day at 1 o’clock. But I shan’t have much more of it as we only have about a month to do.

A second letter in May tells how he is “counting the time” to when he comes home. He also adds:

I have sent a little for Mr. Webb*, and you might order me a couple of white shirts size 4, ready for when I come home. If you order any be sure and have them with removable collars, and don’t have them too dear. Glad to hear that the diptheria [sic] is no worse. There is about 20 of us taking our kit in next week, so I shall be home a week on Friday.

                *This may refer to Alfred Webb, a draper in Denford.

He would have attended a trainee’s musketry course from the 18th June until the 11th July 1914 followed by a summer training camp at Landguard, near Felixstowe in Suffolk until the end of the month. He was obviously looking forward to getting home for he wrote:

We shall be home a week today, so you need not trouble about that, We start from here about half-past six in the morning, and get to Northampton about half-past twelve, so that I reckon I shall be home for tea on Saturday

He also adds:

I am sorry to here [sic] about J. Scholes little girl,* and I hope that you will mind and not let Leslie go out to [sic] much. I hope that he is alright, and the Baby better. I have sent 7/6 more, so that I think I shall have a little for August. I think that is all.

                                                                From Your Ever

                                                                                Loving son



*This refers to the local baker daughter, Rita Mary Scholes, who had died aged ten years old.


Below are four rows of kisses for his young brothers. Leslie and Larry

That would have been the end of his initial full-time training and he would have been a part-time soldier from then on, rather as in the Territorial Army today. He would have had to have had a full-time job and by the 1911 Census he was back in Ringstead working in a local factory as an “Army Boot Stitcher”. The days of the home based hand-sewn army boot makers are numbered and his father, now 45, is unemployed.

There is a letter written in 1912 although the date is rather ambiguous. In it Raymond tells his parents:

They gave us our own insurance cards yesterday, and they are going to put two stamps on it, and they stop us 8d. Dad might ask Joe Smith, about me going in the Trade, so when you write let me know what he says. I hope Leslie and Larry are alright. I am sending another order for 5/- as that is better than losing it. I am glad Dad done alright at Thrapston.

It is possible that this letter was, like the others from the army while he was doing the compulsory annual training, but it may be that Raymond was working away from home in a factory, perhaps in Northampton.

The 1911 National Insurance Act introduced the idea of benefits based on contributions paid by the employed persons and the employer. Stamps were put onto a card and if a person lost their job they were “given their cards” to pass on to the next employer. At first this was for unemployment benefit only and a scheme ran alongside it administered by “approved societies” which could include trade unions. I think that the “trade” that Raymond mentions in his letter means trade union and we know that he joined the National Union of Boot and Shoe Operatives and his card for 1913/1914 seems to be filled in until the end of December 1913 but from January 10th 1914 it appears that he does not pay his eight pence weekly contribution .The collector seems to have signed each week across the Sick Pay and Unemployed Pay columns. Was Raymond out of work or was he taking part in the military training exercises of 1913?

On 8th August 1914 the Special Reservists were called up and Raymond would have reported to the Depot at the Gibraltar Barracks in Northampton. Raymond did not go with the main force of the 1st Battalion of the Northamptonshire Regiment to France. They had sailed on the S.S. Galeka, on the 12th August 1914 arriving at Le Havre on the following morning. Raymond would probably been on the second draft which was sent after the first major casualties were suffered by the Regiment. It consisted of some seventy men under the command of Lieutenant Ralph Davison. Raymond’s medal card shows that the arrived in the “Theatre of War” on 12th September 1914, although it was not until the 21st that the draft finally joined up with the 1st Battalion.

There is a tantalising note which seems to have been written by Raymond as he waited ready to go to France. Unfortunately it was scribbled on rough grey card in soft pencil and time and wear has made much of it is difficult to decipher.  It appears to say:

                                                                                Southampton [?]

                                Dear Dad [?] & Mother

                                Just a line hoping you are all well, as it leaves me the same.

I am writing this in the train [?] while it is in the dock [?] 

We sail [?] in the morning [Rest completely undecipherable].

                                                With Love


                                                                    X X X


Unfortunately this lack of clarity was also apparent in the official record of Raymond’s movements at the time and his mother, Emma, after his letters stopped, tried to find out what had happened to him. She received formal letters from the Infantry Record Office, the local Member of Parliament Stopford Sackville and the War Office assuring her that Raymond was not on any casualty list. This continued into 1915 and we are not sure when finally Arthur and Emma were told that their son had died just  a few weeks after he had arrived in France.

Raymond would not have taken part in the early engagement with the Germans at the sugar refinery at Troyan. At this time the battles were open with only scrapes for the soldiers to lie in. It was often close quarters hand-to-hand fighting rather than the grinding stalemate of trench warfare that quickly developed. The Northamptonshires had been relieved and were resting behind the lines from 19th September and it is there that Raymond‘s draft probably joined them. There had been heavy rain and the trenches then being built were filling with mud. The Battalion returned to the front on the 29th September and remained there until mid October. We can only guess at how a sensitive young man was affected by entering this terrible world of mud with the constant noise of the artillery and the sight and fear of death. Raymond was killed on the 16th October 1914. He was buried at Vendresse British War Cemetery, the neat white stone concealing the confusions of his death.

Raymond was awarded the Victory Medal, the British Medal and the 1914 Star and Clasp. His mother received the back pay due to Raymond and a small pension as the War ended in 1918. Emma died on 2nd February 1956 aged 87 and Arthur Peacock died of heart failure and old age, aged 90, in Glapthorne Road Hospital, Oundle on 12th March 1957. They are buried together in Ringstead Cemetery.



My special thanks to Kevin Varty for allowing me to copy the letters and other documents of Raymond Peacock and to Janice Morris for alerting me to their existence and acting as the agent in this process. My thanks also to Stebie9173 (Steve) particularly and also Grumpy (on the excellent Great War Forum website) for explaining the likely context of Raymond’s letters and adding more detail for me.

Ringstead Parish Registers (NRO and )

Ringstead Censuses (NRO and )

Raymond’s Military Records (

Raymond’s Birth Certificate . (On the Northamptonshire Regiment at the start of First World War.)



Thomas Cyril Peacock (1887 - 1964)

In telling of the life of John Thomas Peacock and his tragic death after he had been badly burnt by an upset oil lamp, we briefly mentioned his second son Cyril, born on the 1st November 1886. Cyril first followed his father into the shoe trade and is shown as such in the 1901 Census. His father died in 1896 and his mother, left to look after a young family, had married widower Benjamin Phillips in 1902

Cyril had been baptised Thomas Cyril but he was known by his middle name, probably to distinguish him from his father who tended to use his own second name. At some time after the death of his father, perhaps because of difficult times in the military boot trade, he had become a hairdresser. The 1911 Census shows him living with his mother and stepfather but a year later on August 12th 1912 he married Rose Brayfield in Raunds Parish Church

Cyril joined up on 10th December 1915 and became part of an Army Reserve Training Battalion. He had expressed an interest on his Attestation Form that he would like to be considered for the Royal Flying Corps which had only been formed some three years earlier and consisted of balloons and aircraft. I t seems from his later career that  Cyril may have been looking to be in the ground crew but what mechanical background he had is unclear.

When he took his army medical in 1915, Cyril was 29 years old. He was 5 feet 5 inches tall with blue eyes. He had a chest size of 33¼ inches and a “range of expansion” of 1¾ inches (this was later changed to 3 inches). The minimum height for conscription was 5ft. 3 inches but even this was reduced in the so-called “Bantam Regiments” as men died in their millions. It was the revelation of the poor health and small size of many recruits in the First World War that stimulated the movement towards the Welfare State.

He was “mobilised on 9th December 1916 and posted twelve days later to an Infantry Reserve or Training Battalion. On the 8th February 1917 he joined the Machine Gun Corps (Motors). This was one of the most dangerous postings as they were a vital target for snipers as well as other artillery. It looks, however, as if Cyril did not see front line fighting and served the rest of the war in England.

On the formation of the Machine Gun Corps in October 1915 the Motor Machine Gun Services was absorbed into it and became the Machine Gun Corps (Motors). It had machine guns mounted on motorcycles, cars, armoured vehicles and even trains. The real industry of war had begun.

Cyril joined the No.6 Battalion of the Machine Gun Corps which was based at Belton Park and Harrowby Camp in Grantham. On one official form (B103) it calls it, No. 6 Dominion Battalion which implies that it was composed of soldiers from Canada and perhaps also from Australia and New Zealand. Cyril remained a private or gunner throughout his army career and it is not clear what role kept him away from the fighting. He had gained a “Machine Gunner First Class” qualification so perhaps he was an instructor or demonstrator to the new troops. It is also a possibility that he was a driving or motorcycle instructor. There is also the nagging thought that he was the dreaded man who gave the troops their regulation haircuts. On balance it would seem that he was an instructor of some sort but we cannot be sure as his army records give no clue.

On 26th July 1917 he was posted to the newly formed Heavy Brigade of the Machine Gun Corps soon to become the Tanks Corps and then the Tank Brigade. It was based at Bovington near Wareham in Dorset and Cyril became part of the Central Schools of Instruction. Originally Cyril had asked to be in the Royal Flying Corps and tanks were the other great innovation of the First World War.

The tank was based on ideas from before the war but the stalemate and terrible slaughter of the Flanders trench warfare once more ignited interest among the military and political leaders. The tank was under development in all the main warring nations but the prototypes, often based on tracked agricultural machinery had many problems and research and progress was top secret. Some of the first production tanks were marked with Russian lettering and the rumour was propagated that they were snow ploughs intended for Russia. It was designed as a weapon to cross the rough terrain between the opposing trenches, the “killing field”, and break into the enemy defences. Many designs were tried and failed. Eventually on 15th September 1916 tanks were used but it was only very late in the war that tanks played an decisive part in the Allied victory.

Cyril had a good army record and his only offence was to overstay his leave pass from Grantham by 12½ hours in April 1917. As his daughter Ellen Louisa had been born on the 16th March there may have been some excuse and the four days’ pay that he initially had deducted was reduced to one. His only injury seems to have been a dislocated elbow on 20th October 1920 which kept him in Wool Military Hospital, near the Bovington Camp for thirty-two days. As we can see from this date Cyril had been retained at the end of the war, first for six months and then for a further three and he was finally demobbed on 12th December 1920.

He stated on his discharge papers that he wanted to be a publican when he returned to civilian life. I have not managed to find out if Cyril fulfilled his ambition to be an innkeeper. It seems, however that he did make a good living by some means. On 12th October 1949 Cyril and Rose, with their unmarried daughter Ellen Louise, sailed into New York harbour on the Queen Mary.

The family were bound for Texas and we know that Ellen, aged thirty-two arrived in El Paso after having crossed the border from Mexico. She was bound for Alpine in Texas and it seems that it was here that her parents had settled.

It may be that Alpine was chosen because they were hoping to improve the health of Rose. She died thee on 1st August 1956 after having lived there for seven years. The causes of death include a chronic peptic ulcer which she had also had for seven years. She had suffered as well from Hypertension for six months and was killed finally by a “Massive Coronary Occlusion”. She was sixty-nine years old and obviously had been unwell for some time.

Thomas Cyril Peacock died some eight years later on 6th February 1964 of lung cancer aged seventy-seven and was buried in Elm Grove Cemetery, almost half a century after many of his former comrades


My special thanks to Jim Parker from the website, for his many helpful information sheets and his individual help with the research.

Ringstead Parish Registers (NRO and

British Army WW1 Pension Records 1914 – 1920: New York Passenger Lists. Border Crossings from Mexico to U.S. 1895 – 1964). (

Texas Deaths.( ).

USA Death Certificates ( ).






Bk2: Frank Robinson and the Baker Boys: SOME CAME BACK

Once again I am hoping that someone will help me fill in missing details and correct any mistakes. My e-mail is

Frank Robinson and the Baker Boys: SOME CAME BACK.

As people researching their families find, life is full of coincidences. While looking around the War and Peace Exhibition at Ringstead on Saturday 2nd November 2013 I met up with Kay Collins from the Rushden and District History Society. She had a photograph of a family including four young men in uniform. It was thought to be in some way related to Frank Robinson from Ringstead and the men were named from the left Charlie (3rd), Herman (eldest) Arthur (2nd) Walter (5th). The women were Clara (6th) and Edith Ann (4th). There was some confusion about the older woman in the middle and it was wondered if she was Edith and the younger woman on the right was Ann.

Luckily Herman was an unusual name, and perhaps one which attracted some comments in 1914. It was comparatively simple to find him and thereby the family name and Frank Robinson’s connection. Frank was born in 1895, the son of Francis and Violet Robinson. In 1920 he married Clarice (Clara) Baker and it is her family that we see in the photograph.


Charlie (1892)    Herman (1887)  Arthur Harry (1889)         Walter (1896)

Clarice (1899)     Annie (1864)      Edith Annie (1894)

The Baker Family with approximate birth dates and named as the pencilled note seems to indicate

The eldest child, born in Ringstead in 1887, was Herman Baker who is second from the left in the photograph. He was the son of shoemaker, Ralph Baker and his wife Annie. His father died in 1906 and Herman married Yorkshire girl, Charlotte Octavia Gray (usualy known as Lottie), on 21st September 1908 In the 1911 Census for Ringstead they living in Chapel Yard in the High Street with their one-year-old daughter Elsie Florence.

What the photograph of the family does not make clear is how small the brothers, and most men at the time, were in comparison with today’s average young man. Herman looks one of the tallest of the brothers but his Record of Service shows that he was 5ft 6½ inches in height with a 34½ inch chest. For his trade or calling he has put down “shoe hand” and had asked to enlist in the RFA (Royal Field Artillery).

At first he went to a Field Depot but on the 1st February 1917 he transferred to the 6th Company of the Machine Gun Corps (Reg. No. 83933). On 11th April 1917 he was posted to the British Expeditionary Force in France. He embarked at Folkestone and disembarked at Boulogne before moving to the Base Depot at Camiers which was just north of Etaples. It was not until 4th May 1917 that he joined the Machine Gun Corps in the front line.

 On the 1st June he became ill and was taken to the field hospital at Camiers where he was diagnosed with P.U.O. or Pyrexia (fever) of Unknown Origin which was usually called Trench Fever, (not to be confused with Trench Foot). Trench Fever was an increasing problem in the trenches as the war progressed and produced symptoms of headaches, rashes, inflamed eyes and leg pains. It was not considered by the men a serious condition and often disappeared in under a week although the sufferer might need to be hospitalised for a further couple of weeks to fully recover. It also often recurred at 4 – 6 week intervals although usually with diminishing intensity. It must be remembered that soldiers afflicted with the disease would compare the symptoms to the fear and misery of their life at the Front. Finally, in 1918, it was discovered that P.U.O. was caused by the excretions of the lice, the illness being transmitted in their bites which were one of commonplaces of life in the trenches.

On 13th June Herman returned to England on the SS Brighton and remained for some 280 days in England. He was first at the V.A.D. Hospital at 27 Charles Street, Berkeley Square, a large Georgian house in Mayfair and then to the Paddington V.A.D. Hospital at 37 Porchester Terrace, Bayswater. These V.A.D. or Auxiliary Hospitals had been set up by the British Red Cross and St John Ambulance working together as the Joint War Committee. These hospitals usually had a commandant, quartermaster and matron but were mainly staffed by members of the local V.A.D. (Voluntary Aid Detachment) who were trained in basic first aid and nursing. The patients were generally the less seriously wounded and these hospitals allowed the wounded or ill soldiers to recuperate under a more relaxed regime. One of the alternative names for Trench Fever was Shin Bone Fever for it could produce great pain and sensitivity in that area. In 1918 Paddington was designated an Orthopaedic Hospital so it may be that Herman was receiving some form of massage or even electrotherapeutic treatment for this condition.

On the 19th July 1917 he was certified fit enough to go home to his family in Rushden on an eight day furlough.

His war was not over, however, for on the 29th March 1918 he embarked once more at Folkestone and joined the Machine Gun Corps’ Base Camp at Camiers and on the 6th April 1918 he returned to the front line. He seems to have remained there until 8th February 1919 but from the 14th September 1918 he was performing the duties of a shoemaker for the army left in France. It is often said that an army marches on its stomach but of course it also needs well shod feet: a car certainly needs fuel but it also needs tyres.

Finally Herman returned to Purfleet and was demobbed on 14th February 1919. Appearances can be deceptive but when we look at Herman in the photograph we do see the character noted on his army record, He was described as temperate, reliable and intelligent.

At some point his mother and the family had moved to Rushden. Herman too had moved with his wife Lottie and child to 3 Oak Street in Rushden and this is why he was not included in the 1919 Ringstead roll of men who had served in the Great War.

Soon after returning home Herman and Charlotte moved to 73 Queen Street, Withernsea in East Yorkshire, still as a shoemaker. What we discover from later events is that Herman played the clarinet and saxophone while Charlotte sang and played the piano. The photograph of the Ringstead Band in the chapter on Benjamin and George Roberts in Ringstead People and the many newspaper reports shows that the village had a long musical tradition which Herman and Charlotte carried on. While in Withernsea they had a son born on March 1st 1921 who they named Kenneth. Kenneth as a child learned, probably mostly from his parents, to play piano, saxophone, violin and accordion. He later switched to the cornet and played in the local Gospel Mission Band. The family then moved on to Hull and Kenneth joined the West Hull Silver Prize Band as a solo cornet player. It is through the life stories of their son that we are told a little more about Herman and Charlotte because, known as Kenny Baker, he became one of the most well known and internationally respected British jazz musicians of his age.

Herman died in 1948 aged 61.

Arthur Harry Baker, the second oldest son was the last of the Baker boys to enlist. He had been born in 1889 so, when he enlisted in 1917, was some twenty- seven years old. His brothers had been in the boot and shoe trade but Arthur was a farm labourer and he went into the Army Veterinary Corps. This corps had qualified veterinary surgeons as officers but farmworkers, ostlers and blacksmiths and others used to dealing with horses formed the other ranks.

At the beginning of the war the cavalry regiments, along with the Guards, were sees as the premier regiments in the army. In 1915, at Mons there was a major cavalry charge but that was the last one of real significance although some useless, suicidal attempts occurred throughout the war. Trench warfare and the machine gun ended the horse as a useful fighting force. The Charge of the Light Brigade had been over fifty years earlier but the old order could not believe that the cavalry had become obsolete.

Nevertheless, as the books by Michael Morpurgo and the subsequent War Horse play and film have once again made clear, horses still played an important part in the Great War and, despite the various veterinary corps’ attentions it is believed that some eight million horses died on all sides during the conflict. Mechanised transport, especially over rough terrain was still unreliable and horses had a vital role in the movement of supplies and artillery to and around the battle front.

Unfortunately Arthur’s records do not survive so we do not know if he ever saw active service.

Charles Mayes Baker [Charlie] worked as a platelayer for the London and North Western Railway Company. He enlisted when he was 23 years old, joining the 298th Railway Corps of the Royal Engineers at their headquarters at Longmore Camp in Hampshire on 9th December 1915. The Woolmer Instructional Military Railway had been constructed there and this was used in the training of the railway troops who would have to carry out their work in very different conditions to the ones they had been used to.

The railway troops are another less well known part of the war effort in the First World War. There had been a large recruitment drive among the employees of the various railway companies. A special port was built at Richborough in Kent from which trains were loaded onto boats in a sophisticated roll-on roll-off system and taken across the Channel. Boats would also bring trains loaded with tanks to France so they could be taken to the Front. By mid-1915 there were eight Construction Trains operating in France which carried the sappers and their equipment to where they were needed. Once at their destination they would pitch tents for their accommodation. They would try to lay standard gauge track as close to the front as possible and also carry out repairs to sections destroyed by shellfire.

Charles first embarked with the British Expeditionary Force on 6th February 1916 and he seems to have adjusted to army life well for he was first made Lance Corporal, then to full Corporal and finally to Second Corporal. [Second Corporal was only used in the Royal Engineers and Army Ordnance Corps and meant that the person held full non-commissioned officer rank.]

In April 1917 he was admitted to hospital, perhaps with Trench Fever, but rejoined his unit within a week. In July he was given leave and on10th July 1917 he married Winifred Shallow and appears to have moved to 25 Red Row in Raunds. Winifred Shallow had been born in Pentney, the daughter of Robert, a bread baker, and his wife Clara from Irthlingborough. She had been a Britchford and in 1911 Winifred is staying with her mother’s sister, Laura and her husband George Robinson. It does not seem that he was a relation of Frank Robinson who married Charles’s sister Clarice.

On 5th April 1919 Charles was demobilised as a Class Z Reserve. There were still some fears that Germany might not accept the terms of the Peace Treaty and these Class Z men would be recalled immediately in the case of the conflict breaking out again.

Walter Baker, born in 1896, was the youngest son in the family. His enlisted in 1916 like his oldest brother, Herman, but he was enlisted into the Northamptonshire Regiment rather than the Machine Gun Corps. Walter’s records have nearly all disappeared so we only know a little of his army career from his medal card and a brief newspaper report.

He remained a private throughout the war but changed regiment twice. The reasons for these transfers could be because so many men in a battalion had been killed in action that it ceased to be a viable unit and the survivors were sent to bolster up other regiments. It was also the case that after the first wave of deaths the new recruits would be transferred to whichever regiment was in need of replacements.

By checking the records that have survived of men with similar regimental numbers and military history Steve (Stebie9173) on the Great War Forum website has managed to reconstruct the likely path of Walter’s early army career. Like Horace Allen of Irthlingborough, Walter would have enlisted at Northampton in November 1916 and been posted to the 3rd Battalion of the Northamptonshire Regiment for training.

He was sent to France on 1st February 1917, initially to No. 17 Infantry Base Depot at Etaples, south of Boulogne. Frank James in his recollections, A Privates War, describes “Etaps” as it was known to the soldiers.

It was a large bivouacked area near the sea and covered several acres. Its purpose was to hold and give further training to troops fresh from England and then send them off to join their various units in the battle zone.

This was in 1914 and James and the other men of the Northamptonshires travelled from Le Havre in overcrowded cattle trucks. There may have been some improvements by early 1917 but one suspects that it was a largely similar experience for Walter. He had travelled with the Northamptonshire Regiment (Reg. No. 30926) but it is likely that at Etaples he was transferred to the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and his regimental number was changed to 40722. He joined his new regiment and soon after, on April 1st, as part of the 32nd Division, he took part in the fierce battle to take Savy Wood near St Quentin. The Battalion War Diary for April 1st records:

Battalion receives order at 11.30 am to advance at 1.30 pm. Battalion advances to SAVY in Artillery formation, under hostile artillery fire. Battalion formed up and advanced at 3 pm in extended order. C, B and D companies in front line and A company in support. Battalion met with heavy enemy artillery and machine gun fire.

The Inniskilling Fusiliers, as part of this advance, gained the wood after thirty minutes intense fighting and consolidated “strong posts” but at the cost of 132 casualties: Officers 1 killed and 10 wounded; Other Ranks 31 killed, 107 wounded and 3 missing. John William Elliot of Raunds was also in the same battalion and was killed there. He is remembered on the Raunds and Stanwick War Memorials.

Walter was badly injured in one leg and would have been taken back to a field hospital behind the lines. He was probably evacuated from France on 17th April to Newcastle Military Hospital. It may be that his return to England was delayed by the mining of the hospital ship Salta on 10th April.

He was in Newcastle Military Hospital (a requisitioned lunatic asylum) for five months. It is presumably, after he had recovered, in the autumn of 1917 that he was transferred finally to the Royal Irish Regiment (Reg. No. 18580). We do not know if he ever returned to active service but he was demobilised before June 1919 when the Ringstead Roll of Honour was printed.

The three women in the photograph are Clarice Emma (Clara) who married Frank Robinson and, on the right Edith Annie Baker. Edith married Herbert Woodham from Kimbolton in 1921. Herbert too had served in the army, in the 4th Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment and had received a severe gunshot wound in his left arm.

The father of the family, Ralph Baker, had died on 3rd August 1906 and it his wife, Annie, who sits in the middle in her widow’s weeds. Ralph was buried in Ringstead Cemetery and although Annie moved to Rushden sometime in the 1910s but when she died, on 31st August 1944, she was buried near her husband.

If we now return to Francis (Frank) Horace Robinson, he was the grandson of Elijah Robinson who had been the landlord of the Black Horse public house in Ringstead High Street as well as being a small farmer and carrier. Landlords of small village pubs often had a second occupation and it meant that the wife, in this case Sarah Ann (née Childs) would have done most of the bar work. Elijah gave up the licence to his eldest son William in 1894 but continued with his carrier business and perhaps a little farming. He became ill and was diagnosed with “consumption of the throat”. He became very depressed and committed suicide by cutting his own throat on 31st October 1902. He was 62 years old.

In 1901 his son, Francis senior, and wife, Violet were living at 5 Denford Road with their children, Frank, Dora and Beulah. Francis was an army welt sewer and by 1911 his son, Frank, aged sixteen, was a shoe finisher. The family was now living in the High Street. The military boot and shoe trade began to improve as by 1913 war with Germany seemed inevitable. Most of Frank’s records have been lost but we know that he joined the 28th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers (Reg. No. G/11402). At some point he was injured and also transferred to the 7th Battalion of the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment (Reg. No. G/14941). Losses were often so great that who Battalions were almost wiped out and became part of another Regiment and it may be that Frank (or Horace as he was known by his family) was part of this movement. The exact sequence of events is unclear as Frank’s records were probably burnt with many others in a German bombing raid in 1940.

The War Diary of the 7th Battalion of the Queen’s (Royal Surrey) Regiment has survived and been put online. We do not know when Frank was wounded and captured but it seems likely that the two occurrences were linked. His early repatriation would have been because of his wounds so it seems likely that he was taken some time early in 1918. We know from the Diary that the 7th Battalion was involved in the attack on the Bois de Hangard, some 20 kilometres west-south-west of Amiens on 26th April. The Battalion was attached to the 53rd Brigade which was itself part of the 58th Division. Like many battles at this time it was an attempt to retake positions previously held and lost.

The rain was falling heavily when the Battalion moved off, soon after 7.30 pm. They struggled to the Villers-Bretonnneux - Domart Road after having been badly guided, arriving at 10.30 pm. They halted in Artillery formation, while being shelled at intervals by heavy explosives and gas. Everywhere was confusion, made worse by a mist which crept up soon after midnight hiding the wood from their view. They eventually reached their allotted positions by 4 a.m. and were told that zero hour had been brought forward from 6 to 5.15 am. Three tanks took part in the operations that morning but had little effect and returned back to their base. The Diary continues:

From midday till 3 p.m. 26th the enemy subjected the whole area of VILLERS – BRETONNEUX and DOMART to a most intense bombardment of H.E. and gas. No infantry action followed. Troops holding the line South of the wood were forced to leave their posts during the bombardment, but returned immediately it ceased.

The Queens were finally relieved by a French Battalion and by 1 30 am of the 28th they moved back to bivouacs at Blangy-Tronville, having “partaken of tea” at Gentelles Wood on the way. The table for the Battalion’s total casualties shows that two officers and ten” other ranks” were killed but only one officer was wounded, one missing and one wounded and missing, whereas other ranks had 85 wounded, 41 missing and one wounded and missing and a further four had died of their wounds. The whole daylight attack was called a “dismal failure” in the official history of the Great War and the capturing of the wood by the Queens was one of the few successful actions, however temporary.

It seems a possibility that Frank was one of the men listed as missing although we cannot be sure. What we do see from the Diary is the training, drill, billet cleaning and organised football matches behind the lines; the carefully drafted battle instructions with details of meeting points, dress, equipment to be carried, and battle formation that would have defined Frank’s daily life We also glimpse how quickly the conditions and enemy action shredded these plans so that at Hangard Wood it became a series of separate skirmishes with almost all coordination gone. It was often in this sort of action that prisoners were taken.

Certainly we know that Frank was captured by the Germans and taken to Langensalza Prison of War Camp in Germany. Conditions may have improved a little by the time Frank became a prisoner but in December 1916 George Mulford from the 12th Yorks and Lancs Regiment recalled:

Think of the conditions of 12,000 men huddled together on a large sized ploughed field so situated that it caught all the water draining from the surrounding hills. . . Food of the vilest and unhealthiest nature for human consumption. Long ramshackle dilapidated barracks to hold 7-800 men with no thought in their construction for comfort and accommodation.

George also stated that the guards at Langensalza were the most brutal and ferocious that he ever saw and it is likely that at the time when Frank was there it could still be a brutal place. Even as late as November 27th 1918 Corporal Golding of the Leicestershire Regiment recalled an officer named Krause exacting revenge. There had been a wooden theatre and the various nationalities had built small changing rooms on the side. These they were now dismantling for firewood. The camp had a Help Committee made up from the prisoners which tried to make life at the camp as bearable as possible and it seems they had their own hut. Suddenly Krause came with his men and surrounded the theatre and committee hut. Golding continues:

There must have been 15 to 20 prisoners standing outside the hut and I should say about 30 others round the theatre. When the order to fire was given, I tried to get into the committee hut, but the door was so crowded by others endeavouring to do the same that I could not get in. At least 15 shots were fired in the direction of the committee hut.

He saw three of the men who were killed and two others were wounded. It must be remembered that on 11th November 1918, over two weeks earlier, the Armistice had been signed.

Fortunately for Frank he had been repatriated on 5th May 1918 almost certainly because of his injuries which were considered to have rendered him incapable of taking part in any further military action.

The dates are unclear but it appears that early in May 1918, just before his repatriation, Frank had been allowed to send a postcard home, addressed to his father stating his name, regiment, prisoner number and the camp and the simple message, “I am well”.

On the front of the postcard is a photograph of Frank in his darker uniform with another prisoner. It seems to have been taken in a substantial place with ornate windows and perhaps it was in the chapel which we know was in the camp. We also know that there was a bootmakers’ workshop and perhaps Frank worked there to help repair the prisoner’s boots. 

Frank (Horace) is on the left in the darker uniform

With kind permission of Rushden & District History Society

It is not clear when Frank finally arrived home although the fact that he was discharged probably means that it was soon after his repatriation to England and any medical care. He returned to his job as a shoehand in a factory and married Clarice E. Baker on 31st July 1920 in St Mary’s Church, Rushden.

Frank died in 1970

At each Remembrance Day we are asked to remember the dead of the Great War but all those who served  are now dead and we should also remember the millions who survived and lived shattered or troubled lives because of the terrible places that these ordinary men found themselves. We also see that the war memorials do not show just how many people in a village like Ringstead were directly affected by this deadly attrition of men by machines.


Ringstead Registers and Censuses. (, and NRO).

Postcard from Frank Horace Robinson and Patriotic Rushden Family newspaper cutting (

Ringstead Roll of Honour. Rushden Research Group. (

British Army WW1 Service Records (

Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers War Diary for 1st April. (My thanks to Graeme Clarke for sending me this).

Great War Forum. My thanks to Steve (Stebie9173) for providing detailed information on the probable course of Walter’s early army career by comparing it with others. (

The Long Long Trail website for information on many topics ( Including Army Veterinary Corps.

A Private’s War. Frank James . Edited by Ron James. ( Elizabeth Ingham 2013).

History of the Royal Army Veterinary Corps. Army Medical Service. (

Trench Fever (Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine November 2006 (

History of Red Cross nurses and hospitals (

Account of Corporal Golding of 8th Battalion Leicester Regiment of Langensalza told in piece on Private Berty Tucker (

7th Battalion of the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regimental War Diary (www.queensroyalsurreys,org,uk).

Letter giving some details on Frank Robinson’s prisoner-of-war dates (Surrey History Centre).

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (OUP 2004).