Thursday, 22 January 2015

Catholics and Salvationists.....our very own Broad Church.

Leopold  Frederick Murch was one of my great grandmother ( Florence) s’ brothers. He was just over one year older than her, born in Devonport, Plymouth, in 1857.
At one time, all I knew about him was that he was one of the witnesses at Florence’s marriage to my great grandfather William Whelen, who was in the Navy. They married at a Roman Catholic Naval Chapel in Devonport.

The chapel where my great grandmother Florence married her sailor husband William Whelen. It has been demolished now, but the stone wall remains....and I have sat on it, pondering about Florence, her husband William and her brother Leopold who witnessed the wedding.

Not being aware of any Roman Catholic connections in the family, I had been surprised to see that great grandmother Florence had married in the Royal Navy’s RC chapel. I have since found baptism and confirmation records for some of her children, and indeed have traced some of them to orphanages run by the Roman Catholic Church for destitute children of Catholic sailors. ( Florence died at 39, leaving 6 children aged between 9 and 18. )
So...the Catholic connection was made.

Information I have discovered more recently has shown that the Murch family were indeed religiously “ interesting”.

Census information told me that Leopold and his family became part of the Salvation Army.

I spent some time in Devonport and Plymouth a couple of years ago, researching this part of the family. It is clear that mid to late 19th century Plymouth was a pretty unpleasant place to live. Pubs and beer halls were on every street corner. Drunkeness, gambling and violence, prostitution and extreme poverty were rife. It is little wonder that the Temperance Movement, and the Salvation Army, dedicated to getting rid of the evils caused by the misuse of alcohol thrived in this part of the country. The town centre has been redeveloped, mainly due to having been flattened during WW2 bombing, but in parts of the city, some of the old Victorian pubs remain.

There were literally hundreds of pubs and beer houses like this in Plymouth .....alcohol was available on every street corner !
Even now, it is not hard to imagine what some of those Victorian streets would have been like when Leopold was a boy.

Leopold’s 1922 obituary, in War Cry, the Salvation Army’s publication, explained that  his wife, Rosina had attended a meeting in Devonport, in 1882 and had spent the next few days persuading her dock labourer husband to join the Army, with her.

Rosina Lavis, who married Uncle Leopold in 1878 and persuaded him to join the Salvation Army in 1882
The obituary said:

“This meant disconnection from many old and dear associations – a hand bell band in which he had played since childhood, an orchestral band, and the Volunteers’ band. “

It continued:

“ In those days, of course, The Army was widely misunderstood even by good people, and his friends and relatives declared that he had gone mad to become associated with it. “

I have since discovered that Leopold was involved in anti Salvation Army riots in Barnstaple and Eastbourne. He campaigned with “the Founder” ( William Booth ) in Cornwall. and that he played the solo euphonium in the Salvation Army International Staff band.

I have no photos of Leopold...but just maybe, he is in this band ! He moved from Devonport to London, and then Essex, living in Hackney, Leyton and Walthamstow at various it is just possible.
There are so many questions I would love to ask Leopold. My bigamist grandfather was his nephew. At least 4 of my grandfather’s siblings found themselves in orphanages after their mother’s death......I wonder why Leopold and his family were not able to help in some way....but maybe, if Leopold’s parents and siblings had cut him off when he joined the Salvation Army...if they had thought he was mad.....maybe the wider family had lost contact by the time that Florence’s family needed support.

Maybe, if my grandfather had been able to seek support from his Uncle Leopold, when he came back from the trenches, he would not have abandoned his first family, and gone on to abandon a second family, before he finally settled with my grandmother. Of course, if that had happened...I wouldn’t be here researching it all.

Catherine Bramwell Booth
Leopold’s daughter Miriam became a Brigadier in the SalvationArmy, and for many years was secretary to Catherine Bramwell Booth, one of William Booth’s granddaughters. A search on e-bay...for Salvation Army related material ( when I was researching Leopold) led me to find some  Salvation Army medals which had been sold....inscribed for Leopold and his daughter Miriam ( mistakenly referred to as Leopold’s wife, in the ebay listing ! )

Miriam Murch
The medals inscribed to Leopold and Miriam Murch....sold on ebay for £200 !

It is amazing how the internet has enabled so much information to be discovered by family history researchers. Just yesterday I received a reply to a message I left on face book 3 years ago, from the ex husband of someone I think is my cousin.....a woman who I suspect is, like me ,one of Florence’s great grandchildren. I do hope so......

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Remembering Uncle Donald

This is another catch up sort of of those I’ve been intending to get around to.

After our 6 months ( with a break back in England for hospital visits and Le Tour’s Yorkshire depart ) in Caunes, we drove back via some WW1 war graves.

2nd Lieutenant Donald Barten, Royal Fusiliers.
We have often intended to but somehow flying south has seemed a better option than driving, or the motorway exit we needed was closed, or time was just running out. Anyway, this time, we made it.
Our main aim was to find Mark’s great uncle Donald’s memorial. We knew there was no grave for him. He was involved in the Battle of Cambrai, and his body was never recovered or never identified amongst the thousands who died there in  November and December 1917.

We found it easily, on the edge of the village of Louverval.

It was a grey droukit sort of day. The rain was fine, and drenching, the clouds loomed and we both felt fairly subdued as we parked the car just next to the Cambrai Memorial.
It is not one of the huge Lutyens designed memorials, and  is not surrounded by hundreds of rows of symmetrical graves which remind you of the outrageous number of dead young men lie beneath the ground in this part of France.

It was small, elegant, beautifully maintained, sombre and incredibly emotional.
We were the only people there. However, messages written in a book at the entrance indicated that people had visited that day, and the day before. When we finally drove away, we saw another car draw up, and clearly other people were visiting after us.

We found Uncle Donald’s name on the wall. We left his picture and an entry in the visitors’ book to mark our thoughts, and we wandered among the few surrounding graves in the , by now, pouring rain. 

Donald Barten was a Second Lieutenant in the 8th Royal Fusiliers when he was reported missing on 30th November 1917. He was 28. His body was never recovered and a year later his mother was informed that he had probably died on the day that he was reported missing.

An exert from the war diary, indicating that Donald Barten, among others, was missing.
He had served in France in 1914, in Egypt in 1915. and back to France in 1916.

Uncle Donald, on leave, back at home in August 1917.
From the memorial site, all you could see were miles of flat, agricultural land. It was easy to imagine what had happened in these fields, based on all the films we’ve all seen, books we’ve all read, and poetry we all know. However, the sombre dignity of the place still took us by surprise.
We drove through some of the villages nearby, hardly architecturally changed in the last 100 years. We stopped at a few other small cemeteries and memorials. We knew about the big cemeteries, and the Lutyen’s Somme Memorial, with over 70,000 names of unidentified dead honoured...but somehow, these small spaces, littering the farmers’ fields, clearly making turning tractors more difficult, and needing pathways and roads across fields for visitors like us, were just incredibly poignant.

I had just read “Empires of the Dead” by David Crane, which is about the man who is largely responsible for the building of the British and Commonwealth war cemeteries.

 Fabian Ware had been a volunteer ambulance commander in France in the early years of the Great War, and was horrified by the way the war dead were left on battlefields, or unceremoniously buried where they fell, in 1914. He began to record the identity and position of graves and was responsible for the establishment of a Graves registration Commission. His work, in getting politicians, the army, writers and architects together finally meant that people were able to honour and commemorate the war dead.

It is an interesting read, but really brought to life by our visit to Cambrai.

( Thanks to Julian Barnard's web site, commemorating Uncle Donald's life) )

Friday, 9 January 2015

Thoughts turn to the garden

Our Virginia I left it in late October.

When I left France at the end of October I had plans to organise a garden book. It was to hold photos and drawings of various parts of the garden , with my plans for how each area would be developed.
I was inspired to undertake this project ( as well as the actual proposed garden developments to be documented in the book) whilst attending a gardening course held at La Petite Pepiniere in Caunes just before I headed back to the UK for the winter.

La Petite Pepiniere is a magical specialist garden/nursery  owned by Gill Pound in Caunes.)

( Gill's web site is ) and shows what a fabulous place it is.

Gill, during one of our classroom sessions.
The course, was a 2 day event, run by Gill, and concentrated on gardening in a Mediterranean climate.
Much of the course was spent walking around the garden at la Petite Pepiniere, with Gill, showing us examples of the successful planting she has undertaken in her Caunes garden.
I learned so much. I learned that the less than 3% of the world’s surface which can be categorised as having a Mediterranean climate ( areas surrounding the med ...surprise surprise, California, Chile, S Africa and SW Australia) produce 16% of the world’s plants.

Our bit of the world does suffer from extremes though....heat, drought, wild winds, cold winters, snow, hail, frost and difficult soils. It seems miraculous that anything grows and survives at all. One of the things I learned from Gill was about how plants have  evolved and adapted to their environment......and as the climate has only been like it is now for 3 million years, many plants are still evolving . So...things in the garden are basically unpredictable.

Our garden in Caunes is beautiful.....but difficult.

The pine forest behind the big oak....a cypress, and some prickly pears hiding behind the ivy and virginia creeper.

We have terracing, virtual rock, rather than soil in some parts, evergreens, conifers, a few broadleaf plants and trees, bulbs, ( hundreds of wild irises) orchids, native garrigue shrubs, vines, and my annual attempts at vegetables in the potager.

beyond the potager.....the start of a playground area....see-saw and sand pit planned for next year....the grandchildren want a slide and a climbing frame as well......mmmm, we'll have to see.
We have almond trees, a wide variety of oak trees, green fig trees, a gorgeous purple fig tree, olive trees of various ages and sizes and a couple of small apple trees which fruited for the first time last summer and newly planted cherry trees which have yet to crop.

We have enormous succulents, aloe veras  to die for, a rather pathetic looking palm that replaced the huge 25 year old one that was killed off by the 2 weeks of snow and freezing temperatures in the winter of 2011, rose bushes, lavender and large rosemary hedges throughout the garden.

Some of the succulents

When we first arrived in Caunes, we asked Gill to come up to the house and walk around the garden with us, telling us what we had, and advising us on what we should do with it all.
Her advice was to live with it, watch it, see what happened with each season and gradually develop sections at a time, as we worked out how the land surrounding our new home could work best for us.

We determined that some of the huge fir trees surrounding the pool should be removed.
 Doing so enabled other plants to grow in their place, removed the huge shade area from the pool, and gave us fabulous views over the village.

We kept many of the cypress trees as well as the most beautiful of the some architectural structure to the pool surround.
We cut back and then removed the prickly pears that bordered pathways, enabling us...and visiting grandchildren to walk through the garden without being impaled.

We removed some of the wild iris bulbs....they bloom when we are not in Caunes, and leave untidy browning foliage for the rest of the year....this is great in the parts of the garden we have left “wild”...but in front of the house, we replaced them with some native salvias which bloom all summer and provide a gorgeous backdrop to sitting on the terrace, sipping the odd glass of wine.

My garden book project has not even been started yet....just as my planned blog about the wonderful gardening course run by Gill has not yet emerged. My last blog....a month ago, was mainly about my inability to get things done, and things don’t seem to have improved. So I thought I would make a start and include a little about Gill and her beautiful garden, her brilliant gardening courses, and get my mind working on thinking about the garden in Caunes.

It is good to think that already the days are getting longer.....and spring isn't too far away. Although we wont be going back to Caunes for our next 6 month stay until May, we are popping over to do some pruning during the first couple of weeks in March......not long now.

Anyway....for Christmas, I received an excellent gift from, not some amazing piece of jewellery, but a Bosch garden shredder. Mulching will begin as a major operation, when I get back to Caunes and start shredding all my prunings.