Geoffs Genealogy Update 01 September 2015

Tuesday September 1st, 2015 | Geoff

During August, I’m glad to say, I haven’t had a great deal of time available for family history research. This is because we have spent a  a large portion of the month away from home, on jaunts.

The first of these periods away occurred in the second week of the month, when we went for one of our frequent weeks in Carmarthenshire. Mrs Geoff’s maternal ancestors came from that part of the world, and her Welsh blood inexorably tugs her in that direction, so we usually go to that beautiful part of the country several times each year. On this occasion we used the occasion of our visit to attend the annual Maliphant Jamboree that this year was held at Upton Castle, in Pembrokeshire.

I perhaps should explain that Mrs Geoff’s maternal 2 x  great grandmother was a certain Ann Maliphant (1836-c1918). She married Evan Hughes (1834-1916) in 1855 at St Mary, Kidwelly, Carmarthenshire and they had ten children. When, many moons ago, Mrs Geoff found her Maliphant connection, she exulted in the fact that Ann was not a Rees or Evans or Hughes, and she saw some reasonable prospect of being able to trace this line back into the mists of time. Then she found that a number of people have got there first, and as a result of their efforts the Maliphant family line is pretty well documented. Not to say, of course, that there is nothing else to do to contribute to this accumulated knowledge. You will see that Maliphants feature in the tree on the Geoffs Genealogy website.

Anyway, in 2009 some of the Maliphant descendants decided to try to hold a gathering of the clan in a pub in Bristol, and that was deemed enough of a success to repeat the exercise the following year. Scroll on to 2015 and the annual gatherings are very much alive and kicking! The clan meets at a different venue each year, and this year on 8 August over 50 of us gathered at Upton Castle in Pembrokeshire. Here we met on a beautiful sunny saturday, to chat and eat and learn for a whole day.

Many centuries ago the castle used to be owned by a family of Maliphants, and there are effigies believed to be of Maliphants in the chapel. Although actually there is no proof that those Maliphants were our clan, there certainly is no harm in hoping!

Andy Maliphant gave us all a very interesting tour of the grounds and chapel (he really is very good at these things) and we also took lots of photographs to mark the occasion. You can see some of the Photos on the Maliphant Jamboree Photographs.

To top it all the owners of the castle provided a superb lunch and tea in the marquee. All in all a smashing day, and it is great to see that the Maliphants retain their enthusiasm to meet up with old friends and kinsmen, and have a good day together. I have to say that I am a bit envious of them, as my attempts to organise a second Bankes Descendants Reunion several years ago met with failure, after a pretty successful first crack at it.

When we came home from Wales we were only here for a week before we set off on our second jaunt – to France.

This was a trip to Northern France, to visit the battlefields of the First World War. We benefitted from the attentions of a first class expert guide, and visited a many places of great importance in the conflict, finding the trip very fulfilling.

As I remarked to a fellow traveller on our last morning in the hotel, we had all been aware, prior to the trip, of the sheer numbers of casualties in this awful war. However, actually visiting the battle sites and museums and seeing the graveyards, with all the many nationalities of casualties, gave me a deeper understanding of the full horror of these events.

We saw some remarkable things during these few days. The Canadian memorials were perhaps the most striking The monument they had put on Vimy Ridge was extremely beautiful and impressive, and can be seen from many a mile away. That is imposing enough, but when you factor in the preservation of the site that the Canadians have done, it is a truly remarkable effort. The German and Canadian / French trenches are preserved for posterity in concrete, and the German trench includes a mortar firer which despatched massively powerful explosive devices into the allies’ trenches, which are only a few yards away. One can imagine the effect of these explosions on the allied forces, and also note that the Germans had the high ground at the start of this engagement, thus enjoying a huge advantage. This was the best defended position on the Western Front. The taking of Vimy Ridge was, therefore, a remarkable effort, and could only have been achieved thanks to unimaginable bravery. It is right that the battlefield site has been preserved.

The Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial site is also a Canadian-maintained site, and another site that brought home to us what the troops engaged in the battle for Beaumont Hamel went through. The battlefield is preserved as it was on the 1st July 1916, with German and allied trenches and depressions where explosions blew out areas of ground. At the start of this engagement the Allies set off a diversionary explosion, using 40,000 lbs of explosive, under the Hawthorn Ridge Redoubt, and the Canadian and British forces then started their assault. The British forces were quickly stopped in their tracks and 80% of the Canadians were also wiped out, leaving a rump of the Newfoundland force to continue the assault as best they could.

This was a truly heroic effort, as they were facing a powerful German force on Hawthorn Ridge, and the Germans held all the high ground in the neighbouring field as well. We traced the steps of what was left of the Newfoundland Regiment as they fought their way across no man’s land to engage the German forces, accompanied by our expert guide and narrator, and as we did so we got a clear perspective on the bravery and heroism of these men, all those years ago. There is no doubt that when you see how close to one another the forces of the opposing armies were, it certainly does focus your perception of these events.

In the short time that we were in France we visited many other amazing sites, but the main point of our visit was to visit the Arras Memorial and cemetery, to see the name of my great uncle on the wall in the Bay 6 of the memorial. Sure enough, the name of Charles Hewitt (1878-1917) was etched there, along with the many thousands of his colleagues who gave their lives in the Battle of Arras in April 1917. This memorial is truly beautiful.

I took with me a copy of the War Diary of 1st Battn, East Lancashire Regiment for the period of time encompassing Charles’s death on 19 April 1917. In the days prior to the 19th the battalion was engaged fighting in the Battle of Arras, and was experiencing a very hard time, taking some casualties, under fire. However, on the day of Charles’s death there was no action taking place, and apparently nothing to report. This leads me to wonder how Charles met his end. If it is known that he died on 19 April, the cause of his demise must, it seems to me, be known. If this is the case, as there is mention of other ranks casualties in the war diary on other days (albeit not by name), it seems strange that there was nothing to report on this day, even if his body was blown to bits and there was no grave.

Of course, it is possible that Charles died as a result of an accident or illness, but if that were so why didn’t he have a burial and a stone? I put these points to our guide, and he agreed that I had a point. He  said that there may possibly be other sources to check re this matter in Regimental records held in Preston, so I will check up on that. I don’t hold out too much hope, though.

What has become apparent to me is that although the Battle of Arras was regarded as an intermediate battle of WW1, it was very hard fought. There were 150,000 casualties (50,000 dead). After initial British successes, in which the Germans were pushed back, the Germans hit back, recovering lost ground, and a stalemate resulted.

In visiting these battlefields we had to bear in mind that at the time of these events the area was a wilderness. None of the buildings we see were there when Charles Hewitt and his pals carried out their brave deeds. All the towns and villages had been destroyed, nearly all the vegetation was gone, and the civilians had moved out to pastures new. Many of them moved to work in agriculture in Normandy, and never returned.

We returned having learned a tremendous amount about the First World War. This was most definitely a memorable few days for both of us.

Leave a Reply