Gidea Park Hare Hall camp: Granddaughter searches for identity of soldier
- Credit: Archant
After the death of her Aunt and discovery of a box of memorabilia in her attic, a woman is appealing for help to learn more about her grandmother who worked in a First World War camp in Gidea Park.
Alison Botteril, 65, is trying to find out more information about her grandmother, Mary Jamieson (1892-1949) and an unnamed soldier who she had two children with during the First World War.
She told the Recorder: “My grandmother died before I was born and had been ill for much of her later years, in and out of hospital.
“My mother was one of a large family, with an elderly father, and so their rather chaotic life and many house moves meant that there was next to no documentation of my grandmother’s life apart from a few photos.
“The information which I have has been passed down from what my late mother remembered and unfortunately my grandmother’s service records were among those lost in the Blitz.”
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Soon after Alison’s aunt, Mary Joan, died in 2007, a box of her memorabilia arrived at Alison’s house.
Among the items was a faded photo of a First World War soldier in uniform wearing a military medal ribbon, on the back of which Mary Joan had written: “This is a photograph of my father who died of wounds in 1918.
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“He was the eldest son of an old English Catholic family.”
These details tied in with what Alison’s mother had told her - that Alison’s grandmother had two children by this unnamed soldier.
Alison managed to track down the details of these two children - one of which was her Aunt - however the father’s name was missing.
The fact that the father may not have been present to register the birth if he was serving in France, may have been the reason it was left blank.
Mary worked at Hare Hall Camp, this Artists Rifles First World War training camp in Gidea Park was part of the site where the Royal Liberty School on Upper Brentwood Road now stands.
“Many years afterwards [Alison’s grandmother] would regale her second family, including my mother, with tales of her early life and was clearly ahead of her time with regard to equality for women,” said Alison.
“She joined the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) - my mother said she was one of the first so we assume early in 1917 - and had the rank of forewoman.
“The only documentation we have is a postcard photo of her taken with several other WAACs on the back of which she wrote, ‘WAAC 2nd Artists Rifles, Romford OTC, Essex’ the photographer being G.W. Secretan, Regimental Photographer to the Artists Rifles OTC.”
Mary was living and working as a servant in Marylebone, London when she gave birth to her first child, John in January 1916 at the hospital of Marylebone Workhouse.
Two years later in June 1918 while working in the Euston area as a cook, she gave birth to Alison’s aunt, Mary Joan (always known as Joan) in the hospital at St Pancras Workhouse.
Alison added: “It is hard to imagine how difficult it must have been for her without the support of a husband or any nearby family, and understandable that she felt she had no choice but to give up John to friends to look after.
“We don’t know when this happened but she must have kept in touch with the family because of the photo my aunt had of him as a boy.”
Alison believes Mary may have met the unnamed soldier while at Hare Hall and that his name might have been John as it was customary for the first children to be named after their parents.
“The centenary of our unknown soldier’s death seems an appropriate time to try and get to the bottom of this mystery and we hope his identity will eventually emerge after so many years of searching,” Alison said.
If you have any information about Mary Jamieson, or who the unnamed soldier might be, contact the Recorder at April.Roach@archant.co.uk.