Dial M for Muff


9th October 1914

The confusion continued for the Dorsets. At 5pm. leaving behind their transport, they marched to Haravesnes, about 5 miles to the north east. They were supposed to then be picked up at 7pm by motor buses, or omnibuses as the Dorset war diary calls them. But they never arrived. Here the war diary and the official history of the Dorsets differ for the first time. Going by the other regiments’ war diaries and Gleichen’s account, it seems that the Brigade either billeted or bivouacked in Haravesnes overnight.

It would have been easier for them to march to their destination. They were losing precious time as we’ll see tomorrow.

Gleichen is not happy with the buses, and narrowly avoids being flattened by one of them.

I had, by the way, an extremely narrow escape from being killed that night. I had been lying down just off the road, when it struck me that I should find out more of what was happening and going to happen if I went to the head of the camion column and interviewed the officer in charge. It was a tramp of a mile or more through the 14th Brigade, and I found out something of what I wanted; but when I returned to the bivouac I heard that, not two minutes after I had started, a motor-bus had swerved off the road and passed exactly over the place where my head had been. It very nearly went over St André and Moulton-Barrett, who were lying a few feet away, as it was.

Today I have been looking at Lilian M Webster and tried to find out if she is the mysterious Muff from Frank’s letters.

In the 1911 census, Lilian Webster is listed as daughter of Matthew and Phoebe Webster. Lilian is 22. Matthew is 72 and Phoebe is 69. Did Phoebe have a later baby at the age of 47, nine years after their last baby Herbert Arthur? It’s certainly possible but also highly unlikely. Looking further back at the 1901 census Matthew and Phoebe are living at 60 Mordaunt Street with their granddaughter, Lilian M Pearson, aged 12. Is this the same person? Is she their daughter or their grandchild. What’s going on here?

Matthew and Lilian’s first child, Lilian “Lily” Emily Webster, was born in 1865. She married William James Charles Pearson in 1885. They are listed as living in Mordaunt Street in Brixton, presumably with her parents at number 60. In 1889 along came Lilian May Florence Pearson. I had her written down as Lilian Maud but that now appears to be wrong. Today I found her marriage certificate from 1915 and her name is listed in full there, as well on her husband’s next of kin form when he joined up with the Army. Unfortunately, the trail goes cold for both her parents at this point and I cannot find any mention of them after her birth. I haven’t done nearly enough research yet but is their disappearance connected to the fact that she move in with her Grandparents? Why does she change her name in the 1911 Census, or is that just a clerical error? Where did they go to? Did they die or emigrate, or am I just missing them in the records? As ever, turning these stones leaves more questions than answers.

I have one idea though. Look at her name: Lilian M F Pearson. The middle initials are MF. Is this Muff? This is what I guessed at yesterday. My doubts remain though. She could also be May, a character as yet unidentified in the letters to his sister if you look back through the archives. But May seems to be a friend of Mabel’s rather than a cousin. And May and Muff are often referred to separately in the same letter. Meanwhile, I shall just keep turning those stones.

Tomorrow we’ll look at the possible origins of Frank’s nickname and his favourite tipples.

Do the Oakley-Kokey


8th October 1914

The Dorsets finally detrained at 2am. They then marched into Abbeville and onto billets in Neuilly-L’Hôpital. Major Roper left them to find billets up ahead.

Again, they waited until the evening before moving out, to avoid enemy planes I suppose. At 6pm they marched north east through Agenvillers, Noyelles-en-Chausée, crossing the Somme at Boufflers, before arriving Gennes-Ivergny at 11pm. I make that about 26 miles. I bet Frank was loving his new socks. If they’d survived that journey that is.

Somewhere in the tone of the letters and in Geoff’s notes in my transcript there is the opinion that trouble simmered between certain sections of the Webster and the Crawshaw clans. Geoff (or Carl) writes “no love lost between the Crawshaws and the Websters?”.

If we think back to the trouble between Frank Senior and Ada then a divorce would certainly put a strain on a family. Especially if some members of the Websters were Roman Catholic. This would certainly explain the reason Doris was in a Roman Catholic School in Stroud. It also explains why there is R.C. written under Religion on Frank’s Conduct Sheet. But the mystery is that he and Mabel were both christened at C of E churches: Frank in 1893 at Brixton St Matthew and Mabel in 1894 at Stockwell Green St Andrew. Did Frank convert to Roman Catholicism? For his girlfriend, Jess, as my mother suggested? Is it a mistake on the Conduct Sheet? It needs further investigation but I am not sure where to turn to.

The other root cause of family strife is money. Was there some kind of battle going on over inheritance? I’ve been trying  to work out what number 60 refers to in his letter to his Aunt Caroline: “Have heard from 60”. At first I had a look at 60 Strathleven Road in Brixton, the same road they were living in 1914 along with Mabel and her mother. But the Websters weren’t living there at the time of the 1911 census. Then I thought about looking at the grandparents, Matthew and Phoebe Webster. They are living in Tottenham in 1911. No dice. I nearly gave up at this point. But I had in the back of my mind a nagging feeling that I had seen a number 60 before. So I persevered. I went back another census to 1901. And there were Matthew and Phoebe Webster living at 60 Mordaunt Street in Brixton, along with their 11 year old granddaughter Lilian M Pearson.

So here was a little silver thread of a trail. A very tenuous one, but one certainly worth pulling at. Could this be the number 60 in his letter? If the grandparents weren’t living at number 60 then were any other relatives? Now I had to find the address in the 1911 Census. Finding the address took longer than I thought because Ancestry has a great habit of misfiling street names in the Census reports. Tip here – use the Census summary sheets first. However, late last night I found it. Living at the address was a James Oakley and his strangely named (but brilliant for genealogy purposes) wife, Lovey. James was a pattern maker. As was Matthew Webster. A pattern emerges. Was I onto something here? Or was it just a cheap gag?

Well now I knew that coincidence was looking more and more like fact. Because I already knew that Phoebe’s maiden name was Oakley. Now all I had to do was tie her family tree to James’. I had not got anywhere with her family tree in the past, so I decided to work back with James.

James’ father was called William Oakley. He was born in Pembrokeshire, Wales. Phoebe was born in Bristol. Not a million miles away from each other. They were both a similar age. William was born in 1837 and Phoebe in 1841. On I plodded through the records and then suddenly, bingo!  There in the 1851 census. living in Northfleet, Kent was Elizabeth Oakley and her three children: George, William and nine year old Phoebe – written as Phebe Oakley. And that spelling is why I never found the record of her.

So now I am certain that Phoebe’s nephew was living in the Grandparent Webster’s old house in 1914. What I am not certain of is why. Had the house been left to them? It could well have just been rented after they moved. Had James inherited the family business? Was there even a family business? Were the Webster children at war with their parents over inheritance? The answers to all these questions is, I fear, lost in time. But it certainly opens up a brand new line of the family in Brixton.

One answer we might be able to work at is Lilian M Pearson. Does that M stand for Muff? There’s another mystery there ready to try to unravel tomorrow.