A train journey without a destination

7th October 1914


The Dorsets paraded at the ungodly hour of 3am and marched north through the Bois de Compiègne in order to preserve secrecy. Then began a day of complicated movements, confusion and delays. I’ll try to explain it as simply as I can without inducing sleep.

Such a large amount of Allied troops were moving along the line that it put tremendous strain on transport systems. The 15th Brigade was assigned four stations along the line. Compiègne, Le Meux, Longueil Ste Marie, and Pont Sainte Maxence. The Dorsets entrained at Compiègne.

The Dorsets still didn’t know where they were going. I think they were probably hoping to get far away from the German guns. But rather than a long train journey they were disappointed when they pulled into Abbeville, stopping briefly in Amiens after a journey littered with stops and delays.

Abbeville station was overflowing with arriving troops so they were sent back along the line to Pont Remy where the Railway Transport Officer immediately tried to send them back to Abbeville. By now the trainline was so snarled up with traffic that this proved impossible. I imagine senior officers were now at the end of their patience with trains and so the Battalion started to detrain.


A few notes from yesterday’s letters

Frank’s letter is very playful. He has a really cheeky sense of humour and clearly loves winding his sister up in a good natured way, like all brothers do. Today we’re looking at names in the letters.

Who is Ciss? Is this their sister, Doris? Does he mean to write “sis”? Frank assumes that Mabel is in touch with her so it could well be this simple explanation. Ciss would also be a contraction of Cissy? I cannot find anyone of that name in the immediate family.

Muff now turns out to definitely be someone else other than Caroline Webster. I thought this might be the case from the language in the last letter. Frank writes “Heard from old Muff she wrote me a letter from the old people and hopes I am alright and trusts to see me soon”. Can we assume that Muff is an older member of the family? And is she a Crawshaw? I’m not sure. The most obvious person to investigate first is the maternal grandmother, Phoebe Webster, née Oakley. She’s living in Tottenham in 1911 with her husband Matthew and youngest daughter Lilian. She would have been 72 by October 1914. Is the “old people” an old people’s home? Or could it be that the person is living with the old people. If this is the case then Muff could be Lillian Webster. She would have been 25 in October 1914. Geoff’s notes indicate that he knew an Auntie Muff in the 1930s, so it can’t be the grandmother, surely? I’ll do some more rummaging around Lillian Webster when I get more time.

“You and Aunt are still Tangoing it I would if I was there”. I wonder if this is a reference to the dance craze of the time? The tango was sweeping, or should I say striding, through the Capital on its way up from Paris. Commercially astute tea rooms and restaurants had started putting on Tango Teas, afternoon tea with a demonstration of the tango by a professional dance couple. The excellent Edwardian Promenade blog does a much better job of describing the tango phenomena than I will ever do.

Another name to track down is “stammering Sam”. I think this one is easier to solve. Frank follows this line with “You know that old saying follow in Fathers footsteps”. Their father’s full name is Frank Samuel Crawshaw. Was he also known by his second name? It wouldn’t be a surprise knowing this lot. We find out that Frank Senior probably had a stammer. It’s a bit cruel of Frank to tease his father’s affliction but it appears to be a genial comment, not a barbed one.

“Remember me to Wallie and thank him for his Bovril”. Wallie is Caroline and Matthew’s son, Walter Matthew Coulson Webster. Born in 1900, he’s only 14 at the time of this letter and was just starting work. We’ll hear more about Wallie in the future.

Tomorrow we’ll look at the strange goings-on at Number 60.


Pleased to hear about Doris, I should love to see her for its such a long time since she saw her Biddy give her my love and I hope to see her soon as she left that school. Am surprised to hear about the old man getting married again, but I expected to see that come off and he is getting young again, have you seen her, who told you about it, good old mother (????thises) is that what she said you wasn’t to see Doris you tell Mrs C to what a bit don’t bolt her food, Ginger can please herself who she goes and sees, she must be nearly fourteen now.

Read the whole letter from the 17th September.

20th September 1914

This is something of a revelation. I think we get snippets of family discord in previous letters so it’s not a total surprise. Frank’s father has, or is, getting married again. Frank’s parents, Frank and Ada, were living together in 1911. Something then went wrong between them. By 1914 Ada and Mabel are living with Walter “Mattie” Webster and his wife Caroline back in Brixton.

Frank Senior may have possibly already got married again in April 1914 to a Gertrude Watson (as a Frank Crawshaw got married in Islington at that time) but I haven’t been able to prove this is him yet. I need to order the marriage certificate.

Divorce in 1914 was supposedly uncommon and, socially, it was frowned upon. In the first decade of the 20th century, there was just one divorce for every 450 marriages. I took the following statistics from the Guardian’s excellent data blog: 2600 couples got divorced between 1911 and 1914. 1397 divorces were instigated by the man and 1203 by the woman. Incidentally this figure rose to an all-time-high of 165,018 divorces in 1993.

A recent Parliamentary article on divorce cites that only men could instigate divorce before 1923 but I can’t understand how this would be when women are listed as the petitioners in 1911-1914. This is also disproved by this story in the Nottingham Evening News in 1914. It makes for depressing reading so be warned. Weirdly, my other great great grand parents, Reginald and Hannah Elliman, were also getting divorced around this time. For something that was supposedly very rare at the time, especially in the working classes, there was a lot of it about.

I love Frank’s spelling of thesis. He is defending Ginger (Doris), their younger sister as she’s obviously seen her father and her mother does not like this at all. Doris was actually 12 – she was born in January 1902. The school he mentions unearths another Crawshaw family mystery. I’ve found Doris in the 1911 Census and she’s boarding at a school in Stroud, Gloucestershire. More of this tomorrow.

The Dorsets spent the day digging trenches between Le Pavillon Farm and Sermoise. At 7.30pm they were ordered to assemble at Sermoise, but the order was immediately cancelled and they returned to their billets in Jury.