Asylum streakers

Envelope addressed to Miss Crawshaw, 29 etc franked 20 Ja 15
Dated 17th-1-15

Dear Till,

How pleased I was with the parcel which I received alright, which I thought was very good of you. I am glad to hear that you got the P M Gift alright, and if uncle Matt wants the pipe and Tobac he can have it, but I want you to look after the box and card.

Pleased to hear that Doll enjoyed herself along of you and Aunt, yes she wrote me a very nice letter and the Chocolates were very good. Is that oh(?) What she said that she didn’t know if I would be pleased with them.

Yes Till all my things are at Belfast and if you could see your way clear to get them you would be doing me a good turn. Don’t forget to let me know when you are going to get them, I have wrote to Jess and told her that you are going to make arrangements with her for getting them to Brixton.

I have received Bert’s parcel and I have answered it surely he as got the letter by now. No I haven’t heard from Tom for some time now but hope to before long. I expect he is well away at sea now what say you. Please to hear Uncle Matt is taking it out of the knocker.

Well Till we have been having a very trying time lately and that account for me not being able to write before. I haven’t heard any more about the leave but I hope to get it anyway.

Glad to see that you sent Doris a little present. How are you going on alright still mucking in at Stewarts? You say Bert is grieved because they are not going to send him out here, you tell him from me he don’t know where he is best off.

Well Till I am getting on away well as can be expected and still in the pink although I haven’t felt myself this last few days.

Surprised to hear about Dolly staying at Tottenham yes she misses the Green. Now I think this is all the news at present except that things are just about the same here and the weather is still wet and miserable. Remember me to all at home and tell Aunt not to forget to drop a few lines before long so will conclude hoping to hear from you soon.

Your loving Brother

Bid xx

17th January 1915

Now we have confirmation that Frank sent the Princess Mary Christmas Gift Fund Box home and that Uncle Matt got the pipe and tobacco. I wonder what happened to the box? The story I’ve heard, secondhand mind you, about the discovery of these letters, is that they were found bundled up in a tin by my Great Uncle Geoff Debnam. I wonder if they were in the Princess Mary tin?

Frank’s received some chocolate sent from Dolly, his ex-girlfriend. The following section discusses getting Frank’s belongings from Jess in Belfast back to Brixton. I’ve always thought this was just for convenience as that’s where he would take his leave he so hope to get. But can we infer from the previous paragraph, that Frank’s attention is shifting elsewhere and that his ardour for Irish Jess was dampened in the Belgian weather.

Taking it out of the knocker is such a great phrase. I guess it means, seeing as Matt’s a postman, that he hammers away at people’s front doors. It appears that Frank’s mother is a postal worker too, but we haven’t heard about her since the beginning of December. Tellingly, Frank hasn’t even asked after her in his letters home. Uncle Matt appears, over the course of these letters, to be a bit of a sick note when it comes to work. Frank is constantly concerned that Matt’s continuing to work and rather surprised when he is actually in work rather than sick.

Doris Crawshaw had enjoyed her 13th birthday on the 11th January, which explains Frank’s reference to Mabel sending her a “little present”.

The only other curious part of the letter is the reference to “Dolly staying at Tottenham yes she misses the Green”. Is this referring to a different Dolly? A family member who might have moved from Frank Senior, who live on Islington Green at “Stewarts” to the grandparents in Tottenham. Or was it Frank’s ex-girlfriend. It seems a strange coincidence that she would live in both places. Or was Dolly a distant cousin too?

The Dorsets remained in billets for another day. Today was a Sunday in 1915. The 15th Brigade’s diary tells us that the brigade enjoyed “usual church, washing and a rest”. I wonder if they billeted in the lunatic asylum in Bailleul, which was a popular destination for officers and men during the war to strip off their lice-ridden filthy rags and enjoy the hot baths there. In fact, when I get some spare time, I will dedicate an entire post to the asylum as there are lots of references to it in soldiers’  memoirs and books.

Frank admits that “I haven’t felt myself this last few days”. Hopefully a hot bath, fresh clothes and a good sleep out the the rain put a bit of a smile back on his face.




Not feeling fab from the jab

Envelope addressed to Miss Crawshaw, 29 etc – franked 11 Jan 15*

letter dated 04.01.15

Dear Till

I received your welcome letter yesterday and was glad to hear that you are getting on alright. Till I was surprised to hear that Tom was on leave, he is getting plenty of leave considering how things are at present, but I don’t blame him, I wish I could do the same.

Pleased to see that you heard from Doris she seems to know when her birthday is, what say you? You have heard from Jess then, she is getting on alright. Bert don’t half get some leave,when is he coming out here, you can tell Bert there’s not much chance of a fine time out here, well not up to yet, but lets hope so.

Pleased to see you enjoyed yourselves Xmas, I should reckon you had a gay time, I don’t blame you.

Well Till have you heard from the government yet as regards the 6d a day which I have allotted to you out of my pay, I expect you will hear soon, don’t forget to let me know directly you hear from them. I expect you will draw a month’s money and it’s for yourself.

Well me old dear I am getting on as well as can be expected but I have got a terrible cold. Bert mentioned in one of his letters that he was layed up with inoculation, well I have just been done and it gives me fab(??), I can hardly move.

We have just finished 6 days leave and we was all glad to get it. Now Till there is a chance of me getting seven days leave, that’s all the men who came out here first, but I don’t know when it will be granted, not just a present but later on I expect, that’s all according to how things go, but still lets hope I get seven days.

I received a very nice letter from Dolly, yes it was an interesting one. She said that she had heard from you and that you called and had a cup of tea along of her. She said you was just the same, all smiles, but just a wee bit thinner. I have answered her letter.

So Arthur spent his Xmas at Tottenham, I expected something like that. What say you remember me to them when you go over to see them. I was glad you never went.

Now Till I think this is all the news at present, trusting you are all in the pink and I hope to hear from you soon.

I remain,
Your loving brother,

### 4th January 1915

Frank’s letter home to Mabel asks after his sister Doris. Something about his question makes me think that Doris suffers from some kind of learning difficulty. This would certainly explain why she has been away at school. A school which became an official centre for disabled children a couple of years after she left.

Frank has heard from his girlfriend, Jess, and has also now received a letter from Dolly, his ex-girlfriend. She’s met up with Mabel, and presumably the split between Dolly and Frank meant that the two girls’ friendship had come to an end or cooled somewhat. Dolly has referred to Mabel’s warm smile, which is ever present in all the photographs I’ve ever seen of my Great Grandmother.

Frank confirms that he has allotted 6 pence out of his daily pay to Mabel. I haven’t found out anything about how a soldier might transfer some of their pay to a family member – I just haven’t had time – but soldier’s pay is a subject I will return to in the future.

The enteric fever (typhoid) inoculations from a couple of days ago are confirmed in this letter. Frank is now ill with a cold. The transcript says it gives “me fab” but I have no idea what this means and I take it it’s a typo on the part of Frank or Geoff’s transcription. Whatever it was, he’s not feeling great from the jab and I can’t blame him.

Frank also continues to complain about the amount of leave everyone else seems to be getting. I’m not surprised. It must have been maddening. He mentions that seven days leave are due to men out since the 16th August. How he must have longed for a return to his family in Brixton. (Please excuse the maps that are now missing on some pages – my old map plug in is broken and I need to fix them – another reason why I don’t use WordPress professionally.)

More references to tension in the family continue to pepper Frank’s letters home. Again, the source of the tension appears to be Tottenham – namely St Anne Road. Arthur could well have been Arthur Coulson Webster, Frank and Mabel’s cousin by Uncle Matt’s older brother John Webster and his wife Elizabeth. Arthur was 43. “I was glad you never went” makes it clear that Frank is not impressed by this member of the Webster clan.


The Dorsets left the comforts of Bailleul and marched to Dranoutre with the rest of the 15th Brigade. By 3pm the Norfolks, Bedfords and 1/6th Cheshires went into billets as reserve. The Dorsets and 1st Bn Cheshires drew the short straw and marched on to Wulverghem. The Dorsets relieved the East Surreys once again, taking over Sector D at 8.30pm. The Cheshires had taken over Sector C from the D.C.L.I. at 7.30pm.

The Dorsets completed the relief by 9.35pm. The Germans constantly sniped their new guests but no one was injured, which is miraculous as there was a full moon at the time. The rest of the day was spent digging out the trenches. Much work had been done shifting the line of the trenches towards the enemy as there was quite a distance on the right hand side of II Corps’ area between the British and Germans.

The trenches might have been basic but they were growing all the time. Communication lines begin to appear on the maps like little snakes worming their way back from the frontline. A system of numbering the trenches had now begun. The Dorsets occupied Sector D trenches numbered from 11 to 14. I imagine that a lot of grumbling about the East Surreys went on that night.

* Today’s letter also contains a second letter written in condensed handwriting on the fourth side of paper, according to Geoff’s notes. I will return to this extra letter in a few days’ time and this explains the later franking date.

Dolly mixture

Envelope addressed to Miss Crawshaw, 29 etc APO 13-12-14; passed by censor no. 1611 Lce Cpl Crawshaw, 1st Dorset Regt., British Expeditionary Force 13-12-14

Dear Till

I received your letter alright and was surprised to hear that Tom as to another 11 days’ leave he is doing alright. Well Till I am still in the pink and am getting on alright the weather out here is not up to much we are getting plenty of rain so you can guess what it is like in the trenches.

Something seemed to tell me that Dolly would either write to me or you let me have her address and I will drop her a PC if you write to her remember me to her. Yes I think it was good of her as you mentioned. Bert is doing alright what I can see of it when is he coming out here, he is a long time about it, and tell Horace he should put a sprint in it and come out here also. Remember me to old Tango and also Uncle, don’t he wish he was young enough to come back in the Navy I be he wishes he was back again.

How are you all getting on at home still merry and bright and how is Mother still knocking. Please to hear that you are sending me out a parcel, much in not much. No Till I think this is all the news except that I have heard from Muff and she is getting on alright. No I have not received the chocolates no I think this is all the news at present trusting you are in the best of health and also all at home. Tell Aunt I am writing to her tomorrow, don’t forget to write back soon.

I remain

Your loving Brother

Frank xx

PC franked 13 De 14 – censor 1611 (apparently by the name of E Rogers) to Miss Crawshaw, 29 etc

Dear Till,

Just received your letter and was surprised to hear Tom is still on leave, I bet he is going strong not much 3d a pint. Please to hear that you have heard from Dolly send me her address and I will drop her a few lines don’t forget to let me have it.

You want to tell Bert to hurry up and come out here its about time he was out here. Don’t. talk about rain we have had bags of it. Please to hear you are sending the parcel. Have heard from Muff and she is getting on alright. I am getting on alright and still in the pink. You will have to excuse letter this time as have not got time to write a letter. Remember me to all at home and ask Mattie if he got my letter.

No I must conclude trusting this letter finds you all at home in the best of health and I hope to hear from you all before long. Don’t forget D address.

I remain

Your loving Brother


So two letters were sent today to Mabel both with almost exactly the same content. It’s most likely that Frank received a letter from Mabel having just posted the first one and decided to send out a quick reply. But it could be that he completely forgot that he had written the first letter. Was Frank that below par? He’s so full of life in the letters and asks after all the family. He certainly doesn’t sound like a soldier suffering from depression or shell shock.

Speaking of family, it’s the first time he’s asked after his mother, Ada, since 17th September. She must be a postwoman as Frank uses the same “knocking” allusion for his Uncle Matt. In fact he doesn’t ask after his parents’ much in all the letters he’s sent home so far. I feel Frank looks up to his Aunt Carrie and Uncle Matt more than he does his own parents. I wonder why the Crawshaw family are so dysfunctional? However, as is often the way, the children seem pretty tight knit and the close bond between Mabel and Frank is undeniable.

Frank mentions Tom yet again. I still haven’t found anything else about him. Tom is on leave so he must have been in active service or a Territorial before the war begun. Frank has his usual moan about my Great Grandfather Bert still being stationed in England – and later, a lack of chocolate in the post. Frank also mentions Horace – we haven’t heard about him since August 1912. This could be one of their cousins, either Horace Yates (born 1903) or Roland Horace Spooner (born 1892). If Frank’s “Horace” is either of this pair, then it’s more likely the latter cousin as he’s the same age as Mabel and Frank. I can’t find any military records I can confirm are him, but Roland Horace Spooner survives the war and, I believe, married an Annie Mary Ashworth in 1924.

Tango appears once more. I’ve previously suggested that Tango is Lilian Webster. But the fact that Frank refers to Uncle straight afterwards indicates that she’s an Aunt and married and perhaps old (in Frank’s eyes at least). Lilian is only 25 and appears to be single. So my assumption seems to be wrong again. Muff must be another of the Webster clan. This needs more research and time I’m afraid, but I will return to this later on.

Frank asks after Dolly in both letters. We haven’t heard about Dolly since Frank “chucked her up” back in June. Frank appears to have had a letter from her. He mentions he had a feeling that she was going to write, which is either very prescient of him or something has made him think about girls other than Jessica. Has something gone on between Frank and Jessica?

I’ll return to the second letter, a postcard, tomorrow.

The Dorsets remained in billets for another day. Major Henry Ernest Walshe (1867-1947), CO of the South Staffordshire Regiment took over command of the Battalion.


Merry and bright

PC to Miss Crawshaw, 29 Strathleven etc franked APO 15 De 14 – chage to Censor No 1611 dated 6-12-14– written in pencil

Dear Till

Just a few lines hoping you are in the best of health and still merry and bright I expect by this time Uncle Matt has received my letter by now. I had a letter from Muff and she is getting on alright and they all wish me the best of luck. The weather out here is very wet at present. How did you enjoy yourself along of Tom, have you heard from Jess lately? Remember me to all at home and also Tango. Now I think this is all the news at present hoping to hear from you soon.

Your loving Brother

Frank xx

6th December 1914

The Dorsets spent another day in billets.

Frank has written another letter home but this one is short  and doesn’t really go into much detail beyond asking after family members. The usual suspects are all there: Uncle Matt, Muff, Tom, Jess and Tango. The main detail to take away from this letter is Frank’s comment about the “very wet” weather. The Dorset war diary has become very short on information lately but the 5th Divisional dairy reports snow, sleet and rain on the 5th December turning to frost on the morning of the 6th.

Isn’t “merry and bright” a lovely phrase? From all the lovely things I’ve heard about my Great Grandmother, it certainly sums up her personality.


Stopping a Jack Johnson

5th December 1914

The Dorsets remained in billets at Dranoutre for the day.

Going back to Frank’s letter from the 3rd, the mysterious and continuously ill Jess continues to torment us.

Jess has been ill but is getting on alright now have you heard from her lately I had two letters. Tell Aunt Mrs Coats old man is still with us, yes I would sooner be filling her scuttle and out here only a dream.

Frank mentions another Brixton man: A Mr Coats by the sound of it. I’ll have a look through the records when I get a chance.

We are still on the go and doing our bit to polish the Germans off, what does Albert think of it.

Searching through the family tree I can only come up with one possible Albert. He’s Frank’s cousin by Herbert Webster and his wife Mary. Albert is only 11 so I imagine the war would seem very exciting to him – anyone like Frank in my family would have had immediate hero status in my eyes at that age (and this age of course).

Have not heard or seen them chocolates yet, had a letter from Bert and have answered it said that he stopped the blue bag. I told him that was only half his luck, better than stopping a Jack Johnson.

Here’s another mention of my Great Grandfather, Carl Robert Debnam. He’s currently back in England with the Royal Garrison Artillery. He was stationed at Fort Picklecombe in Cornwall in August 1914. I shall return to him later on. He still hasn’t sent Frank any chocolate.

His letter has a mysterious phrase in it: “stopped the blue bag”. The only explanation I can give to this (and I am probably missing some obvious military reference) is that Bert has mentioned that he got stung by a wasp or a bee. It fits Frank’s following reposte of “better than stopping a Jack Johnson”, which, as we all know now don’t we class, is a German high explosive shell. Why a wasp? Blue Bag was a make of laundry whitener which people used to treat bee and wasp stings. It’s an alkaline so would theoretically counter the acid in the sting. Bluing was a way of adding a blue tint to white laundry – a blue tint takes away any grey or yellow hue.  It was probably a throw away comment in Bert’s letter and Frank’s using it as a hook for his joke. Boom boom.

The more I read about Tom, the more I think he is connected to Aunt Carrie and Uncle Matt in some way. Whether he’s a relative or not remains to be seen. Tom has apparently been helping to make the Christmas Plum Duff “he said he was making some Duff am I right” so is he staying in the same house as Mabel? It would be easy to assume so. Tom is home on leave, so we can also assume that he’s in the Army or Navy already. We’ll come back to this at a later date.

The end of the letter mentions that the Dorsets have been spoken to by General Sir Smith-Dorrien. Is this a reference to his visit on the 22nd? Just what was said and why would it be in the newspapers?