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.