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.


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.