Most of the men in our family came back from the war but my granddad’s elder brother William Henry was not so lucky he died in the First World war at the battle of the Somme. He joined up as a volunteer into the West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales own) and was sent to the front in France with many other young lads. The battle of the Somme began on the 1st July 1916 and went on until 18th November of the same year. By the end of the first day almost 20,000 young men had lost their lives after being mowed down by a barrage of machine gun and rifle fire. Such a huge loss of life.
William was killed on the 10th day of the battle, only twelve days after his 20th birthday. My granddad always kept a picture of William in full uniform on the wall above the fireplace – pride of place – and he would fix a fresh poppy to the frame every November like a sprig of holly at Christmas. I wear my poppy in remembrance of William and on behalf of his mother Flo (my great gran) and his brother Ernest (my granddad) who are no longer here to put a poppy on his picture.
William Henry had a short life and a hard life. He was born in 1896 and his younger brother, my granddad Ernest, followed nine years later in February 1905. It is only recently through researching our family history that my brother discovered by accident that by the October of 1905 the family were seeking refuge in the local Workhouse in Sheffield. We are not sure if it was having a second mouth to feed that led my great grandma and granddad and their two children into such extreme poverty and despair to the extent that they needed the help of the workhouse to avoid starvation. By this date both my great grandma’s parents had died so she could not call on them for help and we do not know much about my great granddad and his family only that he died in 1926 at the age of 53.
The workhouse records only log their date of entry but obviously they got over their difficulties at some point but no one in our family ever mentioned the ordeal.
Intrigued by this discovery I wanted to know more about the conditions in the workhouse and so I did some research of my own and came across an account of a visit to the same Sheffield workhouse in 1896 by a professor of Surgery at Sheffield University when he was investigating the workhouse system. They admitted casual paupers (as they were called) at the rate of a dozen a day – some came and went as they needed help. The men were expected to break stones and pick oakum apart and the women had to do nine hours work washing, scrubbing and needlework. I have the impression that even married couples did not lodge together unless they were over 60 and children were also separated from their parents and only allowed a Sunday visit.
My great gran was a wonderful person everyone loved her – she led a very contented life looking after the family and must have been devastated to end up in the workhouse and not be able to provide for her family as she would like. I never knew my great granddad – he died a few days after my mum was born and my great gran went to live with her daughter (my grandma) and my granddad until she died at the ripe old age of 98. Maybe the short time in the workhouse gave her the strength of character to survive to such an old age.
Thank goodness though that the workhouse is a thing of the past – it is hard to believe that members of my own family had to endure such hardship and how we perhaps do not appreciate everything we have today and more!
In memory of you William and my great gran Flo. xx