Leonard Eric Mason (part 3)

1923: The next stage of Leonard’s life was about to begin.


He sailed from Liverpool on the SS Megantic on 1st June 1923. He was 14 years old, travelling with a large group of about 100 boys – the Salvation Army’s latest shipment of children to Canada. From his War Service file we learn that between 1924 and 1926 he worked as a farm labourer, eventually leaving to get a better job. From 1926 to 1928 he studied grades 9 and 10 at the Manitoba CCS. Between 1928 and 1941 he was employed periodically as a carpenter, miner and drill operator by D. A McKenzie of Matlock Beach, Manitoba, and in 1940 he did a few months’ work for Mr A E Holmes of Winnipeg, working as “a finisher and a miner and diamond drill operator”.

He applied to join the RCAF on May 1st 1940 but was refused because he was not tall enough. He reapplied on February 14th 1941 and enlisted at Winnipeg on 11.10.41. Presumably the height requirements had been relaxed!

The interviewing officer described him as “a good natured husky fellow who has roughed his way – confident but not overbearing”. Leonard’s ambition was to be an Air Navigator but he was thought to be unsuitable for this role because he was rather a “plodder” and although he had worked hard to achieve a good general standard of education the study for the navigator role would be beyond him. He was obviously well-regarded, though, being described as “generally courteous and cooperative, a man who has worked very hard and is a dependable, serious, plodder type”.

Leonard’s Service Records on Ancestry.co.uk include his Final Training Report which included the comment that he was “a keen bomb aimer who has shown great improvement in his cross country bombing.” He was regarded as a very keen officer and was awarded his Air Bomber Badge on 22nd January 1943.

He was posted overseas in March 1943 and disembarked in the UK in April of the same year.

To be concluded…..

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Leonard Eric Mason (part 2)

A while ago I wrote a post about Leonard Eric Mason, one of the half brothers of my great Grandfather, Herbert. I had found (on Ancestry.co.uk) the details of Leonard’s departure for Canada in 1923. He had been a resident at the Chase Farm Schools in Enfield and was sent to Canada for “betterment”. Since then I have found out more about Leonard Eric and his time in the RCAF during World War 2.

Leonard’s father, my great great grandfather John Thomas Mason had died in September 1911. On September 11th 1912 Leonard and his brothers , Alfred (b.1903) and Lawrence, (b.1907) were placed in the Greenwich Workhouse by their mother Dorothy.

Two days after being admitted to the workhouse, Lawrence and Leonard were “discharged to Calvert Road”. This refers to a group of cottage homes adjacent to the workhouse, which could accommodate up to 50 children. Alfred is listed as discharged but no location is given, perhaps he went home to his mother. The Mason boys seem to have been in and out of the workhouse for short periods: Alfred and Lawrence were admitted again on 7th November 1912 and young Arthur Hayter Mason who was almost 2 years old was admitted the following day.

According to Leonard’s Canadian War Service file, he moved to the Chase Farm Schools in 1914 and stayed there until he left for Canada. The photograph below is of Leonard and Arthur Mason during their time at the Chase Farm Schools in Enfield. At the moment I haven’t located any records relating to their residence at Chase Farm; it doesn’t appear to be online yet and so I need to visit the archives to see what I can find.

Chase Farm Schools had their origin in the old parish workhouse at Chase Side, Enfield. Eventually, in 1884-6 a new set of buildings was erected on the Chase Farm site and these buildings continued as a school until the start of the Second world War when it was used to provide care for wartime casualties, and then after the war it became a general hospital.

For more information on Greenwich Workhouse and Chase Farm Schools see Peter Higginbothams’s website:www.workhouses.org.uk. There is plenty of fascinating information on this site including photographs, maps and plans of the workhouses.

Thanks to John Mason for the photograph of Leonard and Arthur.

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John William Saunders – a prisoner of war in WW1 (Part 2)

As noted in an earlier post, my great grandfather, John William Saunders of the 17th Battalion Kings’ Royal Rifle Regiment, was wounded and taken prisoner near Ypres in June 1917. The following detail is taken from the battalion’s war diary for the month of June 1917.

At the beginning of June 1917 the 17th battalion of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps was moved back to E Camp and set to work on railway construction alongside the 9th Battalion Canadian troops. Others were constructing dugouts on Canal Bank.

1/6/17 : the diary reports that 2 men were killed, 5 wounded, 8 gassed and 1 wounded at Duty (all were “Other Ranks” ) .

16/6/17: the battalion moved up to the Front Line – Hill Top sector. Whilst holding this line the trenches were heavily shelled day after day. A listening post was attacked by the enemy patrol, bombs were thrown and 3 men were wounded. Support came up, the enemy were cleared and one wounded man was taken as prisoner.

20/6/17: 2nd Lt Eckersley was informed whilst on observation work that a man of the 117 Trench Mortar Battery was wounded and in a dugout that had been blown in. He immediately went to the man’s assistance and after some difficulty, under heavy shell fire, succeeded in extricating the wounded man and carrying him to safety.

23/6/17: bombardment with gas shells

24/6/17: the battalion was relieved by the 16th Rifle Brigade in the Front Line and moved back to Right Support, accommodated in dugouts on the Canal Bank, finding working parties daily.


An image from 1917 showing soldiers near the Ypres Canal.


Image: NLS under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence

Casualties during tour in Front Line:

Killed: 2nd Lt L.D Welter; 2nd Lt F Longley (7th London regiment , attached)

Also killed: 9 Other Ranks; wounded: 39 Other Ranks: missing believed prisoner of war 1 Other Rank.

30/6/17: Battalion relieved in Right Support Hill Top sector and moved back to divisional reserve.

Casualties during tour on Canal Bank:

Other ranks- killed 3; died 1: died of wounds 3; wounded 18.

I assume that the “Other Rank” reported missing believed prisoner of war is likely to be John William Saunders as there is no mention of any one else being taken prisoner. The Gefangenenliste from the camp at Limburg states that he was captured at Ypres on 23rd June 1917. From there he was moved to the hospital in the Schillerschule at Wurzburg.

The CWGC headstone for my great grandfather, John William Saunders. (Chingford Mount Cemetery, London E4)

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Finding Edward and Alice Sheepwash


When I first began my family history research about 15 years ago one of the main sources  available was the 1881 census. I bought a set of the CDs and went about finding as many of my ancestors as I could, and I was relatively successful.

One person that puzzled me, though, was my great grandfather, Edward Neville Sheepwash.  He appears on the 1881 census living at Fitts Rents, Nuthall Street, Shoreditch with his widowed mother, Mary Ann Sheepwash, three of his siblings and his uncle, William Harding.

The odd thing was that Edward had married Alice Miles in 1879, yet here he was listed as “unmarried” and there was no sign of Alice anywhere.  Over the years I have thought about  this oddity  from time to time, searching the various online resources as they became available,  but I had no luck finding Alice.

Then a couple of weeks ago I decided to try to tidy up some of the loose ends in my research.  I posted a question on Rootschat, asking whether anyone could help me find Alice.  http://www.rootschat.com

Within an hour or two, three researchers were on the case and by the following day they had found Alice with Edward, enumerated in the census at 40 Great James Street Hoxton.  This street was just across the main road from Nuthall Street.  Both roads were very close to the Shoreditch workhouse which had been completed in 1866.

Edward and Alice Sheepwash

Edward and Alice Sheepwash

Edward Nevill    26 – walking stick maker
Alice Nevill    20 – wife
Louisa Baker    5 – visitor

I have no idea why they couple were listed under the surname Nevill – was it an error or a deliberate deception? At the moment I don’t know who Louise Baker was or her connection with the family. That’s research for another day. But for now the mystery is solved,  thanks to Rootschat and especially the three members who helped me find Edward and Alice.


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Happy New Year!

Not related to my family history, but here are two New Year cards from my collection of old postcards.  A very happy New Year to everyone!

This lovely card was sent to an address in North Strand, Dublin in 1912.

This lovely card was sent to an address in North Strand, Dublin in 1912. It is a Raphael Tuck “New Year” series card, No.N5603

This image of Dunolly Castle was sent to an address in Larne, Co.Antrim in 1921

This image of Dunolly Castle was sent to an address in Larne, Co.Antrim in 1921.  It’s one of the Raphael Tuck “Scottish Castles” series, No.  7181

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Rebecca Couling: a Death Certificate, and a conviction for stealing beer

The GRO’s PDF pilot phase 1 ordering service for birth and death certificates has now come to an end but I managed to get an order in just before the deadline.  The PDF arrived within the stated time despite the warning that there could be a delay due to “high volumes of demand”.   I hope this becomes the standard service from the GRO – it must be much more efficient and cost effective.

Here is what I received – the death certificate of my 3x  great grandmother Rebecca Couling (nee Billing / Billings):

couling-death-certI haven’t actually gleaned much more information about Rebecca from this but I do now know that John, my 3x great grandfather died between 1851 and 1860 which should help me to locate his death.

Rebecca’s death comes just two years  after she appears to have been convicted of feloniously receiving stolen beer “well knowing it to be stolen”, as described in this report from the Reading Mercury on 23rd October 1858.

rebecca-couling-convictionThe sentence was one month’s imprisonment with the last week being solitary confinement.  I wonder if Rebecca regretted  receiving the beer which was presumably shared with one of the other accused, one Esther Smith ” a prostitute”.

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Billings and Coulings in Oxford


I returned to my BRITTAIN ancestors recently to see whether any new information had become available online. One of my searches over several years has been for the marriage of my 3x great grandparents, John COULING and Rebecca BILLING.

Ancestry has the following record:

par217_1_r3_4_024So – at last, even though Rebecca’s surname is shown as Billings, I seem to have found them marrying in 1824 at Oxford St Thomas. The witnesses are Charles DAY and Ann BILLINGS, so of course I needed to check whether Ann was related to Rebecca. After a bit of searching I found the following, all in the Oxfordshire Family History Society records on Ancestry:

Oxford, St Peter le Bailey

Ann Billing baptised 1802

Thomas Billing baptised 1803

Rebeka Billing baptised 1805


The parents are given as John and Elizabeth BILLING. Have I managed to get back another generation? Another quick search revealed that a John Billing married Elizabeth GREEN in Great Haseley, Oxfordshire in 1797.

Even more interestingly, a name jumped out at me from the same page as Rebeka’s entry. A John COULING was baptised at Oxford, St Peter le Bailey in 1804, the son of Thomas and Margaret Couling. Probably a coincidence but worth following up!

The witnesses to John and Rebecca / Rebeka’s marriage, Ann BILLING and Charles DAY appear to have married at Oxford St Thomas the following year, 1825.

Most of this is all conjecture – but if you are connected to any of these people and can confirm or disprove any of the links I’ve made – please get in touch!

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More details from 1939: my great grandparents (Mason and Saunders)

I was fairly sure that I knew where  to find my great grandparents on the 1939 register.  On my father’s side, my great grandparents Herbert and Georgina Mason (née Briancourt) had lived round the corner from us when I was a child in the 1960s and I knew they had been there for ages.  They were living at  45 The Fairway in Palmers Green, London N13.


Herbert was described as a “heavy motor driver mechanic”.  With them were two sons, Ivor, who was born in 1912 and was a “warehouse packer” and George a “motor driver mechanic” born in 1915.  Thus I discovered that the person I had on my tree as “Ron” Mason was actually George Ronald: I had never bothered to check out his details.  There is also one closed record for someone at the same address, possibly the youngest child, Joyce, who was born in 1921.

Only one other great grandparent was alive in 1939 – Emily Saunders, née Ferry, who died in 1946.  I have her death certificate which confirms that she died at 36 Colchester Road, Walthamstow on 9th May 1946.  A quick check of this address in 1939 shows that the occupants were John W Saunders, his wife Elsie and their daughter , also Elsie, born in 1926.  No sign of my great grandmother, though.


Entering her details into the search brought up a number of possibilities but I can’t be sure whether any of them is my great grandmother.  The most likely seems to be an Emily Saunders living in Glenwood Road, Tottenham. She’s more or less the right age with a birth date of 9th August 1874,  and widowed, but at the moment I have no way of proving that this  is actually my great grandmother. I’ve never found a birth certifcate for her, although she was baptised on February 21st 1875 at St Matthews, Bethnal Green.   The other person in the household at Glenwood Road in 1939 is a French Polisher , Albert Weedon,  whose record states that he is married and was born on 10th January 1883.

Some more investigation is needed before I can conclude that I’ve found Emily in 1939.

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Some thoughts on writing this blog

Anyone who’s checked out this blog recently will note that it’s been a while since I posted.  I haven’t done much genealogy research though the summer , and I admit to feeling a little bit disheartened by the whole project.   Exactly why am I investigating my family history, and why bother to write it up on the blog?

I’ve made  some superb connections with other researchers who have been so generous with their time and information.  I’m so grateful to everyone who has taken the time and trouble to contact me and contribute in any way to my research. What I’ve found difficult to understand are those people who are keen to take the information I’ve found, but appear to be reluctant to share anything of their own.

When I began my research I didn’t have much to go on.    My parents, who divorced in 1972, both died in the 1990s and I have very few photographs of my ancestors.  I believe that quite a lot of my mother’s family “stuff” was destroyed in the Blitz. My uncle on my father’s side was very helpful, sharing a few photos of the Mason and Brittain families,  and for that I’m really grateful.   Almost all my “visual” family history evidence  starts in about 1930, so somewhere there are probably photographs which could help me to fill in the details about my heritage.  Most of my ancestors live only as names and extracts from the records and certificates – it would be so good to see them “in person”.

Complete strangers have been really kind enough to share their very detailed research, especially about the Sheepwash and Ferry families, but I’ve received help from others too as you can see from the comments made on the blog.   I really feel that this has helped me to gain an understanding of my family background which I knew very little about until I began researching 15  years ago.

I do wonder why some people who’ve made contact either via the blog or through various online sites and forums have then suddenly stopped responding, even when we have met in person to share information?  Perhaps you were unhappy about aspects of the research? Or maybe you’re worried that I will publish your research or photographs online without your permission?    If that’s the case then please rest assured that I will never do that.  Several researchers have given me information but are concerned about the use of public family trees on Ancestry and other sites; my tree on Ancestry is private (although I accept that there may  still  be data protection issues with that). I will only publish full details of any research if the records are now available online and therefore accessible to anyone.  If you have spent many years in record offices, poring over old documents,  then I certainly won’t put your information in the public domain with asking you.

Having written this, I think I’m beginning to be a bit clearer about the direction in which I will try to take this blog.   The information needs to be presented more clearly so that other researchers can find the connections more easily.  I need to find more images which help to locate the people firmly in their environment , especially as I don’t have photographs of many of the characters about whom I’m writing.   As time allows I will set up some additional pages with more information about each family so that it’s easier to follow.

If you’ve read this far, thank you.  If you are connected in any way to any of my ancestral lines,  or have any suggestions about how I can develop this blog,  then please get in touch.




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A First Look at the 1939 Register – my grandparents

Now that the 1939 Register is included in the FindMyPast 12 Month World Subscription I have started looking up my ancestors who were alive at that time.  At the moment the records of my parents, Roy and Doris Brittain (nee Neville) are closed because they were born in the late 1920s and died after 1993. I have no idea where they were in September 1939 – presumably evacuated somewhere, so I can’t get the records unlocked.
My maternal grandparents Frederick and Esther Neville (nee Saunders) were easily found living at 53 Lawrence Avenue, Walthamstow.  Frederick’s occupation is given as a woodwork stock keeper .  Living with them were two of my grandma’s siblings: my great uncle Francis F Saunders, a cabinet fitter and my great aunt, Doris Saunders who was a “laundry calendar hand“.  I had no idea what this meant until I looked it up and  discovered that a “calendar machine” is a type of rolling ironing machine for ironing of large flat items such as sheets. 

One of the great things about the 1939 Register is that the full date of birth is given, so I can now add the details of my great aunt Doris (“aunty Doll”) to my tree. She was born on 5th July 1916, just a couple of days before her father, John William Saunders enlisted in the Kings Royal Rifle Regiment.

On my paternal side, my grandparents Ernest  and Rosalind Brittain (nee Mason) were living at 52 Boyton Road, Wood Green.  My grandfather’s occupation was “Railway Porter LNE Railway“.  With them was Kate E Mason, who was my 2x great aunt.  She is described as “incapacitated” but the next two words aren’t clear – it looks as though it might say “little assistance” but I’m not really sure.

Kate Mason was my great grandfather’s unmarried half sister, the daughter of John Thomas Mason and Catherine Sarah (nee Eade).  I was aware that she had been close to members of my family, as my uncle remembered her quite well, but I was surprised to find her living with my grandparents.

Now to find the whereabouts of my  great grandparents…………




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