11th Battalion, Manchester Regiment

“On July 1st, 1915, “R” Company of the 11th Battalion, Manchester Regiment, after training at Grantham and Witley, left camp and embarked on H.M.T. Empress of Britain, to join the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force; strength six officers and two hundred and twenty other ranks. Officer in command, Major H.C. Bates. Other officers: Lieutenants E.H. Hartley, A.L. Allen, H.S. Painter; Second Lieutenants, E.H.K. Smithers and R.S. Innes.”

So begins the the journal of the 11th Battalion, Manchester Regiment that I discovered at the library in Ashton-Under-Lyne while traveling in England last year. This was the battalion that my Great-Uncle James William Travis joined as they embarked on the first leg of their journey, first to Gallipoli then from there to the Western front and the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Of course, this journal is not a captivating read, it’s rather dry and quite military in just giving the facts and not really telling the stories of those who would fight and die in that war.

My hope over this next year is to try in my blog to add some color and life to this journal through the eyes of my uncle. Of course, much of this will be fictionalized since I have no letters or documents that he might have written and I am working with memories that have grown dim with time, but I feel that the sacrifices these men made need to be remembered and written down.

At the time of his death in 1916, my Uncle Jim would leave a wife and three daughters, one of those girls he never had a chance to meet. At some point he would be joined by his two brothers, Walter and Albert, two who I continue trying to discover something about in the war records. In doing this I now understand how difficult it is for historians to piece together bits of information and then work to create a narrative that is both informative as well as being a good read. I’m also envious of those authors who write historical novels that draw you into the story where you not only read but can feel the very pulse of the characters. 

My uncle, his comrades and all who are mentioned in this journal were flesh and blood people, who loved and were loved, had families and friends, who saw their own struggle in the battles they would fight, some of whom would die. I can only imagine what it must have been like in those trenches, while your enemy rained down gunfire and shrapnel on to your positions, the fear, the daily grind of soldiering, caring for the wounded, and burying the dead.

I can only hope that my small contribution will do justice to the lives and memories of these men, who came from the mills and factories around Manchester and answered the call to go and fight for King and Country.

Faerie Garden

“Come on, Grandpa. I’ve got something to show you,” as my youngest granddaughter grabbed my hand and led me into the backyard. Her bright blues eyes shining and full of mischief as only a three year old can get away with, her face in a huge grin as she guided me into the corner of the yard. There it was, enclosed in a wooden barrier, carefully crafted was that special garden. “Is this your Faerie Garden?” I asked. Looking up she just nodded her head while gazing down at this little fantasy world complete with colorful mushrooms and even a small gazebo. It was all carefully laid out and the grounds were being kept free of weeds and other nasty things, that can only be found in backyards.

“Have any faeries moved in yet,” I asked, she just looked up and said “no, not yet.” Yet I could see that longing in her eyes, that child’s wish to see these magical creatures, to have them living and flying around in this special place. “Well’, I said, “maybe this evening when the light is just beginning to go away and nighttime is almost here, maybe then we might just see some faeries.” Her little face lit up, anticipation of possibly seeing faeries that evening was testing her sense of patience, that kind of patience we all know and remember when we were children waiting for Christmas. 

That evening, sitting out on the deck, as the sun began to slowly descend towards the horizon and that kind of dull, gray before the deep dark of night sets in, she gazed intently at her little garden in the corner of the yard. Maybe tonight she would get to see some faeries, maybe they are now lurking in the deeper shadows, eyeing this new garden, waiting for their chance to explore it and make it their new home. As we looked into the yard we saw a slight twinkle, “could that be a faerie?” I asked. Here eyes opened wide, as she intently looked down into the yard, soon there was another twinkle and finally several more. She looked up at me whispering, “Grandpa, look,” pointing out into the darkening yard. “Maybe they are coming,” I said, “but faeries are careful, they might just linger and watch right now and in the morning they will go back into the deep woods, where they live.” 

She just smiled at me and said, “they’ll be back.” With that she ran back into the house, after all it was time to get ready for bed. As we walked back into the house, I gazed back into the little garden, was that a faerie? No, couldn’t be, could it?    

Precious Things

They are nothing more than some old, yellowing pieces of paper so fragile that the wrong touch might just destroy them. For many people these pieces of paper would mean nothing at all and would have probably ended up in some recycle bin a long time ago. They hold no real value and wouldn’t even be given an honorable mention on Antiques Roadshow, but they are, in their own way, priceless.

These pieces of old, yellowing, cracking paper are the records of my own family, the marriages and births of those whose DNA I carry with me today. To read these is to read a story of family, where we came from and what has shaped us into the people we are and what we have inherited from the past. I look upon them and see a young couple in their twenties, my grandmother Emily Violet Travis aged 20 and my grandfather Percy Roberts aged 21, just starting a new life, a whole world opening up for them. I wonder how they met, fell in love and decided that they were meant for each other. My grandparents as young people, ready to tackle life together, to share in both the joy and the heartbreak that life brings. It’s funny to read these certificates from England where a young, unmarried woman was called a spinster and the young man a bachelor, I always wonder what she thought or did not think of that descriptor.  

I see the signatures of my great-grandparents, witnessing the next generation taking their place in the world. Venturing forth to start a new family, blending their traditions as they create new ones to pass along to their children. 

Sometimes, we think that it is the material things and keepsakes that hold sentimental value, and they do, but what I cherish is what has been handed down, a sense of connection to a living past. I look at the old photos and they are no longer ghosts of a long forgotten time and place but they are living, breathing people who laughed, loved and grieved as we all do today. 

Soon it will be the 94th anniversary of my grandparents wedding, in that time families have come and gone, the world has changed and no longer do we call young women, spinsters. We hold in ourselves the remnant of those who have gone before and we look with hope to the future as we see another generation taking their place and creating their own distinctive mark on this world.