Try to be prepared for what you might find…
I don’t remember Grand Uncle Edward (Eddie); although I do have a vague memory of him arriving at my Grandmothers house one morning whilst I was visiting. I can’t be sure though and I may have confused this with the stories of him in my family.
Why didn’t I know Grand Uncle Eddie better?
Who was he?
What happened to him?
In taking this journey I did sometimes reflect on why I had started this piece of research in the first place. Try to be prepared for what you might find out, and try not to judge others by today’s standards is my motto, but sometimes you can’t be prepared for what you find and how you (or others) will react…
Eddie’s story begins with his birth. Edward David Nash was born on the 15 January 1915 in Harlesden, Middlesex1. The 3rd child of Edward William Nash (Police Sergeant) and Mary Ann Elizabeth Morris. His sister (my Grandmother) being 10 years older helped bring him up as she felt responsible2. Eddie had an older brother William (for William’s story see my talk ‘Searching for William: Liverpool to Oz to Lewes’). Anyway back to Eddie…
I knew a little more from family stories of Uncle Eddie, as he was affectionately known by my Mother and Aunt3:
Known as ‘Eddie’ or ‘Chick’ within the family
He was very clever and mechanically minded
He bought my Aunt her first chemistry set and school uniform and used to take her and her sister (my mother) to the woods for chestnuts and then treat them to a ‘Devon tea’ afterwards
She remembers the crosswords they completed together when she was a child. If a word was too long to fit, he’d chop off a letter or two and if it was too short, he’d add a couple. At the end we’d be left with very strange words made up mostly of unpronounceable consonants. We had such a laugh!
He fought in Italy during World War Two, lost all his mates and was injured (his toes were damaged and he was psychologically ill)
He bought back mementos from Italy; an Italian kitchen picture and wooden figures
After the war he stayed on in the army, but deserted 9 months before he was due to end his service. He went to jail in Colchester
After this he just wandered, slept rough, under bridges and worked for farmers. He used to turn up about 2 or 3 times a year, always when he had money
He visited his sister at her home in Lewisham, London regularly
We believe he died circa 1989/1990
Following the tracing of Eddie’s birth I wanted to look into his military record. I soon found, that unlike the records of World War One, Second World War records are still held by the Ministry of Defence (and are closed to the public). I checked the website veterans-uk.info to find out if and how I might access these records4. Needing the next of kin’s permission and authority I spoke to my mother. Eddie never married or had children, so excluding his spouse, parents, children, grandparents and grandchildren (as none still lived or existed) my mother and aunt (Eddie’s niece’s) were the only next of kin alive. Having permission I sent a letter, with the application for Eddie’s service records to the Ministry of Defence. The wait was agonising, both in waiting for news of Eddie and what the records might reveal and in time. After 9 months (at the time of requesting the records in 2012 it seems the Ministry of Defence had a huge backlog of work) the records arrived in a large, brown envelope. With trepidation I opened the envelope and a wealth of information fell out.
Edward David Nash, Army Service Records5
Eddie’s service records confirmed I had the right person as the full name, date and place of birth, next of kin (father), and address detailed matched records I had researched previously.
Summary of some of the key facts
Date of enlistment: 22 Oct 1940, Brighton as Gunner
Trade on enlistment: War Police
Corps: Royal Artillery Unit: 91 Defence Battery, 53 Heavy Regt
Discharged: 06 Oct 1946
Height: 5st 6 ½ inches, Weight: 143 lbs, Eyes: Brown, Hair: D Brown
Chest Girth when fully expanded: 37 Ins, range of expansion: 3 Ins
22 Oct 1940 – 19 Feb 1943; Home; 2 years, 12 days
12 Oct 1942 posted to 53rd Heavy Regiment, 54th Heavy Regiment RA
19 Feb 1943 embarked for North Africa
20 Feb 1943 – 18 Apr 1946; N/Africa; 3 years, 68 days
1944, Awarded Africa Star
19 Apr 1946 – 3 Aug 1946; Home; 97 days
3 Aug 1946; released to Royal Army Reserve, Total: 5 years 350 days
4 Aug 1946 – 6 Oct 1946, ZT Res/v (Group Reserve Volunteer); 64 days
1946, Awarded 1939-45 Italy Stars
30 Nov 1946, admitted to Chelsea Hospital, discharged on 6 Dec 1946
8 Dec 1947, medically examined by Medical Officer and graded army category C1
15 Jun 1948, Mons Officer Cadet School (Training Establishment for Officers)
10 Apr 1952, DSR (Discharged to Reserve) Regiment or Corps: Royal Artillery (Field)
Military Service Records contain many abbreviations, and I worked out some (but not all) with the help of a list the MOD6 had inserted into the envelope containing Eddie’s records. I also visited the military help stand at the ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ Show and Exhibition in London in 2013.
So these details confirmed his service in Italy and also revealed service in North Africa which the family didn’t seem to be aware of. It confirmed the reason for photographs of heavy guns held by the family; (I’m sure Eddie shouldn’t have taken these pictures at all!) as he was with the Royal Artillery.
What of his desertion? The service records detailed the following:
23 July 1951, deserter, absent without leave (AWOL) 0800 hrs
14 Aug 1951, declared illegally absent by Court of Inquiry held at Gravesend
27 Feb 1952, surrendered to unit 19:30 hours, in open arrest awaiting trial
28 Feb 1952 – 9 Apr 1952, open arrest
10 Apr 1952, tried by District Court Marshall at Gravesend, convicted of deserting HM Service at Gravesend 10 Apr 1952. Awarded 6 month detention (sentence reconfirmed reduced to 4 months)
21 Apr 1952, committed to Military Corrective Establishment, Colchester
1 Jul 1952, released from detention 82 days served (40 days remission)
18 Jun 1954, allocated to general reserve group to age 45
So this gave a lot more detail to confirm the family story. I was also pleased to read details of Eddie’s military conduct; described as ‘fair’, with a testimonial:
a keen, hard-working man who gives of his best at all times and works well without supervision. He has an extremely cheerful manner, is clean, smart and always well turned out.
The medals Eddie was awarded made me feel very proud:
Africa Star with 1st Army Clasp
War medal 1939/45
However a final note made me feel angry:
Deserter: 23 July 1951 to 26 February 1952 – All medals forfeited
How had Eddie felt about this? After service in North Africa and Italy, in what must have been two of the worst theatre’s of war, he survived many of his artillery mates (according to the family story) to then lose his medals. I appreciate he deserted, but I think possibly through little fault of his own. He was certainlypsychologically ill. He also felt the army was letting him down after the war in terms of a lack of promotion, with others moving ahead of him (even though they joined the army following the war). Perhaps I will try and claim his medals for him in the future.
The family believed Eddie had passed away in 1989 or 1990, but had no direct knowledge of this or a burial place to pay their respects…
…Blog continues 12 January 2015
Robert Parker is a Genealogist and Trainer, based in Cambridgeshire. He delivers courses, coaching, talks, and research services for those interested in tracing their ancestors. See www.myfamilygenealogy.co.uk for further details. Contact Robert to discuss your requirements without obligation. What stories could your ancestors tell?
1Source: www.GRO.gov.uk; Birth Certificate: W132071, 1915
2Source: V Hatton, niece of Eddie
5Source: Army Personnel Centre, ref: D/APC/HD/DESK 7/243342
6Ministry of Defence