Monday, January 23, 2012

Family History in the Making

Family History does not have to be boring and dusty. Watching it unfold in the present is vibrant, exciting and sometimes very strange. Where does it lead (Don't know)? Will I be there to see the longterm results (Possibly not)? Does that matter (the history does, but my place in it does not).
This little lot got together for 9 hours in the studio, and what a great result. The family that plays together.... stays together/ has a lot of fun/ can do phenomenal things.
I really love 'Slow Blues', and Hannah's 'Be what you wanna be', and Rory's drumming and 'Are we there yet?' and Ben's fabulous guitar work.
Jono's desire to write blues has been burning for a long time.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Friday, January 20, 2012

Photos from the Archives (Harold May)

Harold May before World War I
In Northern France (3rd from the right 2nd row)
Harold after his return, in the garden with his dog.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Letter to my grandchildren January 2012

Dear Hannah, Ben, Rory, Maia, Jimmy and Ollie,
I thought it might be a good idea if I told you about your family. You are all reading well, and from time to time you have all asked about family members. I have been researching our family for many years now, and all the details with certificates and photos are tucked away in my study where no-one ever reads it. Your great great uncle John has also been researching family history for many years, and I have learned some of the information from him. He also has all sorts of records tucked away in a cupboard, and nobody ever sees them, either. Seems a bit stupid to know all this information and not share it. I have found it very important to know where I come from, who was involved, what sort of people they were, and why I turned out to be the sort of person I am.
So, about once a month I will write a short letter, and focus on everything I know about one person, or one person and their family. If you keep all the letters, eventually you will have a very large puzzle that you can put together as a sort of family history jigsaw. If you don’t keep the letters, I will always have a copy on my computer and, in years to come, if you find you have lost a piece of the family jigsaw, then I can always replace it for you.
I thought I would begin with my grandfather Harold May – your great great grandfather (and also of course great uncle Brian May’s grandfather). He was born on 23rd March 1895 at a place called Broome Park in Betchworth, Surrey, England. My understanding is that this was a country estate owned originally by Queen Victoria's surgeon, Sir Benjamin Collins Brodie (1783-1862) but at the time of Harold’s birth owned by a Russian Prince and Princess Dolgorouki who had escaped from Russia. (I have tried to get some information about this family, because they did mix with English royalty – more of that later). Broome Park was a Georgian House with 19 bed and dressing rooms, 4 bathrooms, 5 elegant reception rooms, billiard room and servants bedrooms. The property of 56 acres included 2 lodges, stabling, garage, a farm and 3 cottages.

Harold’s father Henry Joseph May (shown with Harold in the photo) was Head Coachman for the family, and he and his wife Charlotte Kate Hirst (more of the two of them later) lived above the stables. In those days babies were mostly born at home, so I guess you could say that Harold was born in a stable (but I don’t think there were three kings in attendance at the time). I do have a copy of his birth certificate (which proves the date and place).
The 1901 UK Census shows him living at Broome Park, aged 6. He was quite privileged really, because he attended the Betchworth Village School (though I have not yet tried to find records of how well he did).
The 1911 Census (they happened every 10 years) shows him still living at Broome Park, aged 16 – by which stage he was a footman to the princess. His younger brother Ernest (born 10th June 1898) was also a footman to the princess, so you can imagine them both standing proudly at the back of one of those open carriages, all smartly dressed up in a uniform.
I think the family must have been well liked by the prince’s family given they lived there for 20 years from 1894 or so till after 1914. This may in part be because Kate also worked for the family as a cook, although her original trade was a dressmaker (according to the 1891 Census).
Being around horses and stables for so many years must have influenced him to join a horse regiment when he signed up for the army in 1914. He joined ‘A Squadron’ His Majesty’s 1st Life Guards as Trooper H. May (3095), and was based at Hyde Park Barracks, South West London during his training.

At around this time (aged 18) he must have met his future wife Louisa Emma Barrett who lived in South London, but we do not know where or how. He did send a Christmas card to her in 1914 saying “To Louis with Best Love” (I have a copy of this). Shortly afterward he went to Northern France to fight in the trenches against the Germans during World War I, and we know little of what he went through.
We don’t know how many breaks he had back in England, how he and Louisa got together, how much time he had with his parents and brother. He did go half way through the war, but sadly was ‘gassed’ at Ypres in Northern France in about 1916 and was repatriated.
He and Louisa were married on 15th January 1918 at St. George’s Church Hanover Square, London. Harold did not go back to war, and of note the war did not finish until November 11th 1918 –‘Armistice Day’. In some ways Harold was lucky to survive the war – millions of soldiers did not! We are lucky too, because if he had not survived, none of us would be here today.
However, subsequently he died from Tuberculosis (which he must have caught after his lungs were damaged in France) and is buried in Hanwell Cemetery nr Southall in Middlesex. Harold had just had his 26th birthday (23rd March) in Colindale Hospital North London when he died on 24th March 1921. Harold was awarded the Victory Medal and the British Star 9.5.1915.
There were two children only – Louie Evelyn (my mother ‘Eve’) born 17th December 1919 (aged 16 months when her father died), and Harold, born 7th April 1921 – sadly 2 weeks after his father had died.
So what sort of person was your great great grandfather? I can only draw conclusions from having known my Uncle Ernie (his brother), who was a tall ‘gentle giant’ somewhat quiet and reserved, but with a great sense of humour and always ready to laugh. In a sense (like many of his generation) Harold did not have time in his short life to grow a career outside of the Guards and his experiences of World War I – which must have been horrible. In many ways he did give his life for his country and his beliefs. He was clearly very much in love with your great great grandmother and, of note, she never remarried; she gave her life to bringing up two fatherless children.
In many ways Harold May was a person of whom we should be very proud.
Love Grandpa