Tuesday 6 February 2018

What’s in a military service record…

…besides military service information?

Sometimes you find surprising information in the oddest places. I was going through another branch of my family this week, looking to add information about distant and not-so-distant cousins. One can get side-tracked with so many families to research or other projects to get done. So, every once in a while, it is useful to go back and look for data for those individuals and/or their progeny that have been ignored.

I found a military service record for Robert Shepheard Munday, a first cousin, twice removed. As can be surmised from his name, he was closely related to my direct line. His mother, in fact, was a sister to my great-grandfather, James Shepheard (1865-1940).

I had not looked at the family of Mary Jane (Shepheard) Munday (1858-1929) for a while. I had her birth, marriage and death records, along with information about her husband, Robert Munday (1850-1902). But I had not followed up with their children. They had five together; he had four from a previous marriage. I thought it was time I tried to find out what happened to that line, perhaps see if there are any descendants still alive that might be contacted.

I will be ordering the formal BMD records  for all the children from the General Record Office for England and Wales shortly. In the mean time I thought I would see what might be available online on Ancestry, Findmypast or other sources. I did find the family members on most censuses but none were married before 1911 so their families will not be shown on census summaries, other than perhaps the 1939 Register. All five children were still living with their parents in 1901. Other types of records then were wide open to search.

I did find a marriage for Robert Shepheard Munday to Mable Louise Laver in 1916. At the time he was shown as a Sergeant in the Army Veterinary Corps. From that information I thought I could find information about him in the UK military records.

His service file, sourced on Ancestry, contained 27 pages. Robert Munday (he was never shown with his second name) enlisted on 11 December 1915, just a couple of months after the Great War began. His next of kin was given as his mother, Mary Jane Munday. That was amended in 1916 to name his wife. He served with the Bedfordshire Regiment at veterinary hospitals in Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Essex in England, but did not go overseas. He was demobilized on 15 July 1919.
Portion of military service record for Robert (Shepheard) Munday; retrieved 3 February 2018 from Ancestry.com

The service record also showed the birth of his first child, Robert Stanley James Munday, on 17 June 1917, in Herne Bay, Kent, so I had one name for a succeeding generation.

The surprising bits of information in the service file, though, were three letters written to his commanding officers from a Florence L. Stagg. They demonstrate another side to the man, perhaps not dissimilar to other young (single) men in the military of almost any time period, but a bit sad in some respects. Her letters stated:

March 20th, 1918
I am sorry to trouble you but would you kindly give me the address of No. 0325 Sgt R. S. Munday as I am very anxious to hear from him as I have not heard from him for a long time, & I am feeling very worried to know if he is still alright. I should be very grateful if you could help me & give me Sgt. R. S. Munday add. I have enclosed penny stamp for reply.
Yours truly
F. Stagg
Letter from F. Stagg in military service record for Robert (Shepheard) Munday; retrieved 3 February 2018 from Ancestry.com

Ms Stagg did not receive Sgt. Munday’s address as the army would not give out the information but her letter was forwarded to Robert. The note sounded innocent enough but subsequent correspondence from her offered more to her story, as well as Robert’s. From the dates of the letters, there appears there may have been even more correspondence from Ms Stagg that was not preserved in the file.

[31 November 1918]
In answer to the letter I received this morning, would you kindly give me an address I could find Sgt. R. Munday, 63035. It was a great shock to me when I saw in the letter he was married as being the mother of his child. (age 5 yrs.) He had already promised me marriage some time ago but owing to money matters it was postponed. I should feel exceedingly grateful if you could help me in the way to find him. The Court will allow me to claim 2/11 from the Government as I was told he had others dependence on him. I am wanting to find him as I am at my wits end to know how to go on to keep this dear little girl, as the money I earn only just keeps myself as I am only a Domestic Servant. I have waited each year, hoping R. Munday, would try and help me with her up keep, and as it is going into the six year, the expense increases and the struggle in life is more than I can bare.
Apologizing for so troubling you.
Yours Respectfully
F. Stagg

Florence’s demands for support must have resulted in some success but she was to be disappointed later.

[14 July 1919]
Dear Sir,
I trust you will pardon the libity [sic] I am taking in writing to you, but I have just received a form from the pay office telling me my allowance is to be stopped after the 12th of Aug.
Would be so kind as to give me R. Munday address where a letter will find him after he is demobilised, as I am quite unable to help keep his little girl ag 6 yrs without his assistance. And I am nearly worried to death to know what to do. Please do not let him know I have wrote to you for it would perhaps only make matters worse and I do not wish to take the affair into Court again.
Apologizing for so troubling you
Yours respectfully
F. L. Stagg

There is nothing further in the file that indicates how the situation was resolved, if it ever was. One can observe in the military record (image above) that the birth of Robert's first son happened only seven months into his marriage, so he appears to have had a history with the ladies. 

I did find some information about Florence Lilian Stagg in various other records. There was a baptism of Dorothy Lilian Emily on 9 September 1913 at St. James Ealing parish church in London. Only the mother, a cook at 69 Grosvenor Road, is named. Dorothy’s birth was registered in Brentford Registration District.
Baptism record for Dorothy Lilian Emily Stagg, presumed daughter of Robert Shepheard Munday; retrieved 3 February 2018 from Ancestry.com

In 1911 Florence is shown to be a housemaid at 8 Grange Park, Ealing, London. That was also the area where the Munday family lived in 1911 (55 Windermere Road, South Ealing). Windermere Road is only about a mile apart from both Grange Park and Grosvenor Road, suggesting Robert and Florence met each some place in the community.

Florence married William Henry Hillcoat in 1923. Both she and her daughter, Dorothy, are shown on the 1939 Register, living at 5 Radbourne Avenue, Ealing, London. Dorothy was listed with the Hillcoat surname, was single and worked as a “Ladies Hairdresser.” Florence died in 1988. Dorothy died in 1991, having never married.
1939 Register showing Florence and Dorothy Hillcoat (both nee Stagg); retrieved 5 February from Findmypast.com

Did Robert live up to his responsibilities prior to being forced to do so by a court order? Did he escape to veterinary school and then to the army to avoid contact with Florence? Did father and daughter ever have any relationship?

What was unexpected in my search for information on my family lines was to find information about the Florence and Dorothy affair in a military service record. Just shows that one should not rule out any source.