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Page last updated at 12:34 GMT, Monday, 10 November 2008

Families in World War I

In the run-up to the 90th anniversary of the ending of World War I, students in London and Dumfries have been researching family history to find out how their relatives were involved.

You can share the memories of your relatives who fought on the BBC Remembrance Wall.

Family man and soldier
By Maisie, 11, and Hannah, 18, Stoke Newington Media Arts and Science College, Hackney, London

John Darke
A photo of Maisie and Hannah's great, great grandfather, John Darke
The war medals belonging to our great, great grandfather have always been in our house, but we didn't know a lot about the man who received them, John William Darke.

When we discovered that our Nan had kept his war record and his birth and death certificates we wanted to find out more.

Two wars

Looking at "The Small Book" record we can see that he joined the Welsh Fusiliers as a private on 3 May 1915 at the age of 37. This is quite old for a soldier, but Nan says that before the first World War, he also served in the Boer War.

The book also tells us that he was born in Islington and that he lived on Crozier Terrace in Homerton, Hackney.

Mum's family have lived in this area for generations, which seems strange compared to other people. My dad's family, for example, has lived in Ireland, Liverpool, London and Yorkshire.

On the next of kin page there is a note about his wife and two children. It must have been hard to leave them behind.

The signature of the company commander is dated "9/7/15". It feels a bit weird to think that we'll be writing the same date in seven years' time, even though they are actually century apart.

It's also funny seeing "God save the King" written at the bottom of his army registration card because we've only ever heard "God save the Queen".

Names and faces

According to his war book, his complexion was "sallow" and he had hazel eyes and dark brown hair, so there is a bit of family resemblance. (Maisie has hazel eyes and Hannah has dark brown hair).

Nan also told us that he was only five foot three (an inch taller than Hannah) and that he always liked to look smart.

His marriage certificate tells us he married Catherine Solen on 25 December 1905, when he was 27 and she was 23. Iris, our great aunt also got married on Christmas Day.

We can see that he was a glass blower, as was his father, and that Catherine didn't have a profession, which is unusual for women now.

The certificate also shows that his father's name was Charles William; the names he gave to his sons Charles Henry and William John, who we think was also known as Jack.

Family research
Hannah and Maisie get to grips with their family history
In our family, lots of people have two names. Nan is known as Anna but that's not her real name and everyone called her dad Bob, when his real name was Charles Henry.

So maybe our great, great grandfather John also had a different name.


It's hard to make out the cause of death on his death certificate but we can read the words "left ventricular", "bronchitis" and "emphysema". He must have died from something to do with his heart and lungs.

At the age of 76, he was quite old, especially considering he was gassed in the war, which damaged his lungs.

This meant he couldn't work as a glass blower after the war, and even though he fought for a war pension he never got one and struggled to support his family.

Relative distance

Finding out about John Darke feels strange. We know we're related to him but the family history also feels distant. On the other hand, it's weird to think that we know someone - our Nan - who knew him, and that we still have that link.

It's important to remember all the people who fought for our country, and writing this report is a way of recognising what our great, great grandfather did, so the memories won't get lost.

My family's farms
By Rebecca, School Reporter, St Joseph's College, Dumfries

School reporters
School Reporters, 13 and 14, from St Joseph's research their relatives
My great, great grandfather James Cochrane and his wife, Margaret Maxwell, owned a farm in Dumfries and Galloway.

They had six children, one of which was my great grandfather Robert Hugh Smillie Cochrane.

In the build up to World War I, around 1912, they ran out of money and travelled down the old road to London. They came across a farm in Ongar, near Essex, and set up home there.

However, after four years it's thought they lost their money in the farm, yet again, and that Margaret became home sick, because they returned to Dumfries and Galloway.

This time, because they lost all their money between the farm in Dumfries and Galloway and the farm in Ongar, they settled at Margaret's parents' farm.

No-one in my family today knows exactly why they lost all their money but some people believe that it has a connection to when the war began.

My uncles' war
By Briony, School Reporter, St Joseph's College, Dumfries

My great uncles William and Matthew Stewart both died in WWI. They were both born in New Galloway, a village in Dumfries and Galloway.

William Stewart was born in 1885 and signed up first to the Argyll and Southerland regiment. He was in his 30s and became a sergeant.

We know that he went out to France with his regiment at the start of the war but we don't know where or for how long. What we do know is that he died in 1915 and is buried out there.

Matthew Stewart was born in 1894 and was quite young when he signed up. He was a private in the King's Own Scottish Borderers and we think he fought in some of the great battles, such as Verdun, before he died in 1917.

The effect of them dying must have been bad for the family and the village. To lose two sons must have affected my great grandfather.

However we know that two other sons didn't fight. Thomas left the area and James died in Meadow View, the house where they were brought up in New Galloway.

Soldiers' medals and diaries
By Christopher, School Reporter, St Joseph's College, Dumfries

Cartoon of the censor
A cartoon of the army censor from James Purdie's war diary
My great, great uncles John and James Purdie were brothers in the first World War. They were both born in Dumfries.

John Purdie was in the Black Watch - the royal highland regiment which is one of the British army's most famous fighting units.

It is unknown how he died, but some of my relatives think that he died at sea and was buried in France.

When he died there was a coin sent back to his father in Dumfries, which says "He died for freedom and honour."

The other brother, James Purdie, was in the Royal Army Medical Corps. He lived through the war but unfortunately two years after he returned to Britain he died from shellshock.

Extracts from his war diary show that he used humour to keep happy. One page shows a cartoon of the censor, the man who checked all the letters to make sure that they had no sensitive information in them.

My great uncle: WW2 soldier
11 Nov 08 |  School Report



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