Tuesday 6 June 2017

Mystery man identified!

Yes! At last! I now know who my distinguished serviceman is! Of course, that's not to say that I've established exactly... who he is... But more on that later...

Those of you who've read this blog for a while will know that I've always been baffled by this gentleman, whose photograph, dated August 1918, I found amongst the family documents. My late aunt believed him to be Vincent Talbot and had written that name on the back, along with that of his alleged mother.

But I hit a brick wall trying to find him on the family tree. The lady who was supposed to be his mother did not, as far as I could establish, have any sons.

Twitter help

Posting the photograph on Twitter resulted in feedback from some eagle-eyed tweeter who quite rightly noticed that the name Vincent, signed on the front of the photo, was his surname, accompanied by the initials C and J.

More investigation, and confirmation from a military expert, told me that his cap badge revealed him to have been in the Tank Corps. But although I searched various databases for a Sergeant C J Vincent, and came across potential matches, such as Charles James and Charles Joseph, there was no obvious connection with "my man" to draw any firm conclusions.

Pause for breath

So, as often happens, another mystery pushed its way to the front of the queue and I became involved in other things. Until I joined the Facebook group, Staffordshire & Ancestry Genealogy.... I posted a photo of my mystery man and I got a breakthrough!

I'm indebted to Bryan Johncock of the group who not only identified his initials as G J not C J, but armed with that knowledge, found his military records on Find My Past.

Attestation form of George J Vincent
So... meet George James Vincent, a sergeant in the tank corps, regimental number 205517! 

But, as all good family historians should, I cautioned myself not to get too carried away until I could verify that we were talking about the same man. 

So you can imagine my excitement when, using Bryan's information to locate George on Ancestry, I came across this  military record – his Service Attestation form from 1916.

When I homed in on the signature, I recognised it immediately. It's the same as the one on my photograph!

About the man

George James Vincent was born in Chepstow, Monmouthshire, Wales, in 1893 to Henry and Mary Vincent (nee Head). His father was a grocer and the couple had seven children – Mabel, Henry, George, Hilda, James, Lilian and (Phyllis) Madge. 

The 1911 census shows George as a solicitor's clerk. His father was a Grocer manager in Chepstow and his elder brother, Henry, was also in the grocery trade as an assistant.

In 1916 George joined the Motor Machine Gun Service which would go on to be incorporated into the Tank Corps. A fascinating book called The Most Secret Place on Earth, by Roger Pugh, tells the story of the development of the tank in WW1. The book logs the early days of gathering men with an engineering background to train to drive the new secret machines and eventually take their expertise out to the battlefields in France.

As for George's role, I'm still getting my head round the vagaries of the battalions and units and regiments... but hope to report back soon in more detail on his service career once I've unravelled the relevant tangled military ribbons. 

Meanwhile, I can tell you that George married Ena Edna Thorne in July 1918, in Tidenham, in Gloucestershire. (Bizarrely, this portion of Gloucestershire was under the Chepstow registration district until 1937 when it became part of The Forest of Dean, which caused me some initial confusion!) If you cast a glance at the marriage entry below, you might recognise the signature!

As you can see, George is living in Wool, Dorset, at the time of his wedding – which is just down the road from Bovington, where in 1916 the Machine Gun Corps relocated from Norfolk and, of course, is where today you'll find the Bovington Tank Museum. Time for a visit there, I think!

Now, while I'm thrilled to finally know who my distinguished military man is, I'm still no closer to understanding why his photograph was in with my own family collection!  I've found no common surnames within his immediate family which might suggest a link, leaving me plenty of digging left to do to solve that particular part of the mystery. So this really is only Part One of the journey.

But, fear not, I have a few ideas and I'm already following up some leads. So I'll be back again when I've got more to report. Watch this space!


Meanwhile, the website The Long, Long Trail is extremely useful if you're about to embark upon a search for WW1 information on an ancestor of your own.

And if you do track something down, you may like to post it on Lives of the First World War which is logging as many personal stories as it can for future generations to read.