Archive for June, 2019

Name recorded on Board of Trade Memorial: B. R. U. Brannon
Born: 1 February 1885
Date of Death: 8 November 1918
Age at death: 33
Service, Regiment, Corps, etc: Royal Navy
Unit, Ship, etc: HMS Plover
Enlisted: 15 December 1915
Rank: Engineer Lieutenant
War (and theatre): WW1
Manner of Death: Died of influenza and bronchial pneumonia
Family Details: Son of Mrs Brannon, Gatcombe House, Forest Gate, Essex and the late Robert H Brannon. Husband of Gertrude M Brannon, Bella Vista, Shanklin, Isle of Wight
Home Department: Board of Trade – Mercantile Marine Survey
Civilian Rank:
Cemetery or Memorial: Edinburgh (Seafield) Cemetery (War Memorial, Panel M.88);  St Olave’s Church, Isle of Wight (on roll of honour and on parents memorial in church); Freemasons Hall War Memorial, Great Queen Street, London; and the Board of Trade War Memorial (now located at 3 Whitehall Place, London)


Bertram Robert Urry Brannon’s name stands out as a distinctive name and so I was hopeful that he would be relatively easy to trace in a variety of records. This is certainly the case as its possible to trace his lifestory and that of his family through the years.

He was born on 1 February 1885 in Forest Gate, Essex to Robert Henry Brannon (9 October 1854 – 25 November 1899) and Mary Brannon nee Scott (1861 – 1945) of Gatcombe House, Forest Gate. He was the middle son of three brothers. His elder brother was Arthur Douglas Brannon (1881 – 1958) and his younger brother Allan Cuthbert Brannon (1890 – 1981) (who also served in the military and was also a civil servant).

The Brannon’s were solidly and comfortably middle class and were a distinguished local Isle of Wight family whose connection is remembered by Brannon House in Newport and the continuing existence of the Isle of Wight County Press (founded by Bertram’s grandfather, Alfred Brannon in 1884).

Bertram’s great-grandfather was George Brannon (1784 – 1860) a leading self taught artist and engraver of his age, best known for his enterprising book, “Vectis Scenery” (published in 1821). This contained 28 of George Brannon’s distinctive views of the Isle of Wight, printed from copper plates. You can find out more about George Brannon and the Brannon family at http://www.islandeye.co.uk/history/brannon/ryde-east-of-the-pier-june-1847.html and http://www.brannoncollection.co.uk/brannon-history.php.  The Brannon archive of engravings and other artwork is now stored at Carisbrooke Castle Museum, and remains an inspiration for modern day artists and his work has been recreated online by historiographer and digital technologist Andrew Taylor at http://www.renlyon.org/vectis-scenery.html.

As gleaned from census records and also the Brannon family gravestone in St Olave’s Churchyard in Gatcombe on the Isle of Wight, Bertram’s own father, Robert was a shipping agent and manager of the Clyde Shipping Company which operated in Southampton and London and was one of the earliest steam shipping companies.

Bertram is listed in the 1891 census alongside his parents and one younger brother, Allan (aged 7 months). The family are living at 59 Hampton Road, West Ham, Essex. In the 1901 census he is recorded as visiting relatives – Robert and Marianna Urry – at Gatcombe Mill on the Isle of Wight. Gatcombe Mill is a Grade II listed watermill mentioned in the Domesday Book, which stands to this day on the Medina River and is now used for storage. It was originally used as a corn mill but stopped working in the 1960s.

We don’t have any details of Bertram’s school days but we do know from previous research conducted by historians behind the Memorials and Monuments on the Isle of Wight and from London Gazette records that he joined the Board of Trade in May 1915 as an engineer surveyor. A year after the start this new job, he married a Gertrude Mabel Browne (1889 – 1975) in 1916.

We also know from the records that Bertram became a Freemason in 1912, like his father Robert Henry Brannon and his brothers, Allan Cuthbert and Arthur Douglas. According to the Masonic Great War Project his local lodge was Albany No 151 E.C. (on the Isle of Wight) which he joined or was initiated into on 8 July 1912. He passed on 26 Feb 1912 and raised on 15 September 1913.

The history of the lodge is published by the Province of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. Via the local lodge history we know that Bertram’s death is recorded in the Albany Lodge minutes of 11 November. In 1918 the Lodge had 109 members (including 16 on war service).

1072444497_Recruitment advert

Recruitment advert in “The Freemason” (1914) (Copyright: Library and Museum of Freemasonry)

Freemasonry is a non-political and internationalist organisation and at first discussion of war was forbidden at Lodge meetings. However, Freemasons had to make choices as men and individuals and many thousands joined the call to join the military.  Perhaps it is not so surprising that many Freemasons like Bertram signed up for the military, given shared values of camaraderie and service.

During World War One, Bertram enlisted for temporary service on 15 December 1915. He served in the Royal Navy on HMS Plover. A total of 11 Royal Navy ships have been this name but in Bertram’s time he served on an Admiralty M-class destroyer which was launched in 1916. This ship survived the war and was sold afterwards for salvage in May 1921.



War Memorial, Edinburgh (Seafield) Cemetery

He died of influenza and bronchial pneumonia on 8 November 1918, aged 33, at Seafield Naval Hospital in Edinburgh and is named on the War Memorial at Edinburgh (Seafield) Cemetery. His death took place only 3 days before the Armistice was declared and during the 1918 influenza pandemic (commonly known as Spanish flu pandemic) which was the largest and deadliest worldwide health outbreak. It is estimated that between 3 and 5% of the total world population died. Across the world the number of deaths were three times more than those killed during WW1 itself. To understand more about the 1918 flu pandemic which killed more between 20 and 50 million people worldwide, you can read more on Wikipedia, on the US National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health, and in many online articles like this one written by the author, Juliet Nicolson in The Telegraph or watch this YouTube video published by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

If you are interested about this time in history, you might also enjoy reading Juliet Nicolson’s book “The Great Silence” (2010) which tells the story of the trauma Britain suffered after WW1 via 35 portraits of people impacted and through anecdotes, diaries and letters.

As well as the Edinburgh (Seafield) Cemetery, Bertram’s name is also remembered in a number of other places including in Gatcombe, on the St Olave Church Roll of Honour and on his parents memorial within the church, and also on the Board of Trade War Memorial itself.


Freemasons Hall, London

As a Freemason, Bertram is one of 3,225 men whose lives are remembered by the imposing Freemasons Grand Lodge located on Great Queen Street in London. This grandiose art deco building, home to the United Grand Lodge of England, was built in 1927-33 by H. V. Ashley and Winton Newman as a memorial to the Freemasons who lost their lives on active service in WW1.

To find out more about freemasonry during WW1 you can read English Freemasonry and the First World War” (2014) which is a beautifully illustrated book published to accompany an exhibition produced by the Library and Museum of Freemasonry. The book covers details of how lodges coped with members like Bertram being called up to fight and what it was like to fight as a Freemason and the steps that individual lodges and the Grand Lodge took to remember fallen Freemason.

The War Memorial research group hope, one day, to put a face to Bertram’s name. In the meantime we remember his sacrifice as we remember these words of Rudyard Kipling (a fellow Freemason):

“ One service more we dare to ask–
Pray for us, heroes, pray,
That when Fate lays on us our task
We do not shame the Day!”
‘ The Veterans’
Rudyard Kipling
Hope and Perseverance Lodge №782, Lahore

(Written for the gathering of survivors of the Indian Mutiny, Albert Hall, 1907)

1914 – 1918



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Name recorded on Board of Trade Memorial: C. Carruthers
Born: 19 February 1890
Date of Death: 31 March 1918
Age at death: 28
Service, Regiment, Corps, etc: Durham Light Infantry
Unit, Ship, etc: 15th Battalion (64th Brigade, 21st Division) and previously 10th Battalion
Enlisted: South Shields
Rank: Private 39971
Decorations: British War Medal, Victory Medal
War (and theatre): WW1 (France and Flanders)
Manner of Death: Killed in action
Family Details: Son of John Thomas and Annie Marie Carruthers. Wife was Sophia Carruthers (nee Dennis)
Residence: South Shields
Home Department: Board of Trade – Mercantile Marine Department
Civilian Rank: Messenger and Outdoor Officer
Cemetery or Memorial: Pozieres Memorial (Panel 68-72); and the Board of Trade War Memorial (now located at 3 Whitehall Place, London);



Cuthbert Carruthers (copyright: N J Fordham)

Cuthbert Carruthers was born and raised in South Shields, Durham. From baptism records we know that he was born on 19 February 1890 and baptised a month later on 9 March 1890 at St Hilda’s Church in South Shields. His parents were John Thomas Carruthers (1858 – 1939) and Annie Maria Carruthers (nee Meredith) (1867 – 1936) and he had one surviving sister named after her mother and also called Annie Maria Carruthers (1892 – 1972). His father was a ship sea steward and subsquently a river policeman presumably in the River Tyne Police which was formed in 1845 and became a police force with full police powers under the Police Act 1919.

The family are traceable in the 1891 census living at 29 Thomas Street, South Shields, then in the 1901 census living at 40 Derby Terrace, South Shields and in 1911 living at 14 Mowbray Road, South Shields. By 1911, Cuthbert is aged 21 and working as a Butchers Shop Assistant. His connection to the Board of Trade comes via his appointment after an open competition  on 10 January 1910 as a Messenger and Outdoor Officer at the local  Mercantile Marine Office which formed part of the Board of Trade. The South Shields office was only a short distance from where he grew up in the town.

Cuthbert enlisted in South Shields as a Private (Regimental No 39971) in the 10th Battalion and subsequently the 15th Battalion (64th Brigade, 21st Division) of the Durham Light Infantry. Presumably he would have enlisted alongside many of his local friends and colleagues.


Durham Light Infantry Cap Badge

According to the history of the Durham Light Infantry Battalions published on the Long Long Trail website, both Battalions were formed in Newcastle in August/September 1914 and landed in Boulogne in the autumn of 1915.


Map of Operation Michael region showing locations of Commonwealth Grave War Memorial locations (Copyright: Tutbury Book of Remembrance)

We know that Cuthbert was killed in action during “Operation Michael”. This was a major German military offensive that began during the German Spring Offensive on 21 March 1918. The British knew of the planned offensive since the Germans positioned 65 divisions and more than 6600 pieces of artillery along their front line stretching 46 miles from Arras to Le Fere.

The goal of the German offensive to break through Allied lines and advance and seize the Channel ports, thus driving the British Expeditionary Force back. Two days later, the plan was adjusted by the Chief of the German General Staff to push the offensive westwards along the whole of the British front north of the Somme. The offensive lasted until 5 April but ultimately failed and turned to German disappointment and loss of morale, ultimately leading to the beginning of the end WW1. Germany lost 239,000 men, many of them specialist shock-troops.

21 March 1918, the first day of the offensive, was the second worst day in terms of casualties in British military history (with only the Battle of the Somme having more casualties). To give some understanding of the scale of the event, the German attack began with a 5 hour artillery barrage in which 3,500,000 shells were fired (and over 190 shells per second). By the end of 21 March, the British suffered 7,512 dead and 10,000 wounded and almost 21,000 taken prisoner. 

Cuthbert was reported missing on 21 March 1918 (although his military record states he died on 31 March 1918) and was named in the Shields Gazette on 24 March 1918.  His body was not recovered and so he is remembered on the Pozieres Memorial (Panel 68-72).


Sophia Dennis (Copyright: N J Fordham)

By the time of his death, Cuthbert was a married man of 28 years old with one child. He had married in October 1914 to a Sophia Dennis (1889 – 1932). His daughter Vera Carruthers (1915 – 1988) was only three when her father died. We also know that his wife, Sophia, was pregnant at the time that Cuthbert died and she gave birth to a little girl Bertha Carruthers (1918 – 2017) who was born posthumously on 21 April 1918, sadly to never know her father. She was not alone as over 500,000 children had a father who was killed in WW1.

Because his daughters basically never knew their father, we don’t know much more about what Cuthbert was like in personality or character, but we can imagine he was a typical South Shields man of his generation – loyal to his friends, family and local area – and making his way in the world.

A letter kindly shared with us by a relative of Cuthbert’s dated 14 November 1917 sent from No 3, Rest Camp, Shorncliffe at 4.30am and addressed to his wife, hints at the love and tenderness between them both as he writes “P.S. tell my dad I know where Finsbury Park + Ludgate Hill + Circus is. We stopped at both places had a look at Big Ben but that was all we saw. Heaps of love, keep your heart up. Think of the song: ‘I’ll be back some day and kiss those tears away when the war is over mother’.”

These lines are undoubtedly from the popular song “When the War is Over, Mother Dear” which was originally sung by a number of popular singers of the WW1 generation such as Ernest George Pike (under one of his pseudonyms of Herbert Payne) and George Baker (also known as Walter Jeffries). Both Baker (1885 – 1976) and Pike (1871 – 1936) had long careers and were hugely popular singers of their era with varied repertoires including opera, light opera, ballards and many other popular WW1 songs. Pike was the house tenor for HMV  and according to Wikipedia was “England’s most recorded tenor”.  The song was composed by popular music composers of the time, Arthur J Mills (1872 – 1919) and Bennett Scott (1875 – 1930).

Listen to the very poignant words of the song here:

When the War is Over, Mother Dear – lyrics

Soldier laddie, somewhere in France
In the trenches at the close of day
Writes a letter to someone he loves
In the home town, far away
Cheer up, mother, you needn’t sigh
There’s a good time coming bye and bye
When the war is over, mother dear

When the bands all play and the people cheer
And the boys come marching through the dear home town <
The joy bells ringing gaily as the sun goes down
Though your heart is aching, mother dear
For your soldier boy never fear
I’ll come back some day, and kiss your tears away
When the war is over, mother dear

Soldier laddie, dreaming of home
Sees the light in mother’s dear eyes shine
All in fancy he’ll list to her prayer
‘God protect you, son of mine’
How he longs for dear England’s shore
And to clasp her in his arms once more
When the war is over, mother dear

When the bands all play and the people cheer
And the boys come marching through the dear home town
The joy bells ringing gaily as the sun goes down
Though your heart is aching, mother dear
For your soldier boy never fear
I’ll come back some day, and kiss your tears away
When the war is over, mother dear

With these song lyrics in our hearts we give thanks to Cuthbert for his sacrifice in WW1.

Cuthbert Carruthers is also remembered on the Board of Trade War Memorial located at 3 Whitehall Place as well as in South Tyneside where he grew up and lived.

NOTE: With deepest thanks to the great grand-daughter of Cuthbert Carruthers, N J Fordham who has contributed to this blog and kindly shared the family photos of Cuthbert and his wife and the family letter. 



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