I inherited from my father a love of Christmas, an interest in history, folklore and literature and a fascination with World War 1. This has led me to write a novel set during the conflict: While I Was Waiting.
I've also inherited many of my father's books, which I treasure. I remember reading one when I was still very small. It was left on the shelf, for anyone to pick up. It's a compilation of World War 1 photographs from The Daily Express. Nowadays we are perhaps protected from the more graphic images of war but some of these photographs are extremely disturbing to look at, even for me as an adult.
It's in my possession now and I make sure it's put away when young visitors call
One source of my father's fascination with World War 1 was that his grandfather died in the conflict. Private David Batham 20120 of the 3rd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment volunteered at the height of war fervour, in late 1914. However, it wasn't an overly persuasive recruiting sergeant or the threat of a white feather which made him do so. At 35, my great-grandfather was too old but joined up anyway. His brother, Charles, had been taken prisoner of war in the defence of Antwerp, earlier in the autumn, so maybe that was his motivation.
I'm sure he fought bravely. Like many men of his generation he was doing what he felt was right: for 'king and country.' It's a stretch for any of us to imagine the horror and confusion he faced. He died a soldier's death in 1915, near Ypres, where a shell killed him outright. At least we hope that was the case. The alternative is too awful to contemplate.
He was buried in La Brique Military Cemetery in Belgium and is also remembered on the War Memorial in his home town, along with twenty-eight other men.
The long fingers of war reached down through the generations. My father honoured a promise to visit the grave in Belgium. Other family members followed. Although one of the smaller military cemeteries, all report it's a moving and sobering experience
David left a wife and three young children, one of whom became my grandmother.
I wish I'd met Alice Batham. And her brother-in-law Charles, who survived the war and returned from his German POW camp.
The family always knew this information. We have a photograph of my great-grandfather in uniform (looking startlingly like my father), a letter from his commanding officer, a newspaper article and his medals.
So, where's the mystery?
As it is the centenary of the beginning of the war, many communities have been honouring their local heroes by producing booklets detailing the lives – and deaths of those who were soldiers. Someone in my village has written one and it's sobering to realise eleven men went from this tiny Herefordshire village to fight.
One of my mother's friends spotted one such booklet in a shop near where my family come from and where Mum still lives. Recognising David Batham as a relative, said friend bought a copy.
The Lost Twenty Nine is an immaculately researched and informative account of the twenty-nine men who volunteered from the Lye and Wollescote area of the Black Country
The Lost Twenty Nine
It includes my great-grandfather. They are remembered on the War Memorial in Lye.
Over a cup of tea and cake, Mum and I were chatting about the book one afternoon and about how touched we were that David Batham was mentioned. Mum's in her eighties and can remember his widow - and her reaction to the news that Mum was calling her first-born David. I can remember my grandmother, Lois, and my Great Aunt Edith and Great Uncle Stan; the three children from the marriage of Alice and David Batham.
Imagine our confusion then, when we read that Private Batham died in August 1915, leaving three young children and a baby son, Albert! This was news to the entire family. No one has heard of an Albert. Even my father, who had compiled a family tree (and this before the days of online records) hadn't added a second son and fourth child. Of course, this could be a mistake in research but, from the way the rest of the book is so lovingly put together, it seems unlikely.
So, who was Albert? Did he die in infancy? Was he frail in some way and, in the ways of the time, committed to some kind of institution? Dare I pose the question: was he actually David's son?
Whatever his story it doesn't bear thinking about poor Alice, widowed and left alone to bring up a large family and possibly a tiny baby, in reduced circumstances. It's spurred me on to continue the family tree begun by my father. After all, I've got a relative I didn't know anything about. If anyone has any tips for this beginner genealogist, please let me have them.