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Inspired by the Wipers Times

Satirical soldiers’ newspaper the Wipers Times provided an entertaining, stubborn and stoical take on life at the Front, written by and for the soldiers. And to honour this much-loved legendary publication, a hundred years on, Nick Roberts (grandson of the paper’s editor – Captain FJ Roberts) has collaborated with the Visit Flanders Tourist Board to create The Flanders Field Post. Downloadable free, it’s full of illustrations and information about the years of the First World War in Flanders, and could be just the thing to inspire you to take a battlefield trip. Click here to download it.

For further advice about WW1 battlefield tours, check out the latest issue of Family Tree, on sale on Wednesday 6 Augst, in which Major and Mrs Holt share their know-how on how to make sure yours is a trip to remember.


From the Family Tree archives

Family Tree is celebrating its 30th birthday this year! With the November 2014 issue Family Tree will be 30 years old and by some margin the oldest national family history magazine published in Britain. Michael Armstrong, the founder of Family Tree, has been delving into the archives, recalling some of the treasures we’ve published, many of which were sent in by our readers over the years…

In our September-October 1985 issue there appeared an interesting article sent in by reader Christine Harris, who pointed out the value of searching for old school log books in local libraries and county record offices. Christine told us that she first came across these while engaged in a local history project on the Rutland village of Preston.

The village school which closed in 1962 had kept log books from 1872 and the first master to do so was a young bachelor of 26. The Education Act had only recently made school attendance compulsory and is it clear that both children and parents thought very little of it.

Boys and girls repeatedly reported absent for seasonal jobs such as scaring birds when seed was sown (February to March); gleaning after the harvest (this despite the fact that they had just had five weeks holiday to help with the harvest itself (September) and potato digging (November).

In addition the pupils stay away from school not only when Preston Feast is celebrated but also when the nearby village of Ridlington and the town of Uppingham were having their feasts. They were kept at home when they themselves were ill (whooping cough seems to have been a constant threat) or to look after their younger brothers and sisters when mother fell sick.  One possible cause of poor attendance was the condition of the school itself; a report from HM Inspector in 1873 complains that ‘a heavy smell pervades the room at all times which indicates stagnation of the air and possibly offensive matter between the joists …’.

In writing the article Christine says she omitted the names of specific youngsters who were quite frequently mentioned by conscientious teachers who filled in the log week by week. Even if the reader tracks down only a mundane entry such as the return to class after sickness you will have made a valuable link to the past.  So imagine how pleasurable it would be if you are lucky enough to identify Great-Grandma as the girl who won the Rutland Industrial Society’s annual knitting competition.

The new IWM London revealed

Karen Clare gives a glimpse behind the doors of the newly-transformed IWM London ahead of its reopening to the public.

Imperial War Museums London

Imperial War Museums London.

The Imperial War Museums’ (IWM) flagship London branch in Southwark reopens tomorrow (Saturday 19 July), a year after closing for a hugely impressive £40m redevelopment in time for the centenary of the First World War.

Officially launched by the Duke of Cambridge and Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday, it is a remarkable and poignant memorial to our ancestors who lived through and died in the Great War.

This major revamp has included the building’s Atrium which, redesigned by Foster + Partners, houses nine of the IWM’s most iconic large objects, including a Spitfire and V-1 rocket. It is a breath-taking introduction to the museum’s treasures. Each object in ‘Witnesses to War’ tells a story in this bright, white new space, but it is the museum’s ground-breaking First World War Galleries that really take your breath away.

[Read more...]

WW1 whistle stop

The August issue cover of Family Tree showing a 1914 whistle.

The August issue cover of Family Tree showing a 1914 whistle.

When we were wondering how to illustrate the cover of August issue of Family Tree, a trench whistle seemed to be the perfect image – evoking those last sunny, sporting days of our ancestors of 1914, before the First World War obliterated their era of innocence, as we often view it.

The shrill call of the officers’ (and NCOs) whistles urging the men over the top through the clamour of battle is a ‘memory’, handed down, that we’re all familiar with, and the whistle we show is a typical example. Stamped ‘J Hudson & Co’ it was made by the principal manufacturer of WW1 whistles for the British and Commonwealth forces (De Courcy being another popular supplier). If you look carefully you might be able to see that ‘NZ’ has been scratched out, showing that it was decommissioned, as whistle guru Leif Bailey explains. And there also seems to be the ‘broad arrow’, indicating that it was used by the military. The addition of the date, ‘1914’ makes this a particularly appealing example – as a quick look at ebay prices will demonstrate:  undated Hudson whistles go for just a few pounds, but add the WW1 military aspect and they are heavily sought after.

In the trawl for a suitable whistle, it became clear that they were used in all sorts of environments – the police and scouts, for instance, as you’d expect. But if you find a whistle stamped ‘MH’, just reflect again on the age of ‘innocence’. MH stands for mental hospital. And quite what whistles were used for in that environment is a thought-provoking thing for sure. But that’s the thing about history and family history there is always something new to learn – if you’re stoical enough for the journey into the past.

The whistle on the cover of the August issue of Family Tree is from whistle enthusiast Leif Bailey’s collection on Leif was a police officer for 30 years mostly in uniform duties and carried a whistle in his tunic pocket, but it wasn’t until around 25 years later that he began collecting them.

“With regards to WW1 whistles, my interest stems from a grandfather who served in the Great War,” said Leif. “So I took it upon myself to get one from each of the years during the war. Dated whistles go back to the late 19th century therefore another project is to try to find one for each year. This is a difficult task because a few dates have either not been made or have not yet surfaced amongst the collecting world. To date I have many of the years from as early as 1889 until around 1970. In WW1 the whistle was used to ‘Command men to go over the top’ from the trenches, and is often referred to as the Trench Warfare Whistle.”

Find out more about your First World War ancestors in the latest issue of Family Tree: Click here.

From the Family Tree archives

Family Tree is celebrating its 30th birthday this year! With the November 2014 issue Family Tree will be 30 years old and by some margin the oldest national family history magazine published in Britain. Michael Armstrong, the founder of Family Tree, has been delving into the archives, recalling some of the treasures we’ve published, many of which were sent in by our readers over the years…

Divorce, always an expensive business, is considered by many to be an indulgence of only the rich in years past.  Barbara Marlow proved otherwise in an article she submitted to Family Tree and which appeared in the July-August 1985 issue.

Divorce was not only for the rich, judging by the case of Biggins v Biggins in 1862.  The Marriage broke down in 1857, the year that divorce proceedings left the Ecclesiastical Courts and divorce required an Act of Parliament.

In 1851,  Robert Biggins and his wife Margaret were living together over a fruiterer’s shop run by his parents in Queens Street, Devonport.  Mr Biggins was a smithy in the dockyard.  In terms of mid-Victorian society, they were of artisan class.  Reading the following report one wonders if Mrs Biggins realised the impact of the new law.

‘Council for the petitioner is Dr Spinks of Messrs Beer and Rundle.  The petitioner resides at Devonport and is employed in HM Dockyard.  It appeared from the evidence given by Mr Petherick and Mrs Wilcocks that in 1857 while the petitioner was absent from the yard, his wife received visits from a person named Soper.

‘It further appeared that, upon Mr Biggins being informed of these visits, he charged her with familiarity with Soper and refused to live with her.  He sent her away and made her a weekly allowance.’

From the further evidence of Mr Henry Bryant, an inspector of the police, and Mrs Cocker, it appeared that the conduct of Mrs Biggins since her separation from her husband left no doubt of her having been guilty of the charges.  The court, after hearing the evidence of the witnesses, awarded a decree nisi for the dissolution of the marriage.

The new law allowed the husband to apply for a divorce if his wife had committed adultery. A wife could obtain a divorce only if it was coupled with desertion and cruelty. Bigamy was also grounds for divorce.

In 1937, divorce was legalised in Britain for grounds other than adultery. In 1970, the breakdown of a marriage could be the sole grounds for divorce in Britain.

Families did not usually discuss these matters.  Such an incidence might be at the root of your genealogical problem. A look at the indexes of the Public Record Office (now The National Archives at Kew) will assist you.

For files of proceedings of divorce you need to refer to the Principal Probate registry, divorce file ref: J77 1858-1934.

By the Supreme Court of Judicature Act 1873,  the Court for Divorce and Matrimonial Cause was absorbed by the Probate Divorce and Admiralty Division. The files preserved in this class contain minutes, pleadings and decrees in alphabetical order. Index reference number J78.

One should bear in mind that many of the articles in this series appeared nearly 30 years ago and before going to Kew it will be worth checking what’s now available online. A useful starting point would be The National Archives’ guide to divorce records at

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