Monday, 21 October 2013

The Mystery of the Bluejacket Boy...

I write this post with a monocle screwed into one eye and an ill-advised moustache drawn onto my top lip with permanent marker pen. Dusty has taken the time to struggle into a mauve twin set and felt hat and both of us wield enormous magnifying glasses.

For we are detectives! And we invite you to be detectives too! Quick, pop on a trilby and light up a cigar, as we tell you the mysterious tale of ‘The Bluejacket Boy…’

One day, not so long ago, we received an email from a lady who wished to deposit an old letter with the archive. So far, so normal, but this was no ordinary family heirloom. The letter was written in 1916, in Orkney, by a young sailor to his family in Llanelli, Wales. We do not know his name as he only ever refers to himself by the nickname ‘your bluejacket boy.’

The letter was sealed and obviously intended to be posted as it bears a stamp. But. It was found, sealed, 64 years later behind a fireplace in Bridge Street, Kirkwall. His family never received it and the family who eventually uncovered it in their home have no idea how it ended up in the chimney space.

We have a few clues. He mentions various family members and asks to be remembered to them. He also mentions sending a handkerchief with a picture of a sailor on it to ‘Ethel’ who said ‘that’s Uncle Dai’ when she opened it. Is Ethel his niece? Is the Blue Jacket Boy named Dai? He talks about his sister Hannah too.

We would like to find out exactly who this man was and if there are family members still around. We shall keep you posted as we try and track the family down and do please get in touch if you have any suggestions or thoughts. Some extracts below:








Updatehere

31 comments:

  1. I *may* have found them.

    Looking at the 1911 census, while there is a different family living in Swansea Road, an adjacent road Woodend Road has a Phillips family living at number 15.

    Father John, son David (Dai?) who was a 22 yr old groom, Hannah aged 18 and among other siblings Blodwen (Blodie?) aged 5 and Katie aged 10.

    More work would obviously need to be done, but these certainly look interesting.

    I love a mystery ;)

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    Replies
    1. That's great news sjdonaldson, thank you for your help! Now hopefully someone will read this and recognize the family.

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  2. Just found out that there was a postal worker living in Bridge Street in the 1911 census, he was still working for the Post Office in 1916 in Kirkwall, according to Peace's Almanac.

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  3. One of our facebook friends pointed out "One thought about the letter - there was often a crack/space between the wooden mantelpiece and the wall. This wee gap let down in behind the fire surround. A letter that was propped up on the back of the mantel piece for someone to post may very well have slid down the back, with no-one the wiser. The Bluejacket Boy thought it had been posted, and the person of the house had no idea they had been meant to post it."

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  4. Wow, what a treasure, and what great sleuthing! I hope someone sees the post, too.

    Sue.

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  5. I can't work out how to post with a name???
    So I'm Pedro.
    I think David John Phillips was born about 1889 in Llanelly, to John and Margaret Phillips.
    His siblings were:
    Margaret A; Mary E; Hannah M; Jessie J; Katie M; Blowden
    In 1891 they lived at ?1 Tregob, Llanelly..
    In 1901 they lived at 15 Wood End Road, llanelly.
    In 1911 they lived at same address.
    Still looking for military record.

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    Replies
    1. Pedro.
      I think you have to join blogspot to use your name. Can you tell me where this information came from, for readers who don't normally research ancestors?
      Thanks for your help,
      Dusty

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  6. Hi Dusty,
    Pedro again.
    I've found the census returns for the family on ancestry and findmypast.
    Details:
    1891: RG12/4494 Folio 65 Page 30.
    1901: RG13/5089 Folio 106, Page 37.
    1911: RG14 Piece 32853 Schedule 99.
    There are a few David John Phillips who "joined up", but so far I can't pinpoint the correct one.
    Still trying.
    Thanks for the puzzle.
    Cheers,
    Pedro.

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    Replies
    1. This is the chap:

      David John Phillips
      No. Z/3130
      DOB 15 August 1891
      Occupation: Fruiterer
      Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, Wales Division

      Height 5ft 4in
      Eyes Hazel

      Discharged 5 May 1919 at Pembroke

      "Passed APO Kirkwall RNVR Reg. Pt 1 1909 App. L Para (4)"

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    2. Thank you Fine Hid, I think fruiterers were mentioned elsewhere in the letter. I am also so glad he survived the war and was discharged.

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  7. We've checked the Electoral Register for Llanelli and can confirm that the John, Margaret and David J Phillips all appear living at 61 Swansea Road in 1920. As John and Margaret only had one son, David J Phillips must be the Bluejacket Boy.

    David
    Carmarthenshire Archives

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    Replies
    1. Thank you David. Do you have a local family history society that we can contact? They may be able to help find his descendants.

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    2. I agree that the service record matches the letter, and is very likely to be the same man identified in the 1911 Census, but not sure about 'must be'... the DOB. is a little adrift. When you say they only had one son, you mean that there is only one shown in the 1911 Census? Not 100% conclusive, but yes, seems to fit, and the sister Hannah is there too.
      There are three David John Phillips born in the right quarter of 1891 to match the service record, but none in Llannelly/Llanelli.
      To be 22 in the 1911 Census, he would have been born after 2 April 1888 and before April 2 1889. So we are 2 or 3 years adrift from the RNVR record.
      So maybe the DOB is wrong on the service record or the age is wrong on the Census.

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    3. Pedro again.
      The 1911census gives details of Total Children, Total Living, and Total Died. Score 7, 7, 0.
      As they had 6 shown in 1911, plus a daughter Margaret in 1891 and 1901, pretty conclusive that David John is only son of John and Margaret Phillips.
      My guess (yes, guesses are dangerous) is that DOB on service record may be wrong.
      His census ages are consistent, 2, 12, 22.
      Time to search for a link to his niece.

      Delete
  8. Hi I have posted the story on the Rootschat Forum and hopefully it will get a good response http://www.rootschat.com/forum/index.php?topic=665779.msg5109719#msg5109719

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    Replies
    1. Thank you Sybalan for your help.

      Delete
  9. David John Phillips
    No. Z/3130
    DOB 15 August 1891
    Occupation: Fruiterer
    Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, Wales Division
    Height 5ft 4in
    Eyes Hazel

    Served on HMS Cyclops [depot and repair ship based Scapa Flow]
    Sep 1916 to 1 Nov 1917

    Discharged 5 May 1919 at Pembroke

    "Passed APO Kirkwall RNVR Reg. Pt 1 1909 App. L Para (4)"

    ReplyDelete
  10. Pedro again.
    Jessie J Phillips married Edwin W Jayne in 1914, and produced the niece, Ethel, in 1914.
    They also had two more boys and two more girls.
    Ethel married Clifford Hopkin Hargreaves in 1941, but I cannot find any offspring.
    Still looking to see if there were any other children from David's siblings.
    Thanks again for the puzzle, fills a rainy day in Oz.

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  11. How fabulous, it really does look like it's them.

    It's also the kind of mystery that gets inside your head... wouldn't it be lovely to see a photo of the family *sigh* ;)

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  12. A Katie M Phillips married Robert L Morgans in Llanelli, 1941 (registered in the Oct-Dec quarter) Possibly 'our' Katie??

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Janealogy. I'll add this to the results found so far.

      P.S. I love your profile name!

      Delete
  13. Great News!

    Yesterday I received a phone call from a reporter from the Llanelli Star who are going to publish the story.

    and

    I recently contacted the Dyfed Family History Society and they have agreed to publish the story in their Journal for December. http://www.dyfedfhs.org.uk/journal-sample.php

    So both these publications should take the story to a wider audience.

    Everyone cross your fingers that this extra publicity helps solve our mystery!

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  14. Wow. Y'all have had a lot of fun researching this, and it sounds like you've figured out who The Bluejacket Boy was. It'll be interesting to see if any descendants answer the posts and newspaper stories. See why we like genealogy? ^_^

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  15. A new development. A customer came in to the Archive Searchroom today to say that his grandfather stayed in Bridge Street during World War 1 and as a young man he remembers visiting a Phillips family in Llanelli with his family in the 1960s. So is it possible that David "Dai" Phillips also stayed in the house in Bridge Street and became friends with this man's grandfather? This would certainly explain how the letter came to be found there.

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  16. How brilliant! Any news from Wales?

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  17. No news as yet. My nails are now non-existant!

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  18. Quite by chance, while looking for Walls and Brims websites, I came across a Johnstons in Walls website where on one page (https://sites.google.com/site/johnstonsinwallsorkney/peter_johnston_and_elspeth_sutherland) a David John Phillips is listed marrying Catherine Isabella Coghill Johnston in Kirkwall, date not known. With mounting excitement, I checked ScotlandsPeople: David John Phillips, 30, fruiterer, 61 Swansea Road, Llanelly [sic], South Wales,son of John Phillips and Margaret (maiden surname Jones) married Catherine (Garden Street, Kirkwall, d of John and Jane Johnstone [sic]) on 11 April 1919 at the Congregational Manse, Kirkwall. Bingo, our man! The Johnston website says they had a daughter Minnine [sic] born Llanelli, who married a Mr Hodge and they had a family. There is a corresponding birth registration in Llanelly registration district, March quarter 1923 for a Minnie Phillips. As we are now possibly in living people territory, I will stop there and email other info.
    PS Glad you like my profile name, it's also my business name

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  19. Wahey! That is great news Janealogy. I love accidental finds!

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  20. http://orkneyarchive.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/the-mystery-of-blue-jacket-boysolved.html

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  21. From Pedro.
    Congratulations, makes all the solitary sleuthing worthwhile!

    ReplyDelete

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