A story in a tattoo ~ Military Monday

Alexander Wright (1891-1956)

Alexander Wright (1891-1956)

It’s funny the things you overlook when you first read a document. Or even on the second or third time. I was in the middle of assignment work for my course with the IHGS, focusing on military records, and so had been going over what records and notes I had for my great grandfather, Alexander Wright, who fought at Gallipoli during World War I. He was one of the lucky ones who made it back home. And I’m lucky that he “left” the Royal Irish Fusiliers and joined up with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force at the outbreak of war, as that means his service record survives!

Upon reading over his service record, something in his physical description suddenly jumped out at me. The description of his tattoo. I had skimmed over it before and had idly wondered what the “clasped hands” might signify, but it was only when re-reading it again recently, that I noticed the name that he had tattooed on his right arm: H. Cavender. And I suddenly remembered that I had seen that name before, in a census return.

Description of Alexander Wright on Enlistment (NZEF service record 10/800)

Description of Alexander Wright on Enlistment (NZEF service record 10/800)1

Alexander’s mother Mary Jane, brother Joseph and stepfather John Carroll were living in Deptford in 1911, at 37 Prince Street2. Enumerated there at the time of the census were:

John Carroll Head 62 married General Labourer
Mary Jane Carroll Wife 55 married Household work
Joseph Wright Son 24 single Telegraph Clerk
George Archer Boarder 27 single Foundry Worker
Hilda Cavender Boarder 17 single Tea Factory
Bridget Carroll Visitor 30 single Nurse St Pancras Infirmary
Cecelia Stokes Visitor 26 single Nurse Children’s Infirmary

Hilda was a boarder with the Carroll family in 1911, maybe because it was close to where she worked. There is a building called the Tea Factory in nearby Brockley, which was built in the 1940s to replace the old warehouse that had been bombed during World War II3.

In the 1901 census, Hilda was living with her parents Alexander and Mary at 354 Evelyn Street in Deptford4. By 1911, her father and stepmother were living in 36 Woodpecker Road5, about 16 minutes walk away from the Carrolls (thanks Google maps!). Maybe Hilda didn’t get on with her stepmother?

And then I remembered where I’d also seen the name Hilda – in a postcard to Alexander from his sister Mollie (Mary Freeth).

Postcard from Mary Freeth to Alexander Wright, probably early 1910s

Postcard from Mary Freeth to Alexander Wright, probable date 10 Mar 1908

“… How are you getting on? also Hilda. I hope she is well – give her my love…”6

Sounds like Alexander and Hilda might have been sweethearts. So what happened?

All sorts of scenarios have run through my head. Alexander deserted from the Royal Irish Fusiliers at some point after this and before 1914, when he mysteriously turns up in New Zealand, and enlists in the NZEF. Did he run away because he was miserable with Army life, or perhaps Hilda had taken up with someone else? Perhaps she became pregnant and he couldn’t handle the responsibility? His mother Mary Jane was from a military family and it would have been so hard for him to face her after deserting – what could possibly have made him do it?

Looking again at Alexander’s attestation form, on his Military History Sheet, it asks for his “Intended place of residence on discharge” and Alexander has stated “London”. So, he meant to go back.

Did Hilda wait for him?

In the June quarter of 1916, a Hilda Cavender married William H. Danson in Wandsworth7.

Meanwhile, Alexander had been wounded at Gallipoli and was transported back to New Zealand, being discharged from the NZEF on 21 May 1916 as medically unfit1. He married Elsie Nunns on 7 June 1917.

Military Monday is an ongoing series at GeneaBloggers.

  1. Archives NZ, “WRIGHT, Alexander – WW1 10/800 – Army”; digital image, Archway (http://www.archway.archives.govt.nz/ViewFullItem.do?code=22022458 : accessed 26 Nov 2010)
  2. “1911 England Census, John Carroll (age 62) household, St Nicholas Deptford, London,” digital image, FindMyPast, (http://www.findmypast.co.uk/ : accessed 14 Apr 2011), PRO RG14/2640, Greenwich registration district, Deptford East sub-registration district, ED 28, household 32, 02 Apr 1911.
  3. “The Tea Factory”, DPS Property Holdings, http://www.dpsproperty.com/gallerydetails.php?galId=3 : accessed May 2013.
  4. “1901 England Census, Alexander Cavender (age 33) household, Deptford St Paul, London,” digital image, Ancestry.com, (http://www.ancestry.co.uk/ : accessed 14 Jun 2013), citing PRO RG13/524, folio 79, p8, Greenwich registration district, Deptford North sub-registration district, ED 8, household 44, 31 Mar 1901.
  5. “1911 England Census, Alexander Cavender (age 43) household, Deptford St Paul, London,” digital image, Ancestry.com, (http://www.ancestry.co.uk/ : accessed 14 Jun 2013), PRO RG14/2608, Greenwich registration district, Deptford North sub-registration district, ED 14, household 62, 02 Apr 1911.
  6. Postcard addressed to Alec Wright, sent by Mary Freeth, dated 10 Mar 1908(?); digital image, original held by [NAME AND ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], granddaughter of A. Wright.
  7. “England & Wales, FreeBMD Index: 1837-1983,” database, FreeBMD (http://www.freebmd.org.uk/cgi/search.pl : accessed 2013), marriage entry for William H. Danson and Hilda F. Cavender; Jun 1916 [quarter] Wandsworth 1d [vol] 1462 [page].
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