The Lamberts and the Great War

Last week marked 100 years since the start of the Battle of the Somme, one of the bloodiest battles in the history of mankind, with over one million men wounded or killed. It’s a reminder to us all of the industrial-scale death that happened during the First World War. In this posting I want to look at how the First World War affected one family, the Lamberts. These were the family of my Gran, born Eleanor Annie Lambert, and her parents, Thomas and Sarah. But first I need to introduce Thomas and Sarah a little.

The Lamberts

Thomas Lambert (1859-1899) and his wife Sarah (nee Sturdy) (1852-1952) were my Great-Grandparents. They were in many ways products of their age, reflecting the transition from a rural, agrarian society to a more urban, industrial society.

Thomas was the son of George Lambert (1824-1890) and Sarah Readman (1832-1913). George was born in Danby Wiske, Yorkshire and worked all his life on the railways as a platelayer, basically doing track maintenance. He married Sarah Readman, a Nunthorpe girl. The lived first in the tiny hamlet of Upsall, where Thomas was born and then moved to the California area of nearby Great Ayton.

Thomas’ wife, Sarah Sturdy was born in Lord Mayor’s Walk, York, just around the corner from the Minster. Her father, John Sturdy (1817-1868) was a journeyman whitesmith, originally from Masham, a Yorkshire town most-famous for the Theakstons Brewery and it’s more-recent rival the Black Sheep Brewery. John Sturdy’s family moved quite often around the industrial centres of northern England. Whether this was as a result of demand for his skills, or the lack of demand, I don’t know.

Sarah Sturdy lived what we would probably describe as an “eventful” life. She first became a mother in 1876, aged 23, when she gave birth in Middlesbrough to her daughter, Mary Jane. Mary Jane’s father is not recorded. Nine years later, on Christmas Day 1885, she married Thomas. He was a Whinstone miner, Whinstone being a hard dark igneous rock, cut into setts and used to make cobbles. The Whinstone was mined from the Cleveland Dyke, a large igneous rock intrusion into the otherwise sedimentary rocks of the local area (I hope you notice that I took Geology at “O” level). The history of Whinstone mining in Great Ayton can be read here.

Thomas and Sarah had seven children together, Clara (1884-1974), John George (1886-1886-died aged 13 days), Thomas (1887-1969), Frank (1888-1918), George (1890-1918) and twins Nellie (Eleanor Annie 1892-1986) and William (1892-1916). They were all born at home in Bradley’s Terrace, Ayton. The fate of four of their boys were tied up with the events of the First World War.

1. George Lambert (1890-1918) Private 63332

(the Brother that was discharged)

George was, as far as I can find out, the first son to sign up, doing so just before Christmas 1914. His service lasted only 3 months (see below), before he was discharged on the 27th March 1915 as “Medically Unfit as not unlikely to become an efficient soldier”. This is a strange diagnosis for a young man, who was before the war a Platelayer on the railway who had also worked as a “Whinstone Breaker” according to the 1911 census. More importantly he was someone who my father never heard about as a child. All he knew from his mother was that he died during WW1, but, unlike his brothers, was not recorded in the War Memorials. Before that days of easy access to genealogical records we speculated that he may have been shot for cowardice.

George Lambert's WW1 Service Record

George Lambert’s WW1 Short Service Record

The reality was that he died on the 3rd December 1918 of Pneumonia, presumably  from the Spanish Flu, that swept through Europe in the aftermath of WW1, killing somewhere between 20 and 50 million people. His death was registered by my Gran, so clearly she knew why he died, however the fact that she never told my father seems to suggest that his discharge from the Army had somehow brought shame on the family. I was lucky-enough to speak to a military researcher from pro-genealogists who was clear that the Discharge could have come from any number of reasons. Whatever the reason it certainly didn’t seem to be good enough for the family.

2. William Lambert (1892-1916) Driver 71731

(the Brother who died in the Great War)

As a child my only knowledge of William was his memorial plaque (a 5 inch round, bronze plaque often called the Dead Man’s Penny) that always sat on my Gran’s mantelpiece above the fire. William was a twin brother of my Gran.

He was the last son of Thomas and Sarah. Before the War he was a cobbler. Like his brother George, he signed up around Christmas 1914. Like many “country” boys he was assigned to the Royal Field Artillery as a Driver in A Battery of the 112th Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery.

Driver 71731 William Lambert "A" Bty 112th Bde., Royal Field Artillery

Driver 71731 William Lambert “A” Bty 112th Bde., Royal Field Artillery

On the 9th of September 1916 he was killed, while his Brigade, now part of the Army’s 25th Division, was taking part in the Battle of the Somme.

William Lambert WW1 Short Service Record

William Lambert WW1 Short Service Record

I recently got hold of the War Diary for the 112th Brigade R.F.A. Sadly the official records don’t even mention his death (they only seem to have recorded the deaths and injuries of the Officers).

112 Brigade Royal Field Artillery-War Diary 16 Sep 1916. No mention of Driver Lambert's death.

112 Brigade Royal Field Artillery-War Diary 16 Sep 1916. No mention of Driver Lambert’s death.

Fortunately the diary of a fellow-solder, Driver J. Briggs of A Bty, 25th Division R.F.A. who recorded the event. (I’m very thankful for ancestry.com member normanshome225 for this information)

“We kept gaining ground round Thiepvall [sic] and capturing prisoners. We got shelled out of our wagon line[,] had Driver Lambert of Great Ayton killed[.] Driver Cooling wounded[.] Gunner Mccarty wounded and one horse killed[.] The Huns keep shelling[.] They dropped one close to one of our guns and killed a man belonging to another battery[.] He was walking down the trench past our battery[,] it took the top of his head off.”

William was buried at the Bouzincourt Communal Cemetery Extension. In 1999, my father and I, were able to go to his grave and lay flowers. It was the first time any of his family had visited the grave.

Dad visiting the grave of William Lambert, Bouzincourt

Dad visiting the grave of William Lambert, Bouzincourt

3. Frank Lambert (1888-1918) Driver T4/159783

(the Brother who died after the War)

One of the problems with researching Great War ancestors is that not all the records have survived. In the case of Frank Lambert we only have certain details available. I know that he died on the 19th December 1918, only 16 days after his brother George. He died in Edinburgh of his wounds. He had served in the Royal Army Service Corps, No. 1. Coy. 56th Div. Train. Before then he had married and left behind a widow, Hilda, and two young children, Colin and Joan. I guess it was at least a little comfort for them that his body could be buried in the local cemetery in Great Ayton. Below is the record of his grave.

Frank Lambert Grave Registration

4. Thomas Lambert (1887-1969)

(the Brother who survived)

Thomas (actually Tom) is the most difficult to research. Rather ironically the one son who survived the War has no records of what he did in the War. Before the War he was Gardener. The only knowledge I have of him is the slightly distant memory of my Dad say ing he survived the War without a scratch. After the War he lived with his mother and sisters, until at the age of 49 he married.

Final Thoughts

The Great War inflicted on the Lamberts, like many families, a great cost both to those that died and those that survived. It must have been particularly hard on Sarah Lambert. Her husband, Thomas, had died, aged 40, in 1899. By the end of 1918 she would have lost four of her five sons. Ironically she lived to reach the age of 100.

I’ll leave you with this wonderful poem.

The Soldier
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

by Rupert Brooke

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