“Later that night, the Joads come across the Weedpatch camp, a decent, government-sponsored facility where migrants govern themselves, thus avoiding the abuse of corrupt police officers – “The Grapes of Wrath” – John Steinbeck

Today near Bakersfield in Kern County, California there is a large Grisedale cattle ranching family at the Granite Station Ranch. The E in the family name was added after the family first arrived in America in 1908. Back in Westmorland, England, from where they came, they were just Grisdales. Before I tell the story of the family’s trek from a wet sheep farm in the Lake District hills to the sun of California let me start with a very strange coincidence.

On 5th June 1917 two young Grisdale men registered to join the US Army in Bakersfield in Kern County, volunteering for service in the First World War. One was 28 year-old Frank Joseph Grisdale and the other was a 24 year-old called Robert Thornber Grisedale (whose younger brother Francis Thomas had registered just four days before). Although it is unlikely that they met that day, they may have later in or around Bakersfield where they both lived for the rest of their lives. If they did ever meet they might have wondered if they were related given the unusual nature of their name, unusual at least in California at that time. Of course they were related, but they would have to go back to the seventeenth century in Matterdale before their families would have known each other and back to 1600 or earlier to Dowthwaite Head Farm in Matterdale before their two ancestral lines joined.

Kern County Map 1916

Kern County Map 1916

Frank Joseph’s family had first come to Canada from Cumberland in 1816/17. The instigator of the move was Wilfred Grisdale, who I have written about before (see here). Part of his family subsequently moved to Deerfield in Isabella County in Michigan in 1877 (see here) where Wilfred’s great grandson Frank Joseph was born in 1888. Sometime prior to 1910 Frank had been drawn out West, probably hearing of the opportunities in the recently booming oil industry in Kern County. Until his death in 1952 in Bakersfield Frank worked as an oil well digger in Kern County, principally in the Kern River Oil Field. I will tell his story at a later date.

Kern River Oil Field

Kern River Oil Field

Robert Thornber Gris(e)dale was the first son Thomas William Grisdale, a moderately well-to-do sheep farmer in Longsleddale, north of Kendal in Westmorland. Thomas William was born on his father’s Yoad Pot farm in Selside, Westmorland in 1859. In 1892 he married Agnes Thornber, the daughter of Kendal accountant and real estate agent Francis John Thornber and taken on his own farm called Well Foot in Longsleddale. Robert Thornber was born there the next year – being named after his farmer grandfather Robert Grisdale and his mother’s maiden name – followed in 1895 by Francis Thomas, named after his mother’s father, Francis Thornber, and his own father Thomas.

Well Foot Farm, Longsleddale, Westmorland

Well Foot Farm, Longsleddale, Westmorland

I told something of the earlier history of the family in a story about a Robert Edward Grisdale, the son of Thomas William’s brother Richard, who emigrated to Canada (see here). I also wrote about the family a little further back in Matterdale and then in nearby Martindale, Patterdale and Hartsop (see here). There are other related stories on this site, including a murderous one here.

Returning to Thomas William, things were looking fine in Westmorland but on 6 May 1908 the family boarded the passenger ship RMS Etruria in Liverpool bound for New York, where they arrived nine days later. They gave their ultimate destination as ‘Kern City’ California. We will never perhaps know what led them to want to leave but we can perhaps surmise the circumstances. They went to join Agnes Thornber’s younger brother and sister, James Henry Thornber and Elizabeth Thornber, who had emigrated to Montana in 1892. In fact another brother called John Peters Thornber had made the move first, in 1890, ending up in Madison, Iowa.

RMS Etruria at Liverpool

RMS Etruria at Liverpool

Regarding James Thornber, ‘The History of Kern County’ published in 1914 tells his story best:

JAMES H. THORNBER.— The Thornber family descends from Anglo- Saxon ancestry and for generations has been represented in Westmoreland in the north of England, where Francis Joseph and Elizabeth (Peters) Thornber passed their entire lives, the former being engaged as an accountant. The parental family comprised six sons and six daughters and the eighth in order of birth, James H., was born in the village of Kendal, July 3, 1875. Two sons and two daughters are still living and all of them have come to America, the older son, John P., being a resident of Bartlesville, Okla., while the two daughters. Mrs. Agnes Grisdale and Mrs. Elizabeth Marriott, make their home in Kern county, Cal., the headquarters also of the fourth member of the family, James H. The last-named attended the Kendal grammar school in Westmoreland, and later was a student in the Friends’ school at the same place. After he was graduated at the age of fifteen years he was employed in the village until 1892, when he crossed the ocean to the United States and proceeded west to Montana. Securing employment on a ranch near Chinook he soon learned the business of operating a stock farm on the plains. Later he became interested in operating the Black Coulee coal mine, besides which he also engaged in general contracting.

Montana cattle

Montana cattle

Upon selling some of his interests in Montana in October (actually May) of 1908 Mr. Thornber came to Bakersfield. Shortly afterward he purchased one hundred and twenty acres of land in the Weed Patch. The task of transforming the raw acreage into a productive farm was one of great difficulty, but the land was rich and fertile and ultimately produced fruit and alfalfa in paying quantities. Since 1909 he has made his home in East Bakersfield, where he owns a residence at No. 1601 Pacific street. Besides having a real-estate and insurance office at No. 919 Baker Street, he is engaged in the building of cottages and bungalows and these interests, together with the supervision of his Montana ranch, which he still owns, keep him busily occupied.

Ever since he came to this city Mr. Thornber has been connected with the Chesbro Methodist Episcopal Church of East Bakersfield, where at this writing he officiates as president of the board of trustees and president of the adult bible class. With the cooperation of the pastor of this church he organized a Sunday-school at Toltec No. 2 and since then he not only has acted as superintendent, but in addition he has given exceptionally faithful and efficient service in the capacity of local preacher.

Being deeply interested in the religious life of the oil fields, he gives freely of his time, ability and means to promote the cause of Christianity in that particular portion to which he has been called. While living in Montana he was married at Chinook, September 23, 1900, to Miss Alice Greenough, a native of Mechanicsburg, Ohio, and a daughter of the late John K. and Minnie (Currier) Greenough, the former born in Concord, N. H., of Mayflower stock, and the latter a descendant of Scotch forbears. In 1886 the family removed to Chanute, Kans., where Mrs. Thornber was reared and educated, remaining there until 1899. In that year the family located in Chinook, Mont., where the marriage of the young people occurred. Interested in social functions and active in church work, Mrs. Thornber’s deepest affections, however, are centered upon her four children, Chester Harve, Grace Elizabeth, Agnes Myrtle and Alice Celia. Fraternally Mr. Thornber belongs to the Modern Woodmen of America and Bakersfield Lodge No. 224, F. & A. M., also with his wife is identified with Bakersfield Chapter No. 25, Order of the Eastern Star.

Actually James Thornber came to Kern County in May 1908, not October, the same month that the Grisdales were on their way to New York. Obviously the move had been planned in advance. In fact Elizabeth Thornber, having married farmer Edward Allen Marriott in Chinook, Montana in 1899, moved to Bakersfield in Kern County before 1907, so maybe it was her who first attracted her brother and sister and their families to come to California. It is interesting to note that James Thornber having tried his hand at cattle ranching in Montana, and having bought a farm outside Bakersfield, soon abandoned farming and became what his obituary in 1959 called a ‘pioneer realtor’, just like his real estate agent and accountant father back in Kendal in Westmorland.

Weedpatch, Kern County in the Dust Bowl era

Weedpatch, Kern County in the Dust Bowl era

It seems highly likely that when Thomas William Grisdale (or Grisedale as he now became) and his family arrived in Kern County it was they who took on the difficult ‘task of transforming the raw acreage (of James Thornber’s farm in Weedpatch) into a productive farm’ and who ‘ultimately produced fruit and alfalfa in paying quantities’. In the 1910 census Thomas William and his family are living in precisely the Weed Patch area and Thomas was said to be a farmer on a ‘general farm’. Weed Patch, just southeast of Bakersfield, was to have a sad history in the Dust Bowl era in the 1930s and even featured in John Steinbeck’s novel ‘The Grapes of Wrath’. I’m not sure how long Thomas William continued to farm at Weed Patch; in 1917 when both his sons enlisted in the army his first son Robert Thornber Grisedale was working as a ‘farmer’ on Roland Hill’s cattle station in nearby Tehachapi, while his younger son Francis Thomas was a farmhand working for his father. As both brothers registered for the army in the Vineland precinct of Kern County, which is right next to Weedpatch, and gave their address as East Bakersfield, I presume their father was still farming there. This seems confirmed by the many entries for ‘T W Greisdale’ in the Bakersfield City directory as living on Route 4 well into the 1920s, this road led through Weedpatch – unfortunately I can’t find him in the 1920 census. Sadly Francis Thomas died in 1918 while serving in the US Army; I don’t yet know the circumstances. I don’t think Robert ever joined the army as later on he said he was not a veteran.

Before 1930 Thomas William and Agnes Grisdale had retired to Bakersfield and were living at 118 Douglas Street in Highland Park. Agnes died the same year aged 68 and Thomas the next, aged 72.

Turning now to the only surviving son, Robert Thornber Grisedale; in 1920 he was still in Tehachapi but by now was working in the local oil industry as a ‘Wagon Driver’ for a ‘Wholesale Gas and Oil Station’ having married Michigan girl Eva May Weller the previous year. The couple had a child, Francis Robert, in 1921 but he died the next year. The next child, Grant Edward Grisedale, was born in Bakersfield in 1925 but grew up ‘on his parent’s cattle ranch’. Two more children followed: Frank Weller in 1929 and Mona Jean in 1930. I presume Robert bought his cattle ranch, called the Granite Station Ranch, between 1925 and 1930 when the family were already living there and where their descendants still breed cattle. Perhaps one day one of the family will tell me? The ranch is north east of Bakersfield on Granite Road near Glenville. Westmorland-born Robert Thornber Grisdale died aged 92 in 1986. His son Grant Edward Grisedale, who returned to the ranch in 1958 and eventually took over its management, died in 2010 aged 85. I won’t presume to tell anything more of the family’s recent history – that’s for them.

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Many of the Matterdale Grisdales became priests. I’ve written about a few already, notably the Rev. Dr. Robert Grisdale, the founder of Matterdale school; John Grisdale, who was curate of Troutbeck in Westmorland; Solomon Grisdale who died in  mysterious circumstances; and Benjamin Grisdale who was with his friend General Cornwallis at the Battle of Yorktown, when the Americans finally won their independence. There are many more. At the upper end of the scale was the Rev. Dr. Browne Grisdale, who became the chancellor of the diocese of Carlisle. Then there was another Solomon who was curate of Steeple Morden in Cambridgeshire for many years, also Richard Grisdale the curate of Crook in Westmorland, and even Joseph Grisdale, the son of the first Solomon already mentioned, who became the schoolmaster and vicar of Wymondham in Norfolk. This is not an exhaustive list. But what about closer to home in Matterdale itself?

Here I’d like to tell just a little about the life of the curates of Matterdale church, particularly in the seventeenth century following the very unfortunate ‘restoration’ of King Charles the Second. At this time and later the curate of Matterdale Church was Thomas Grisdale. He was the incumbent for fifty-two years, from 1666 until his death in 1718.  What was the life of these curates like? What type of men were they? How and by whom were they paid?

The unfortunate restoration of King Charles in 1660

The unfortunate restoration of King Charles in 1660

Perhaps it might be good to start with the words of one of England’s greatest historians, Thomas Macaulay. Referring to the seventeenth century, Macauley wrote:

The Anglican priesthood was divided into two sections, which in acquirements, in manners, and in social position, differed widely from each other. One section, trained for cities and courts, comprised men familiar with all ancient and modern learning . . . men of address, politeness, and knowledge of the world; men with whom Halifax loved to discuss the interests of empires, and from whom Dryden was not ashamed to own that he had learned to write. The other section . . . was dispersed over the country, and consisted chiefly of persons not at all wealthier, and not much more refined, than small farmers or upper servants. . .  The clergy [in these rural districts] were regarded as a plebeian class. … A waiting woman was generally considered as the most suitable helpmate for a parson. . . . Not one living in fifty enabled the incumbent to bring up a family comfortably. … It was a white day on which he was admitted into the kitchen of a great house, and regaled by the servants with cold meat and ale. His children were brought up like the children of the neighbouring peasantry. His boys followed the plough, and his girls went out to service.

Thomas Macaulay

Thomas Macaulay

Among the priestly Grisdales we might include in the first section the Rev. Dr. Robert Grisdale, the vicar of rich St. Martins in the Field in London; the Rev. Dr. Browne Grisdale, the chancellor of the diocese of Carlisle and even his brother Benjamin Grisdale, a very well connected army chaplain. But all the rest squarely fall into Macaulay’s second segment, certainly including Thomas Grisdale the long-serving curate of Matterdale. They were to be sure ‘not much more refined, than small farmers or upper servants’.

Of course there was a lot of blatant class snobbery coming from the landed gentry when they ever mentioned lowly curates like Thomas Grisdale. One story I like was told by W. J. Conybeare in his excellent The Church in the Mountains published in the Edinburgh Review in 1853. Conybeare was concerned with Wales, Cumberland and Westmorland, all poor ‘mountainous’ areas. He says that a ‘gentleman who resides in Westmoreland’ had written:

As a rule the clergy here are of a low order, and rarely associate with the gentry. In our own village, for instance, where the clergyman is not by any means a bad specimen, no servant is kept at his house, and several of his sons have been brought up to handicraft trades. We are very good friends, but he could not visit at my house. . . . His sister was waiting-maid to a friend of ours.

Conybeare adds wryly:

As an illustration of these statements, it may be worthwhile to mention that the writer of these pages, some years ago, when in a boat on one of the Cumberland lakes, observed upon the road which ran along the shore, a man and woman ride by on the same horse, the man in front, the woman behind. “There goes our priest and his wife,” said the boatman. On landing, soon after, the worthy couple were seen making hay together in a small field which the clergyman farmed.

Good on them!

Matterdale

Matterdale

Conybeare mentions another friend he had consulted ‘who was well acquainted with the diocese of Carlisle who estimated ‘the proportion of the hill-clergy in Westmoreland and Cumberland, who are “more or less intoxicated at one time or another, at parties, fairs, or markets “as one-sixth of the whole number.’ Another informant wrote that ‘several of the clergy’ in his neighbourhood were ‘notorious drunkards’.

‘The social position held by the clergy may be inferred from the above statements’, says Conybeare, adding that their status was in fact ‘precisely the same with that assigned to their predecessors by Mr. Macaulay’.

Conybeare goes to great length to explain the social, economic and political causes of this situation as well as to show how the prevailing view was unfair. I will quote just a little of this fine work:

We have said that Mr. Macaulay’s account of the rural Clergy of the reign of Charles II. would apply almost verbatim to the Mountain Clergy of the present century (ed. the nineteenth). We may add that this condition of things originates in the same cause which he assigns for it; namely, the inadequacy of the parochial endowments. But here we must guard against misconception.

Let it not for a moment be supposed that we consider poverty a degradation to the preacher of the Gospel. God forbid that wealth should be necessary to the ministry of a religion which made the poor of this world rich in faith — a religion whose apostles were Galilean fishermen. A clergy may be very ill-endowed, and yet, by a judicious system of organisation and discipline, and by a proper provision for its education, it may command not only the love of the poor, but the respect of the rich. The efficiency of the Scotch establishment during the last century and a half is a decisive proof of this.

But if we have a clergy taken from the poorer classes of society, and left in indigence, without education, without superintendence, without organisation, and without discipline, then it will inevitably become despised and despicable.  Not that a priesthood of vulgar paupers is in reality more contemptible than a hierarchy of well-bred Sybarites; for, in the sight of God, Leo X. was perhaps more despicable than Tetzel; but that the cultivated Epicurean will be able to veil his faults under a more decent disguise.

The careless and undevout members of an uneducated peasant clergy will retain the low tastes and coarse vices of the class from which they sprang; and the zealous (who at the best must be a minority) will disgust their more intelligent parishioners by an illiterate fanaticism. These may be followed by the ignorant, but will be ridiculed by the educated; those will be deservedly despised by rich and poor alike.

When men who are appointed by the State to be the religious guides and examples of the people thus forfeit both the respect of the wise and the esteem of the good, the object of their mission is defeated.

Matterdale Church

Matterdale Church

I have no idea what type of curate or man Thomas Grisdale was; he was, as I have said, the curate of mountainous Matterdale for fifty-two years, throughout Charles II’s reign and beyond. I do hope he occasionally got on a horse with his wife Elizabeth Grisdale (nee Noble), my own 6th great grandmother, and made a little hay. He may have liked the odd beer or two too.

But although Thomas was in all likelihood looked down on by the local gentry, it seems he was well regarded by his parishioners. Not only was he their curate for fifty-two years but somewhat after his death we find testimony to the fact that the people of Matterdale could and always had chosen their curates and were very happy with them.  The testimony in question was written by the ‘inhabitants’ of Matterdale between 1735 and 1747 to Bishop Fleming of Carlisle:

To the Right Reverend Father in God George Lord Bishop of Carlisle the Petition of the Inhabitants of the Chappelrie of Matterdale humbly showeth  That the Chappel of Matterdale is now Vacant that when the Revd Mr. Woof left us before he resigned the place some of the Inhabitants of our Chappelry waited on our Rector the Reverend Mr. Law at his house at Graystock and acquainted him that Mr. William Todhunter of Dacre would be very acceptable to us and hoped he would give him his nomination.

Greystoke Rectory

Greystoke Rectory

He told us he had given his Consent to the Rev. Mr. Rumney’s son Leonard as soon as Mr. Woof had resigned the place.  We drew a writing and with one consent subscribed it to certifie him we were agreed to Recomend to his approbation Mr. William Todhunter and requested of him to give his nomination as his Predecessor had always done to the Person we requested and we told him we believ’d we had a Right and that it was our Duty so to do, He Replied if we had any Right he did not want nor would he have it and that your Lordship was the Properest Judge and to you my Lord, we would refer it.

Wherefore my Lord we Begg you would give us leave to lay our case before you as Briefly as we can and that Mr. Grisdale was the Person we requested his nomination which is the antientest we believe that is at Rose Castle will testefie and Mr. Clerk that succeeded him was the Person the Inhabitants requested and Mr. Taylor that succeeded him was the Person we requested his Father yet Living can testefie and Mr. Walker that succeeded him is at this time Mr. Atkinson’s Curate at Kirkby Thore and will testefie he was the man we requested and Mr. Atkinson that succeeded him was the man we chose and his Lordship your Lordship’s predecessor put him in when our Chappel had been long vacant and Mr. Woof was the man the Major part of the Inhabitants subscribed with If the Revd Mr. Law can say this is not the very truth we’ll say no more and with submission, the reason why we should have something to say we think is because we endowed the Chappel with the salrie  my Lord our Ancestours raised forty pounds (a great sum for so poor a Chappelry when money was so scarce) and lent it at two shillings i’th pound and when the Interest of Money lowered that it would not make four pounds a year and when it was in danger of being lost we withdrew the money and agreed to pay two shillings sixpence out of every eight shillings rent Tenement which makes about four pounds ten shillings and which with our little Glebe and surplice dues is the salary at this day and some or other is and has been all ways willing to accept of it and we hope we may say we have not one man that had any Blemish in his life and conversation and that the service of Almighty God has been performed with as much Decencie and as good Order as in any Chappel in your Lordship’s Diocess, so we desire your Lordship would be pleased to take the matter into Consideration and do sincerely assure you my Lord that your Judgment and determination shall be final and for ever put an end to our onnhappy janglings and we shall still continue to pray.

Rose Castle, the residence of the Bishops's of Carlisle

Rose Castle, the residence of the Bishops of Carlisle

The issue involved here was quite simple: the inhabitants of the chapelry of Matterdale had always chosen their own priest, because, as they say, they paid for him. ‘Mr. Grisdale’, i.e. Thomas Grisdale, ‘was the person we requested, his nomination is the antcientes (ancientest) we believe that is at Rose Castle (the residence of the Bishop’s of Carlisle) will testifie.’ They also chose or requested all Thomas Grisdale’s successors until Mr. Woof and say how this can be proved. Their curates had never been imposed on them against their will – until now.

Now the Revd Mr. Law, the rector of Greystoke, Matterdale’s mother church, was going to impose his own choice: Leonard Rumney, the son of a local vicar who was no doubt a friend of Mr. Law. Regarding the parishioners’ right to choose their own curate the Revd Law had replied that even if they had this right ‘he did not want nor would he have it’. He didn’t give a damn; he’d have his own man.

Actually neither Leonard Rumney nor William Todhunter was appointed.

Greystoke Church

Greystoke Church

Returning to the reason the parishioners had this right, they rightly said because their ancestors had endowed the Chappel with forty pounds to pay the curate’s salary, even though this was a ‘great sum for so poor a Chappelry when money was so scarce’. When this endowment had proved insufficient they had changed to paying yearly ‘two shillings sixpence out of every eight shillings rent Tenement which makes about four pounds ten shillings’ – there being thirty-six tenements of this value in Matterdale as we shall see.

Regarding the character and performance of the curates the people of Matterdale had chosen from Mr. Grisdale onwards, the Revd. J. Whitseside had this to say in his excellent 1901 article Matterdale Church and School:

We have been accustomed in late years to some severe strictures on the morals and manners of the old dale priests from critics who too hastily assumed that what was true of a few might be asserted of many. It is, therefore, refreshing to have the testimony of the people of Matterdale — “We have not had one man that had any blemish in his life and conversation.” The whole document is most honourable to the dalesmen, testifying both to their sturdy native independence and their willingness to submit to constituted authority in the Church.

I wrote about the origins of Matterdale church in a recent article (see here). What is abundantly clear is that from the very start in about 1566 when the first ‘chapelry of ease’ was allowed in Matterdale and certainly from 1580 when the chapel got full parochial rights i.e. the right to perform weddings, baptisms and burials, the inhabitants of the valley had always had to pay not only for the curate but for the church building as well.

A document that was in the church safe in Matterdale dated 1699 reads as below. Please do note that all the YEs and YTs for ‘the’ and ‘that’ do not mean people actually talked like this. The Y was just a letter signifying the sound TH; contrary to general opinion nobody ever said ‘Ye Olde Tavern’ or the like.

Whereas about ye eight year of Queen Elizabeth (1566) the Inhabitants of Matterdale did petition for having a church att ye said Matterdale which was granted in Bishop Best his time (1561-1570) with a pviso that they should maintain a Currate att it which ye said Inhabitants did pmise and Ingage to doe.

And in order thereto did make up about fforty pounds Church stock amongst them that ye use thereof might goe to ye Currate which was then Lent forth att two shillings the pound or more. But in ye time of King James the First (1603- 1625) when money came to a Lower use the said Inhabitants were forced to take ye said Church stock into their own hands And pay to ye Currate two shillings which hath so continued ever since.

Now we considering that often part of ye said Church stock is lost and we have it to make up again And often times we have much cost and trouble with sueing for yt which is in dainger to be lost And also when a Tenant dyes ye widow and younger children hath it to pay to ye heir forth of ye deceased man’s goodds And therefore we having ye said Church stock in our own hands doe agree and Covenant to lay it upon our own Lands so that every Tenement of eight shillings Rent shall yearly pay to ye Currate two shillings sixpence of Current English money as a known due forth of ye land accordingly, and to ye first Covenent.

And so every one yt hath more or less rent after yt rate and to continue from ansestor to heirs accordingly as is hereafter subscribed …. doe hereby bind ourselves our heires executors successors on our land as wittnesse our hands and sealls In ye eleavent year of ye Reigne of King William ye third over England &c. and in ye year of our Lord God 1699.

This document includes the signatures of thirty-six inhabitants and how much each is paying towards the upkeep of the curate Thomas Grisdale. It is interesting to note that seven of these thirty-six are other members of the Matterdale Grisdale clan.

James  the first, another disastrous king

James the first, another disastrous king

So since King James’ time, the initial forty pound endowment had been replaced by the two shillings and sixpence paid by each of the thirty six eligible tenement holders. And it seems that this was usually done. The Rev. J. Whiteside quotes the former president of the Cumberland and Westmorland antiquarian and archaeological society as saying: ‘The origin of these chapelries requires to be made known: their salaries are charges on the land, but the deeds creating the charges are at this date rarely forthcoming, and in some places the land owners, who are liable to them, are beginning to repudiate the payment on the ground that they are voluntary payments, were abolished with church-rates or other frivolous and shabby pretence.’ ‘‘A repudiation, says Whiteside, ‘which has not taken root in Matterdale’.

In summary, since 1566 or slightly thereafter, the inhabitants of Matterdale had not only paid the ‘priest wage’ as it was known but also chosen him themselves, subject to the approval of both the Rector of Greystoke and the Bishop of Carlisle – that is until the Revd Mr. Law came along.

In the seventeenth century the average rural priest-wage was very low indeed, generally between five and ten pounds per annum. As we have seen, at best Thomas Grisdale’s wage would have been four pounds ten shillings. How did he and his predecessors and followers survive? Here we have to look at what is called the parish ‘Glebe Terrier’ or just ‘Terrier’.

A seventeenth century Glebe Terrier

A seventeenth century Glebe Terrier

A glebe terrier is a term specific to the Church of England. It is a document, usually a written survey or inventory, which gives details of glebe, lands and property in the parish owned by the Church of England and held by a clergyman as part of the endowment of his benefice, and which provided the means by which the incumbent (rector, vicar or perpetual curate) could support himself and his church. Typically, glebe would comprise the vicarage or rectory, fields and the church building itself, its contents and its graveyard… “Terrier” is derived from the Latin terra, “earth”.

The glebe terrier would be drawn up at the time of each visitation, an official visit usually by the archdeacon. The Archdeacon would visit each parish annually, and the bishop visited outlying parts of his diocese every few years to maintain ecclesiastical authority and conduct confirmations.

Each church was entitled to a house and glebe. The glebe lands were either cultivated by the clergyman himself, or by tenants to whom he leased the land. In those cases where the parsonage was not well-endowed with glebe, the clergyman’s main source of income would come from the tithes.

In 1704, when Thomas Grisdale was still curate, such a Terrier was made of Matterdale by the Rector of Greystoke, the summary reads:

Imprimis. One dwelling house with a byer and a barn (sixteen yards in length) to be built at the charges of the hamlet, when they fall; the repair onely at the Charge of the Curate. Item, One Close by estimation two Acres: Item, the Chapple yard ; by estimation half an acre. The curate has right of common (and liberty to get peats and turff) both within the liberties of Weathermealock and Matterdale. Every tenement (whereof there are 36 in number) pays 2s 6d except one cottage called Park Gate which pays 2s onely. Total 4I 9s 6d. For every marriage is 1s 6d whereof !s is due to the rector of Graystock and 6d to the Curate.

Notice the thirty-six tenements in Matterdale (of a certain standing and value), the farmer of each one except one having to still pay the 2s 6d each year, thus giving the total of 4l 9s 6d. In addition we see that the curate might earn a bit more from marriages (though twice as much went to the rector) and had rights of common including getting peat and turf to burn in his ‘dwelling house with a byer and a barn’.

A latter Terrier in 1776 gives slightly more details:

A perfect Terrier of all the Houses Lands Tenements and augmentations and yearly profits belonging to the Curacy of Matterdale in the parish of Graystock in the County of Cumberland and Diocese of Carlisle.

1.  A Thatch house Three lengths of Timber containing a Barn & a Byer with about two acres and a half of arable and meadow ground. Valued at about Two pound ten a year. This lays in Matterdale.

2. Two shillings and sixpence a Tenement which comes to Four pounds Ten shillings.

3. One fourth of an estate lying and being at Burton-in- Lonsdale in the parish of Thornton and County of York let at yearly rent of Ten pound. N.B. No Houses.

4. Brunt Sike Estate in the Hamlet of Howgill in the parish of Sedbecg and County of York containing a dwelling House Bam adjoining a Stable and Loft ov’ it with Twenty four acres of arable and Meadow Ground known by the names of Holme Little Close Hills — Gate House Close High Broom & Thoresgill Let at the yearly rent of fourteen pounds.

5. One half of Hause-foot Estate in the parish of Orton County of Westmorland with a Fine House with one half of the Barn Byer and Stables £7 l0s a year.

Given under our Hands this 4. day of June 1776.

William Wright Curate. Solomon Grisedale Chapelwarden.

Of course these other rents didn’t go to the curates of Matterdale.

Finally we should mention one other way the curate and his family could survive. The Rev. Whiteside tells us that the Matterdale curates were also entitled to ‘Whittlegate’. What is Whittlegate? In Bygone Cumberland and Westmorland, Daniel Scott wrote this in 1899:

bygone cumberlandThe old customs peculiar to Cumberland and Westmorland of “Whittlegate” and “Chapel Wage” have long since passed out of the list of obligations imposed, although the rector of Brougham might still, if he wished, claim whittlegate at Hornby Hall every Sunday. The parsons of the indifferently educated class already alluded to had to be content with correspondingly small stipends, which were eked out by the granting of a certain number of meals in the course of twelve months at each farm or other house above the rank of cottage, with, in some parishes, a suit of clothes, a couple of pairs of shoes, and a pair of clogs. Clarke gives the following explanation of the origin of the term: —

“Whittlegate meant two or three weeks’ victuals at each house, according to the ability of the inhabitants, which was settled among themselves; so that the minister could go his course as regularly as the sun, and complete it annually. Few houses having more knives than one or two, the pastor was often obliged to buy his own knife or ‘whittle.’ Sometimes it was bought for him by the chapel wardens. He marched from house to house with his ‘whittle,’ seeking ‘fresh fields and pastures new,’ and as master of the herd, he had the elbow chair at the table head, which was often made of part of a hollow ash tree — a kind of seat then common.

The reader at Wythburn had for his salary three pounds yearly, a hempen sark or shirt, a whittlegate, and a goosegate, or right to depasture a flock of geese on Helvellyn. A story is still (1789) told in Wythburn of a minister who had but two sermons which he preached in turn. The walls of the chapel were at that time unplastered, and the sermons were usually placed in a hole in the wall behind the pulpit. One Sunday, before the service began, some mischievous person pushed the sermons so far into the hole that they could not be got out with the hand. When the time came for the sermon, the priest tried in vain to get them out. He then turned to the congregation, and told them what had happened. He could touch them, he said, with his forefinger, but could not get his thumb in to grasp them; ‘ But, however,’ said he, ‘ I can read you a chapter out of Job that’s worth both of them put together!'”

So this I hope might give just a flavour of the life of the Matterdale curates in the seventeenth century and beyond.

From lightning and tempest; from plague, pestilence, and from battle and murder, and from sudden death, Good Lord, deliver us.’  English Liturgy, 1547

The plague, along with starvation and repression, has been the perennial lot of the English people, as indeed of so many others. Cumberland was no exception. Here plagues have struck from time to time from at least the thirteenth century. A hundred years after the above English Liturgy was written the plague came once again to Cumberland and wiped out dozens if not hundreds of families. One of these was a Grisdale family in the small Cumberland market and industrial town of Keswick.

St. Kentigern's, Crosthwaite, Keswick

St. Kentigern’s, Crosthwaite, Keswick

On the 5th of February 1620, Thomas Grisdale married Alice Birkett of Seathwaite in St. Kentigern’s Church in Keswick. With one (perhaps relevant) exception this is the first mention of a member of the Grisdale family in Keswick. Over the next twenty-five years with two wives Thomas had nine children, some died young but many survived. What had brought Thomas to Keswick? And where had he come from? As to the reason that Thomas came to Keswick, there is I believe only one explanation. The only reason for someone to come to the town of Keswick at this time was to work in the German-run copper smelter situated at Brigham in Keswick. In an earlier article I showed how German miners had been brought over by Queen Elizabeth, and how the industry had developed (see here). Once the mines and the smelters were fully up and running in 1569, we find a certain John Grysdall mentioned twice. In the August 1569 accounts – the Germans did accounts seven times a year- John is listed as a ‘peat carrier’. He received payment for delivering 3 hundred (loads) of peat from ‘Flasco’ (present-day Flaska near Troutbeck in the north of Matterdale parish) to the copper smelter at Keswick. He did the same again later in the year. And in 1571 an Edward Gristal (Grisdale) of Threlkeld was also paid as a peat carrier for deliveries from Flasco.

In the middle of 1567 the Company began keeping its own carts and horses, for building and for carriage of special articles close to Keswick; but this did not supersede the use of English packhorses for charcoal, peat, ore, and a little later for stone-coal.

An eighteenth-century Copper Smelter

An eighteenth-century Copper Smelter

While one can imagine why charcoal was needed for the smelting of ore, what was the peat for? Chemistry, Society, and Environment: A New History of the British Chemical Industry (ed. Colin A. Russell et al, Royal Society, 2000) explains:

Copper ore was mined and smelted at Brigham, near Keswick in Cumberland, under the auspices of the Company of Mines royal… The sulphide ores used at Keswick were subjected to preliminary roasting to burn off excess sulphur, and then treated with nine horseloads of peat and five horseloads of ‘stone coals’ (a horseload was equivalent to 109 litres). Limestone was added as a flux and after smelting a matte or “green stock” was run off. Subsequently, about eight days’ recovery of matte was roasted with six peat fires, each hotter than the last, to produce “copper stone” or “black copper”. This was smelted once a month to give “rough copper”, and involved three separate smelting with lead ore to extract the silver from the copper matte. This process of making copper at Keswick took eighteen weeks and five days.

I believe Thomas either worked in the Brigham copper smelter or worked for the German miners in another way. As to my second question: Where had Thomas come from? There can really be no doubt. Thomas married in 1620 and thus was most probably born in the 1590s. At this time, and for a while thereafter, there are no Grisdales recorded anywhere else but Matterdale, and the majority of those lived in Dowthwaite Head. We have already seen that there were two Grisdales lugging peat to Keswick shortly after the Germans started copper mining and smelting, thus Thomas too descended from the Matterdale Grisdales – even if (as might just be the case) he was related to Edward Grisdale, the 1571 peat carrier of Threlkeld.

Dowthwaite Head Farm

Dowthwaite Head Farm

In the vast majority of cases the sixteenth-century Grisdales are listed as living in Dowthwaite Head. Clearly this was where the family had originally settled (see here). Around the time that John and Edward Grysdall were lugging peat on their packhorses from Flasco to the smelters at Keswick, we find Robert, two Christophers, Edward, Thomas, Richard and two John Grisdales, all with two exceptions living at Dowthwaite Head. Finally, in 1581 the Cumberland militia was called out yet again in the face of the never-ending threat of Scottish raids. At the Penrith Muster on that year nine Matterdale ‘bowmen’ of military age turned out: John, William, Christopher, Robert, Edward, Richard and three named Thomas. I think it highly likely that our Thomas Grisdale of Keswick was either a son (or possibly a grandson) of one of these nine Matterdale bowmen. We left Thomas marrying Alice Birkett in early 1620. Six children followed, all baptized in Keswick church: Susanna 1621 (died the same year), Jayne 1625 (died the next year), Alice 1628, Edward 1631, Robert 1632 and Ann 1638.It seems that then Thomas’s wife Alice died, because on 24 July 1638 Thomas married again, this time to Ann Hayton of Abbeyholme. Four more children were born to Thomas and Ann: Joyce 1639, Edward 1641, Thomas 1643 and Jayne 1645. From this we can imply that as well as Susanna and Jayne (from Thomas earlier marriage to Alice) who had died as babies, son Edward (1631) had in the meantime died as well. This just left six children: Alice, Robert, Ann, Thomas and Joyce and Jane. I mentioned that Thomas’s wedding in 1620 was the first mention of a Grisdale in Keswick, except for one. On 14 January, 1620 just three months before Thomas married Alice, there is a record of a Jenet Grisdale being baptized in Keswick church, the daughter of ‘Thomas Grisdale of Keswick’ and his wife Jennett. It is of course possible that Jenet’s mother Jennett died in child birth and, if we are dealing with the same Thomas, he very quickly remarried Alice. As we will see it is sure that daughter Jenet survived.

A Plague Victim

A Plague Victim

And so the years passed and Thomas’s children started to grow. But then in 1646, only a year after Thomas and Ann’s last child Ann was born, disaster struck. The plague came to Keswick. I’d like to follow Dr. Henry Barnes, who in September 1889 gave a talk to the Cumberland & Westmorland Antiquarian & Archaeological Society called Visitations of the Plague in Cumberland and Westmorland. Barnes asked: ‘At the outset it may be asked, What was the plague? What kind of disease was it?’ He continued:

It may be sufficient to remark that among the various nationalities of antiquity and in the middle ages the word plague was used in its collective sense, and included the most various diseases that occurred in epidemic form, ran an acute course, and showed a heavy mortality. Some of these visitations have no doubt been visitations of the true oriental plague, a disease characterized by inflammatory boils and tumours of the glands, such as break out in no other febrile disease. On other occasions it may have been the sweating sickness…. It is probable also that smallpox and typhus formed some of the epidemics and were included under the head of plague.

Back to Keswick. Andrew B. Appleby in his Famine in Tudor & Stuart England (1977) tells us:

Plague ravaged Carlisle in 1645, spread to Keswick in 1646, Cockermouth in 1647, and St. Bees in 1650. This seems to have been the same epidemic, although it took four years to cross Cumberland.

Keswick, Cumberland

Keswick, Cumberland

Regarding Keswick, which is in the parish of Crosthwaite, Appleby continues:

The number of burials increased dramatically in May (1646) and continued high through September – the usual plague season. Of the 93 persons dying between May 14, the beginning of the epidemic, and July 28, 80 came from Keswick, 11 from “Estenbec” (nearby in Crosthwaite), and the homes of two others were not shown.

He says:

The striking characteristic of all the dead who can be geographically placed in no more than two communities indicates that the disease did not spread into the rural parts of the parish. Most of the parish was spared in 1646, in contrast to 1597 and 1623.

When I first looked at the early Crosthwaite parish registers I was appalled to find dozens of deaths and burials within a few short months in 1646. The registers also show what Appleby states, namely that the plague started to bite on May 14. One of the Keswick families it struck was the Grisdales. Here are the Crosthwaite burial entries for just a few days in May:

May 17 – Alice Grisdale of Keswick May 17 – Robert Grisdale of Keswick May 19 – Thomas Grisdale of Keswick May 20 – Joyce Grisdale of Keswick May 20 – Jenet Grisdale of Keswick May 29 – Thomas Grisdale of Keswick

The Plague in seventeenth-century England

The Plague in seventeenth-century England

This means that  at least three and possibly four of the seven remaining children of Thomas Grisdale died in the plague in just a few days. Also one of the two Thomas Grisdales who died was obviously Thomas himself. The Grisdale family of Keswick had been completely wiped out. It’s most probable that the Alice who died was Thomas’s 18 year-old daughter, which would imply that mother Alice either survived or had died in childbirth in 1645. (See comment below for more information of the survivors) Unfortunately as most of them died there is no testament of any sort to the destruction of this poor family, with of course the exception of the parish records. In place of such a testament I’d like to quote a Rector called Robert Lenthall whose family died of plague in 1647 in the village of Great Hampden. Below is what he wrote. I’ve left the spelling unchanged and not replaced the ‘YE’s and ‘YT’s by THE and THAT. Contrary to popular belief people never said YE (as in ‘Ye Old Pub’), the Y was just a letter signifying the sound TH.

My daughter Sarah Lenthall was buied ye eleventh day of August Ann: Supra (1647) she came from London to Whickham (High Wycombe) & on ye Saturday only to see us and so to returne ye morrow in ye afternoon to Whickham againe, but then fell sick & on Wednesday morning following being ye 11th of Aug. About an houre before Sun rise dyed of ye sickness & so on ye Evening we buried her in ye Meade called Kitchen-meade by ye hedgeside as you go downe into it on yor left hand, a little below ye pond at ye entrance into ye meade: She was aged 14 yeares eleven months & seaventeene days – had she lived to Bartholomew day she had been 15 yeares of age. Susanna Lenthall my wife dep’ted this life Thursday evening about eight a clock ye 26 of August, she died of ye sickness comfortably & in peace & was buried ye 27 by hir daughter Sara. John Gardiner a childe yt lived in my house died of ye sicknes & was buried August ye 29th. Adrian Lenthall my sonne a hopeful young man & neere one & twenty years dep’ted this life of ye sickness, Thursday morning a little before day breake & was buried at ye head of his sister Sara’a grave ye same day, being ye 2nd of Septe’b. My cosen John Pickering a lad of about 13 yeares of age, dying of ye sickness, was buried the 25 of Septeb 1647. Robert Lenthall, Rector

J. F. D. Shrewsbury recounted this story in his A History of the Bubonic Plague in the British Isles. He added:

It is more than 300 years since this simple yet moving lament was written in the bitterness of his grief and loneliness by a man bereft by bubonic plague of wife, children, and kinsman within the space of one month. Because they were the victims of that dreaded disease he dared not bury them in consecrated ground and erect a monument over their resting place; but he has given his loved ones a more lasting memorial, one that will endure as long as the printed word is read and long after the costliest gravestone has crumbled to dust.

Indeed. What happened to the Keswick copper smelting works where Thomas might have worked?  I’ll let the great Lakeland historian Collingwood explain in his own inimitable words:

In 1604, James I granted a charter confirmatory to the Company, including the names of Emanuel and Daniel, sons of the late Daniel Hechstetter. The Keswick mines survived them both, though Joseph, son of Emanuel, lived to see the wreck of the Smelthouses, which he managed in his turn, at the Civil Wars. It is usually said that this was perpetrated in 1651 by Cromwell’s army on the march from Edinburgh to Worcester. But General Lambert’s troops took Penrith in June, 1648, and Colonel Ashton’s forces came in September of that year to raise the siege of Cockermouth Castle. There were several opportunities, without casting the usual blame on Cromwell, for Parliament men to attack the headquarters of a royal monopoly. How far it deserved attack is quite another matter.

Keswick today

Keswick today

It was now broad daylight and the situation in Suvla Bay was verging on chaos.”  (Captain Cecil Aspinall-Oglander)

If any question why we died
Tell them, because our fathers lied.
(Rudyard Kipling)

I guess everyone is aware of the horrendous debacle and needless loss of life that was the Gallipoli campaign in 1915. Here I’d like to tell the story, as best I can, of the trip that one young Keswick man called Norman Atkinson Grisdale made to Gallipoli, never to return.

Here dead we lie
Because we did not choose
To live and shame the land
From which we sprung.

Life, to be sure,
Is nothing much to lose,
But young men think it is,
And we were young.
(A. E. Housman)

Norman Grisdale was born in Grasmere in Westmorland in 1895, the second child of Joseph Grisdale and Jane Atkinson. Joseph had been working in Grasmere as a shepherd and later gardener, but in 1899 his young wife Jane suddenly died, leaving four year-old Norman and his older brother Joseph without a mother. Joseph soon took the family back to Keswick, where this part of the Grisdale clan had been living and working, mostly as pencil makers, since the 1770s. Before that of course the family had been in Matterdale. Joseph married Eleanor Mumberson in Keswick in early 1901 and a baby daughter christened Mabel soon arrived. Norman went to school in Keswick, but in his early teens he started work as an apprentice with Mr Postlethwaite, a grocer in the Brigham part of Keswick.

norman grisdaleJust after the Great War started Norman and his brother Joseph, like so many other Cumberland Grisdales, joined the Border Regiment. Norman’s battalion was the newly-formed 6th (Service) Battalion. Just before the Keswick brothers left for war they posed with their parents and sister for a photograph. See here.

In what follows I would like to credit Richard Overton whose work on the 6th Battalion at Gallipoli I have rather extensively quoted.

In early 1915 things were going badly for the French and British in France and Belgium while the Russians were doing even worse on the Eastern Front. If Russia collapsed many German divisions would be freed to fight in the West. ‘A Gallipoli expedition remained the only feasible method of directly assisting Russia by means of opening up the Dardanelles.’ A first British division reached Gallipoli in June, but General Sir Ian Hamilton asked for more. ‘At successive meetings of the War Council on 6th and 17th June Kitchener was authorised to offer Hamilton, firstly, the three remaining divisions of the New Army not yet detailed for use on the Western Front, namely the 10th, 11th and 13th and, secondly, urged by Churchill, two Territorial divisions, the 53rd and 54th. To speed up the transportation of these divisions three of the biggest passenger liners were chartered, this despite the scale of the loss that would result if they were sunk by submarines.’

Norman Grisdale’s 6th Battalion of the Border Regiment were part of the 11th Division, so rather than heading for France they were set for Turkey. One of the passenger liners chartered was the Empress of Britain. ‘Thus it came about that 33 Brigade of 11 Div, with 6th Borders in it, sailed from Liverpool on the Empress of Britain escorted by two destroyers on 1st July and reached the base in Alexandria on the 12th. Here it was necessary to carry out reorganisation of stores and equipment – involving much physical work for soldiers unused to the heat.’ The Empress of Britain reached Mudros harbour on the Greek island of Lemnos on 18 July 1915.

EMPRESS_OF_BRITAIN_442

Here is a poem written by Lt. Nowell Oxland of the 6th Border Regiment while aboard the Empress of Britain (with Norman) bound for Egypt and Greece, and ultimately Gallipoli.

Outward Bound

There’s a waterfall I’m leaving
Running down the rocks in foam,
There’s a pool for which I’m grieving
Near the water-ouzel’s home,
And it’s there that I’d be lying
With the heather close at hand,
And the Curlew’s faintly crying
‘Mid the wastes of Cumberland.

While the midnight watch is winging
Thoughts of other days arise.
I can hear the river singing
Like the Saints in Paradise;
I can see the water winking
Like the merry eyes of Pan,
And the slow half-pounders sinking
By the bridges’ granite span.

Ah! To win them back and clamber
Braced anew with winds I love,
From the rivers’ stainless amber
To the morning mist above,
See through clouds-rifts rent asunder
Like a painted scroll unfurled,
Ridge and hollow rolling under
To the fringes of the world.

Now the weary guard are sleeping,
Now the great propellers churn,
Now the harbour lights are creeping
Into emptiness astern,
While the sentry wakes and watches
Plunging triangles of light
Where the water leaps and catches
At our escort in the night.

Great their happiness who seeing
Still with unbenighted eyes
Kin of theirs who gave them being,
Sun and earth that made them wise,
Die and feel their embers quicken
Year by year in summer time,
When the cotton grasses thicken
On the hills they used to climb.

Shall we also be as they be,
Mingled with our mother clay,
Or return no more it may be?
Who has knowledge, who shall say?
Yet we hope that from the bosom
Of our shaggy father Pan,
When the earth breaks into blossom
Richer from the dust of man,

Though the high Gods smith and slay us,
Though we come not whence we go,
As the host of Menelaus
Came there many years ago;
Yet the self-same wind shall bear us
From the same departing place
Out across the Gulf of Saros
And the peaks of Samothrace;

We shall pass in summer weather,
We shall come at eventide,
When the fells stand up together
And all quiet things abide;
Mixed with cloud and wind and river,
Sun-distilled in dew and rain,
One with Cumberland for ever
We shall go not forth again.

The plan was, as it evolved, to enable a breakout from Anzac, ‘where the Australians and New Zealanders had been hanging on since April encircled and overlooked by the Turks’. ‘With this force substantially increased a breakout might be achieved but the beachhead at Anzac was so cramped that there was a strict limit to the number of additional troops that could be brought in, particularly as they would have to be landed secretly and hidden out of sight. Hence it was decided to make a landing at Suvla simultaneously with the breakout so that the operation could be launched on a broad front and the Turks could be attacked from outside as well as from within the circle.’

Mudros Harbour 1915

Mudros Harbour 1915

On the island of Mudros Grisdale’s 33 Brigade ‘was singled out from the other two brigades of 11 Div to proceed to Helles and relieve the Royal Naval Division in the line for ten days from 20th July’ where the 6th Borders  did ‘good work done in improving trenches’.

On 2 August the Battalion rejoined the Division on the island of Imbros, their jumping off point for the Suvla landing, which was scheduled for the night of 6/7 August. (Sooner would have been better but this was the first night for a month to offer suitable conditions, when the attacking troops could approach the coast in the dark but have the advantage of moonlight after getting ashore.) The night attack would be made by 11 Div and would be followed up at dawn by 10 Div who would be leaving from the island of Mitylene.

The few days spent on Imbros by 6th Borders in hot and dusty camps proved to be very trying and debilitating. Dysentery was rife, reducing the strength of the Battalion for the forthcoming landing, and many of those who stuck it out were weakened by diarrhoea. The men were kept hard at it until the last minute but even as late as the day of departure, 6th August, junior officers were in ignorance of the plans and their part in them beyond the landing itself, so insistent were Hamilton and his staff at GHQ on secrecy. For the same reason, maps were issued too late to be studied properly. It was not until midday of the 6 August that the men were told the landing was to take place that night. Secrecy was important but Hamilton and his staff at GHQ seem to have overdone it.

Soon after 3 pm the troops fell in on their battalion parade grounds and an hour later the Division began to embark, some (including 6th Borders) on to destroyers with lighters in tow, some straight on to lighters. These were motor lighters specially designed for landing troops. Capable of carrying 500 men they had armoured sides, drew only seven feet of water, and had a ramp to allow quick, dry exit under enemy fire.

As part of the 33rd Brigade the 6th Border Regiment were set to land at Suvla bay an action that was to turn into chaos. Here is a full report by Richard Overton of the landing at Suvla Bay in which Norman Grisdale and his battalion took part:

The fleet set off from Kephalos Bay, Imbros for Suvla an hour after sunset which was 7.15. Apparently confident and in good heart – trusting in its commanders. This trust, as the Official History show only too clearly, was sadly misplaced. The trouble started at the top with the appointment of a wildly unsuitable person to command IX Corps in Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Stopford. Hamilton had asked for a General who had proved himself on the Western Front, perhaps Byng or Rawlinson, but Kitchener ruled this out. Instead by an argument which had everything to do with seniority and nothing to do with fitness for the post, he settled on General Stopford who was 61 years old, in semi-retirement, and had never commanded large bodies of troops in the field. This combination of disqualifications was evident at the time of the appointment but what was not evident was that he was a weak man who would be dominated by his chief of staff, Brigadier General Reid VC. The latter had a fixation about the importance of artillery in offensive operations, a sound principle on the Western Front against an organised system of trenches but one which did not apply at Suvla where the Turks were few and their trenches negligible. Want of adequate artillery support would become a regular excuse for inaction.

One rung lower down, Major General Frederick Hammersley commanding 11 Div would also prove to be inadequate, at age 57 having lost the resilience of youth. In the letter to Kitchener leading to the superseding of these two officers (when it was too late) Hamilton compared the combination of new troops and old generals to putting new wine into old bottles with results that turned out equally unfortunate.

The voyage from Imbros took less than two hours and the leading battalions of 32 and 33 Brigades were safely on shore at B beach by 10 pm. The troops on the destroyers had to wait for the return of the lighters to the ship and this applied to 6th Borders who landed about midnight with 6th Lincolns. These two battalions were initially in divisional reserve. The landing had achieved complete strategic surprise. The local Turkish forces only amounted to three battalions and their nearest reserves were known to be 30 marching miles away at Bulair.

British troops at Suvla Bay August 1915

British troops at Suvla Bay August 1915

Turkish posts had been located at the two horns of the bay at Lala Baba and Ghazi Baba, also at Hill 10 midway between the two. A battalion of 32 Brigade dealt with the former (though at considerable cost) and the latter was soon knocked out as well, but there was difficulty and delay in dealing with Hill 10, the specific responsibility of 34 Brigade whose landing had gone disastrously wrong. Unlike the other two brigades, 34 Brigade had landed within the bay itself, the lighters struck hidden reefs and could not be got to land, and the troops had to wade ashore through deepish water. Furthermore, by a navigational error, the destroyers had anchored south of the Cut and about 1,000 yards south of their intended station. The battalion charged with the task of dealing with Hill 10 was misled by the wrong landing place and could not even locate the hill.

This was a severe setback no doubt. Yet the best part of two brigades (32 and 33) were standing by at or near Lala Baba, and had either brigade commander taken the initiative an attack on Hill 10 could have been mounted from this direction. The failure to do so may be attributed partly to lack of impetus from above – Stopford had not come ashore and so did not even know what was going on – and partly to poor briefing due to excessive secrecy.

As it was, by dawn the only success achieved was the capture of the two horns of the bay, and the situation was verging on chaos. The beach was under persistent rifle fire and two or three Turkish guns were dividing their attention between the troops ashore and the numerous vessels in the bay. The confusion was if anything increased by the arrival at daybreak from Mitylene of the two brigades of 10 Div.

Sulva Bay August 1915

Sulva Bay August 1915

Hill 10 was finally taken about 8 am, its hundred defenders retiring eastwards, and with the bay safe at last it should have been possible to move against objectives further inland, initially Chocolate Hills. But lack of leadership at the top was again evident. By mid-morning a stream of contradictory orders and reports was being passed between Hammersley and his brigade commanders as he strove to organise the attack on Chocolate Hills. Stopford, nursing an injured knee, was still ineffectually on board the sloop Jonquil, IX Corps HQ to date.

When eventually Chocolate Hills were assaulted that evening 6th Borders was in on the action. They and 6th Lincolns were brought out of reserve at Lala Baba to lead a general attack. To save time as daylight was already fading they wisely ignored orders to skirt the Salt Lake and marched boldly across it and assaulted the west end of the hill, Lincolns leading and Borders in close support, while two Irish battalions from 10 Div attacked the east end. At last Chocolate Hills were captured, not before daybreak on the 7th as intended, but after nightfall.

The Battalion got off relatively lightly in the matter of casualties with two officers wounded, four other ranks killed, three missing and 51 wounded. Next morning it was ordered back into divisional reserve at Lala Baba.

Norman Atkinson Grisdale was one of the 6th’s battalion’s 51 wounded, probably on the assault on Chocolate Hills as the light was fading on 7th August. Norman would have been taken down to the beach for evacuation. While waiting there he wrote back to his parents at 13 Wordsworth St, Keswick, saying that, as the local newspaper, the Carlisle Journal, reported on 31 August:

Pte Norman Grisdale of the 6th Border, who left the employment of Mr Postlethwaite, Grocer, Keswick to enlist soon after the war started, has written to say he is wounded in the shoulder, but does not think his condition is at all dangerous. He was wounded on the 7th at the Dardanelles and is expected to proceed to a Cairo Hospital.

Wounded being evacuated at Suvla Bay

 

Norman was indeed evacuated to a hospital in Cairo, but whether from an infection of his shoulder wound or from other causes he died there on 16th August 1915, before his letter had reached his parents and the Carlisle Journal. Norman’s brother Joseph also served with the Border Regiment in France but survived the war and went on to marry. Norman is buried in the Cairo War Cemetery at Al Qahirah, Plt: D.33.

norman grisdale grave

Grave of Norman Atkinson Grisdale in Cairo

 

The Landing at Suvla Bay

You may talk of Balaclava,
Or of Trafalgar Bay,
But what of the 11th Division,
Who landed at Suvla Bay?

They were part of Kitchener’s Army,
Some had left children and wives,
But they fought for England’s freedom,
And fought for their very lives.

It was on the 6th of August,
We made that terrible dash,
And the Turks along the hillside,
Our boats they tried to smash.

The order came, “Fix bayonets!”
And out of the boats we got,
Every man there was a hero,
As he faced the Turkish shot.

Funnels of the ships got smashed,
Whilst the sea in some parts was red,
But we fought our way through the ocean,
To the beach that was covered with dead.

Creeping, at last, up the hillside,
Whilst shot and shell fell all around,
We made one last desperate effort,
And charged o’er the Turkish ground.

The Turks at last gave it up,
When our bayonets began to play,
For they turned their backs to the British,
And retired from Suvla Bay.

There were the Lincolns, Dorsets, and Staffords.
Notts and Derbys too,
The Border Regiment was there,
The rough and ready crew.

Then we had the Manchesters,
With the Lancashire Fusiliers by their side,
The lads who come from Lancashire,
Who fill your hearts with pride.

The Yorks, East Yorks, and West Yorks,
The Yorks and Lancs as well,
Who fought for good old Yorkshire,
Were amongst the lads who fell.

The fighting fifth were fighting,
The Northumberland lads you know,
Whilst the good old Duke of Wellington’s,
Were keeping back the foe.

And far away o’er the hillside,
Beneath the bloody clay,
Are some of the 8th Battalion,
Who tried to win the day.

So remember the 11th Division,
Who were all volunteers you know,
But they fought and died like heroes,
Going to face the Turkish foe.

—Anonymous

cairo use

On the 30th of October 1921, the Mayor of the small Ontario town of Thorold in Welland County was unveiling a cenotaph in the new Memorial Park to honour the young men of the town who had died in the Great War. According to historian Alun Hughes, ‘the Mayor was barely able to speak, since his two sons… were among the 54 names of fallen soldiers listed’.

Thorold Cenotaph

Thorold Cenotaph

The Mayor was called Grisdale, to be precise Frederick Gideon Grisdale; his family had been living in Welland County for about a hundred years. Frederick’s Grandfather Gideon had helped build the first Welland Canal and then been one of its lock keepers. His father Robert John Grisdale had won a medal for fighting the Fenian Raiders in 1861. But now Frederick was ‘barely able to speak’ as he saw the names of his sons, Arthur and Lionel, carved in stone in front of him.

Both Arthur and Lionel had been carpenters when they joined up within a few weeks of each other in late 1915. Arthur, aged 21, joined the Canadian Field Artillery, while Lionel, aged 18, enlisted in the Canadian Mounted Rifles; he would later transfer to the 1st Hussars, Canadian Light Horse.

At the start of August 1918, the Canadian army in France was participating in the Battle of Amiens.

‘The Battle of Amiens (8 – 28 August, 1918) would see the start of a string of successes for the allies that would leave the German Army a shadow of its once mighty self. To spearhead the upcoming attack, the strongest and freshest formations were called upon to spearhead the attack and so the Canadian and Australian Corps moved up to the front at Amiens. The Canadians deployed with three divisions forwards… Each division had attached to it a battalion of 42 British tanks. Also deployed was the Cavalry Corps to exploit the expected breakthrough.’

Lionel Grisdale was with these divisions. He was a Trooper with the 1st Hussars, Canadian Light horse, and part of the ‘Cavalry Corps’.

Canadian Light Horse, 1918

Canadian Light Horse, 1918

Lieutenant George Stirrett was a troop commander in the 1st Hussars. He wrote a detailed account of the activities of the Canadian Light Horse throughout the war. When we get to the summer of 1918 he tells us:

At the end of July, 1918, in preparation for the Battle of Amiens, the Canadian Light Horse was ordered to move by night to Saleux, south of Amiens. Here we were broken up and a squadron attached to each of the attacking brigades. LCol Leonard took command of the Hotchkiss Gun Detachment (18 guns) which worked along the Amiens – Roye Road and helped maintain liaison with the French on the right.

During the early part of August I was attached, with my troop, to the Canadian Third Divisional Headquarters. As the attack should be on August 8th, the Brigade Major came to me and said that the first thing they had to do was to get over a small creek about ten feet wide. There were three bridges in the Third Division sector. Our job was to determine as soon as possible after the attack started, whether or not these bridges had been destroyed. As soon as this was determined, my troop would have to deliver messages to the advancing elements of Third Division. That was right at dawn.

By 9:00 A.M., the brigade Major came to me and said, ‘Stirrett, we’ve got so far that they have passed their objectives. Now we have lost our troops and haven’t any communication with them.’ He said that I was to take all the men I had and send them out. They were to try and contact anyone from the Third Division and bring back a message telling where they were and what they were doing. There being not yet any radios and the signals had not yet had time to get out their signal wire. We spent the rest of the day trying to contact advancing elements…

The next day, August 9th, Skirrett tells us:

We got a report that a German artillery unit had disappeared into a hollow about a mile away. A squadron of the Scots Greys was in the area and was asked if they wanted to go after these Germans, who were to the right, on the French side of the road. The Scots officer said that he could not go. Lieutenant Freddy Taylor, a First Hussars Officer, and a bit tight at the time, commanding the 1st troop, took five men and headed out towards where the Germans had been seen…

Germans at Amiens

Germans at Amiens

Trooper Grisdale was one of these five men who headed out with the ‘tight’ Lieutenant Taylor.

They found the Germans about 2000 yards ahead of the advancing French infantry. It was a German artillery ammunition column, hidden in an excavation, and their horses had nose bags on as they were on a rest stop. One man held the horses while Taylor and the others moved forward with their rifles to the edge of the bank. From there, they were able to shoot every horse and a few men so that the German column couldn’t move. Then Taylor said every man for himself, and to get back the best way you can. They went back, losing one man while two were wounded.

I’ll come back to Skirrett’s account soon, but let’s continue with the account of these events written by James McWilliams in his book Amiens: Dawn of Victory:

“On the extreme right flank where the 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles advanced along the Amiens – Roye Road there occurred an incident, insignificant strategically but typical in many ways of the events of Friday, August 9. The 5th had by-passed Arvillers, a town to their right in the French sector, and assisted by four tanks had pressed on to take their own objective, Bouchoir.”

“The French south of the road had been stopped in front of Arvillers despite the support of Brutinel’s Independent Force. Around 5:00 the men of the two motor machine gun batteries fought their way into Arvillers and captured twenty-five prisoners… The 5th CMRs, looking over their right shoulder and seeing groups of the enemy retreating from Arvillers in the French sector, dispatched a platoon and one tank to occupy and mop up the village at 5:30.”

At 5:40, in the words of the War Diary of the 5th CMR.

A considerable number of enemy vehicles (a German ammunition convoy, as it turned out) were noticed retiring South eastwards from Southern outskirts of Arvillers. This was pointed out to a squadron of Imperial Cavalry who had just moved up in close proximity to our H.Q., and we suggested that they could with very little difficulty, make a good capture, but they were either unable or unwilling to seize the opportunity.

The Wrecked Church of Arvillers

The Wrecked Church of Arvillers

“Instead, five volunteers from the Canadian Light Horse offered to tackle the ammunition convoy. Lieutenant F. A. Taylor and his men had been sent forward from Brigade Headquarters to deliver a message. Now Taylor, Sergeant Duncan, and Privates Dudgeon, Grisdale and Hastie mounted and galloped to a line of old trenches south of the road. There they dismounted and worked their way along the trenches.”

Here we can hear what Lieutenant Freddy Taylor himself wrote about what happened:

I decided to rush the convoy and left the trenches. Some resistance was offered so I opened fire and shot the officer and 12 or 15 men. The remainder, about 20 men, surrendered. Heavy rifle and M.G. fire was opened on us from the trenches so we seized the lead horses and rushed them toward our own lines. The enemy advanced some machine guns within 400 yards and as I realized there was no chance of getting the convoy clear, I shot some of the horses and rushed my prisoners into the trench… as a body of the enemy were advancing with the intention of cutting us off.

Canadian Troops at Amiens 1918

Canadian Troops at Amiens 1918

McWilliams continues:

Meanwhile another platoon of the 5th CMR and a tank had been dispatched to help the five Light Horsemen bring in the captured ammunition convoy. But while they were on their way the French put down a belated rolling barrage on Arvillers where the CMRs first platoon was mopping up with the aid of a tank. Both platoons and both tanks were hastily recalled. Taylor and his four men were split up and forced to abandon their prisoners. When they reached Canadian lines, two were missing – Hastie and Grisdale. It is believed that Grisdale stayed with his wounded comrade. That night a search was carried out and the body of Private Hastie was found having apparently died of wounds. There was no trace of Grisdale.

And thus it was that Trooper Lionel Grisdale died: staying behind to help a wounded comrade.

There is one final thing to add. There were several versions of these events, though not regarding Lionel’s death. Lieutenant Skirrett writes:

LCol Leonard asked me to determine exactly what had happened and to determine whether or not Taylor should get a decoration. After I turned in the full story, Taylor was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and the surviving men… were awarded Military Medals (MM). When I had talked to the men involved, each had told a different story, as if they had not all been in the same place at the same time. They all said they had never seen anything so ridiculous or so foolish in the whole war. I conclude that I thought the whole action quote reckless.

Whether Lionel’s father Mayor Frederick Grisdale knew these scanty facts regarding his son’s death three years later when he unveiled the cenotaph in Thorold, I don’t know.

What about Frederick’s other and older son Arthur? As I mentioned, Arthur had joined the 8th Battalion of the Canadian Field Artillery as a Gunner. He died on the killing fields of the Somme, ‘near Courcelette’ on 4 November, 1916. Maybe I’ll tell his story later.

In 1911 the following report appeared in Washington State’s Tacoma Times:

 Girl of 15 Disowned By Rich Uncle When She Elopes. SEATTLE, June 22.

Early this morning, as the steam schooner Redfield, bound out of Seattle for Nome, passed the three-mile limit that marked the vessel’s entrance Into the domain of the ‘high seas, there occurred a strange wedding.

Fifteen-year-old Grace Grisdale became the bride of C. G. Pike, 35, first engineer of the boat. The knot was .tied by Captain McKenna, master of the vessel.

James Grisdale, the girl’s grand uncle and nearest relative, followed them to the pier and caused the girl to be detained by the police. A superior court judge heard the story, however, and ordered the girl turned over to the expectant bridegroom. The grand uncle is a pioneer of the Puget Sound country and is worth $100,000.

He disowned the girl when she decided to go to Alaska with Pike.

I won’t here go too much into Grace’s ancestors, suffice it to say that both she and her grand uncle James were descended from the early Canadian settler Wilfred Grisdale, who had arrived in North Monaghan in 1816/17 (see here).

Seattle Harbor

Seattle Harbor

Grace was born in 1895 in Bay City, Michigan to ‘Contractor’ Robert Grisdale and his wife Jessie E. Defoe. She was christened Dolores Grisdale but obviously she was known as Grace. Grace was the couple’s fourth and last child. For a reason we do not know shortly after Grace was born Robert and Jessie divorced and Jessie disappears from view. Several surviving children were sent to live with various relatives. But Grace was sent to Saint Vincent’s Orphanage in Detroit. But at some point we know she went to live with her rich great uncle James in Washington. He had made his money in just a few years by operating logging camps and who was at the time living in Eagle Harbour, Kitsap.

A Steam Schooner in Alaska

A Steam Schooner in Alaska

And so aged fifteen (actually 16) she had wanted to elope with ‘35’ year-old Calvin Greene Pike, for that was his full name. Having ‘tied the knot’ on board the F. S. Redfield, Calvin and Grace were on their way to Alaska. But then in August 1911:

The 469 ton 160 foot wooden gas screw F S Redfield stranded and was lost near Cape Prince of Wales at 10:00 p.m. Saturday August 19, 1911.  The vessel departed Unalaska July 19, 1911 bound for Cape Prince of Wales.  There were 23 crewmen and 350 tons of general merchandise aboard.  She had about a third of a deckload of freight.  The following are excerpts from the wreck report filed by James McKenna, master of the F S Redfield:

“3 mi. east Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska”  “South gale, rainy, dark, cloudy”  “South gale and current setting in to shore, could not head to sea”  “Stranded”  “Anchors let go; dragged until she struck”  “One day after vessel went aground, the mate went ashore and telephoned for the Revenue Cutter Bear at Nome, who arrived 48 hours later and rendered all possible assistance by helping lighter cargo and carry crew to Nome”  “Total loss”

The F S Redfield, valued at $25,000 was a total loss.  The cargo, which was worth $10,000 was damaged $5,000 on the report.  The F S Redfield had insurance of $12,500 on the vessel and $3,500 on the cargo.  There was no loss of life.

It seems that Grace was still on board when the ship was lost because another report reads:

The vessel stranded and lost when anchors dragged in gale; it was transporting supplies to Government schools in Alaska. Cutter Bear came to the rescue and carried crew and cargo to Nome. Grace Grisdale, 15, who had stowed away on the trip, ended up marrying First Engineer, C.G. Pike, with the ceremony conducted by Captain McKenna.

Now Calvin seems to have been both a trickster and womaniser, and there’s nothing much wrong with either. In the 1910 Census he is found in Seattle listed as a steamship captain aged 36 and born in Kansas of parents from North Carolina. The age fits more or less with the newspaper report and it must be what he told people. But there are two lies. First, he was born in Staley, North Carolina not Kansas, and his parents were Solomon Franklin Pike and Martha Staley, so he was 30 not 36. Having been brought up in Chatham, North Carolina it’s true that in 1900 he had gone to live with his uncle Lawson Pike and his family in Kansas, but Kansas-born he was not. More interestingly, in 1910 Calvin, although living alone, was said to be married, and this just months before his elopement with young Grace Grisdale.

Calvin and Grace seem to have had one son: John Calvin Pike, born in 1913. In the future John Calvin would give his birthplace at either Oklahoma or Missouri, following in the path of his father in this regard. In 1914 Calvin and his wife Grace are listed in a Seattle directory and he was said to be an ‘engineer’, on a steamship no doubt. In 1918 Calvin is still listed as an engineer in Seattle but no wife is mentioned. It seems however that sometime after 1914 he had left young Grace Grisdale because in December 1916 he married (for a third time) Lena E. Baettner in Seattle.

His lying about his age continued. When Calvin was drafted on 12 September 1918 in Seattle he gave his address as 117 Clay, his occupation as a Bridge Foreman and his employer as Monson Construction. He even gave the name of his father as Solomon F. Pike. But he continued to add 6 years to his age, giving his date of birth as 29 March 1874, when it was in fact 29 March 1880. Later when he registered for service in WW2 in Edmonds, Washington in 1942, he’d given up this lie and gave his correct date of birth. He said he was ‘self employed’.

His relationship with Lena Baettner didn’t last long either, because by 1920 he had moved on to his fourth ‘wife’ Myrtle Beatrice McPherson. Actually he might not have married Myrtle as he was probably still married to Lena, but Calvin and Myrtle had and lost their first child called Tupper McPherson Pike in 1920. Tupper died in Cle Elum near Lake Kittitas which is far away from Seattle. It looks like Calvin and Myrtle had had to flee. His parents brought him back to Edmonds to be buried.

Calvin and Myrtle's Grave in Edmond's Memorial Cemetery

Calvin and Myrtle’s Grave in Edmond’s Memorial Cemetery

Three more children were to follow: Calla B. Pike (1926), Solomon A. Pike (1927) and Martha R. Pike (1930), the births it seems being nowhere recorded. In 1930 the family were living in Currie, Snohomish, Calvin first being a concrete contractor and then a building labourer. But even now although Calvin gives his age and place of birth correctly it seems his dissembling hadn’t finished. In the 1930 census the place of birth of 17 year-old John Pike’s mother (Grace Grisdale) was given as California! I wonder what Calvin had told his son about his mother?

Calvin’s wife Myrtle died on 29 December, 1848 in Edmonds, Snohomish.

But Calvin Pike’s serial womanising was not over yet. Here was man in his sixties who had had at least four ‘wives’ and had slipped down from being a ship’s captain, through being a ‘bridge foreman’ to working as a building labourer; a man who was continually lying and trying to evade the authorities. You’d have thought he had had enough! But good on him, no! In Omak, Douglas County, Washington State, on the 14th May 1949, just a few months after Myrtle’s death, when Calvin was 69, he married again. This time his wife was a married mother of 49 called Ida Ellen Kopsala. There must have been something of urgency because on the day they married Calvin had to apply to the court to waive the usual three day waiting period before a wedding licence could be issued, which the court duly did. Why the rush?

But Calvin’s exploits were nearly over. He died on the 10th of  June 1950 in Everett, Snohomish in Washington State. Ida died in 1958.

But let’s go back. What happened to Grace Grisdale who had eloped with Calvin aged 15 (16) aboard his steamer in 1911? Not too long after she split with Calvin Pike, Grace married Richard Edward Cantwell in Tacoma, Washington on 7 September 1920. She gave her name as Dolores Grace Grisdale (not Pike). But something must have happened because in the 1920 US census we find her married but living alone in Tacoma: as ‘Grace Cantwell’. She was a hotel ‘servant’. Richard, it seems, was back in Charleston, South Carolina living with his mother! What was going on? The answer is that Richard was an Epileptic. We find him in the South Carolina State Hospital in Columbia in 1930 and he died there in 1941 of ‘epilepsy’, which the records say had it’s ‘onset’ in 1918! Poor Richard and poor Grace.

And what of Grace? What happened to her? Well I’m still investigating that.

‘Es war ein Ereignis geradezu apokalyptische‘n Ausmaßes, das Kassel im Zweiten Weltkrieg heimsuchte: das Flächenbombardement vom 22. Oktober 1943.’

‘It was an event of almost apocalyptic proportion that visited Kasssel in the Second World War: the carpet bombing of 22 October 1943.’

Remembrance Day is nearly upon us. I was wondering what I should write. I’ve written many stories about Grisdales who fought, and often died, in the many meaningless wars over the centuries – with, I hope, much respect. My own father served and fought with the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean. Other close relatives lost their lives serving with the RAF. But at least WW2 had some meaning. Finally I decided to write a story about RAF pilot Flight Lieutenant Charles Leslie Grisdale, but not really. I won’t try to reconstruct Charles’s war or his life after the war when he settled down with his family on the Wirral in Cheshire. You will see what I mean.

Charles Leslie Grisdale was born n 1911 in Birkenhead, Liverpool. He was the second son of clerk William Walter Grisdale and Sarah Corless. I won’t tell the family history here, though there is much to tell.

Without getting Charles’s RAF records, I don’t know exactly when he joined the RAF or what he did in his first few years of service. So let me jump to 1943, by when Charles was a Flight Lieutenant flying Lancaster bombers with 103 Squadron out of RAF Elsham Wolds in Lincolnshire.

This was a time when the RAF was undertaking the mass carpet bombing of German cities instigated by Air Marshal ‘Bomber’ Harris. As you can see from the squadron crew list below for August to October 1943, Charles’s crew bombed Mannheim, Nurnberg, Milan, Peenemunde, Berlin, Hannover, Bochum, Hagen and Munich. The attack on Peenemunde was to try to disrupt the production of Wernher von Braun’s V2 rocket. Von Braun of course would later surrender to the Americans, and he and his team of German scientists would go on to put the Americans on the moon.

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Then on 22 October at 17.58 Charles and his crew, with included a Squadron Leader called Clifford Wood, took off from RAF Elsham Wolds in Lancaster JB276, code PM-F, to join hundreds of other bombers. They never made it back. The target this time was the beautiful medieval city of Kassel.

A force of 569 heavy bombers dropped 1,800 tons on the Kassel. This included nearly 0.5 million magnesium incendiary fire sticks designed to ignite fires. Hitting specific targets at night was virtually impossible so the RAF set out to destroy the city and largely succeeded. Damage to the city’s water system made it difficult to fight the fires. Among the civilian casualties were large numbers of wounded soldiers recovering in several hospitals. About 10,000 people were killed. Estimates suggest that about half the city’s population were made homeless.

The city of Kassel, in the region of Hesse, in west-central Germany, was subjected to an ongoing bombing campaign that began in early 1942 and went on almost until the end of WWII in 1945. During the heaviest and most intense bombing raid, on the night of 22-23 October 1943, the British Royal Air Force deployed 569 bombers over Kassel’s city centre. The concentrated explosion of 1,800 tons of bombs – incendiaries among them – resulted in a lethal firestorm. At least 10,000 people died in the explosions and ensuing fires, and the flames were still burning seven days later. The city was targeted so vehemently largely because of its important military-industrial sites: the Fieseler aircraft plant, Henschel tank-making facilities, railway works and engine works were all based there. When the Americans liberated Kassel in April 1945, there were only 50,000 inhabitants; in 1939 there had been 236,000.

As this report says the ostensible aim of the raid was to attack two important armament factories, but really the aim was to destroy the city by fire.

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Kassel after the fire bombing

In the rather restrained words of Kassel’s own website (my translation):

It was an event of almost apocalyptic proportion that visited Kasssel in the Second World War: the carpet bombing of 22 October 1943.

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Fire-storm in Kassel

At 20.17 the sirens warned the 225,000 people of the town, only a few minutes later the allied air forces attacked. Within one and a half hours the bombers dropped more than 400,000 fire bombs – that amounted to two bombs per square metre in some areas of the old town. The massive firestorm during the night could be seen from 50 kilometres away. It would burn for several days to come.

After this attack Kassel was no longer the same town: 85 percent of the houses and 65 percent of the industrial areas were destroyed. In the medieval Old Town a fire storm broke out that annihilated 97 percent of the houses. The victims were estimated to have been 10,000 dead plus numberless injured. The extent of the bodily and spiritual suffering in that single night of bombing is unimaginable from the perspective of today… Almost everyone who survived the bombardment had lost relatives or friends. For the greater part of the population the bombs had left them with nothing. ‘The town was a pile of debris and most of what the people loved about Kassel was no longer there.’

When I lived and worked in Germany I visited Kassel. It is a beautiful and peaceful place, but everything you see is new, even if it looks old! The whole city had to be rebuilt from the ground up after this terrible night. So on Remembrance Day when I fall silent for a minute to remember the victims of two world wars, at the going down of the sun and in the morning, I will remember too the dead citizens of Kassel consumed by fire unleashed from above.

For the RAF this raid was one of its most costly. Out of 569 aircraft taking part 48 failed to return, including three Lancasters from 103 Squadron, one of which was Charles Grisdale’s.

I don’t know the circumstances surrounding the loss of the Lancaster Charles was flying, it was pretty obviously hit by flak or shot down by a German nigh- fighter; although during this raid the RAF began ‘Operation Corona’ to jam German night-fighter communications.

Lancaster crew 103 Squadron, RAF Elsham Wolds 1943

Five members of the crew of Lancaster JB276 were killed: Sqn-Ldr C. S. F. Wood MiD, F/Sgt W. R. Brown, F/Sgt J. F. Craig DFM, Sgt C. Kershaw and Sgt H. R. Wilson. They are buried in the Hanover War Cemetery. Having no doubt bailed out, two members of the crew survived the crash, Flight Lieutenants W. H. Hopkins and Charles Grisdale. They were taken prisoner and soon sent to the POW Camp called Stalag Luft 1.

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POWs marched through Barth to Stalag Luft 1

Stalag Luft I consisted of a strip of barren land jutting into the Baltic Sea about 105 miles northwest of Berlin.  Two miles south of the main gate a massive Lutheran church marked the northern outskirts of the village of Barth.  A large pine forest bordered the west side of the camp and, to the east and north, the waters of Barth Harbour slashed against the shore less than a mile from the barbed wire fence.

Enclosing the camp there stretched miles of barbed wire, in two rows four feet apart, attached to 10-foot posts.  Every hundred yards, a Guard Tower mounting a machine gun and a pair of spotlights provided constant vigilance and permitted an unobstructed view of all within the confines of the enclosure.

The Stalag was divided into five separate areas, called compounds.  There were four for prison compounds: South or West, North 1, North 2 and North 3.  The fifth area consisted of the German buildings, in the centre, well constructed buildings, green grass, and attractive shrubbery, “The Oasis” as the prisoners called this area, was in sharp contrast to the prison compounds.

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Charles lived in the South compound, in Barrack 5, Room 20. He was, it seems, the Choirmaster of the camp, or at least of the compound. While Stalag Luft 1 was a pretty grim place there were distractions such as theatre groups, choral events, sports and a lot of writing of poetry – in between escape attempts. One anonymous poem I like written when Charles was there reads:

 KRIEGIE THOUGHTS

Barbed Wire! Barbed Wire! Barbed Wire!
To the North, South, West and East
Will it always hold me captive
Without hope or joy or peace

Must I ever curve this eager flame
That burns within my chest
Or know once more the joy of home
With pleasant hours of rest

Such questions to my mind do crowd
When deep in thought I sit
But ever with it comes the cry
It won’t be long, don’t quit

And so it goes from day to day
A never changing scene
But someday soon I will leave it all
As though it were a dream.

I won’t attempt to describe the POWs’ life in Stalag Luft 1, there are many fine works that do that on the internet. But as the war was nearing its end the Red Army was closing in on the camp from the east. Here is what happened:

555In late April, 1945 as the war in Europe was nearing its end, the Russians were approaching from the east and the British and Americans from the West in a race to get to Hitler’s headquarters in Berlin.  Stalag Luft I was north of Berlin, so it was unsure at first which of the Allied fronts would reach them first.  As the reports came in and the fighting got closer and closer to Barth, they soon realized that the Russians would be the ones liberating them.  They soon began to hear the heavy cannon fire sounds of the Russian artillery getting closer and closer to them.

At night the POWs would lay in their darkened barracks and there would be shouts of “Come On Joe” (for Joseph Stalin – the Russian leader) coming from all over the camp.   At this time it became apparent to the German Commandant and the guards at Stalag Luft I that the Russians were at their doorstep and they must make a move. So they approached the Senior Allied POW Officer of the camp, Col. Hub Zemke, and told him to prepare his fellow prisoners to march in an effort to escape the approaching Russians.  Col. Zemke refused to do so.

He informed the Commandant that even though there were over 200 of them with guns, that there were 9,000 POWs and they were prepared to fight rather than march.  He told the commandant that he realized this may cause high losses among the POWs but ultimately they would overcome the Germans and with the Russian allies so close he knew this was an acceptable risk.

The German command evidently realized that the end of Germany was near and so he accepted this decision by Col. Zemke.  The German command then informed Col. Zemke that he and the guards would be leaving the camp at midnight that night (April 30, 1945).  Col. Zemke had made plans in case such a scenario arose to take over the camp, as it was evident to him that as Senior Allied Officer he would be responsible for of the safe return of the POWs to Allied control.  He had already organized a group of hand selected men which he called the “Field Force” to help him keep the camp in order until they were all safely back in Allied hands.

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Russians at Stalag Luft 1

So when the POWs at Stalag Luft I awoke on May 1, 1945 they looked around and noticed that all the Germans were gone and now there were POWs with armbands that said “FF” manning the guard towers.  Col. Zemke explained that the POWs could not just start leaving the camp on their own, as there was a war going on all around them and they could be shot.  He felt it best to keep the camp secure in an effort to protect the POWs.  (You can imagine not many of the POWs liked this idea, they were tired of being imprisoned behind barbed wire!)

Col. Zemke sent a scouting party out to meet the approaching Russians to inform them that there was a POW camp of Allies located in the area, so the Russians would not be shelling them!  Later in the day the Russian commander entered Stalag Luft I and meet with Col. Zemke and the British Senior Officer.  The Russian commander did not like the idea of the Allied POWs still being behind barbed wire, so he ordered that Col. Zemke have the fences torn down.  Zemke refused at first, but was later convinced (some say by force, with a gun) to tear down the fences.  The POWs enthusiastically tore them down.   Many POWs then left camp and went into Barth and the surrounding areas.  Some of them (approximately 700) took off on their own to make their way to the approaching British lines (my Dad being one of those!).  In the ensuing confusion of a war still in progress all around them some of the POWs were accidentally killed.

It was the 2nd White Russian Front of the Red Army that entered Barth on May 1, 1945 and liberated the prisoners of war at Stalag Luft I.   After the fences were down the Russians then learning of the meagre food supply the POWs had been existing on soon rounded up several hundred cows and herded them into the camp for the hungry POWs to slaughter and eat.  This they did immediately.   At night they entertained the POWs with their “USO” type variety show that travelled with them.   There was much joy and celebration among the newly freed POWs and the Russian soldiers.

The Russian Army stayed in Barth for only a couple of weeks.  After the POWs were evacuated from Barth, the Soviet Military Administration (SMAD) took over the empty barracks at Stalag Luft I and used them for a repatriation camp for their countrymen that had been used as slave labour by the Germans.  Those slave workers that were in the territory occupied by the Western Allies were transferred to the territory occupied by the Soviets.  They came into repatriation camps where they were interrogated by the Soviet Secret Service (GPU) and this organization decided whether the former slave workers were sent home to their families or into stalinistic camps (Gulags) to do slave work in coal mines in Siberia or somewhere else.  Even some of the newly freed concentration camp survivors which were Soviet citizens were transferred into Gulags because they had been forced to work in the German warfare industry, like in Barth where they were forced to work in the Heinkel plane factory and were imprisoned in the small concentration camp at the territory of the Barth airfield.

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Also what the Russians did

Actually one British officer described the Soviets as “drunken barbarians”. When we think of what the Russian soldiers inflicted on the women of Germany we can well imagine – and shudder. We should remember these women too. But the Russians were of course better disposed to the English-speaking airmen in the POW camps.

One Soviet officer who was there for the liberation of the camp, Vasily Bezugly, recently wrote:

Yes, I’m a live witness of the events of those days. As I remember today, it was May of 1945 on the coast of the Baltic Sea in Barth. We had a great fraternization with the English and American POWs there. At first time in my life I saw a chocolate bar. It was a big box of chocolate with the sign of the Red Cross and Half-moon.  I think that was English or American POWs (I don’t no actually but it was nearly 9000 of POWs in Stalag Luft 1). We exchanged our addresses. One of the POWs (his name was Tobby or Bobby but I don’t remember now) gave me his one, but I lost it – I was very young (at least 19 years old boy).   After that all of us – Soviet, American and English – three great nations – sang famous Russian song “Katyusha”. At the end I remember big airliner which took all POWs on its board.

It all sounds very amicable, but “the Russians wanted the prisoners transported by land to Odessa, a port on the Black Sea, then by ship to the United Kingdom and then on to the United States, but the idea was rejected and further negotiations followed. Much to the disappointment of almost 9,000 liberated POWs, it took almost two weeks to repatriate the prisoners by air”. And so May 12,13 & 14, 1945 approximately ‘9,000 prisoners of war at Stalag Luft I were flown out of Barth, Germany and back into Allied control.  Royal Air Force POWs were flown back to England and the American POWs were flown to Camp Lucky Strike in Le Harve, France, where they were processed and waited for a liberty ship to return to the states’, including Flight Lieutenant Charles Grisdale. Amazingly there is even some film footage of the POWs departing for home, one part of which is below.

After Charles arrived back in England he returned to his wife and young children in Wallasey. He had been in some ways lucky. His brother and father were less so. His brother Donald was an RAF Flight Lieutenant and bomber pilot as well, with 254 Squadron. But in February 1945, just weeks before Charles was liberated by the Russians, Donald was killed in action aged just 26. He is buried in Runnymede Memorial Part VII. Charles father’s was a clerk in Wallasey, but during the war he was a Fire Warden and was killed in a bombing raid on Liverpool in 1941. Charles other brother, William Herbert Grisdale, was to die in 1948 in interesting circumstances in Sierra Leone in Africa. But these are other stories for another time.

Charles Grisdale died on the Wirral in 1972 aged 61.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam

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