Tombstone Tuesday: war dead remembered

The Royal Naval Patrol Service Memorial in Lowestoft, to members of the service who have no known resting place - including my great grand uncle, Stewart Cameron Cruden. Died 9 March 1942 in the sinking of HMT Shera in the Barents Sea.

The Royal Naval Patrol Service Memorial in Lowestoft. To members of the service who have no known resting place,  including my great grand uncle, Stewart Cameron Cruden. Died 9 March 1942 in the sinking of HMT Shera in the Barents Sea. Photo credit: Royal Naval Patrol Service

The Royal Naval Patrol Service Memorial commemorates the 2385 servicemen and women from the RNPS who lost their lives 1939-46 and who have no known grave. Most of these, like my great grand uncle Stewart Cruden, died at sea.

Kirkcaldy War Memorial; Stewart Cruden's name appears here.

Kirkcaldy War Memorial; Stewart Cruden’s name appears here. Photo: Su Leslie 2013.

Stewart Cruden is also remembered on the Kirkcaldy War Memorial.

The fate of HMT Shera: “Closed Until 1972”

Strolling ... Stewart Cruden and his mother with an unknown (to me) couple

Strolling … Stewart Cameron Cruden with his mother and an unknown couple.

Growing up, I often heard my mother talk about her great uncle “Sanky” who had died “in the war.” The bare bones of the story were that he drowned while serving on the Arctic Convoys, but like most family stories, it sat at the back of my mind, unexamined and half-forgotten.

When I first began researching my family history, mum sent me the photo above of her Uncle Sanky – whose real name was Stewart Cameron Cruden.  My mum doesn’t know when or where the photo was taken, or who the other people were, but that image of a confident young man walking nonchalantly towards the photographer somehow made him real to me and it became important to understand more about his life and death.

Life …

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Captain’s log: July 1867 “… I judged that they were the worse for liquor…”

Extract of Captain's Log, 11 July 1867.

Extract from the Captain’s Log; the ship Cherokee, 11 July 1867, Valparaiso, Chile.

Alcohol seems to have played a part in several branches of my family history. My mum’s grandfather ran a pub, while my father had great grandparents who were spirit merchants and a great, great grandfather who owned a brewery.

So far, they all seem to be fairly upstanding people; I certainly haven’t found any evidence to the contrary. However, I have recently found one ancestor whose relationship with alcohol was definitely less professional.

My great, great grandfather Rankine Gourlay was born in 1845; the seventh child of Thomas Gourlay – master tailor according to the 1851 census and Elizabeth Rankine. Elizabeth died in 1850, and within a year Thomas had married Agnes Berry, with whom he had another five children.

I know from the extract of his marriage to Mary Gerrard in 1866 that Rankine had joined the Merchant Navy – although I haven’t yet discovered when. I cannot find him in either the Scottish or English census records between 1851 and 1891, so I’m working on the assumption that he was at sea for most of those years (although he did father at least five children during those years).

On 11 July 1867, Rankine was aboard the Cherokee at Valparaiso Bay, in Chile, when the following report was made in the Ship’s Master’s log:

I was awoke with an unusual noise above my head on the deck as if someone stumbling. I got up to ascertain the cause, called the Anchor Watchman several times, but received no reply. I went forward to the Forecastle and judged by the speech of Rankine Gourlay and Joseph White that they were the worse for liquor. I then went aft and called the first and second officers and captain. I asked the mate if he had taken in any spirits as cago. He replied yes, 6 cases of brandy and 25 cases of wine. Sent them into the hold to see if any had been opened but they did not think the cargo had been disturbed. The first and second mates went forward to the forecastle bulkhead and heard Rankine Gourlay, David Sharp, Thomas Harper, John Jones, George Thomson and Joseph White all speaking some of them trying to keep the others quiet. Rankine Gourlay unable to turn to his work next morning through drink. And at 1pm Joseph White and Daniel Brown were fighting both by the worse for drink.

 The following day the Log carries on:

I sent the Second Mate into the hold to make a thorough search and to count the cases of wine and brandy which had been taken on at Valparaiso. He found one case of brandy broken open and one case of olive oil, and one case of the brandy we could not find.

A one thirty pm called all hands aft and asked them if any of them knew anything about the cases that were broken open the case of olive oil then laying on the skylight? with the lid loose on it. Rankine Gourlay then replied that he knew nothing about liquor, but I had not spoken about the contents of the cases and several of the crew said they had nothing to do with it. The remainder said nothing.

Friday August 9th 1867 at Paquica (also Chile).

Landed the last of our cargo this day but the case of brandy above alluded to has not turned up. Therefore it must have been taken by the ship’s crew as no other persons were employed in loading or discharging ships.

Robert Torrance, Master. A. Gilling, Mate; Allan Campbell, Second Mate.

It seems this was not an isolated incident. I have found a similar report from 1868, but have not managed to get a copy of it yet.

Crew list, Carleton. Sydney, 1885.

Crew list, Carleton. Sydney, 1885. Source: NSW Govt. Mariners’ Records

I haven’t been able to find any documents relating to Rankine Gourlay for the years 1868-1885, when he seems to have become a ship’s cook. His name appears in the Manifest of the Carleton, on two voyages to Sydney, Australia – the first in April 1885, the second a year later.

I don’t know much about 19th century maritime history, but suspect that I will be learning a bit more in the coming months. I’d like to know what sort of ships the Cherokee and Carleton were and if possible, track some of Rankine’s voyages.

Crew list, Carleton. Sydney, 1886. Source: NSW Govt. Mariners' Records.

Crew list, Carleton. Sydney, 1886. Source: NSW Govt. Mariners’ Records.

I’m particularly interested in his trips to Australia and wonder if he ever made it as far as New Zealand.

The last years of Rankine Gourlay’s life are quite well documented. He appears in the 1891 census as an patient of the Fife and Kinross Lunatic Asylum, and in the 1901 census as an inmate of the Kirkcaldy CombinedPoorhouse – where he died on 23 July 1903.

The Fife Council Archive has the patient register from the Asylum which relates to Rankine Gourlay, and I believe that the Kirkcaldy Library has Minute Books for the Poorhouse. These two repositories are high on my list of places to go when I’m in the UK next month. I’m hoping not only to have more information to share, but also – by seeing hand-written, contemporary accounts of my ancestor’s life – to understand and know him a little better.

Catalogue listing: Fife Archives.

Catalogue listing: Fife Archives.

A thousand thank you’s


As any parent will tell you; milestones matter. So I was really quite chuffed to see this message yesterday.

1000 likesWhen I started blogging, I really wasn’t sure what I was doing – either technically or editorially. I just knew that I wanted a place to collect together information about my family’s life and history.

I think I’m still only scratching the surface technically, but I do feel that over time I am becoming clearer that Shaking the Tree is my place to tell family stories – mainly historical stories, but also those that will become history.

Context is all-important to me. As I read census returns and marriage certificates I find myself rushing off to look at maps; I want to know what my ancestors’ homes were like. Occupational data raises questions about where people worked, what the routine of their workings lives was like, how much they earned, how many hours they worked  – and what the output of their labour might have been.

Every now and then I find myself taking byroads into other people’s history – most notably a few months ago when I wrote about the death, in 1886, of 17 year old Emily Keeling on a suburban Auckland street; a victim of domestic violence.

I may be telling these stories for my own benefit, and to preserve them for my family, but I would probably do so with less frequency and much less enthusiasm without you – my readers – who read and comment and often share your own stories with me.

A wonderful, valuable lesson for me in all of this is the importance of my blogging community. I am learning so much from you; history, cultural patterns, research tips and skills and also the knowledge that my family is not unique – that our problems are like your problems; our joys and sorrows are mirrored in the lives of your families and your ancestors. And above all, I’m learning how to tell the stories.

This feels like a very good time to acknowledge and thank some of the wonderful bloggers who form my online “whanau” and whose interest and support and humour and wisdom I value so much.

12 weeks, 4 days and 14 hours … but who’s counting?

plane wing

My trip to the UK is booked; three weeks in September – sandwiched between the big T’s work travel and the boy-child’s exams. Eighteen days to visit all the archives, libraries, churchyards, ancestors’ houses, etc that I can squeeze in. Plus a visit to the National War Musuem in Edinburgh to see the Arctic Convoys exhibition, another to Yorkshire Sculpture Park in Wakefield, the Tate Modern, a couple of trips to the theatre … oh and a chance to see my Mum, brothers, cousins and friends.

Not sure if I can achieve all of this, but I’m taking a leaf out of my friend Alix’s book and PLANNING, PLANNING, PLANNING.

“two nations divided by a common language”

“two nations divided by a common language”

Just a quick post in response to Mustang.Koji’s question about something I wrote in Sleep.

“What is a pram?’

My dad and me. Beveridge Park, Kirkcaldy, 1962.

My dad and me. Beveridge Park, Kirkcaldy, 1962.

It’s not clear who said that Britain and America are two nations divided by a common language (Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw or Churchill are the main contenders), but the idiosyncrasies of language continue to confuse and confound.

So for those of you (and I know there is at least one) wondering what a “pram” might be, it’s the rather stylish vehicle in the black and white photo. Short for perambulator, these are now pretty much relegated to museums and replaced by more user-friendly devices like the one below containing my son.

Tom and me. Emberton Park, Olney, England, 1999.

Tom in his stroller/buggy/push-chair (take your pick). Emberton Park, Olney, England, 1999.

I’m not sure how much of my childhood I spent being wheeled around in this shiny metallic contraption, but I can’t imagine it was a lot of fun for my parents. They didn’t own a car in those days, so any trip that wasn’t walkable would have involved getting me and my wheels onto a bus.

By the time my brother Craig came along, my mother must have had to deal with the nightmarish daily scenario of baby-in-pram PLUS two-year-old presumably not in pram. In Scotland. Where it rains. A lot.

I remember what it was like having to faff around with Tom’s stroller when he was small and howling. There were days I found that incredibly stressful, and the thought of having to do so with a bus-load of people watching and waiting brings me out in a cold sweat even now.

Strange Fruit: remembering Vietnam

Strange Fruit: Turtle Donna Sarten at the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts, Wellington.

Strange Fruit by Turtle Donna Sarten at the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts, Wellington.

I imagine there are few family history researchers whose families don’t contain ancestors that served in the military. Although very much a novice historian, I’ve already found that most of my kinsmen from my grandfathers’ and great-grandfathers’ generations served in World Wars I and II – as did many of my older uncles. My brother too was a soldier; he served with the Scots Dragoon Guards during the 1980s and spent time in Israel with the UN peace-keeping force.

Most of my relatives came home from war, although they bore physical and psychological scars for the rest of their lives.

I’ve been thinking a lot about these ancestors recently. Partly it’s because we’ve just commemorated ANZAC Day, and as the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings approaches (1915), New Zealanders and Australians are thinking more and more about how that appalling military tragedy – played out on the beaches and barren hillsides of the Dardanelles – became the forge that cast our sense of nationhood (I’ve written more about about that in another blog for anyone who’s interested).

But the other reason I’ve been thinking about the soldiers in the family is that I’ve been to see an installation at the Academy of Fine Arts in Wellington entitled Strange Fruit.

The ‘Strange Fruit’ of the title are 3890 military dog tags – one for each of the New Zealanders who served in Vietnam between 1964 and 1972.

The Returned Services’ Association (RSA) says of the installation:

“It creates a record of every known veteran who served, something that was never done by the New Zealand government of the time. The artist has hand stamped every tag with every veteran’s name and number. On the reverse of each tag is the image of pomegranate flesh, giving a kind of biblical status to the tags and referencing the fact that a ‘grenade’ is also a ‘pomegranate’ in French. Some tags are blank or incomplete because of the New Zealand government’s failure to keep records.”

Detail: Strange Fruit by Turtle Donna Sarten

Detail: Strange Fruit by Turtle Donna Sarten

My partner’s cousin served in Vietnam. I don’t really know him, but I have talked with one of his sisters about the young man, chaffing against a strict father and upbringing, who “escaped” to the army and found himself in combat. She says he doesn’t talk about his experiences; I understand that is true of many veterans, of many wars.

But of course Vietnam is different. Without underplaying the hardships that veterans of all conflicts experience, those who came home from Vietnam returned to a public that had largely turned against the whole idea of their country’s involvement in that war, and were anxious to forget. This has meant that, unlike those who served in earlier wars, Vietnam vets did not receive a great deal recognition of their sacrifice. In addition, many Vietnam vets have had to live with on-going health problems caused by exposure to the widely-used defoliant, Agent Orange, as well as PTSD (post traumatic stress disorders) – a term that was first used in relation to Vietnam vets.

Thirty seven New Zealanders died on active service in Vietnam; 187 were wounded. It might seem a very small number – but every death ripples outward, affecting comrades, families, friends, societies.

I first saw Strange Fruit in 2010, at Sculpture on Shore. Then, the tags were hung in a tree. Swinging and colliding in the wind, the effect was intense – both visual and aural. When I knew that the work was to be installed inside a gallery, I did wonder if losing that interplay of movement and sound would lessen the impact.

Detail, Strange Fruit by Turtle Donna Sarten.

Detail, Strange Fruit by Turtle Donna Sarten.

But actually, I think seeing Strange Fruit in the stillness of a white-walled room made the experience even more moving. As the only piece in that particular gallery, it didn’t have to compete for attention, and without the wind to move the tags, it was easier to read the names and to know that each one represented an actual human being, many of whom are still alive and living with the legacy of their experiences in Vietnam.

I didn’t find our cousin’s name, but I know it is there, and that he and his comrades have not been forgotten.