• 52 Ancestors 2024, week 17: War

Thankfully not at war with each other, although I'm sure there've been quite a few domestic barnies over the years! As with any family, there are various ancestors of mine that I'm aware were involved with the military.

I'll be honest, I don't really know that much about any of their stories but I've taken the time to research as many of them as possible just for this article.

Let's start with my paternal grandfather, Bob.

Bob Hearn
My grandfather, Bob Hearn.

Bob Hearn

Grandad Bob, Herbert Robert Hearn, died three years before I was born so I never knew him, but grew up hearing about him - especially as there was a family motor mechanic and petrol station business that my dad and uncle went on to take over (but more about that in week 29, "automobiles").

I don't have a date of when Bob enlisted, but it was at least during or before 1940. I have a Christmas card where the design includes "Christmas 1940 - IVth Corps Troops Supply Column, R.A.S.C.", at the time of his marriage to my nan, Phyllis, in 1941, his occupation was given simply as "Army", and on my dad's birth certificate two years later, his occupation and rank is given as "T/116726 L/Cpl RASC (Motor mechanic)".

Searching that army number hasn't yet produced any results for me.

What I do/did have is an intriguing newspaper clipping. I say 'did' as it was only as I was writing this that I learned more about it.

A scan of a newspaper clipping. The photograph contents is described in the main article text.The original clipping is a fairly decent scan but it's just the halftone-printed photograph, the headline "Here are some of Montgomery's half-million", and the first line of the accompanying article text "Germans pouring across". The photograph shows a large number of people crossing a temporary bridge. In the foreground on the left is a sign reading "'Tally-Ho' Bridge". Just next to the sign, written in blue biro, is Bob's name and an arrow pointing to his head. Bob's looking towards the camera and appears to have a half smile.

That was all we had. Searching the internet for the headline didn't return anything relevant and, being a little ignorant, I'm afraid, I didn't know what "Montgomery's half-million' actually refered to. The same for "Tally-Ho Bridge"; nothing relevant.

Turning to the British Newspaper Archive, I found a terrible scan of the article (subscription required) from the London News, published 4th May 1945, which gave me the full text:

Germans pouring across the Elbe to surrender to Montgomery's men. In the middle of the stream of prisoners is a British jeep.

The Crusader flash of the British Second Army on one of the drivers is just visible.

So great was the crush that a notice had to be erected, warning them that unless they kept correct position the bridge would sink.

No guards were necessary. British solders simply stood by laughing at "Tally-Ho Bridge".

The same photograph, with different text, appears in the Melbourne Argus.

Ok, so that's given us the detail that this was a surrendering of German troops just days before Germany as a whole surrendered, leading to the end of World War 2. It also mentions that they're crossing the Elbe, a river than runs for almost 700 miles from Czechia, through Germany, and into the North Sea.

Searching for "Elbe crossing" did return a page from the BBC's WW2 People's War archive. Although the dates seem confused, a commenter does point this out and adds more detail:

Montgomery ordered the assault crossing of the Elbe to be made on the night of 28/29 April and it was crossed on the 29th, just below Lauenburg. 

And finding photos of Lauenburg does indeed look similar to the background of the clipping photo. The town was heavily shelled and rebuilt, so finding the exact location might be difficult.

A view of Lauenburg from the south side of the Elbe river looking towards the main old town on the north side.
View of Lauenburg old town from the south side of the Elbe river. Image by Axel Mellin from Pixabay.

As I write this, I discovered that scan in the archives about a month ago. With about 2 weeks to go before publication, I returned to the clipping and thought to myself: "what would happen if I tried searching the image with Google Lens?" So that's what I did.

I've never head great results with Google Lens, so I wasn't expecting to have the exact photo returned as the top result! Yes, thanks to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, I now have a high resolution copy of the photograph:

German soldiers cross the Elbe River as they surrender to British forces.
German soldiers cross the Elbe River as they surrender to British forces.
Image © United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Joseph Eaton.

Whilst looking around for photos of bridges and crossings in Lauenburg, I found this photo which is closer to the buildings, although I've still not been able to pinpoint exactly where the crossing was. The Imperial War Museum also has two photos which appear to show the reverse direction:

© IWM (BU 5183) and © IWM (BU 5184)


My great-uncle Jack

Jack Hearn


Great-uncle Jack, Bob's brother, enlisted in October 1940 and served in 73 Field Company, Royal Engineers. As a Sapper, he would have been involved in "bridge building, clearing obstacles, building defences, creating water supplies", even bomb clearance according to British Military History.

After the war, letters and documents show he remained a reservist, and continued to have training, including in July 1951 when he was called up for a fortnight at Long Marston, Stratford-on-Avon. One of the letters he received includes the reasoning for the training:

The main reason in recalling you and other reservists for this unit is, of course, to raise its state of readiness for active service should an emergency arise. During your fortnight we shall do our best to fit you into the most appropriate place in the unit team. You will undertstand that unless we are brought up to strength at which realistic training can be carried out, it is not possible to reach the necessary standard of efficiency.

Following his death, just weeks away from his 101st birthday, the 73 Field Company Old Comrades Association wrote to my dad thanking him for letting them know about his passing. In the letter was a wonderful inclusion from the association secretary, recalling the last time he spoke with Jack informing him of the death of a former Company officer:

Jack realised at that point he became the last surviving member of 73 Field Company Royal Engineers fulfilling a "promise" made to his fellow comrades many years ago that he would "see them all out!"

Not going to lie, reading that brought a tear to my eye and is just typical of Jack's jokey personality.

  • Jack
  • Jack
  • The memo reads: Second Army. We are now approaching Germany, and I wish to make certain points clear to every man in the Second Army. Conditions there will be very different. We will no longer be amongst friends. We will be in the enemy's country, where every man and woman will wish us ill. We must be on our guard against spying, and see that no telephone or telegraph facilities are left open to the population by which our movements might be reported. We must protect our lines of communication and stores against sabotage, and deal ruthlessly with any attempts that are made to disrupt them. We must evacuate the civil population from any buildings which we require. We must always be armed and ready for treachery. Our attitude to the civilian population must be correct and just in every way. But there must be no mixing with them - no fraternisation. We must remember that these are people who, twice in the last thirty years, have deliberately brought us to war. Signed M. Dempsey, Lieutenant-General, Commander, Second Army. September 1944.
    A memorandum sent ahead of moving in to Germany, September 1944.
  • Jack (right) with comrades
    Jack (right) with comrades
  • Jack (3rd row, 4th from left) with comrades
    Jack (3rd row, 4th from left) with comrades
  • Release and Resettlement. An explanation of your position and rights. Issued by His Majesty's Government to all Serving Members of H.M. Forces.
    Jack's release and resettlement pamphlet
  • 73 Field Company Royal Engineers. First re-union dinner. Three Nuns Hotel, Aldgate EC3. Saturday, 30th March, 1957. Formal Meeting Agenda: Election of committee to draft some simple constitution. Election of Chairman for next period. Election of Secretary for next period. Election of Treasurer for next period. Date of next meeting. Any other business.
    The cover page of the 73 Field Company Royal Engineers first reunion dinner menu/agenda

Robert Hearn
Great-grandfather Robert Hearn.

Robert Hearn

Bob and Jack's father, Robert, attempted to enlist into the army in 1915, but was rejected as being medically unfit. A few months later, however, and he was invited back for another medical. He must've been in better shape this time as he joined the Army Veterinary Corps as a groom.

Robert had come from a very 'horsey' family; his father William was a stud farmer, as were all of his brothers. I've mentioned the family before, mainly through my mentions of my mystery photo album, and a previous article The curious cases surrounding Emma Hearn.

Following the war he returned to being a privately employed groom, then a sewerage attendant.

When I was a child, about 9 or 10 years old, I was given some badges. I was told they were given to family members. Amongst them are two that I believe were Robert's. One is an AVC cap badge and the other is actually an AVC button that's been mounted on to a wreath pin. A registered design number on the wreath suggests that dates from around 1915.

Army Veterinary Corp button mounted on to a wreath design badge.Army Veterinary Corps cap badge.
Left: Army Veterinary Service button mounted on to a wreath design badge. The registered design number on the back dates it to 1915. Right: Army Veterinary Service cap badge.


David Galbraith and Robert Rae Anderson

Over on my maternal line, I have in my notes that my great-grandfather David Robert Galbraith, aka Brown, who I've previously introduced in On another photo history hunt, was in the Royal Scots Fusiliers. Annoyingly, though, even though I have a date for that fact (11 January 1940), I don't have a source for that and I'm not getting any results on Ancestry / Fold3 / Forces War Records to find it again.

However, with David's great-uncle, my 3x great-granduncle, Robert Rae Anderson I've been able to piece together a bit more about.

Born in 1838 in Ayrshire, Scotland, Robert was a coalminer from his early teens through until at least the time of the birth of his first daughter, Isabella, in May 1859. The 1861 census shows him in the Albany Street barracks, north London, now a Private in the Royal Fusiliers. Jumping ahead to the 1871 census, and he's at the School of Musketry, in Hythe, Kent, now a Private in the 95th Regiment.

The decade between the censuses saw the birth of his next three children with his wife, Sarah. All three were born in India: Henry in 1863 in Mhow, Elizabeth in 1865 in Saltora, and Susanna back in Mhow in 1868. Sadly, his son Henry died aged just 1 year old and wife Sarah died just before Christmas 1869, both in Mhow.

Although I've not found actual military records for Robert, the 95th Regiment was deployed to central India in the late 1850s to fight against the Indian Rebellion, or mutiny. This was a bloody campaign that saw the end of the East India Company's rule, changes to the British army, and the long journey towards India's independence.

The 95th remained in India until 1870 when, I'm assuming, Robert made his return to the UK.

A few years later, September 1875 sees Robert marrying for a second time, this time to Emily Pond in Pembroke Dock, just a few miles from where I now live. At this time, Robert was stationed at a military camp in Pembroke Dock, but I have no records that show how long he was based here for.

A black and white photograph of six single-storey barrack huts, with Pembroke Dock in the background.
Llanion (Pembroke Dock) hut encampment, as seen in 1910. Reproduced from People's Collection Wales and used under the Creative Archive Licence.

After marrying, Robert and Emily have at least four children, John (1875, Coleshill, Staffs.), Robert (1877, County Cork, Ireland), George (Kildare, Ireland), and Jane (1882, Aldershot).

It appears that in the ~18 months between the 1881 census and Jane's birth, Robert left the army; Jane's birth certificate lists his occupation as simply "general labourer".

Robert's son, Robert

Robert junior enlisted in to the Queen's Corps in October 1914 and, less than a month later, was serving in France. 8 months later, in June 1915, he suffered wounds and was found unfit to serve further. I've not yet found details about what injuries he received, but come the 1939 register and he's still "invalid through war wounds".

George Judge
2x great-grandfather, George Judge in a photograph sent from India, March 1883/5

George Judge

My 2x great-grandfather, George Frederick Judge, enlisted 11th November (yes, really) 1873, joining the Royal Horse Artillery at the age of 19.

He served for 12 years, 4 months, of which 10 years were spent in service abroad, and worked his way to being a sergeant by the time of him leaving.

I know some of his time abroad was spent in Afghanistan in the Second Anglo-Afghan War, as that's mentioned in his discharge certificate for 1880, and the photograph of him shown here was sent from India in either 1883 or 1885 (the last digit's right against the edge of the card and has partially worn away).

The font of all knowledge, Wikipedia, has a section about the history of the Artillery, as well as links to where each troop was stationed in India which shows that D Battery, B Brigade, of which George was part, was in Khadki (aka Kirkee) in January 1879, and Kokeran in April 1881.

Sidenote, it was this Afghan war that the Maiwand Lion in my hometown of Reading commemorates.

George Frederick Tarrant

Born in February 1869, my 2x great-granduncle George Frederick Tarrant entered his second term of military service in February 1915, rejoining the ASC as a driver.

On 30th April 1917, notice was sent that George had been admitted to the Military Isolation Hospital, Aldershot, suffering from bronchitis and in a "severely ill" state. Sadly, three days later, he died. The official cause of death was given as (a) Measles; (b) broncho-pneumonia.

George was buried in Alton, approximately 12 miles away, where he had lived with his wife Anne and children George jr and Cecil. The local newspaper provided an excellent write-up and summary of George's career:

Military funeral at Alton
With impressive ceremonial and in the presence of a large gathering, the remains of Driver G. F. Tarrant, A.S.C., of French's Court, Alton, who died of pneumonia in the Isolation Hospital, Aldershot, were interred in Alton cemetary on Monday afternoon. The deceased soldier had seen twenty-one years service for which he held two medals, also King Edward's coronation medal. He went through the South African campaign and had retired on a pension. When war broke out he at once volunteered for service.


The coffin, draped with the Union Jack and covered with floral tribues, was conveyed on a gun carriage from Aldershot accompanied by 18 non-commissioned officers and men (under Sergt. Blake) six of whom acted as bearers. At Aldershot there was an imposing procession to the Railway Station, headed by the members of the R.O.A.B. Lodge of which deceased was a member.


[Rev. C. Bond...] said he was sure [George] had been a good husband and father and the attendance of his comrades showed what a good "chum" he had been. He had done his bit for his country - he had served 21 years as a regular soldier and two years and two months since war began in the A.S.C. He had died in its service just as faithfully as if he had died in the firing line.


Some of the others

  • Read my previous article about Ruth Logan and her experience of being on board RMS Lusitania the afternoon it was torpedoed by a German U-boat.
  • I've also briefly written about the disappearance of great-granduncle John Hearn in The curious cases surrounding Emma Hearn. It's said that John travelled to America to buy horses during WW1, but went missing along the way.
  • 2x great-granduncle Albert Wheeler. December 1915 - July 1918: Royal Regiment of Artillery (Royal Garrison Artillery) and Gloucestershire Regiment. Discharged wounded.
  • 3x great-granduncle William Gammon joined the 97th Foot Soldiers aged 18 in March 1854. 18 months later he went missing in Crimea during the final push in the Battle of the Great Redan, and his paper trail ends.
  • Herbert Strange (4C3R) joined 7th Batallion, Lancashire Fusiliers, in April 1912, before moving to the Royal Navy.
  • 4x great grandfather Isaac Burden served as a Private in 1st Battalion 60th Regt of Royal Rifles in Kussowlee & Jalandhar, India. His daughter Laura, my 3x great grandmother, was born in Jalandhar.

Oh and if you're wondering what an army Christmas dinner was like during World War 2, I offer you this:

A typed menu on a piece of paper, roughly the third of the height of a sheet of A4 paper. There's a printed holly leaf and berry design in the background. It reads: XMAS DAY MENU. Breakfast: Porridge; marmalade; egg, bacon and sausage; fried bread; margarine; tea. Dinner: Tinned chicken and turkey; roast pork and apple sauce; sage and onion stuffing; roast and boiled potatoes; brussel sprouts; brown sauce; Xmas pudding and rum sauce; mince pies; tea. Tea: Boiled ham; tinned tounge; Xmas cake; jelly; bread; margarine; jam; tea. B.L.A. 1944
Whatever the meal, there's always tea.