Harry, William Henry Bonser Lamin was born in August 1887 near the Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire border. His family were originally well-to-do farmers but, in 1875 sold up the farm in Annesley, Nottinghamshire. I have a poster advertising the farm sale. The family story is that drink was involved in the decline of Henry's farm. Henry then became a Farm Labourer, later a "Chemical labourer". Of course, this all happened well before Harry was born. Harry was quite a bit younger than his brothers and sisters. A "Tacker", as they say in Cornwall.
In the 1901 census, Harry, aged 13, is found to be staying with his older brother John (Jack) in Oxford. Jack was then a school master. I have no way of knowing whether this was a holiday or a longer stay. I suspect it was a lengthy stay as the Oxford people and places are mentioned in his letters. Maybe it helped the family finances.
Later Harry worked in one of the local lace factories. His occupation on his marrriage certificate is lacemaker but it is believed that he was a maintenance fitter for the lace machines. In Ilkeston, where he then lived, the most common occupations were coal miner or work at the local Stanton Iron Works. The Lace factory would be a relatively "soft" option.
In February 1917 he would have probably been conscripted into the army, rather than volunteering. He was well under the upper age limit of 41 for conscription.
Kate (Catherine Lamin) is Harry’s sister. She was 10 years older than him. She was a successful midwife in London and later moved to Leeds where she, eventually, became a Matron of a hospital. She died in July 1948 when she was 70 years old. The evidence suggests that she is Connie’s mother. The photograph of Willie and Connie is clearly professionally produced. Ethel certainly wouldn't have been able to afford it. Kate may well have been able to help. (Sister Anita has the chair today)
It is also likely that Kate helped Harry's family through the difficult years following the war. If her daughter were living there, that would make some sense.
My sister remembers Kate as a "formidable woman".
Connie (Constance Wilkinson Lamin) was a bit of a mystery. She was brought up as Willie’s sister, but she certainly wasn’t his real sister. There are two stories.
Willie, (Bill),(who’s memory is not too reliable now, aged 90) has said that Connie was the daughter of a wealthy family in the town. As she was disabled, they advertised in the newspaper for someone to look after her. Ethel answered the advert and looked after Connie.
The true story is that she was Kate’s illegitimate daughter. Kate would not have been able to pursue her successful career in hospitals with a daughter in tow. The birth Certificate I have obtained confirms this. Kate is buried in the same grave as Connie. The grave in Ilkeston cemetery contains just the two of them.
There is a mention in a letter of Connie "walking" which made sense when I received her death certificate which confirmed that she had cerebral palsy.
The photograph is of her and Willie. She was born in 1910 and so was about 8 in the photograph. Willie would be 2.
Sadly she died at 19 years old in 1929. She was buried on Christmas Eve 1929 in Ilkeston cemetery.
Click to enlarge photograph
Time to meet some of the characters that you will come across in Harry's letters....
ETHEL . This is Harry's wife. They married in March 1914 in a civil ceremony in a Registry Office in Basford, a suburb of Nottingham. Harry's Occupation was recorded as a Lacemaker, Ethel a spinster.
The two were married a few months before the outbreak of the war.
WILLIE is their son. He was born in March 1916, almost a year before Harry joined up to fight.
There was another son, Arthur, but the only record I have found so far, is a baptismal certificate from the Parish Church in Ilkeston. No one alive can recall any mention of Arthur so we must assume that he died in infancy. A helpful reader has possibly identified the record of Arthur's death so I may be able to find more. Update;- I now have Arthur's details. He did, indeed die as an infant.
Willie grew up and became a successful textile salesman. He had a brush with the military in WW2 but, apparently, missed being shipped to Singapore by minutes. His transfer to the PT Corps came through as he was on parade, ready to go! Willie is, as I write, still alive and living in a nursing home in Derbyshire. Harry frequently mentions Willie in his letters. It must have been a terrible wrench to leave behind a baby son to go to the horrors of the War.
I will add short descriptions of the other characters in later posts.
The book has clearly been extensively and meticulously researched.
Harry was involved, in real life, in some of the events used in Faulks' novel. The experiences described by Harry sit very comfortably within the frame work of "Birdsong".
If you're interested in the period, read the book. It's a very good read and fits in well with this blog. As a personal view, I enjoyed the book but was less than convinced by the last few chapters.
Harry Lamin was born in August 1887 in the East Midlands of England. In 1917, aged 29, he joined up to fight in the First World War.
The picture shows Harry at school. I've marked him - he's on the second row from the front. Unfortunately, there's no date but he looks about 7 so the picture must have been taken around 1894.
During his time in the army, he wrote letters home to his brother and sister. They were kept and handed down to me, his grandson.
I have transcribed the letters and added commentary so that references can make sense.
What has been produced is a moving and poignant account of an ordinary man's experiences in an extraordinary situation.
I have edited nothing. The spellings and grammar are exactly as Harry wrote them.
The intention of this blog is to publish the letters exactly 90 years after Harry wrote them. His first letter from the training camp was written on February 7th 1917. It will be published on the blog on February 7th 2007.
Each letter will appear on the correct date from then on. There are gaps where no letters are available for several weeks. I have no explanations. Maybe they were lost. I have no idea.
If you wish to find out Harry's fate then you'll have to access the blog as the new letters arrive.
Please feel free to let me know if you are interested in following the blog. There is within, a fascinating insight into the fate of the ordinary soldier in those horrific times.
Those who are even more interested in the Great War should look to study online. WW1.