Monday, June 14, 2021

Benjamin John (Jack) Whybrew

I haven't written much about Benjamin John (Jack) Whybrew. For a long time there seemed little to add to what I said about him, when I wrote about the Whybrew's fourteen children. But recently I've come across some new information about his army career and his later life.

To recap, Benjamin John (usually known as John or Jack) was born in Canterbury in July 1879, while his father David Whybrew was a Staff Sergeant with the East Kent Militia. As the first boy in the family to survive infancy, he grew up with three older sisters. (Eliza, Alice and Rose. He was about ten years old when his eldest sister Harriet briefly re-joined the family.) 

Of the children born after Jack, two boys (David aka Henry and William) and two girls (Ellen and Ada) survived to adulthood. Jack was sixteen when Ada was born.

Cap badge of the York & Lancaster regiment

Like his younger brother, Henry, Jack joined the army in his late teens. He initially enlisted in the militia and then transferred to the York and Lancaster Regiment when he reached eighteen. But he was discharged unfit a couple of years later due to a perforated eardrum. The medical officer who diagnosed him was unsure of the cause, but seemed certain that it hadn't been caused or aggravated by his army service. 

His army records describe Jack as 5 feet 4 7/8 inches tall, with blue eyes, dark brown hair and a fresh complexion, which suggests he took after the Irish side of his family. On his discharge, his behaviour was described as 'fair' rather than 'good'. He'd faced a court martial and spent time in the lock-up on one occasion for breaking out of the barracks.

Marriage and family

In 1898, the year he left the army, he married Emily Licence, the daughter of a blacksmith from Suffolk. I have no clues as to how or where they met. At the time of the 1901 census they were living at 12 Charles Street in Colchester with Jack's sister Harriet, her husband Henry Malone and another married sister, Rose Anthony. Jack was employed as a general labourer and Emily was working as a 'tailoress'.

Their first and only child, Emily, was born in Colchester in 1902. That same year, Jack's brother Henry died from dysentery in South Africa while fighting during the Boer War. Jack must  have been acutely aware that he might well have had the same fate if he hadn't been discharged from the army.

Jack and Emily were living at 3 Smiths Yard in Colchester when the 1911 census was taken. Jack had work as a bricklayer's labourer and Emily was still tailoring. 

Two years later, in the summer of 1913, Emily died. She was only thirty-five. I've heard that their daughter, ten year old Emily, went to live with her paternal aunt and uncle, Eliza (Whybrew) and William Beales, but have no record of this.

Enlists again in WWI

Army Veterinary Corps staff treating a wounded horse, c1917 
(photo from National Army Museum)

When World War 1 began, Jack enlisted in the Royal Army Veterinary Corp, as a private, with the service number SE510. This was the same corp as his brother William.  The RAVC was responsible for looking after the many horses and other animals used by the army. Jack apparently served overseas from October 1914, but was discharged in February 1915, for reasons unrecorded. Perhaps his deafness became a problem again. 

He must have been devastated when William was killed in France just weeks before the war ended. Perhaps this contributed to the impression I have of him from distant family, of an unsettled, hard-living man. There are hints, too, that he didn't have a good relationship with his parents, but again, no record of this survives.

After the war

In 1920 he was awarded the Victory Medal and British War Medal, medals which were given to most returning soldiers. After that, tracing Jack becomes difficult. In 1927 his daughter Emily married George Sydney in London, but I don't know whether Jack attended the wedding. 

He appears next in the 1939 register, created by the British government just before the Second World War. Jack was living at 12 Childwell Alley with "Jessie Whybrew", born in 1878. A note against her name says 'Ward', suggesting that was her maiden name. 

But there's no record of them having married. In fact Jessie Ward was quite possibly still the wife of Edward Ward. At the time of the 1911 census, Jessie and Edward Ward were living at 4 Childwell Alley with their children. Edward was a hawker and a returned soldier.

The 1939 registered records that Jack, now aged sixty, was incapacitated, but gives no details. He died two years later in 1941. His daughter Emily and her husband George both lived on to a good age. They had three children. Whether Jack ever met his grandchildren is another unknown.

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