William John Webster – Anthem for a Doomed Youth

I was in the Weston Library last week, where they had on display, as part of their exhibition of “Treasures of the Bodlian“, the original draft of Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est“.
It was another of his great war poems which came to mind when I thought about William John Webster – his “Anthem for Doomed Youth“.

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.

My Great, Great Grandmother, Ada Webster, who married John Robert Box, had  a brother, Percival John Webster, born in 1865.  Percival was an Apprentice Confectioner in 1881, living at   Brockfield House in St Pancras, Pancras, London, with his parents, elder brother Arthur, elder sisters Edith, Ada and Janet, and 2 servants.
In the 1891 Census Percival is living on his own at 332, Harrow Road, Paddington, and he is a Stationer.
Around August 1894 Percival married Edith Amy Day, and they had a daughter, Kathleen Edith Webster – born about 1895 – and a son William John Webster – born about May 1897.

In the 1901 Census he is living at 7, Kestrel Avenue, Lambeth, London, England, with Edith, Kathleen E (aged 5), William J (aged 3), and a boarder and 2 servants. He is a Commercial Traveller (Stationary).

7, Kestrel Avenue

In 1904 Percival died, leaving Edith to bring up the children, who would have been 9 and 7, on her own.
By the 1911 Census Edith and Kathleen, have moved to 93, Walm Lane, Cricklewood N W, Willesden, Middlesex, England, where they live with two boarders.  William John Webster does not seem to be in the 1911 Census, but the 93, Walm Lane address is the one he uses on his sign-up papers.
(Unfortunately I can not post the sign-up papers as there is a fee of £48 to post TNA documents on a public web site)

On 4th August 1914 Britain declared war on Germany. At the time William John Webster would have been 17,  but on the 3rd September 1914 he declares his age to be 18 years and 3 months, and signs up.
This was some time before “Anthem for Doomed Youth”, and he would have been thinking more of “Your King and Country Want You” and other popular songs of the time

Oh! we don’t want to lose you but we think you ought to go
For your King and Country both need you so;
We shall want you and miss you but with all our might and main
We shall cheer you, thank you, kiss you When you come back again.

William John Webster was one of the many who did not return. He died on 2nd March 1916, and is buried at Loos, in the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery.
He has a rather sparse record at the Lives of the First World War website.

Reprieved (temporarily)

It appears that reports of his death were exagerated. One of the family trees I inherited had a note saying ‘Died WW1’.  Another, however has a nickname of Jack associated with him. My sister has a Memorial Card for him, showing that he died on 30th July 1922.
The Deceased Online website shows that he was buried on 2nd August 1922.
A comparison of his Army Number 761788, from his Statement as to Disability, with the William John Websters at Lives of the First World War shows that our William John Webster was in fact this one, who ended the war as a Sergeant Instructor – an important role.  This also explains his jump in age on his Statement as to Disability. Although the only date on the form is when he joined, this was signed when he was released, to show that he was not going to claim for any injuries created during the war – which lasted 4 years, during which he aged 3 years !
I have not been able to track down what Jack Webster did between 1918 and 1922, but his death at the age of 25 is still tragically early, and I am leaving the William Owen references in honour of the 92 William John Websters who died during World War One and are commemorated at the Commonwealth War Graves site.

Amazing Love, Demographics and Mass migrations

Amazing Love

On the 18th and 19th of February 2017 I will be taking part in the world premiere of Amazing Love, a musical based on the lives of John and Charles Wesley.  The musical is written by Jack Godfrey, who also wrote “The Pharaoh’s High Magicians” for the musical Moses, (in which I took part and wrote some lyrics).
The musical will be performed at Wesley Memorial Church, in Oxford, and is part of a tradition of locally written musicals. I will be part of the ensemble, so will be a neighbour during a fire, a boozy pub goer, a sailor on a voyage to Georgia, a colonist and a Londoner.  I would like to be able to say that this shows the talent and flexibility of the ensemble, however the principals have more words and songs to learn, and still join us in chorus rehearsals to help us learn our songs. Amazing to be surrounded by such talented people !
The musical has now been performed, and Oxford Phab went to see Amazing Love on the 18th February 2017.


Although Amazing Love focusses on John and Charles Wesley, and their parents, Samuel and Susanna, the Wesleys were quite a large family. John was the fifteenth child, and Charles the eighteenth child of the family. In all they had 19 children, nine of whom died in infancy. Three boys and seven girls survived.
Susanna, who educated all of the children, taught sons and daughters alike a range of subjects including Latin and Greek, was herself the 25th of 25 children.
Although I can not trace my own family back as far as 1622, when Samuel Wesley was born, some of the earlier families were larger than is usual today.
William Braund (1766-1840) had ten children, born between 1793 and 1815, and at least six of the children married and had children.
Joseph May (1828-?) had ten children, and his son Samuel (1867-?) had seven, however his daughter, Elizabeth (1865-?) only had two children.
Abel Lines (1807-1877) had eight children, one of them being Joseph Lines, who also had eight children. Abel’s occupations had been Fur Skin Dresser, Smith, Steel Worker, Porter – reflecting the need to keep adapting to the rapid changes in employment needs of the time.
William Cansdale (1814-1891) had ten children, and was an agricultural labourer, and in 1851 a railway labourer.  One of his children, William, was a Rook Scarer, aged 9 in the 1851 Census.
Although these families were large, though not as large as the Wesleys, a little over a century earlier, there is a big difference in the Infant Mortality rate, probably caused by improved standards of hygiene, better sanitation, cleaner water and a generally healthier population. The same thing would have applied in the time of the Wesleys, leading to an expanding population, with a lower age profile than we are used to today.
At the same time improvements in agricultural efficiency  were allowing more food to be grown with fewer workers. James Harden Champion (1821-1895) was farming 165 acres of Somerset in 1861, with 7 labourers and 2 boys. In 1881 he was farming 190 acres with 4 men, 1 woman and 1 boy.

Mass migrations

In 1735 John and Charles Wesley sailed to Savannah, Georgia, at the request of James Oglethorpe, to minister to the new colony. This voyage features in Amazing Love – but with singing and dancing.
By 1790 the population of Georgia was 82, 548 – which would have been largely driven by the demographic changes in Britain. By 1980 over 1.5 million Georgians claimed English ancestry.
My family tree shows mostly internal migration, mostly from the country to living in towns. George Cansdale moved from Copford in Essex to Bethnal Green. William Braund Box (1815-1891) moved from Cornwall to Edmonton in London. It is even possible that his ancestors came from Germany to Cornwall, and may have been Büchs originally. It is interesting to note how much of the housing in London, and other British cities, was being built in this period of migration, so that Northampton Square, where William Braund Box moved to, was built in 1814, so it would have still been quite new when he moved in.
Although in Britain the movement of people from country to town has slowed, lack of opportunities and cost of housing are still causing younger people in villages to move to cities. In other parts of the world this rural to urban migration is still happening, so cities in China, for example, are expanding rapidly, even though the Chinese population growth rate is now only 0.47%
In Syria the movement off the land is exacerbated by their water crisis, which, even without a war (or possibly one of the causes of the war), is reducing the arable productivity. It is ironic that a contributing factor in the water crisis is climate change, causing a shift in rainfall patterns (widening Hadley Cell), and that there is (probably) a scientific consensus that CO2 emissions contribute to climate change – although this is disputed by Donald Trump, who wishes simultaneously to remove the brakes on CO2 emissions and to make life as hard as possible for the migrants it causes.