My family connection to the First World War
This sepia studio portrait below of my great-uncle, George Parrish, has been for many decades in the family photo album which I inherited from my grandparents. I have admired it since my childhood, perhaps because of the ammunition belt. Recently I took it out and found that my great-uncle had written this pencilled message to his sister (my grandmother) and her husband.
Dear Joe and Nell
I had this took when I came out of Hospital. First I was not Feeling very Grand at the time, so you must excuse it and I could not have it taken Full because I had no Clothes at the time, only a lot of Rags as I came off the Peninsula [Gallipoli] with… (and there it breaks off)
Craven Arms and District History Group uncovered an unknown love story behind the war memorial lych-gate of St Thomas, Halford; one which overcame family and class prejudice. It is an enduring monument not just to 18 men of the parish, eight of them with railway connections, but to a generous and inspiring woman.
‘To the Glory of God and in loving memory of my husband William George Biggs and of the other dear lads who together with him were members of this choir and congregation.’
Hilda Mary Baxter, born in 1876, was the daughter of the Rev. Henry Fleming Baxter and his wife Anna Maria. He was the curate (later vicar) of this church. The family was wealthy and gentry.
This young woman, from the world of Jane Austen, married a railway stoker. There was talk that her family were not too keen on the match, but love won the day. Hilda, aged 25, helped her father with his duties. A terrace – built by the railway for 28 families – was the main source of Halford parishioners. In No 21 Newington Terrace lived a guard, Richard Biggs, and his family.
So Hilda Baxter met William Biggs, who had followed his father, and was a stoker. The couple married in 1908 at All Saints, Ealing; her father having retired there. If they felt she was marrying beneath her, they were at least reconciled to the match.
With the First World War Hilda’s faith was vindicated. The army too thought highly of William. He was made a Regimental Sergeant Major with a railway operating company of the Royal Engineers and awarded a silver medal for distinguished service, or gallantry. RSM Biggs served with 32nd Railway Operating Company in Salonika. The chief enemy, however, were not the Bulgarians and Austrians, but the mosquito. In 1917 over 63,000 men were admitted to hospital with malaria.
RSM Biggs died of malaria on 31 October 1918, a few days before the armistice. Hilda lived another 44 years as a widow, leaving £1m in today’s terms.
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