Well, we’re back in harness after seven weeks holiday in England, Scotland and Europe – with a rest break in Singapore and Bali. This instalment is only intended to be an interim account of our travels and in ensuing articles I will now be able to add some ‘touch and feel’. While I never planned to do any serious research – time simply did not permit that – the question is now how to get the cash together for a longer and more targeted trip. Another reason for the brevity of this account is that I am yet to transcribe my notes and process the 1000 or so photographs taken during the trip.
We landed in Manchester after a 16 hour flight from Singapore and collected a hire car there with its trusty SatNav which I nicknamed “Primrose”. She only got us into trouble a couple of times! A visit to the Imperial War Museum gave us a sample of the emotions we would experience a couple of weeks later in France and Belgium. The next port of call was the Manchester Regiment Museum in Ashton-under-Lyne – my 3 x great grandfathers Richard Norrish (who appears in both my Jones-Sexton and Muir-Buirchell trees) and John Sale (Muir-Buirchell) were both soldiers in the 96th Regiment of Foot, the original Manchester Regiment.
In 1839 the Regiment was stationed in Bolton Le Moor and John Sale’s daughter Jane Elizabeth was christened at Bolton St Peter’s Church. A magnificent building and where we met some very nice Parish staff including the female Minister. While the Church had been rebuilt since my ancestors’ time, one nave is set aside as a museum containing many original building pieces, artwork and memorials.
Driving northward towards Scotland, we stopped off in Lancaster and visited the Castle, much of which is still in use as Courts. It is here that I believe my 2 x great grandfather was tried and gaoled in 1850 before being transported to Western Australia.
We departed Oban on the ferry for what turned out to be thoroughly enjoyable cruise through the Inner Hebrides to the Isle of Coll where we spent a wonderful couple of days. The scenery was tranquil, the people friendly and the seafood and single malts were spectacular! Sort of hard to believe that in the 1840’s the island was dangerously overcrowded, the people poor and living on the edge of starvation. That was the situation in 1852 when my 3 x great grandfather Lachlan McInnes and his daughter Flora sailed for Australia. With a permanent population of only 225, the island is undergoing a mini real estate boom with a number of new houses recently, or currently being, built in an architectural style befitting the island’s heritage. Even the last remaining croft at Arnobost (where the McInnes family was living in 1841) is now being restored as a modern residence. A future holiday destination – but maybe only in summer!
Returning to Oban by the ferry, we then drove back through the Highlands to Menstrie regretfully having to bypass Argyll and Bute with its comprehensive Scottish Archives. In Menstrie we stayed in Broomhall Castle from where, in a landscape dominated by the William Wallace monument, we visited Clackmannan where my 3 x great grandmother Margaret Laing is buried, the magnificent Stirling Castle, Bo’ness (Borrowstouness) where Margaret married Robert Muir who became a Baker in Menstrie and Clackmannan. From here, their son Robert Muir set off to Australia in 1848 where he married Flora McInnes in 1853.
We then embarked on another long drive through rural Scotland and England to reach Hollesley in Suffolk. I assumed the name was pronounced “Hol-es-lee” but it transpires the locals say “Hose-lee” or if you were to use the original dialect then it would be “Hoos-lee”. My 3 x great grandfather George Head (Muir-Buirchell) married Mary Ann Walton in the All Saints Church in 1829. The origins of Mary Ann are obscure and in the graveyard I located a headstone which may provide some clues for the Walton family. This was a Sunday and the Church was open for its monthly ‘Cafe Forum’ and we had a nice morning tea with some local parishioners. Hollesley is definitely worth a future visit and a longer stay.
Our next family history stop was Evercreech in Somerset where my Treasure ancestors (Jones-Sexton) robbed the Bell Inn in 1840. Unfortunately I did not achieve my ambition to have a pint as the bar was not due to open for a couple of hours. The Publican hoped we were not there to rob the place again! The Church of St Michael is located in the nearby village of Stoke St Michael which was known as Stoke Lane in the time of my ancestors. Here, there were about two dozen or so Treasure headstones both old and new and the photographs of these will aid future research.
Our final English family history stop was Canterbury and I would love to go there again – the visit to the Cathedral was only fleeting. However, the main reason for the visit was to locate Hackington St Stephen where my 3 x great grandfather Henry Solly married Ann Colyer in 1827. Another fascinating Church – we were fortunate to meet the Parish Clerk and Keeper of the Bells who opened the building for us. A sad reflection on the times – Churches everywhere were rarely open for fear of vandalism.
From Kent it was on the train to Paris where we joined up with Matt McLachlan’s ‘Western Front Battlefield Tour’. Four days of emotionally charged touring of battlefields, cemeteries, museums and monuments of France and Belgium: Mon St Quentin, Menin Gate Last Post ceremony, Ypres Salient, Polygon Wood, Passchendaele, Tyne Cot, Pheasant Wood, Theipval, Hamel and Hill 60 were just some. We called at the cemetery at Lijssenthoek where I located the grave of my 1st cousin (2 x removed) Ian Campbell Muir who died of wounds received in the Battle of Passchendaele near Broodseinde Ridge 26 October 1917 aged just 19. We also visited one of two remaining German war cemeteries in France and Belgium at Langemarck where the remains of 24000 unidentified German soldiers were placed in a single vault. A haunting place!
There were lighter sides to the tour! The town of Ieper (Ypres) is restored to its original pre-World War I state – reparation payments by Germany for this rebuild were only completed in 2010. It is now a delightful town and the central square contains a myriad of restaurants serving fine food and even finer beer. The Cathedrale Notre-Dame d’Amiens is a spectacular building and the nightly light show that brings out the original 13th century colours of the building facade is very interesting.
I should put in a plug for Matt McLachlan Battlefield Tours – the tour was very well organised, good hotels, expert coach driver and the English historian (Tom Morgan) was very knowledgeable and enthusiastic.
We then went on into Germany, Czech Republic and Italy by train for more relaxing holiday type activities although this did include some interesting history excursions. There was one more family history stop.
With my brother-in-law, I drove from Prague to Opole in Poland to visit the Central
Museum of Prisoners-of-War. One seat of the Museum is in Opole and the other in Lambinowice (formerly Lamsdorf) 40 km away, both with stunning displays and hosting large research efforts. Lambinowice is within the Site of National Remembrance and this is where Stalag VIIIB/344 was located. My great uncle “Bonnie” Buirchell was imprisoned here after being captured in Crete in 1941. Within in the Site is the “Old Prisoner of War Cemetery’ containing several thousand graves from the 1870-71 Franco-Prussian War. (One of the researchers we met held a PhD in Philology (French)). Then there is the Soviet Prisoner of War Cemetery where some 40 000 Soviet soldiers were found buried in anonymous mass graves in 1945.
Again, amongst this doom and gloom, Opole, largely untouched in all these wars, is a beautiful small city with all of its historic buildings intact. Yet again, fine food and finer (and cheap) beer!
Six weeks of quite hard travelling, and much of it through the rural areas, but every day was fascinating and I yearn to do it again – just much more slowly!