A Voice From the Past

Green Detected

A paperback book was brought into the AHP service counter by a couple who had bought the book from a charity shop in Castle Bromwich (from my memory). On inspecting the book, they found a couple of handwritten notes from a soldier and it seemed as though they were written to his children during the First World War. The soldier was identified as Sergeant Richard Greenfield, and the letters were addressed to Ellen and mentioned her siblings, Richard and William.

MS 4674/1 Letter from Richard Greenfield

MS 4674/1 Letter from Richard Greenfield

Prompted by the possibility that they might relate to a Birmingham family, I pursued a number of lines of enquiry, mainly on Ancestry.com.

First of all I searched military records for a Richard Greenfield and quickly found some records for a Birmingham born man who apparently joined the army twice. Firstly the Royal Warwickshire Regiment on 18 August 1899, aged 21, regimental number 6967. From these records he appeared to have served in Malta, South Africa and India between February 1901 and October 1907. He was promoted to corporal in December 1905. A second regimental number 373999 seems to relate to a further period of service with the Warwickshire’s and there is information relating to a re-engagement of service in August 1911. Richard Greenfield was then mobilised on the 5 August 1914 and promoted to sergeant on 18 January 1915. A military history sheet appears to confirm that he was sent to serve in France from March 1915, and after a brief period in the UK he was part of an expeditionary force bound for France in May 1916. The military records also confirm that he was discharged in June/July 1919. One of the military history sheets gives some details of Richard’s father, wife and children and thus I have been able to follow up other elements of his life via the census, parish records, trade directories and ultimately his death certificate.

The census of 1891 finds the Greenfield family, father and son, plus mother and a further eight children living at 104 Charles Arthur Street (parents – Painter and Button worker respectively). Richard (son) is 14. The census of 1901 and the family is now living at 17 Arley Street. Richard (father) is now described as a House Painter and Anne (mother) now not in employment but with nine children still at home. Richard (son) joined the army in 1899 and hence is missing from this entry.

Marriage entry from St. Gabriel, Deritend [EP 2/2/3/7]

Marriage entry from St. Gabriel, Deritend [EP 2/2/3/7]

The next formal record is of the banns of marriage of Richard Greenfield and Amy A Whitehead at St. Gabriel – they are married on 13 November 1910 [EP 2/2/3/7]. Richard is described as a porter and there is a suggestion that he returned to work as such at New St. Station after his discharge from the army – I haven’t been able to prove this although the 1911 census supports this theory. Richard was born in early 1878 and hence is 32 when he and Amy married.  The parish record describes Amy as a minor at this point in time. Like many others, the first child of Richard and Amy was born illegitimately on 21 October 1910 and this is Ellen, the child to whom the letters are addressed. A brother, Richard, was born on 14 October 1912 and he is also mentioned in the letters. The third child of Richard and Amy is William, born in early 1914 – the letter suggests he has been ill and indeed he died in January 1916. A further son is born in October 1916, named William also, and sadly dies in July 1918 before his second birthday.

The 1911 census finds Richard, Amy and Ellen living at 1 back, 13 Poole Street, Aston, with Richard’s occupation described as a Railway Porter. Richard Greenfield (the elder) and family remain at 17 Arley Street.

I did locate a death certificate for Richard Greenfield dated 13 June 1953, signed by a doctor from Dudley Road Hospital and registered by Amy A Greenfield. The couple had been living at 126 Norton Crescent, Birmingham 9. Although it is unlikely that Richard and Amy’s children are still alive, could there have been grandchildren? More detective work required……

Alison Smith

2 responses to “A Voice From the Past

  1. What a great find. I hope you find relatives of Richard Greenfield.

  2. Reblogged this on Birmingham Children of War and commented:
    Reblogging this article by FoBAH member,Alison Smith, as these letters are included in the Birmingham Children of War projects launch event on Monday 12th September at Library of Birmingham

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