In March 2020 I got married and my surname changed to Darby. I’ve been with my husband Paul for four years in September 2020, however I have been researching his family tree since about 2013 as we became friends at work and he set me a challenge to see how far back I could go on his Darby family line in one evening…
On that occasion I managed to get back to at least the early 1800s and I found his tree to be pretty interesting, so as a favour to a friend I carried on looking into his tree every so often when I had some time and of course over the years since we have been together I have invested more time and effort into my research.
As with all family tree research my golden rule is to start with what you know and work backwards, which is what I did in this case – Paul gave me some brief details about both his parents and anything he knew about his grandparents. For the purposes of this blog I will be starting from Paul’s paternal grandfather Cornelius Pierce Darby – known as Pierce.
I mentioned Pierce in my last blog post which centred on his father in law Samuel George Martin. He had married Samuel’s daughter Betty Florence Martin on 16th December 1944 at St Peter’s Church, Highfields in Leicester. The family collection of photographs and documents contains a copy of their wedding invitation and a couple of cards wishing them well for their wedding day – one from “Grandma and Grandpa” but unclear which grandparents they were.
At the time of their marriage Pierce was serving in the Royal Navy – as a Wireman (Seaman Torpedoman) in the Torpedo Branch. Pierce’s Navy record is quite sparse and doesn’t provide a huge amount of information about when he joined but there was some information from the Payment and Victual Ledgers that was supplied with the few pages of his record which provided the following information:
20-Jun-1944 to 22-Jun-1944 – HMS Drake
23-Jun-1944 to 23-Jun-1944 – HMS Defiance
24-Jun-1944 to 4-Aug-1944 – HMS Drake
5-Aug-1944 to 26-Mar-1945 – HMS Defiance
27-Mar-1945 to 7-May-1945 – HMS Jamaica
8-May-1945 to 8-May-1945 – Duty
9-May-1945 to 16-Jul-1945 – HMS Defiance
17-Jul-1945 to 4-Sep-1945 – HMS Golden Hind
5-Sep-1945 to 24-Oct-1945 – HMS Golden Hind II (Wooloomooloo)
25-Oct-1945 to 19-Jan-1946 – HMS Golden Hind
20-Jan-1946 to 2-Apr-1946 – HMS Bermuda
3-Apr-1946 to 7-Jun-1946 – HMS Drake
So from that information I then checked out the various “ships” referred to and was able to conclude that for the most part Pierce was being trained or in transit with HMS Drake being a base ship, HMS Defiance (also named HMS Vulcan/HMS Defiance III) was the torpedo training school, HMS Jamaica was a cruiser, HMS Golden Hind was a former American Army camp at Hargrave Park, Liverpool, Sydney, New South Wales – Australia so became a Royal Navy base in November 1944. HMS Golden Hind II was another base opened in May 1945 at Garden Island, New South Wales.
HMS Bermuda was another cruiser, it was one of the ships that had travelled to Japan to help assist with the effort to help those wounded by the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. Pierce was not serving aboard it at that time but I have seen a reference to a photograph album that was up for auction some years ago with photographs pertaining to that time – which must have been quite harrowing. On 23rd August HMS Bermuda arrived at the Philippines and then became involved in recovering allied prisoners of war from various previously Japanese occupied territories. On 6th Sep 1945 it came under fire from Japanese aircraft whose pilots were apparently unaware the war had ended. They fought off the attack and were able to take the rescued prisoners to Shanghai.
It is likely that by the time Pierce joined HMS Bermuda it had completed much of it’s work rescuing prisoners of war and was mostly bringing people back home. It is unclear how much action Pierce would have seen, but being a Wireman he would have worked with radios and telegraphs so may have been more involved with the lines of communications while based in Australia. Below are some photographs of Pierce in his uniform (the picture of him standing was taken outside the British Centre at Hyde Park, Sydney on 11th Oct 1945) and a photograph each of HMS Jamaica and HMS Bermuda and Pierce’s Navy badges that would have been on his uniform. All from the Darby family personal collection.
Upon Pierce’s return home he and Betty had two sons. The youngest was my husband’s father Michael.
Pierce and Betty remained in the Leicester area for most of their lives – they both worked at the Imperial Typewriter Works where Pierce was a Typewriter Alignment Inspector and Betty was a Typewriter Factory Operative. Betty died on 13th March 2008 and had been living at Knights Close, Billesdon. After her death Pierce moved down to Cowes on the Isle of Wight to live with his son Michael, until his death on 27th July 2010 of various complications linked to heart disease.
Although I have just written about Pierce’s death, there are of course other things to talk about his life prior to his marriage to Betty, starting with his birth on 8th June 1923 in Leicester. Piece was an only child, the son of Cornelius George Darby and Leah May Carter who had married in Leicester in 1921. Leah was a young widow when she married Cornelius, having lost her first husband Pierce James Simons in 1918 during WWI. As you can see – Leah and Cornelius named their son in part after her first husband which seems like a sweet tribute to him.
Pierce Simons was in the Leicester Regiment. According to Pierce Simon’s WWI record when he joined up on 21st Aug 1916 he was 27 years and 6 months old, living at 82 Bartholemew Street, Leicester. He was a Tailor’s Presser. He was 5 foot four and a half inches tall, he weighed 112 lbs (just under 10 stone.)
Pierce departed to India on 18th Jan 1917, arriving in Bombay on 16th Mar 1917 and joined his depot in Belgaum the next day. Presumably he had some training there before he joined the Middle East Force on 22nd Apr 1917. He then came to Basra in Iraq on 1st May 1917. He spent a short amount of time in hospital between 28th Mar and 10th April 1917 in Belgaum for a sprained ankle.
On 5th Jan 1918 he was admitted to the British General Hospital with a diagnosis of Bronchitis and Haemoptysis. They did an x-ray and found possible TB and he had been coughing up streaks of blood. They then said he did not have TB. At 6:30am on 8th Jan he became very ill and was seen by the doctor 10 minutes later. He collapsed with a very faint pulse, went pale and unconscious and had difficulty breathing. He died ten minutes later. His post mortem showed he had traces of pleurisy in both lungs and pneumonia in his right lung. They gave his cause of death as a pulmonary embolism – caused by disease he had contracted during active service.
Pierce’s younger brother Victor also died in WWI just a few months after him in April 1918.
Leah and Pierce Simons had only been married for not even three years when he died, they had no children.
It looks like Leah and Cornelius Darby were able to spoil their only child Pierce, photographs of him as a child show him having fun with a toy car. Pierce also was part of his local church choir and did well with his singing ability. Below are some photographs of Pierce as a baby – one an odd composite of Pierce’s head stuck onto a photograph of his father Cornelius and the other with his mother Leah. Then some other photographs as a young boy including him as a choir boy from 1937 and a second prize award for his singing in 1935. (All from the Darby family personal collection.)
By the time of the 1939 Register Pierce was working as an Electrical Engineer, living at home with his parents at 205 Mere Road, Leicester.
So what of Pierce’s father Cornelius George? Cornelius George Darby was born on 1st September 1896 in Leicester and baptised on 27th March 1899 along with five of his siblings at St Peter’s Church in Belgrave, Leicester. He was the 5th child out of 12 born to his parents Frederick James Darby and Edith Challoner who had married on the 6th August 1888 at the same church he was baptised in. Cornelius first appears on the 1901 census with his family at 8 Justice Street, Leicester, the family having moved from 16 Vann Street which had been their address at the time of his baptism sometime between the end of March 1899 and the end of November 1900 where on the baptism of his brother Frank the address at Justice Street was given.
Vann Street and Justice Street no longer exist, but 16 Vann Street was described in an advert in the local paper in 1897 when it was put up for auction as being a 6 roomed house with out-offices, bricked yard and garden – noting that at 18 Vann Street also listed in the advert – was occupied by Frederick Darby’s father in law Cornelius Thomas Challoner – who Cornelius George Darby was named after.
Frederick James Darby’s occupation was given as a Bricklayer’s Labourer, which expands on just “Labourer” which was given as his occupation on the baptisms of his children. By 1911 the family were living at 48 Mellor Street, Leicester and Frederick’s occupation had not changed.
The 1911 census gives us some extra information pertaining to the family around how long Frederick and Edith had been married for and the number of children they had and how many had died. By that point they had been married for 22 years and had 10 children, of which one had died. These were: Martha Elizabeth born 1889, Edith born 1890, Frederick Arthur born 1892, Norah Annie born 1895, Cornelius George born 1896, Walter James born 1898 and died in 1901, Frank born 1900, Thomas Harry born 1903, Eleanor born 1905 and Leonard William born in 1908. It is interesting that on their census form, which was filled in by Edith, that she had initially listed all her children – including Martha and Edith who were working away from home, and poignantly her son Walter who had died. As well as Frederick working earning money for the family, some of the children were also working with Frederick junior working as a Bobbin Turner in a cotton mill, Norah worked in a laundry while Cornelius was a Fitting Cutter in the shoe trade.
After the 1911 census Frederick and Edith went on to have their final two children Eric Cyril in 1913 and Mary Marguerite in 1917. Of course times changed after the 1911 census with the outbreak of World War One in 1914, and the Darby family were not spared from being touched by this life changing period. The two eldest sons of the family joined the army – with Frederick Arthur joining the Leicester Regiment and Cornelius George joining the Royal Field Artillery.
Frederick’s service record no longer survives but his pension card on Fold3 states that he was a private and had been discharged on 25th September 1917 due to Tuberculosis. At the time of his discharge he was single but later married Lily Pike in 1918 and they had three children, Lilian, Frederick and Margaret however sadly Frederick died on 28th September 1922 a couple of months before his daughter Margaret was born, aged just 30.
Cornelius’s service record however does survive. He signed up on 15th June 1915 aged 19 and measuring five foot three, and 109 lbs (just under 8 stone) with a scar on his left leg. He received training (and a quick stint in hospital in Tidworth with tonsillitis in September 1915) before being sent to France with the rank of Driver where he arrived at Le Havre on 9th January 1916.
During his first posting in France he suffered with scabies twice – first in September 1916 and then again in the December. He had a period of leave back home from 10th to 24th March 1918 but then ended up in hospital with influenza on 3rd November 1918 and was then released to go back to base on 9th December. Cornelius was then discharged on 10th February 1919 and awarded a disability pension for a year based on “debility” from having been assessed and found to have heart palpitations and frequent headaches. He was awarded the British and Victory medals. While the records do not provide much in the way of information about the kinds of activities Cornelius was involved in during WWI, as a driver he would have likely been involved with horses working closely with the gunners positioning the heavy artillery on the field and transporting ammunition and may have had some gun training should any of the gunners be killed or wounded so that the drivers could then man the gun in their place. He is likely to have been in charge of at least two horses as part of a team of six. So he would have been in the thick of the combat and likely lost many friends and comrades during his time in France.
At the end of the war the Darby family suffered a keen loss when on Christmas Eve 1918, Cornelius’s little brother Leonard was out playing with friends and was hit by a car. According to an article in the Leicester Daily Post, Leonard was playing out in Loughborough Road when he was knocked down by a car. He was taken to hospital but was allowed to go home, however during the course of Christmas Day he deteriorated before sadly passing away around 4am on Boxing Day aged just 10. Cornelius would have still been in France then – not returning home for another two months, it would have made his return bittersweet – to have survived all the horrors of the war to have lost your little brother when he was out having fun.
We know Cornelius met and married the young widow Leah Simons in 1921 and had their only child Cornelius Pierce Darby in 1923. Cornelius was listed in the 1928 Kelly’s Directory at 19 Leicester Street, Leicester as a Confectioner and later that year appeared in the local paper the Market Harborough Advertiser & Midland Mail on 9th November for having been caught driving a motor van without a licence on 9th October. He was fined five shillings. His home address was given as 102 Twycross Street, Leicester.
Below shows two Google StreetView images – one is a view down Leicester Street – number 19 is not there so may have been renumbered or just no longer exists but likely would have been similar to these buildings. The other is 102 Twycross Street.
By the time of the 1939 Register we know Cornelius, Leah and Pierce were living at 205 Mere Road, Cornelius was described as a Dealer – Confectionery & General for his occupation. I don’t know much more about Cornelius and Leah after that point apart from them featuring in family photographs including at Pierce and Betty’s wedding in 1944. However Cornelius did also lose his brother Thomas, who died in 1940 aged 37- who left a young widow Florrie and three children. Then on 29th September 1946 his father Frederick passed away aged 78, he died of Cardiac Failure, Myocardial Degeneration and Senility.
Below are some photographs from the Darby family personal collection: Cornelius and Leah, Cornelius and Leah with Leah’s sister Aubry and her husband Frank Bibby and then a family group with Cornelius and Pierce crouching at the front with Pierce’s two sons, Leah stood behind Cornelius and Betty’s mother Lizzie stood behind Pierce with Betty next to her. The other woman I am unsure as to who she is but potentially is another relative.
In the years after WWII Cornelius lost his mother Edith in 1958 followed a year later by his sister Edith – married name Richards. His eldest sister Martha died in 1968 – married name Woollaton
It also looks like Cornelius and Leah didn’t live in Mere Road for too long as by the time Leah passed away on 18th November 1970, she and Cornelius were back living at 102 Twycross Street. Leah’s probate entry states the value of her estate was £4546 which according to the National Archives Currency Convertor Tool using 1970 as the comparison year would be worth £64,024.05 in 2017s money. Cornelius passed away just under a year later on 24th October 1971, his probate entry it gives the value of his estate at £3914 – which according to the National Archives Currency Convertor Tool (using 1970 as the comparison year) this is worth £55,123.21 in 2017s money.
Cornelius’s other siblings died after him, with his brother Frank dying in 1978, sister Norah (married name Tuckley) dying in 1980, sister Eleanor (married name Dyson) dying in 1989, sister Marguerite (married name Garton) dying in 1990 and finally his brother Eric died in 1999. We have a photograph of Eric which shows he served in the RAF during WWII.
My next instalment will cover the family line going further back starting with Cornelius’s father Frederick James Darby.