Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Tracing the BMVA

I have previously posted this photograph on the blog. It is a wonderful old photo of naval veterans taken somewhere in Birmingham, probably in the early 20th century.

One of the old salts in the photograph is my late Uncle Harry's great grandfather, Henry Townley, though I don't recall which one.

Henry was born in Treadworth, Gloucestershire in the late 1830s. We know he was very tall as Harry once said they couldn't get his coffin down the stairs of the Vesper Bell pub in Ledsam Street which was run by his son-in-law Albert Lee from around 1900, so they lowered him in his coffin out of an upstairs window.

The man on the far right back row could therefore be a contender although another gentleman two places to his right (our left) looks facially like Uncle Harry.

On many of their caps are the initials BMV. In the past I have searched lists of 19th century naval vessels but not been able to find anything relating to BMV. Given Henry's approximate date of birth I have generally speculated that he might have seen some action as a young man in the Crimean War of the 1850s.

By pure chance I came across this photograph today on a blog called The Iron Room (Birmingham Archives and Heritage Blog).

The photo was posted by Michael Hunkin, Archivist (Warwickshire Photographic Survey) and shows, to quote Michael Hunkin:

"  Dated 1894, it is likely the photograph relates to the formation of the Birmingham Military Veteran’s Association that year. It was set up to aid local survivors of the Crimean Wars and Indian Mutiny and can be seen a predecessor to the larger veteran’s organisations set up after the First World War that were eventually amalgamated to form the Royal British Legion in May 1921.

The three men at the front were veterans of the Crimean War and survivors of the Charge of the Light Brigade, the near-suicidal cavalry charge by 600 men against Russian artillery that left 118 dead and 127 wounded. Although the tactical reasoning behind the action has been hotly questioned, the heroism of the men who went into the ‘Valley of Death’ became the stuff of legend, inspiring a famous poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson and the epic film of 1968.

The book ‘Balaclava Heroes’ (2008) by Christopher Poole pieced together the lives of several Midlands survivors of this conflict. Perhaps these unidentified men include John Parkinson, who later joined the Birmingham police, and John Howes, a Digbeth-based boot repairer who in 1890 claimed £15 from the Light Brigade Relief Fund. Both men were in fact co-founders of the BMVA.

The mixed fortunes of military servicemen adjusting to civilian life after witnessing the horror of armed conflict have been documented throughout the nation’s history, be they wounded survivors of the English Civil War, shellshock victims of the trenches, or veterans of present day conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.  "

Christopher Poole added further information identifying the three veterans at the front of the parade:

Front Row…L to R…John Howes (4th Light Dragoons)… John Parkinson (11th Hussars), carrying the Union Jack, Edwin Hughes (13th Light Dragoons). Christopher J Poole, author, Balaclava Heroes (2008)

Visit the Iron Room Blog

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