Picture by Rupert Fox from a design by Michael William Alabaster

 

The Alabaster Chronicle 

The Journal of the Alabaster Society 


 

NUMBER SIXTEEN,  SPRING 2001 

Contents


Editorial

by Laraine Hake - March 1996 

Hello! Welcome to Alabaster Chronicle Number Sixteen!

I do hope you will enjoy reading this issue, in particular "Two Generations of Soldiers", an article by John Stammers Alabaster about his great-uncle and son who served in two very different wars at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century. You will notice that this issue is an enormous 48 pages! When we produced the first issue, back in 1993, we were aiming at a regular 16 pages, since then 24 pages has become the norm. Hopefully, this will not be the only bumper issue. There are more longer articles in the pipeline, but these can only be maintained while we have members willing to write and provide them. Please do think about it…….whether it is 28 pages or a paragraph, the more contributors we have, the more interesting the Chronicle is likely to prove to be!

The Letter Pages have been a delight to compile for this issue. Several people have made specific comments about articles in previous Chronicles (nice to know it is actually read!) and others have contributed up to date information about their present day family. Very many thanks to you! Please keep the letters coming in!

With the next Chronicle, hopefully September 2001, you will be receiving booking forms for the next Gathering (see page 3) and a sheet to compile your own contribution to a new book of Alabasters (see page 2). These things are in hand!

Today is my mother's eightieth birthday! How true appears the maxim that time passes with increasing speed as you get older. I had my fiftieth birthday three weeks ago; were we really only sixty-nine and thirty-nine respectively at the time of the first Gathering we held in 1990!

As I write, I do believe Spring has actually arrived………the garden is calling me!

9th April 2001
To Contents


Adrian's Bequest

by Laraine Hake

As many members are aware, after the death of Adrian Alabaster in October 1998, it was found that he had left "to the Alabaster Society, c/o Laraine Hake, the sum of two hundred pounds to be used at her discretion for the benefit of the members….."

It is very likely that Adrian actually envisaged no more than us all having "a drink on him" at the next Gathering, but I decided that I would use my "discretion" to see if something more lasting could be done. I sought the views of other members in Hadleigh in 1999 and various ideas were mooted. One suggestion was that a very special book containing details of the present membership of the Alabaster Society should be compiled, providing the Alabaster Society's own historical artefact for future generations; creating our own snapshot of Alabaster family history for Alabaster genealogists in the centuries to come!

As Adrian spent much time on his "Book of the Alabasters", eventually named "A Quintet of Alabasters", it actually seems quite fitting that his bequest should help provide a new "Book of the Alabasters" or at least a detailed picture of the members of the Alabaster Society at the commencement of the 21st century!

Overseeing a concept of this type will actually take a great deal more time and effort than I have available and I am delighted to be able to report that Ron Alabaster West has agreed to oversee and organise the project for which I, (and our descendants!) will be very grateful. Ron and his family have agreed to receive, file and index the written contributions too.

Ron has found a craftsman bookbinder who has a "Dickensian style workshop in Northampton" and who produces work of a very high quality - he actually binds diaries for the Queen! He will produce a part-leather bound 4D ring binder with the Alabaster Society shield on the front cover, impressed in gold leaf. This binder will be large enough to hold 100 acid-free A4 plastic sleeves and it is hoped that each of these will eventually contain a formatted sheet of information and a photograph of each member, with room on the back for additional details.

The sleeve and information sheet, along with suggestions on its completion, will be sent to all members with the next journal. We hope each member will be willing to take part in this exciting venture and fill in his or her own individual sheet.

With luck, the completed volume will be ready for the next Alabaster Gathering in April 2002, although there is a great deal of work to be done before then. After that, it will be kept by the secretary of the society, whether that is myself or another, and made available to members and bona fide genealogists. Alternatively, it could be lodged with an archive or record office, but this can be decided later.

How exciting it is to consider a unique record of Alabaster members in 2001 for future generations to muse over!

To Contents

 


Alabaster Gathering - 2002

Remember that the next Alabaster Gathering is set to take place over the weekend of April 27th and 28th, 2002. After our excellent experience there in 1999, the Old School has been booked for all day Saturday, including a dinner in the evening, and I have plans to organise a coach trip to from Hadleigh to Norfolk on the Sunday.

Already, 79 people have expressed an interest in joining us on the Saturday and 56 on the Sunday!

More details and booking forms will be with the next Chronicle, but please note the date in your diary now!

To Contents


An Alabaster visits the Savetsilas

by Angela Alabaster (IIA)

Henry Alabaster, (IIC), was born in Hastings, Sussex in 1836, the son of James Chaloner Alabaster of Piccadilly, London and his wife Sophia Harriet. Henry went East when he was 20, first to Hong Kong and then he was transferred to Siam (now Thailand). He was employed as a Student Interpreter, and eventually as Acting Consul. After a period in England, he returned to Bangkok and became Adviser to the King of Siam. He died in 1884, and was honoured by the King by a fine white marble monument in the Protestant Cemetery. Henry’s descendants in modern day Thailand, include several important members of Thai society.

When Adrian was doing research for his “Quintet of Alabasters”, he wrote to the Thai Embassy in London, where a good friend of Air Chief Marshal Siddhi Savetsila was able to put us in touch with him. Khun Siddhi sent us a great deal of information about his Grandfather, Henry Alabaster. When he and his family made a flying visit to London in 1995, we went to the Ambassador’s residence and had the pleasure of meeting them. Later we were invited to visit Thailand. It was a great sadness that Adrian was, by then, too ill to travel. However, after Adrian’s death, I visited Australia and stopped off in Bangkok on my way back to England. I was joined by my neighbour, Brenda Rust.

Savetsilas: Thida, Siddhi, Nui, Tuck, with Adrian, Angela Alabaster

Thai Ambassador’s Residence, London, 1995.
Lft to rt: Angela, Thida, Adrian, Thida’s daughter, Siddhi, friend, Nui, Tuck

On our first day in Thailand, we met key members of The Savetsila Family from both branches, descended from Henry Alabaster’s two Thai sons: Thongkam and Thongyoi. Chalermsri Bird and Angela Alabaster at Henry Alabaster`s tomb and memorial, Bangkok, Thailand(The King, Rama VI, granted the family the name Savetsila, a translation of Alabaster meaning, “white stone”). Khun Siddhi, his sister Chalermsri Bird, his niece Sakuni Jacoby and cousin Pong were there. We were given tickets for the spectacular Procession of the King’s Barges, part of the King’s birthday celebrations.

We travelled overnight to Changmai, in the north, and next day Khun Siddhi and his son, Nui and Tuck (Nui’s TV presenter wife) flew up, and we had a very happy day with Rosarin, (Sakuni’s mother) exploring the beautiful country, gardens and homes, ending with a splendid dinner! Brenda and I stayed several more days near Changmai, during which we met Billy Bird, son of Chalermsri. Then we transferred to the Golden Triangle where three countries meet on the Mekong River.

Chalermsri Bird and Angela at Henry Alabaster’s monument (right)

We flew back to Bangkok, where, between sight seeing expeditions, we met many of the rest of the family. Of course the most interesting visit was when Chalermsri took us to the cemetery where Henry was buried and the King had erected a magnificent marble monument in his honour in 1884. The river was badly flooding, but thanks to The Family the monument is in good condition. We also went to a house where it is possible that Henry and his family lived; it is also near the river and very wet, but evocative of times past. At the dinner at Sakuni’s house there were some of the younger generations and her side of the family.

Finally, at the house of Khun Siddhi and his wife Khunying Thida, we had another lovely occasion. I felt it was a great privilege to be so warmly accepted into the Savetsila family and that I was representing the world wide family of Alabasters as we drank a toast to the Alabaster/Savetsila Family. We look forward to welcoming some members of the Savetsila branch of The Family over here before long. P.S. I am aware that names and relationships are difficult, especially Thai ones; (they use nicknames as well as formal names) and if I have made mistakes, please forgive me!

If you would like to learn more about Henry and his distinguished brothers, as well as other members of the Alabaster clan, I can supply a copy of Adrian’s book “A Quintet of Alabasters” for £10.00 including postage. Write to me at South Pavillion Cottage, Colley Lane, Reigate, Surrey RH2 9JD Alternatively, a copy can be ordered via credit card at www.genfair.com

To Contents


News from Around the World

Denis Alabaster (IIIB) Sept 15th 2000
Just a note to let you know that our daughter Faye married Sean Paulin, a Mauritian-born guy, in Mauritius on 1st September 2000 at the Cathedral in Port Louis.

Robin Alabaster (WofW) 27th Sept 2000
Having seen the disastrous results of mining in Zeehan (Tasmania), Beryl's story was of great interest. We approached Zeehan from the North West though a lunar landscape (elsewhere in Tasmania its lush and green). Whatever they mined there, the price was too high.
At its peak Zeehan had 14,000 households, it's now just 1,400, just 10% of its original population. We went there with our tour guide to see plants that had colonised an area of non-toxic spoil. The plants there included sun orchids and Christmas Bells (Blandfordia punicea); seedling plants of the latter now grow in one of my greenhouses.
This comment from Robin relates to the article in Chronicle No.15, "A Sad Death in Tasmania"

Pauline and Brian Alabaster, Curtin, Australia, 23rd October 2000
…….thought you'd like to see our 3 Alabaster Twigs - Rhys (6), Tessa (2), Coen (3)………….

Twigs of Alabasters

Molly Duffy (IIC), New Zealand September 2000
The enclosed photograph and story was printed in Otago Daily Times: they gave permission to use it in the Chronicle, if you wish…..

IIC Alabasters
"New edition meets older generations"

"At just 4-weeks-old Emily Downey had plenty of helping hands to cuddle and comfort her as five generations of the Alabaster family posed for pictorial records yesterday.
Mary Alabaster (great-great-grandmother) and Jack Alabaster (great-grandfather) live in Alexandra. John Alabaster (grandfather) and mother Elizabeth Alabaster brought Emily up from Invercargill to meet her Central Otago family for the first time yesterday.
Mrs Alabaster sen. (94) is a keen croquet player and life member of the Otago Croquet Association. Jack (70) is a former Otago and New Zealand cricketer, now a golfing enthusiast. John (46) is a road cyclist, holding the title of New Zealand veteran time trial champion as well as Oceania Veteran road champion.
I'm one who who doesn't play any sport, laughed Emily's mother, Elizabeth (21)."

Christmas greetings - 2000
As is my wont, I sent a "Happy Christmas" email to all Alabasters for whom I have email addresses. Two replies I received, in quick succession, spoke of very different climatic conditions.....

...from Lynn Alabaster (IIIA)
Christmas greetings from Australia, where we are sweltering in 38 degree heat, which doesn't do much to put me in the Christmas spirit. Oh for a nice cold English Christmas again!!!

...from John Cornelius (Bryan)
Best wishes for the holiday season to you and yours.
From snowy and icy Connecticut.
Once again, I was struck by the spread of the Alabaster family…….may I also take this opportunity to thank everybody in the Alabaster family who sends me a Christmas card. Very, very many thanks! I love receiving them, but have to accept that it would cost me about £30 to send Christmas cards to all members myself, while the emails cost me a single local call! LH

Ivor Smith (IV) 28th Dec 2000
Found on the web: death details of Horace and Jessie Alabaster in Vancouver, referred to by Martin Alabaster in Chronicle No.14, page 19:

Horace Alabaster, death, aged 68. 2nd Nov 1920 - Vancouver
Jessie Alabaster, death, aged 73. 17th Feb 1929 - Vancouver

This provides the answer to my speculation, clearly Horace and Jessie had emigrated from England, as their adult children had done.
Read also, on page 14 of this issue, the obituary of Robert Bliss Alabaster, one of the first grandchildren of Horace and Jessie to have been born in USA.

Molly Duffy (IIC) December 2000
With reference to Chronicle 15, page 7 (a reference to a memorial plaque in Kirkcudbright to a Vera Alabaster) here is a copy of the invitation to the wedding of Vera Petchatkin to Ernest Alabaster in 1914 - note the difference between the dates of the English and Russian Calendars.

Wedding Invitation
Click to enlarge

When I was in the UK late 1951 until late 1952, Evelyn Alabaster (IIC) told me Vera was living in Kirkcudbrighshire after she became a widow in 1950. I understand that Vera's mother-in-law, Palacia, was artistic. I have a card with several small paintings on it, painted by her when in Siam - Rupert Cecil Alabaster"with love from Aunt Palacia" (spelled with one "c") on the back.

With reference to Chronicle 15, pages 14-16, A Sad Death in Tasmania, Rupert Cecil Alabaster was a Lieutenant in the Royal Field Artillery.

I have a lovely studio photograph of him in his uniform. He was an Associate of the Royal School of Mines and Associate of the Institute of Mining and Metallurgy.

Rupert Cecil Alabaster 

His wife, Etta, was the daughter of E. H. Fahey, landscape painter. They had a choral wedding at St Peter's Church, Bayswater, best man being Chaloner Grenville Alabaster (his brother).

Rupert's son, Edward Chaloner, was in Melbourne, 50 years ago.

Edward Chaloner actually died in Victoria, Australia, in 1983. He was less than two years old at the time of his father, Rupert Cecil's, sad death.

 

 

 

  

Florence Lily Alabaster

Clifford Alabaster (IIIA) 11th January 2001
I am compelled to write to you of the extraordinary coincidence of the "Last Minute News" item in the Alabaster Chronicle No. 15.
You announce the birth of Florence Lily Alabaster Robinson, born to Nicola, daughter of Ronald Alabaster West (IV) on the 10th August 2000, weighing in at 71b 8oz.

Florence Lily Alabaster Robinson

My granddaughter, Florence Rose Mulny was also born on 10th August 2000, also weighing 71b 8oz. She is the daughter of Sara-Jane Mulny, née Alabaster, my youngest daughter.
Now isn't that just astounding?!
The two little Florence (flower)s, both entering this world on the same day, at the same weight, given the same first name, share a common ancestor in John Alabaster, baptised 20th September 1624, in Hadleigh, and his wife Elizabeth. John was the babies' nine times great grandfather.

 
Florence Rose Mulny
 
 
Florence Rose Mulny
each born 10th August 2000, weighing 71bs 8oz
They are tenth cousins!

 

 

 

 

 

Valerie Knobloch, Gütersloh, Germany, 12th February 2001
I recently discovered that my great grandmother's name was Virtue Alabaster who was married to my great grandfather John Haines -West Ham / Stratford London. Do you have any information of her?
Herzliche Gruesse aus Guetersloh / best regards,  Valerie Knobloch.

Muriel Stanley 11th March 2001 (via Ivor Smith)
My family know very little about my maternal grandmother's side of the family. Her name was Caroline Elenora Alabaster and she married my grandfather James Edward Bassett on 11 February 1896 and subsequently resided in Hackney, London. She was 18 years old at the time of her marriage.
These initial enquiries have resulted in two new members of the Alabaster Society, both from Branch IV! Valerie's gt grandmother, Virtue, (born 1853, West Ham) was the daughter of Henry William West Alabaster by his first marriage - see Chronicle No. 5, whilst Muriel's grandmother, Caroline Elenora (born 1877, Gt Yarmouth) was the granddaughter of William Alabaster, Henry William's older brother, making Virtue and Caroline first cousins once removed, and Valerie and Muriel fourth cousins! For the first two years of the Society's existence, we had only one member who was descended from Branch IV; that was John Brian Alabaster. It was not until 1995 that he was joined in representing Branch IV by Hal Alabaster, member 73. Since then, things have changed dramatically! We are now up to member 130, and have 13 members from Branch IV!

To Contents


An Obituary of an American Alabaster

by Laraine Hake

I came upon this obituary on the internet, and realised that Robert Bliss Alabaster was the father of Robbin Churchill, a recently joined member of our Society who had joined after a chance encounter with another Alabaster upon a British Airways flight (Chronicle No.14 page 19). Robert was the eldest son of Sidney Alabaster who had emigrated to USA in 1904 at the age of 16. So much detail is given here of Robert’s life in America, it struck me just how proud his father, and those previous generations in Gt Yarmouth, England, would have been.

Robert Bliss Alabaster (IV) (1914-2000)

“An original Iron Duke dies at 85
THOMASVILLE - Robert Bliss Alabaster, 85, died July 17, 2000. He was born Oct. 28, 1914, in Richmond Hill, N.Y., the first child of Sidney and Helen Bliss Alabaster. He graduated from Baldwin High School after starring in five high school sports. He was the Long Island backstroke champion. His athletic prowess won him a four-year scholarship to Duke University. Robert Bliss Alabaster, 1914 - 2000He was one of the original "Iron Dukes" playing under the guidance of Coach Wallace Wade. In 1938, the team traveled by train to California to play in the legendary Rose Bowl game of Duke vs. University of Southern California. The team was undefeated and unscored upon that year but lost the Rose Bowl to USC. He graduated from Duke University in 1939. On July 12, 1941, he married Evelyn Hohler of Oceanside, N.Y. He served in World Ward II from 1942 to 1945 in the 106th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion, European Theater. He saw seven campaigns in Italy, France and Central Europe and he won the Bronze Star.

After the war, Bob resumed his career with Geigy (now Ciba) in New York City and Ardsley, N.Y. He served in the Army Reserves for 20 years and retired as a major. The family moved to Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., in 1956, where they lived for 16 years. He and his family transferred to Greensboro after the merger of Ciba and Geigy in 1972. He retired from Ciba Geigy in 1985, as advertising manager after 42 years. He spent his retirement playing golf at Forest Oaks Country Club, refinishing furniture, keeping his yard in pristine condition and always supporting the Blue Devils' athletic teams. His wife preceded him in death in 1993, and afterwards he moved to the Piedmont Center in Thomasville. Surviving are three daughters, Robbin Churchill of Atlanta, Gwen Rocque of New Rochelle, N.Y., and Erica Graves of Trinity; two sisters, Charlotte Walker of Ronkonkoma, N.Y., and Dorothy Pless of Jensen Beach, Fla.; a brother, Alfred Alabaster of Jensen Beach; seven grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren." My sympathy goes out to Robbin and her sisters and their children, and to Robert’s brother and sister, Alfred (Moe) Alabaster and Dorothy Pless, (also recent members). Many thanks to Robbin for agreeing to the use of her father’s obituary, and for his photograph. LH

To Contents


Two Generations of Soldiers

by John Stammers Alabaster (I)

There have been few military people in my branch of the family, but two of them, father and son, were soldiers in the Zulu War and World War I respectively. The following account of their service may help to show why they have earned our admiration and respect.

Edwin Alabaster, “Uncle Ted”

Edwin was my great uncle – elder brother of my grandfather. As a teenager he worked (my brother believes) for his uncle, one of the Rickards who became a broker in the stockmarket. There are many family stories about him, such as the occasion when Rickard’s business interests took him abroad and, on hearing that he was off to Paris, Edwin and some of the other lads decided that the time was ripe for a jaunt to the races at Epsom. To their horror, however, who should they bump into, but – the Boss! For Edwin, the thought, then, of having to face his father was too much and so he joined the army! Or so the story goes. But what is certain is that when he enlisted in London, on 26th February, 1877, joining the 24th Regiment at its base in Brecon on 6th March, he was described as a carpenter, and his former trade, as cordwainer. His military career is fairly well documented  (2a) and we know that, when he joined, he was eighteen years and three months old, 6ft 7 ½ins in height, and of fair complexion with hazel eyes and brown hair.

This was an inauspicious start for the eldest son of the family who would normally have been expected to take the brunt of supporting his siblings and parents. The army was a tough discipline for him. The pay was only a shilling a day, half of which would be docked for luxuries such as extra rations and laundry! A pension would come only after twenty-one years’ service, which was not without its dangers to life and limb. And a soldier caught napping on duty could still be severely flogged. Even opting for the new short-term service would entail three years with the colours and then transfer to the army reserve for another five  (3).

In the following February the 2nd Battalion of the 24th Regiment received orders to move from Chatham to Plymouth, to embark onto the troop-ship H.M.S. Himalaya and sail to South Africa to join the 1st Battalion for active service in the 9th Frontier War at the Cape  (3).

The Situation in South Africa

The Cape was strategically very important to Britain, providing a naval base and a coaling station, and guarding a route to India and the Far East that still carried two-thirds of the trade from Britain, even after the opening of the Suez Canal.Transvaal, River Vaal, Orange Free State, Natal, Rorke`s Drift, Zululand Moreover, diamonds had been discovered there in 1867, and that area had also been annexed by Britain! However, ever since the Cape had been taken from the Dutch in 1803, it had been a centre for their intermittent rebellion. With the abolition of slavery by Britain in 1834, many Boers, who objected to this curtailment of what they saw as their rights, left the Colony and trekked across the Orange and Vaal Rivers and founded the Orange Free State, Natal and the Transvaal. (Fig. 1)

Fig.1 (left). South-east Africa showing the Transvaal north of the River Vaal, the Orange Free State bounded by the Rivers Vaal and the Orange, north and south, and other territories. In Natal: G = Greystone; P = Pietermarizburg.

But Natal was then taken over by the British in 1842, the other two territories being guaranteed their independence. Yet financial and political difficulties within the Transvaal led to its bloodless annexation by Britain in April, 1877. This was part of a British plan for a federation of the Cape Colony and Natal with the Transvaal and the Orange Free State; and one of the factors that helped to persuade the Transvaal parliament to agree to this was the false claim that there was a Zulu threat of invasion and an assurance that the British could deal with it. Actually, as the British well knew, Cetshwayo, the Zulu King, welcomed the annexation of the Transvaal as he thought it would protect him from the Boers! What the troops were told about their mission we can only guess. (4)

The month-long voyage to Cape Town in cramped conditions must have been wearisome, but even so, immediately on arrival, the troops were transported to King William’s Town (Fig.1) in the north-east Cape to get their first taste of action. By June, 1878, they had dealt ruthlessly with the disturbances there, substituting a military campaign for the crude violence of the colonials – cattle-rustling, burning kraals and shooting the native ‘kaffirs’. Soon the Transkei was also annexed. The Zulus were the next target. A spurious claim by the Boers to borderland on the Blood River between the Transvaal and Zululand failed to provide the British with an excuse for war, so instead, an unacceptable 30-day ultimatum of demands was delivered to Cetshwayo on 11 December, 1878 which, if not complied with would lead to invasion.

 The Zulu War  (3)

So it was that a coastal mail-steamer had already taken the troops to Natal, and they went on to Pietermaritzberg Rorke`s Drift, Isandhlwana, Greytown(Figs. 1 & 2) to prepare for what was really a contrived war.  

Fig. 2 (right). Route taken by 24th Regiment in December 1878

The 24th Regiment was to cross into Zululand at Rorke’s Drift some 125 miles away. The transport consisted of Cape wagons that were 18 ft long and were awkward and heavy to handle when loaded and needed at least eighteen oxen to keep them moving over ground that could be either rough or boggy. The regimental band played the tune of ‘Warwickshire Lads’ as they reached Greytown. Here one company of the 2nd Battalion was left to garrison the town whilst the remainder went on, arriving on 9th January (two days before the deadline for a reply from Cetshwayo) at the Buffalo River, near the junction of its tributary, Blood River, in plenty of time to make a raft and pontoon for the main column to effect a crossing early on the 11th. But conditions were difficult, and it was not until 18th January that Lt-General Lord Chelmsford took the 1st and 2nd Battalions into Zululand for a campaign that proved to be something of a disaster.

When he reached Isandhlwana on 20th January, he made no effort to fortify the camp. Before dawn on 22nd, there were reports of enemy movements from a scouting party, so Chelmsford decided to go after them immediately taking six companies of the 2nd Battalion of the 24th, and leaving behind only one (Pope’s company ‘G’) of the 2nd/24th and five companies of the 1st/24th 5, but at the same time calling for reserves from Rorke’s drift – though these were only Colonel Durnford’s rocket battery and a corps of 300 mounted natives, albeit well-trained. Unfortunately he left no clear orders as to who was to be in command in his absence! And, still no effort was made to fortify the camp!

Durnford (the senior officer) decided to go to help Chelmsford, leaving Colonel Pulleine in command at the camp. Then the tragedy happened. Whereas Chelmsford came across only a small number of Zulus (eighty), twenty thousand had been waiting,Isandhlwana from the south concealed below the rim of the plateau near Isandlhwana, some behind the awesome hill itself (Fig 3) and they now attacked the much reduced British force at the camp. 

Fig.3 (left). Isandhlwana from the south, as it is today

At 8.05 a.m. Pulleine called for help from Chelmsford, but was sent only a weak battalion of Natal natives under Commander Browne. Browne returned with the message, “For God’s sake, come back. The camp is surrounded”. Chelmsford still discounted the danger, even though the size of the Zulu force was confirmed by prisoners. The camp was overwhelmed and, in all, only five imperial officers survived and only 30 white men escaped out of 800.

Chelmsford returned to the scene of carnage, now being looted by the Zulus, and spent an uncomfortable night on a stony hill nearby, returning to Rorke’s Drift the next morning with the six companies of the 2nd/24th. There they found that the garrison had managed to defend itself against some 10,000 Zulus, showing enormous bravery and endurance which earned no fewer than eleven Victoria crosses, a number of accelerated promotions and the respect and admiration of the Zulus, as well as of the nation at home.

 

Edwin’s Rôle

South Africa Medal won by Edwin AlabasterWhat role Edwin played in all this is not certain. Records show that he fought in the South African campaign, gaining the South African medal (Fig. 4) and clasp  (2a) and serving in the Zulu War in Natal.

Fig. 4(right). South Africa Medal

According to family tradition (6), he was involved in the defence of Rorke’s Drift, where he was severely wounded by Zulu spears and, keeping motionless on the ground while the Zulu warriors went around finishing off anyone who moved, was left for dead.

However, he is not listed among the survivors of the defence of Rorke’s Drift  (7). This casts doubt upon the story, especially as accounts of The Defence do not include soldiers being speared on the ground, though records at that time were not necessarily all that accurate  (8). Nevertheless, his service record  (2) shows that he was certainly in the 24th Regiment, and we also know from his medical record  (2a) that he suffered from abscesses and eventually left the service with scars in his neck, chest and armpit, the places where he was said to have been speared. It seems more likely, therefore, that he was present at the defeat of Isandhlwana rather than at the defence of the drift. The family could simply have asked him whether he had been at Rorke’s Drift and, having the fact affirmed, had assumed that it had been when the post was defended rather than when he passed through immediately before and after that event. In any case there would have been far more kudos attached to the The Defence than to the The Defeat and so, perhaps his precise role was not inquired into too closely.

His wounds gave him a great deal of trouble, not healing and having to be drained periodically, but on his return home a wise old woman cured them with dressings of teased-out rope, treated with Stockholm tar – quite a drastic remedy! My auntie May said that his face was also scarred on the left side. It is somewhat ironical to note that after two years active service, the last very close to the action, he received Good Conduct Pay!

It should be added that the troubles in South Africa were far from over. The year 1899 saw the beginning of the Boer War, the sieges of Ladysmith and other towns and, in the following year came the surrender of Bloemfontein, the Relief of Mafeking, Robert’s entry into Pretoria and the second annexation of the Transvaal. And not until 1902 did the Peace of Vereenining finally bring the strife to some sort of termination. But there was little or no accommodation between the whites and blacks until the recent ending of apartheid at the close of the last century.

 

A Spell in India

South Africa was not the only scene of Edwin’s troubles. He was sick-listed in Gibraltar in February, 18802a, and then, as my brother relates  (6):“in answer to a plea from Lord Roberts for volunteers to deal with some trouble in India, and having recovered from his spear wounds, he volunteered to go there with him”spending two years abroad  (2a), so missing the Boer rising in the Transvaal in 1881. My brother continues:“the British infantry faced a native charge of racing camels. From what I have been told, the British first brought down the camel and then dealt with the man…….. After the battle in India, Edwin contracted malaria and was in a bad way”  (6)

He was certainly ill in Poona, West India on 2nd September, 1880, and then again in Secunderabad, Central India on 17th, this time with dysentery and abscesses  (2a)

“He heard that a ship was in port sailing for home and asked that he might go. He was told he could, if he could make it to the ship”  (6)

He was ill again on 11th April, 1882, at Wellington – presumably in the Cape of Good Hope, on route home – again with abscesses2a. When he docked at Tilbury, his brother had had word of his home coming and was there to meet him but, at first, was hardly able to recognise him.6 His unhealed abscesses had to be drained, and he was finally discharged at Netley, Southampton on 29th May, 1883; he was reported to be of good character but medically unfit, his constitution having been ‘impaired by exposure on active service in South Africa’. When discharged he was still in the 2nd Battalion of the South Wales Borderers  (2a) &  (2b). At some time after this he became a carpenter and joiner.

 

Sad reflections

My father, looking back, said

“I recall the South African War very vividly and, as a small boy, seeing the company of volunteers, a cyclist corps, dressed in pale grey uniforms with white spats, departing from Swansea in a heavy thunderstorm, all wet through but eager for departure. Many of them, whose families were well known to me, never returned because casualties were very high. I also recall the passage through the town of the military funerals of young men invalided home to die of wounds or illness, and the soldiers marching back from the cemetery to the playing of “The girl I left behind me” or “Goodbye Dolly I must leave you” – a sad and sorry occasion.”

No doubt these memories were reinforced by family talk about Uncle Edwin’s personal involvement a decade earlier.

Edwin was a very kindly man and most thoughtful of others. Yet he was destined to suffer the anguish of seeing his eldest son, Edmund, confined to a mental home. He lost his first wife, Constance and also his daughter when she was only 12, to Diptheria (1). Even his son, William, who was only 15 at the time of his sister’s death, having been born in 1890, was later to enlist in World War I and to perish in that carnage.

On 26th February, 1915, Edwin enlisted again, joining the 6th Battalion of the Essex Regiment, hoping to be near his son on active service, but he was transferred to the Royal Defence Corps in April, 1916 and was discharged again, “no longer medically fit for service”  (2b). Aunty May described how she once saw him, a sad figure, on guard duty on a bridge near Bow, close to the cemetery where his wife, Constance was buried.

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William of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF)

Edwin’s son, William, was much loved by all the family. A portrait of him in uniform had a prominent place in my grandparents’ dining room in Swansea. He had emigrated to Australia in 1911, at the age of 21  (14), accompanied, to his surprise, by his Uncle Jack, the youngest of my grandfather’s brothers and only some eight years older than William. Uncle Jack had got on board the sailing ship, a passenger-carrying freighter, to see William off and, on the spur of the moment, decided to go with him! (9)

A few words on my great-uncle Jack  (9)

It will not surprise the reader to know that Jack was a live wire and full of initiative and energy. I recall his occasional visits to Swansea in my early teens when he would burst into the room, full of talk and laughter, taking everyone by storm and leaving us all breathless and open-eyed!

Little wonder that working his six-week passage was not a problem to him. Moreover, he set up a Masonic teaching Lodge on board and also established a tailor’s valet service, scrounging blankets and sheets to do the pressing, and training up the stewards at the same time. There were tales of getting into scrapes in Port Said and having to make off with a donkey and cart to escape a belligerent Arab mob. After docking in Sydney, he worked in several clothing stores in Melbourne, intending to bring out his family to join him once well established. A fortune-teller had once predicted that he would live in Australia, but that a message in the night would prevent him from ever settling there; then came the telegram in the night saying that his wife and son had Tuberculosis, the killer disease of the time. So he returned, working his passage once more  (9).

 

William’s early career

We know something of William’s early life; he had been born in Old Ford, Essex in 189011, had attended Essex Road School  (14), Australian Imperial Force badge: Australian Commonwealth Military Forceand had been apprenticed to his father for four years as a carpenter and joiner (11); he had emigrated to Australia at 21 and had enlisted three years later on 27th October, 1914 in the 13th Battalion of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF).

Fig. 5. "Rising Sun" Insignia
of the Australian Commonwealth Military Forces

He was then described as being 5ft 11ins in height and having blue eyes, a fair complexion and brown hair (11). He has been reported as being a builder and having bought a house  (9) and he seems to have established himself before joining the armed forces, for he had certainly bought some freehold land at Bankstown, near Sydney  (12). He was also reported as having a girlfriend, who may well have been the Miss A. Sidney of Holt Street, Sydney, who had the care of the deeds to the land  (15), and who forwarded money and a box of effects to England on William’s death  (16).

 

Gallipoli/Dardanelles campaign

In the early part of the war, the Grand Duke Nicholas of Russia had been very hard pressed and the strategy was for the British to force the taking of the straits of the Dardanelles. The object was threefold: to enable munitions to get through to the Czar; to release Russian wheat for the Allies; and to attack the Turks from the peninsula of Gallipoli. In February and March the British and French navy mounted an attack, hoping to capture Constantinople, but it failed. So there followed amphibious attacks by Allied forces  (29). It was rumoured that with 250,000 Turks opposed to 10,000 allied troops, a casualty rate of 75% was expected! (18)

Within about six months of enlisting, William proceeded on 12th April, 1915 to join the Military Expedition Force (MEF) at Gallipoli (17), although the actual landing of Australian and New Zealand troops there did not take place until 25th April. An old rhyme, once popularly recited, begins:

          On the twenty-fifth of April,
          Far across the sea,
          Our brave Australian soldiers
          Stormed Gallipoli  (27)

This operation has been described as “a plan imaginative in concept, disastrous in execution” (29)

Not surprisingly, William was wounded in action within twenty-five days of the landing, shot in the back and arm  (17), probably by a sniper’s dum-dum bullet, as reported by the family. He was hospitalised in Malta, first at Cottonera Hospital and then, in July, moved to All Saints. However, by September he was well enough to travel back to Alexandria, Egypt on board the S.S. Karoa, be admitted to the base at Mustapha, and on 18th October was ‘to proceed overseas with the MEF’, probably to the island of Lemnos, and finally embark on 30th October for an attempted landing at Gallipoli. He wrote, in a strong hand  (20):

‘...on board S.S. Osmaneih  Have left Lemnos, & last night attempted to land at the Arena, the scene of the ‘big row’, but the weather was too rough, and we had to postpone the landing. We are now lying in security, awaiting the conditions, so that we may carry on the disembarkation.

I had a good reception from my old comrades when I came back & quite a number expressed their pleasure at seeing me back again, & in good health. Our Brigade Major was one, & asked very kindly about my wound, if there was any after effect, etc.

If you remember, it was upon his office that I was hit. One man was killed last night aboard here by [a] stray shot.

We could see the fires along the beach (where it cannot be seen by the Turks) & heard the firing quite plainly as we lay in the cove. I suppose that we shall get ashore tonight – it cannot be done by day, unless by a great loss of life, as the Turks start shelling as soon as landing parties start work. Shall write again later if possible With Love Will

P.S. Cannot write to all, so please forward news & love to Grandma & all at Home

He did succeed in rejoining the 13th Battalion at Gallipoli, as his next letter shows  (21):

[probably shortly after 30th October]                    Galepali [sic]

Before posting this, I might say we did land, & have safely arrived at our destination.

Our post is a very easy and comparative[ly] safe one, where we can get a good shelter behind a high ridge, & our trenches are also good, deep – commanding a rare stretch of enemy country. I am having a fairly good time, & find life full of interest here – these are interesting times are they not? We can see a long way around us, & at night the bursting shells from our ships can be plainly seen from here. The bombs & Star Shells are also interesting too watched from a distance: & we can hear the noises of engagement from various posts, both far & near. As we shall be getting some cold weather here soon, we have to dig well into the hill for our dugouts! but we hope to get to Constantinople for the winter! – Anything you would like from there? It is noted for its ‘Harems’ whatever they are, so [I] may bring one of them back with me.

Hope you are well Love to all Will’

Incidentally, this letter has already been quoted in a history of the Australian and New Zealand forces at Gallipoli by Dr John Robertson  (28).

Only a few small beach-heads held and the Dardanelles remained closed, so between December, 1915 and January, 1916 allied troops were evacuated – the most successful part of the whole operation!  (29).

 

A change of scene and status  (17)

With the welcome relief in the New Year from the dreadful conditions at Gallipoli, William sailed on the S.S. Tunis to Alexander from Mudros, the port on Lemnos. In March, 1916 he was transferred from the 13th to the 45th Battalion at Tel-el-Kehir, Egypt, near the Sweetwater Canal, due west of Ismailia, and promoted to Pioneer Corporal and Provisional Pioneer Sergeant, the latter soon confirmed. According to the family, he was urged at some stage to become a commissioned officer, but refused because he wanted to remain close to the thick of it with his comrades.Western Front, northern France, 1916

A few months later he proceeded to join the British Expeditionary Force at Alexandria on the Kinfauns Castle, disembarking on 8th June 1916 at Marseilles, France, en route to the Western Front.

 

The Western Front  (25)

The Western Front (the label for Germany’s western front which was accepted by the Allies as its own) ran continuously from Ostend (Fig. 6) to the French-Swiss border and was defended by multiple lines of trenches, short lengths of which, east of Amiens in northern France, were defended by the Australians.

Fig.6. Places on the Western Front, north of Paris, referred to in the text

The district was known as Santerre30, although some read it as ‘sang terre’ (‘bloody land’) because it was already the scene of many old battles; it had been ravaged by the Normans and repeatedly so by the English; Louis XI and Charles the Bold had fought there; it had witnessed the Hundred Years War; even the Cossacks of Alexander had traversed it. Now all this would pale in comparison with what was to come.

William was probably in the 4th Division and was therefore not involved in the AIF’s first great and catastrophic battle on 19th June, 1916 when the 5th Division was ordered to attack Fromelles and lost more than 5000 men (killed, wounded or captured), a quarter of its strength. This was without gaining any territory! But he was almost certainly among those sent to the centre of the Somme front, near Albert, to reinforce the British army which was losing thousands of men each day. The object of this second catastrophic battle was to gain the enemy’s trenches in Pozières, just east of Albert, a ruined village on the Thiepval-Pozières ridge; this time it was the turn of the 1st Division to lose over 5000 men! Then the 2nd Division came into play on 23rd July, captured the heights of the position, but suffered over 6000 casualties!

The 4th Division at Pozières

On 6th August, 1916, the 4th Division then had to deal with enemy counter-attacks.

A vivid account of some of the conditions faced by the 45th Battalion at that time has been provided by the diary of Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant Neaves  (21) who was a friend of William’s. He described the chaos that reigned from 5th to 15th August in the Pozières area. One incident only should suffice from his gruelling 3500 word record:“

I think one of the worst sights I saw during the whole of the period was the morning the 48th cookers were blown up. Ern[ie] Tuson, Bill Alabaster, Ernie Lind, Simmie and I were sitting down having a snack at breakfast time. Fritz was shelling round about but the shells were lobbing some distance away. A number of men were standing round the cookers getting breakfast when all at once a Fritzie shell hit the sandbags behind the cookers and exploded in the air. Such destruction and damage is inconceivable, men were blown to pieces, head, legs, arms were blown everywhere, two cookers were smashed to smithereens, and food was blown everywhere. One could never imagine such a sight. We were sitting about 15 yards away from all this destruction and needless to say were smothered in dirt and dust. Altogether 28 men were killed and 16 wounded by this shell.”

Neaves concluded his account of the whole 10-day period with a tally of casualties:-

          Killed: 9 officers and 84 other ranks;
          Wounded: 7 officers and 337 other ranks;
          Missing 10 other ranks; and
          Died of wounds: 5 other ranks

Altogether, during the four-day offensive, the 4th Division lost more than 7000 men. Counting all Divisions, there were 23,000 casualties on a front at Pozières of just one-mile wide  (25)! Little wonder that the ‘Diggers’, as they were called, emerged from that ordeal with no respect for, or trust in, the British command.

William refers to the carnage at Pozières in another letter home a couple of months later  (23) and described the memorial plate he had made from a piece of aluminium taken from an aircraft, and erected on a wooden cross in memory of his companions who had died there. He also refers to the harder fighting with ‘new inventions’, perhaps tanks and mustard gas. Probably this was what Neaves was referring to when he wrote, ‘Bill Alabaster had had a very rough time of it’  (26).
 

Welcome relief

During a welcome lull in the fighting William found time to write at length to his father  (22):

France Sept 24th 1916

Dear Dad,

We have a fine position here, so quiet & peaceful that it is hard to imagine that there is a war on at all. Here the line is just being held, & a few raids carried out on the German lines, with an air fight occasionally, & a few shells from us but only a very few from Fritz.

We are in supports, & our posi[tion]is in a wood where we have some very comfy dugouts.

Cemeteries and monuments near Pozières and Dernancourt, FranceI share one with the R.S.M. [Regimental Sergeant Major], & it is a place about 12’ x 14’ inside, wooden floor, canvas bunks, nice little brick fireplace, two desks & stools, pictures on the walls, two glazed windows, & what is more marvellous, a sixpanelled pitchpine moulded door, varnished. [As a carpenter, it is hardly surprising that he expressed such appreciation for the article!] There is 3’6” of sand-bags all round & on the roof, & the inside walls are lined with hessian. When, on a cold night, we get a coke fire going & the door closed, we are very comfortable.

I have the pioneers constructing new dugouts while we are here – the b’n [Battalion] is on fatigues for the front line. Being under & surrounded by trees we can move about pretty freely; behind the position there is a fairly large cemetery, filled with white crosses, dating back to the early days of the war. [this does not help in locating William at this time as there are no fewer than 11 cemeteries within a 4 km radius of Pozières!]

 

Fig.7. Cemeteries and monuments near Pozières and Dernancourt

 

We have been here 4 days now, & not a shell or bullet has come anywhere near us. The Hun has kept this line very thin as far as artil[l]ery goes.

I am sorry that your operations were not a success – will you have to undergo still more? [these may have been related to the cancer of the liver from which William’s father is said to have died  (1)] The weather in the past few days has been glorious, & the rain has held off nicely, allowing the mud, which was very thick, to dry up somewhat. There are some very marshy patches arround [sic] here, & where much traffic goes, duck walks have to be laid down. Have I addressed the envelope correctly? – I was not sure of your writing. I have just heard that another Zepp[elin] has been brought down in London. Hurrah! - these raids will become too expensive for him soon! We have them bluffed [i.e. blindfolded] everywhere! Please give my love to Mother & Chickie, same to yourself.

From Y[ou]r Affectionate son Will.

 

There are a few references in Neaves’ diary that touch on some of the lighter moments in what was, overall, a grim experience  (26). One entry reads, “Very early after my arrival I went off with Ernie Tuson and Bill Alabaster to an Estaminet a little distance along the road to sample their wine and beer”. ( An ‘Estaminet’ is ‘strine’, i.e. an ‘Australian’ (dialect) rendering of, ‘just a minute’, meaning a small Public House where one pops in for a minute for a quick drink.) Later he reports, “Bill Alabaster was a good fossiker so Bill was sent on the Search and he soon returned with the news that he had found a place where we could get coffee”. (In this case, a ‘fossiker’ was a mining gleaner who worked over old diggings and scratched about in the bed of creeks; and a ‘Fossiker’s dinner’ was bread, dripping and possibly a roasted onion)  (27). Neaves also wrote, “Bill Alabaster and Paddy Varney accompanied me and on our way back we bought a bottle champayne (sic) and drank it on the road”.

What must have helped to cope with the situation was a sense of humour and there are many ‘Digger’ stories, one of which may well have been related to William: ‘General Braithwaite was taking his New Zealand Brigade up into the line when one of those inevitable hold-ups occurred at a cross-roads, causing a halt alongside an Aussie unit. The General rode up on his charger, fuming, as usual, and roared out. “De-lay, de-lay! What is the meaning of this de-lay?” To which came the quick reply from an Aussie wit, “It’s French for milk, you silly old basket”’  [based on Reference (27)]

Bullecourt (Fig 7), Messines and Ypres, 1917  (25)

But conditions were really bad. The thick mud, described by William as drying up in September, returned deep and gluey with rain and bitter cold during the dreadful winter of 1916-17. This grim period came to an end only when German troops began to withdraw on 17th March.

Sergeant William Alabaster on home leave, 1917The 4th Division played a major part in the First Battle of Bullecourt on 11th April, but through poor planning and the failure of the new tanks, the attack failed. Altogether, during April, 3400 Australian lives were lost.

On 4th June, the 4th Division joined in the advance to capture the Messines ridge in one of the most successful Allied operations of the war  (25), and William was congratulated on his courage and coolness under fire on 7th – 11th June, 1917  (14); and on 23rd June he was awarded the Military Medal (in the field)  (17). It was soon after, on home leave in August that William was photographed (Fig. 8) and I well remember his portrait in a prominent position at my grandparents’ home at 49 Sketty Road, Swansea.

Fig.8. Sergeant William Alabaster on home leave

All Divisions were again in action in a series of battles, including the Third battle of Ypres (more properly known as the Battle of Passchendaele, Belgium) between July and November. Conditions were appalling because of the heavy rain and the destruction of the drainage system of the Flanders plain by artillery, with wounded men drowning in the deep mud. This time the casualties were 38,000 for the Australians  (25) and, in total, 260,000 for the British, and all this because the commander-in-chief, Haig, thought he could win the war in 1917!  (29). No wonder his popular image remains that of a callous butcher, although in reality he was a man of limited professional ability, unfortunately sustained by a deep religious faith.

Death at Dernancourt

On 26th March, 1918, a great German offensive started, and the AIF held the Somme sector where on 4th April they fought the First Battle of Villers-Bretonneux and on the 5th, the Battle of Dernancourt25 or, as one eye-witness to William’s death put it, ‘the Dernancourt stunt’(24). This village is only a few miles southwest of Pozières where they had fought so hard nearly two years earlier!

At about 8 a.m. on 5th April, 1918, the Battalion was going in to reinforce the line there, William at the head of his platoon. What happened is fairly clear, both from accounts of seven eyewitnesses of William’s fatal wounding  (24) (four of whom were later wounded themselves) and from the medical report  (17). A shell hit the line, wounding several soldiers, including William, who held up his hand and called for stretcher-bearers. William was hit in both thighs and lay in a trench, roughly bandaged and covered with a horse blanket, saying that he “felt all right”, although he also said that he knew he had been “badly smashed”. He was taken to the 3rd Canadian Stationary Hospital, Doullens, where he died of his wounds  (21).

He was buried with full military honours in the French Extension (No. 1) of the Doullens Communal Cemetery, his grave properly marked and kept, a wooden cross, bearing his name and regiment, erected  (24).

 

 
Fig.9. Doullens Communal Cemetery, Extension No.1  (Sgt. William Alabaster’s grave is marked with a cross)

His grave is No. 31 in Row D of Plot VI. The Extension has a Great War Stone on its northern border and a Great Cross on the eastern one. This cemetery was soon filled in April and new ground occupied for Extension No. 2 nearby.

 

William’s comrades always spoke highly of him. Typical are some of the remarks made by those who witnessed his fatal wounding, thus: Private W.H. Thompson and Private A. Warren both said that he was liked by his mates; and Sergeant Major J. Bradford described him as being a fine fellow, having a very jovial disposition and being held in high esteem24.

In addition to the Military Medal, William received the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. Sadly the Military Medal and the British War Medal turned up at a Medal Fair in Suffolk; I found it sickening that such things should have a monetary value. How they got there, I do not know. William’s personal effects were received by Richard Alabaster (my great-uncle Dick) of 47 West Road, Westcliff-on-Sea, but the medals were not included; amongst his other things were three religious books and a Book of Verses.

Edwin was devastated by his son’s death, and, as my brother put it,“……..the old soldier broke his heart and drank rather more than was good for him and died [15th September 1919, on Aunty May’s birthday]. He, like his son, William has a special place in the hearts and memories of the family for, whatever the rights and wrongs of it all are, we must remember, and do honour to our old soldiers.”

Of course, I agree with my brother’s sentiments but, in writing this account, with its appalling background of so many dead and maimed, I feel bound to comment on the two war situations that father and son, in turn, faced on the front line. What strikes one most forcibly about them is firstly, the gross incompetence of the military leadership, especially at Isandhlwana and secondly, its apparent disregard for human life, especially on the Western Front. Moreover, the Zulu War in Africa was a contrived affair, the true politics of which the ordinary soldier, like Edwin, was probably totally unaware. Yet he and his fellows did what was considered their patriotic duty, took their orders, fought for their lives, and suffered. The Great War saw William in the thick of two episodes that involved the most profligate waste of a whole generation of young men, Gallipoli and the Battle of the Somme. Ostensibly, Britain had gone to war against Germany because of the latter’s unprovoked invasion of Belgium, and that could be appreciated by the ordinary man in the street who would volunteer to fight, but in reality it was to prevent Germany both dominating Europe and, with the help of Austrian and Turkish allies, threatening the British Empire in Asia and Africa.

 

That humans are territorial animals is a fact; it seems to be an inbuilt instinct which has contributed to our success as a species. At the same time we have the power of reason at our command and the ability to negotiate peaceful solutions to territorial conflict. Let us hope that, in the future, we can strike the right balance between our emotional needs and our intellectual insight.

 

Acknowledgements

Although the main sources of information are given in the references that follow, a further explicit word of thanks is appropriate to both Beryl Neumann of Sidney, Australia and Trevor Turner of Denman, Australia for providing so much of the documentation and information that has been summarised in the section about Sergeant William Alabaster.

Of course, like anyone researching the Alabasters, I am most grateful to Laraine Hake for her enthusiastic help and encouragement as well as her verification of genealogical facts.

I also wish to express my thanks to Llewellyn Jones (cousin of my wife, Beryl) for conducting us to Rorke’s Drift and Isandlhwana, as well as to other relevant sites in South Africa. And finally, I am most grateful indeed to my wife Beryl for editing the typescript and making many helpful suggestions.

 

References
  1. Recollections of, or documents produced by, Clara Constance May Millican, ‘Aunty May’ (as indicated by the context).
  2. Service & Medical Record, Public Records Office, Kew (WO97 2183): a) Edwin Alabaster (WO97 1321) b) Edwin Alabaster (WO97 1493).
  3. ‘The Zulu War, 1879; Rorke’s Drift’ by James W. Bancroft (1991) Spellmount Ltd., Tunbridge Wells, UK, 169pp.
  4. ‘The Scramble for Africa’ by Thomas Pakenham, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (1991), 739pp.
  5. ‘The Battle of Isandlhwana, 22 January, 1879’ by K.G. Gillings & J.L. Smail (Map & account), [supplied by my wife’s cousin, Llewellyn Jones, Johannesburg, South Africa.]
  6. Letter from W.H.E. Alabaster to Adrian Alabaster, 19th March, 1984.
  7. Inscriptions read from the monuments at Rorke’s Drift, South Africa (with photographs).
  8. ‘Lord Chelmsford and the Zulu War’ by Gerald French. John Lane, The Bodley Head, London.
  9. Account dictated by Edwin Stammers Alabaster (junior), son of John Abel Alabaster (‘Uncle Jack’).
  10. Documents received from Trevor Turner via Beryl Neumann via Laraine Hake, 1995.
  11. Attestation Paper, 29th October, 1914, taken at Liverpool New South Wales (10 as above).
  12. Copy of Will of W. Alabaster, 10 December, 1916, in the care of Miss A. Sidney, 1 Holt St., City, Sidney  (10).
  13. Documents received from Anthony Stauton, Federal Secretary of the Military Historical Society of Australia, 20th June, 1995.
  14. Copy of Circular for the Roll of Honour of Australia in the Memorial War Museum, completed by Rosina Jane Alabaster (William Alabaster’s step-mother)  (13).
  15. Letter from Australian Imperial Force HQ, London to Department of Defense  (10).
  16. Letter from Military Forces of the Commonwealth, Sidney to HQ regarding the estate being handled by Public Trustees  (10).
  17. Army Form B 103 (10).
  18. ‘Rupert Brooke, A Biography’ by Christopher Hassal, Faber & Faber, London, 1964.
  19. Documents received from the Australian War Memorial via Beryl Neumann, 6th July, 1995.
  20. Letter from William, October, 1915 ( probably between 18th and 30th October, 1915)  (19).
  21. ‘RQMS Neaves at Pozières’ Ed. Peter Stanley, Sabretach, Quarterly Journal of the Historical Society of Australia, Vol 23 Jan/March, 1982 pp.11-17 (13).
  22. Letter from William to his father, 24th September, 1916  (19).
  23. Letter from William to his father, 5th October, 1917  (19).
  24. Letter from Canadian Stationary Hospital with seven eye-witness accounts of the wounding of Pioneer Sergeant William Alabaster on 5th April, 1918  (10).
  25. ‘The Australian Imperial Force on the Western Front, in France and Belgium, April,1916-November,1918 – A Back-packers Guide! by John Laffin. Office of Australian War Graves Department of Veteran’s Affairs. (provided by Beryl Neumann).
  26. Extracts of diary of Captain Neaves, Item No.2 DRL/0752 Neaves from ‘Personal Records, A.W.M. File No 12/11/4988, Capt. H.H. Neaves (M.C.) 45th Battalion A.I.F.’ made by Beryl Neumann Oct, 1995.
  27. ‘Australian Folklore: A Dictionary of Lore, Legends and Popular Allusions’ by W. Fearn-Wannan, 1970, Lansdowne, 582pp.
  28. ‘Anzac and Empire’ by John Robertson, Hamlyn, Australia, 1990.
  29. ‘The Oxford Companion to British History’, Ed., John Canon. OUP 1977, 1044 pp.
  30. ‘The Battle of the Somme: First Phase’ by John Buchan. Thomas Nelson & Sons Ltd., (undated), 109pp.
To Contents


Alabaster Postcards

by Laraine Hake

I was recently told about a collector of postcards who indexes them, not under the name of the place portrayed but on the name of the addressee. I accordingly wrote to him to ask about the name Alabaster, and found he had no fewer than three! Naturally I bought all of them! Here are the results.

The first postcard is postmarked 4.45 p.m. July 27, 1904, Wallington, Surrey. It is addressed toMiss E. Alabaster, W. Thomas Esq., Brent House, Brentwood, Essex. The card itself is a photograph of Beddington Church. The message reads,“My address is until Aug 3rd c/o Mrs Coote, Goodwood House, Bognor, Sussex. Let me hear from you, Auntie."

Perhaps not surprisingly, I cannot place who Miss E. Alabaster might have been. Any ideas?

The second card is, by far, the most exciting! It is postmarked 3.15 p.m. Oct 19, 1904, London. It is addressed toLady Alabaster, Dil Aram, Sea Road, Boscombe, Hants.

The card is a picture of “London, River Thames showing Houses of Parliament & St Thomas’ Hospital”. The message reads,“arrived safely. I join the circuit at Winchester on Nov 23rd. Will send photos in a few days.        Grenville

This one I can place, absolutely! “Grenville” was Chaloner Grenville Alabaster, third son of Sir Chaloner Alabaster and Laura Abbie nee MacGowan. Their second son was Rupert Cecil who was to die, so sadly, in Tasmania in 1911 (Chronicle 15) and page 11 of this issue. I was interested to know to what “the circuit” referred, and checked the information that I have on file. There it says “1904, called to the Inner Bar” which answered my question. It would appear that Chaloner Grenville was about to begin his time as a barrister or similar.

Chaloner Grenville Alabaster went on to become Attorney-General of Hong Kong from 1931-1946. 

The third postcard is postmarked 14 June 1928, Beddgelert, Wales. It is addressed to Miss Alabaster, Lysways, Bransgore, Hants. The card is a photograph of Gelerts Grave at Beddgelert. The message is difficult to decipher, but gives details of places visited on a “very good interesting tour – good motor coach

The writer has signed merely initials, but I am fairly sure that the Miss Alabaster to whom it is addressed was actually Evelyn Alabaster, younger sister of Grenville. It is likely that these two cards came from the same source, as might the one to Brentwood, although it is less likely.

To Contents


Bryan Alabaster of “Arlington”

by Laraine Hake

Every member of the Alabaster Society is descended from John Alabaster, who was baptised in Hadleigh on 20th September 1624, and his wife, Elizabeth, with the single exception of Lin Love. John Alabaster was the great grandson of Thomas of Hadleigh. (Lin is descended from Roger, brother of Thomas.)

Thanks to two Wills of 1708, we have long had a picture of the children of John and Elizabeth.
As precised by Muskett in “Suffolk Manorial Families”:

1708 Will of Jane Alabaster:
Jane Alabaster of Stuston in the County of Suffolk. To William Alabaster of Claydon; Thomas Alabaster of Ipswich; Bryan Alabaster of Allington; Mary wife of John Rudland; Sarah wife of John Styles of Henly; Amy Alabaster of London; John Balls, son of my late sister, and ffrancis Balls his brother. Said William Alabaster to be executor: to him all my goods. Probatm 4 Oct 1708. Gulielmo Allablaster. Arch. Sudbur. Goodwin IV. fo. 182.

29/10/1708 Will of Benjamin Bryan:
Benjamin Bryan of Stuston co. Suffolk, Gent. 29 Oct. 1708. To be interred in my own seat or pew in the parish church of Stadbrook. . . . . . . To my Kinsman Bryan Alabaster of Arlington, son of John Alabaster, late of Ipswich , deceased and to his brother William Alabaster of Claydon co. Suffolk. To Thomas Alabaster of Ipswich brother of said William. To Mary Rutland, wife of John Rutland of Claydon, and to her sister Amy Alabaster. To all the children of John Alabaster of Saxmunden, brother of said Bryan Alabaster. . . . . . . Of the residue of my goods, one third part to Mary wife of said John Rutland, and Amy Alabaster, one third to Bryan Alabaster my Kinsman and one third to Willie Alabaster my Kinsman. . . . . .. Probate 5 Oct. 1709 to Benjamin Wilcox & Edward Bosworth sen. Cur. Ep. Norw. Wills, 1709-11, fo. 128.

Branches I, II and III are descended from John’s son William “of Claydon” whilst Branch IV is descended from John “late of Ipswich”.

For years Bryan Alabaster of “Allington” or “Arlington” has been something of a mystery. We have long had a note of his marriage, which took place at St Mary le Tower, Ipswich, on 6th October 1694, to Rebecca Godbold. We even had the details of the baptisms of three daughters born to Bryant(sic) and Rebecca Alabaster : Rose baptised 1711, Sarah baptised 1713, and Abigail baptised 1716, each in Baylham, Suffolk.

But what happened in between 1694 and 1711? Where was Allington\Arlington? The nearest Allington to Suffolk is in Lincolnshire. Was this the place? Could it have been a poor transcription of Assington, a parish close to Hadleigh where at least one Alabaster had lived in the previous century? I did study the Assington records, just in case and during the late 1980s, I even attended a genealogical weekend held at Allington Castle in Kent……just in case, but to no avail.

But there had to be more to it…….in 1998, I was told about two burial records that had been found in Stutton, a parish in south-west Suffolk: a Bryant Alabaster, aged 78, was buried in 1818 and a Dorothy Alabaster, aged 84, were buried there in 1821. From his age at death, this Bryant appears to have been born in 1740, but surely there was a connection with the mysterious “Bryan of Allington”. Just a couple of months later, I was told of a marriage between a Briant Alabaster and Dorothy Bacon in Stutton 13th October 1798………!

Then……in mid-1999 I received a letter from Raymond Green. Those who attended the Sunday tour after the first Alabaster Gathering in 1990 might remember Raymond as the gentleman who met us in Saxmundham Church. Since then, he has been a good friend to the Alabasters, looking for our name whenever he carries on his own research and notifying me of any finds. On this occasion, in 1999, Raymond wrote to say that he had found some baptisms of children born to a Bryant Alabaster and his wife Rebecca between 1697 and 1707 in the parish of Erwarton, Suffolk.

I made use of the next opportunity that I had to visit Suffolk Record Office, Ipswich, to look at the original records for myself. (I note now that the date was 11th August 1999. I have written “just after the total eclipse!”) One of the first things I noticed on accessing the records of the parish of Erwarton was the note……”Erwarton, pronounced Arwarton”…….

(Arwarton……could this be “Arlington”)

There I found a whole family born to Bryant and Rebecca:Martha (1697), Bryant (1698), James (1700), Abigail (bapt and buried 1703), Lydia (1704), Thomas (1706), Samuel (bapt 1707, buried 1709), Mary (1709).

In amongst the registers I found many references to Godbolds, Rebecca’s maiden name, which makes me believe that this Erwarton was probably her home parish, and provides the rationale for Bryan’s move to the south of the county. In fact, the Godbold family were clearly significant members of the parish, holding various offices, including Overseers of the Poor.

I studied the Parish Book of Erwarton and found “Officers chosen for ye coming year 1696…..” a list of names, including Bryant Alabaster – Overseer.

Bryant was actually an Overseer in the years 1696, 1697, 1703 and 1708. In 1697, the other Overseer was Tho. Godbold. 

There remains work to be done on this pocket of Alabasters, but I am convinced that Erwarton is the Arlington\Allington I sought for so long! The dates also tie in well with Bryan and Rebecca reappearing in Baylham in 1709. Other anomalies may also be explained; the family of a James Alabaster in Harwich, just across the river from Erwarton into Essex, in the 1760s, could well be descended from James, born 1700, or one of his brothers. Certainly Briant, buried 1818, fits in here.

It gives me hope that other Alabaster mysteries may one day be solved!

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