Veterans Day 2020. Dear Cam: My Lost Great Uncle.

Today is Veterans Day, or as I quaintly prefer to call it, Armistice Day. I have written about the holiday regarding my biological and adoptive family members who died in the Great War. (You can read that here). I grew up listening to stories about World War 1 and actually wore a cut-down Marine jacket until I out outgrew it, which supposedly belonged to my dad’s cousin Charles Carey killed at Belleau Wood at the age of 19. Now I seriously doubt that somebody gave that jacket to my dad to play in, but it’s a story. As a result of this story, eccentric as it sounds, I’ve always felt World War 1—the most stupid, useless war in modern history –“belongs” to me

I’m also a trained historian focusing mostly on the Progressive Era, which fits nicely into World War 1. I wrote a couple of papers and magazine articles in grad school on local Great War-related activities, though not about the war myself. I am definitely not a military historian.

I wanted to write something for Veteran’s day today that was different, and it occurred to me that my Great Uncle Con would fit the bill. He is one of the relatives I am not supposed to know about since I’m adopted, and he is none of my business.

Con is a bit of a mystery to me. He was born on August 30, 1896, in the resort town of Clevedon , Somerset, England., where on a clear day you can’t see forever, but you can see the Welsh coast. He was baptized at St. Andrew’s Church in Clevedon shortly afterward. I have no idea why he was inflicted with that name, My grandfather Courtney Leonard and my great uncle Francis Cyril (he went by Cyril) made off only slightly better. Neither a Conrad nor a Willie appear in the family tree  .he Granecomes preferred Henry and James—lots of them.

The British Census of 1911 lists Con’s occupation as apprentice tailor-a step up from his father’s job of wine porter.

Sometime during the war, Con joined the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment, (Queen’s Buffs) but I haven’t been able to pinpoint the year. I do know that as early as  August 1917 he was a runner with the 11th Battalion. His military papers, outside of a medal card, are not indexed or found online, and I fear that they were destroyed in the blitzkrieg that destroyed about 70% of the records he might be found in.

I know that Con was a runner with the West Kents because he is mentioned three times in the remarkable Sapper Martin: The Secret Great War Diary of Jack Martin. I am reading the book now. It is also online in Google Books which is how I found him originally. Martin was a signaller with the Royal Engineers who kept a detailed and clandestine diary of his time in the war, which where the Queen’s Own comes in.

Although Con is called by his last name only I am sure it is “my” Con. Granecome is an extremely rare name, especially with that spelling. In fact, my direct birth family is the only family whose name is spelled “Granecome.” as far as I can, tell in the world, which is why my search was easy. (The other less rare, but still rare spelling, is Granycome, and I believe we are all related.) Moreover, Jack Martin says specifically that “Granecome “ was with the Queen’s Own. My grandfather, who immigrated to Montreal in 1912, was a pencil pusher with the Canadian Expeditionary Force at various hospitals in England during the war and Cyril was with the Queen’s Own Kent Essex Regiment.

From Sapper Martin’s account of Con, something very bad happened to my great uncle, He should never have been in a war due to either a previous seizure disorder (epilepsy?) or perhaps what was called back then “shell shock” that he suffered due to his war experience. I believe the former.

In August 1917 Martin, who it turns out is no fan of the military, writes that although his group had been in “the comparative security of the saps,” the time on the line had been exhausting due to constant “harassing fire ”of high explosive and gas shells by the Germans. “Granecome” “ makes his first appearance in Martin’s diary on August 14, 1917, when relief troops are arriving and Martin’s group is packing up to move away.

14.8.17:  During the rush and bustle of packing up, Granecome fell down in a fit. It was not so severe as others he has had, but no man subject to fits should be allowed up the line. Yet it is impossible to get him back to the base unless he is actually seen in a fit by an officer of the RAMC. This is what is called “Discipline.”

On March 13.,2018. Martin records that the “unfortunate” 11th Battalion, which had sustained substantial casualties earlier, was being disbanded. While most of the members were “relieved” he reported that “Granecome” and another runner had “misgivings. He doesn’t elaborate.

“Granecome” appears a final time a month later.

29/4/18:  Granecome has also been “evacuated sick” at last. He was constantly having fits and ought never to have been sent to France, but once here we could do nothing for him unless a medical officer saw him in a fit. Today he had one when  an MO happened to be in the chateau and he quickly fetched and ordered him to hospital immediately.

What happened after that, I don’t know. He was either sent to base or back to England is my guess, but if the British Army had insisted until then on keeping him on duty who knows. After this entry, Con disappears.

In late 1922 Con married Gladys Ada Emma Cooper in southeast London and moved to Faversham, Kent. They had a daughter Muriel, born in 1924. In 1926  he is a journeyman tailor.

Con disappears from the record again until March 5, 1936 when a short obituary appeared in the Western Daily Press and Bristol News, page 1.

Granecome, Conrad Willie (dear Con) passed peacefully away after long suffering at Chartham Hospital. Kent, aged 39; dearly beloved son of Kate and the late Henry Granecome of Clevedon.

That Con died young at Chartham and is described as “long suffering” is ominous.

Chartham Hospital, was a mental hospital founded as a “lunatic asylum in 1875 and closed in 1993. Besides housing, the mentally ill, in served military veterans suffering from post-war trauma.

.According to Wiki:

 In 1920 Kent County Mental Hospitals Committee took over the management and the asylum was renamed Kent County Mental Hospital, Chartham. The hospital became a self-contained village, with its own farm, workshops, baker, butcher, fire-brigade, church, graveyard, gasworks, cricket team, band, etc. Male patients worked on the farm, while female patients worked in the laundry or as seamstresses.

Gladys survived him by 63 years and never remarried.

I thought originally that Con had been part of the Somme Offensive, one of the deadliest battles in history, where 1 million men died over a 4-month period,  but looking through various British military pages tonight, I don’t know. There is just too little information out there about Con and the dates he served with Jack Martin—at least that I understand. As I said, I’m not a military historian. Certainly, Con’s war experiences acerbated his “illness.”

This is such a sad story. I am glad that Con is described as “much loved,” but I am curious that no mention of his wife and daughter is included, and that the only obit is from Somerset and nothing from any Kent newspapers that I could find. This loss makes me think that the notice was posted by my great grandmother.

I have ordered Con’s death certificate from GRO, but it will be about a month before I get it; That might clear things up a little. This is only conjecture, but seizures coupled with his  history and Chartham death location suggest that his epilepsy (which it probably was) could not be controlled.and due to the times, he was sent to Chartham.

I consider Con a victim of the Great War. I wish I had a picture of him. He needs to be remembered.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *