Visitors to St Mellitus will be able to hear the historic First World War memorial…
Ten thousand miles separate South Australia and North London but Maralyn Blake was happy to add a few more to her journey during a recent family holiday in England to pay a visit to St Mellitus Church.
Maralyn is a grand-niece of Alfred and Percival Alford, brothers whose First World War service is commemorated at the church they would have known as New Court Congregational Chapel. Alfred’s is the first name listed on the memorial dedicated to 46 local men who died in the Great War; Percy, as he was known, appears second on the plaque commemorating 175 men who fought and returned.
For Maralyn – who was first contacted through the genealogy website Ancestry by Karen Brookfield, a volunteer researcher on the Organ Restoration Project – December’s trip also afforded her a chance to visit nearby Mount Pleasant Crescent, where Alfred and Percy lived when they were young.
In January 1914 the boys’ paths diverged – 16-year-old Alfred leaving home to work on a farm in Australia under a scheme for the children of poor families – but the war led both to France. They were both being treated after gas attacks in the same hospital in Rouen in April 1918 – each unaware that the other was there – when Alfred died four days before his 21st birthday.
“How sad is that?” Maralyn says. “I read his story and I thought: ‘You poor young man.’” Alfred had also served in Gallipoli and in 1917 was treated in England before returning to the Western Front. “He had already had an awful time and who wants to go back? Then when he goes back, he gets killed.”
Maralyn’s maternal grandfather, Fred, was the youngest brother of William Alford, the father of Alfred, Percy and two more brothers who survived the First World War, Delbridge and Albert. The extended Alford family, she discovered through her research, was much bigger than she had suspected.
“My mother, Phyllis, told me that her grandfather Robert William Alford – Fred and William’s father – was married twice and had 15 children with each wife, although I’ve been unable to trace 15 in either family.
“Some could have died young or maybe the number has been exaggerated, but I have found nine children he had with his wife Thomasin and eight with Charlotte, my great-grandmother. I know my mother had many cousins who were a lot, lot older than her who she knew nothing about, and when she died she knew nothing about this story.”
Happily, the story’s discovery means that new connections have been made, such as the one between Maralyn and Prue Roberts, Percy Alford’s granddaughter who has contributed a blog about Alfred and Percy to this website. “I did a lot of research, found this story and I got sent a lot of information from people I got in touch with on the other side of my mother’s family,” says Maralyn, who emigrated to Australia with her family at the age of 11. “I haven’t met Prue yet. She lives in Queensland and we’ve only corresponded.” Perhaps that’s an idea for her next holiday.