Welcome one and all to this week's "Blog Post Monday"! I hope you're all keeping safe and well.
Sometimes in this job you stumble across things that are just that extra bit special and this week, I'm pleased to say, this happened to me! With lockdown ongoing, we're stuck searching for our treasures online and this week, while perusing the wonders of the web, I stumbled across a super piece of militaria history. A personalised leather cigar case which shows the postings of W.Francis of the Norfolk Regiment from 1891 to 1904.
I'm excited about it and because I'm excited about it, I intend to tell you all about it! So, this week's blog post is about a leather cigar case and my search to find out who W.Francis of the Norfolk Regiment was.
So, get that kettle on, buckle up and get ready to travel back in time with me to meet the man himself...
You'll see, from the picture above, the initial details I had to work with. I had, what I thought, were the first initials of the the first and middle names, the surname, the Regiment and his postings from 1891 to 1904. It turns out that W.R.Francis didn't return any matches on my searches and just my luck, W.Francis seemed to be the most common name in the forces at that time, particularly in the Norfolk Regiment...!
On closer inspection of the case, it appeared not to be an 'R', but a small 'M' with a squiggle underneath, as if to abbreviate the first name.
I had a quick search on Facebook and found a group called 'The Royal Norfolk Regiment Living History Group'. I joined this group and posted an image of the item and asked if anyone was able to assist in my search. There were some really helpful responses and it certainly gave me some additional information to work with. So, if you're reading this, thank you!
2805 William Francis, born 1873
8348 William Francis, born 1873
3774 William Francis, born 1875
9348 William Francis, born 1873
Armed with this information, I decided to contact the 'Norfolk Regimental Museum' to see if they could assist me in any way. Unfortunately, because of lockdown, they had very limited access to their records. Nevertheless, they were very helpful and searched the information they did have and I subsequently received the following email from them;
"You may be in luck: I have done a search of the documentation we have on computer and have found a Pte William Francis who might be your man. Not all the dates line up with those on the wallet, but see what you think. The item we have is a lovely autobiographical account of his life before and during his service with the Norfolks."
Obviously, on reading this I got very excited!! This could be all the provenance I needed and more!! Attached to the email was a photo of the front cover of the handwritten book (see above) and an electrical transcript of the book. So, I sat myself down and read through the transcript, checking the dates and postings as I went. Unfortunately, it appeared it wasn't the W.Francis we were looking for. Nevertheless, it was a very interesting and personal account of what life would have been like at that time. So I thank the 'Norfolk Regimental Museum' for sending this through and for all of their efforts.
Determined to get to the bottom of this, I turned my attentions back to the ancestry sites, with 'Find My Past' proving to be the most fruitful. I based my searches on the information gained from 'The Royal Norfolk Regiment Living History Group'. It wasn't long before I struck gold!
William Francis (Born 1873) of 12 Market Road Place, Great Yarmouth, enlisted in the 2nd Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment on 23rd February 1891, aged 18 years and 4 months (see above). His records show that, in total, he served 23 years, eventually retiring on 16 April 1914, aged 41 years. You'll see from the record below that the dates of postings match with the postings on the cigar case.
Interestingly, his records also show a rise through the ranks during his service (see below). He was appointed Lance Corporal on 23rd April 1892, just 12 months after enlisting. He was then promoted to Corporal on 28 September 1893, just 17 months later. Some 5 and 1/2 years later, on 1st April 1899, he was promoted to Sergeant. Just over 2 years later, on 31 July 1901, he was promoted to Colour Sergeant. Before reaching the rank of Acting Sergeant Major on 21st October 1910.
On 21st February 1905, William Francis married Minnie Gertrude Johnson at the Church of St. John Evangelist, Bombay, India (see below).
William's records show just how committed he must have been to the Norfolk Regiment, not only because of the length of his service (twice extending), but because of the length of his postings in India (see below). He must have met Minnie some time between 4th November 1903 and 15th May 1904, before heading back out to India for a further 9 years and 365 days!
Home: 17/02/1891 - 08/11/1894 (3 years 265 days)
India: 09/11/1894 - 03/11/1903 (8 years 359 days)
Home: 04/11/1903 - 15/05/1904 (6 months 11 days)
India: 16/05/1904 - 16/04/1914 (9 years 336 days)
Another interesting event shows what appears to have been a reprimand on 16th November 1896 (see above), whereby it suggests a "Neglect of Duty" and as a result, William was relieved of his rank of Corporal, for a short time at least. It doesn't go into detail though... I wonder what he might have done...?
In regards to achievements, awards and recognitions, his promotions to one side, William was awarded a certificate of musketry on 23rd February 1900, as well as a silver medal for long service and good conduct on 13 September 1909 (see above).
As far as I can tell and if I have the correct 'Birth, Marriage, Death & Parish Records', after completing his service, William spent his later years living in Totland on the Isle of Wight. He passed away in 1925, aged 53.
Well, there you have it folks. I hope you've enjoyed this week's blog post. As always, let me know your thoughts in the comments below and remember, if you enjoy my posts, please show your support by subscribing to my blog (by "creating an account" on the top bar of this page).
The cigar case is now on my website and available to buy here , including an electronic copy of William's service records. All enquiries are welcome, so please do get in touch if you have any questions.
Until next week, stay safe, keep buying those antiques and keep spreading that Source Vintage love!
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