llywela: (flower-poppy)
[personal profile] llywela
A while back I read an article about a project the Imperial War Museum was running, preparatory for the centenary of the First World War - a project to pull together life stories for all those millions of servicemen (and women) who were involved in the war. And I suppose I must have registered an interest, because the next thing I knew I'd been emailed an invitation to register for the beta version of the website, Lives of the First World War. So I did and started work on a few life stories, my ancestors who took part in the war - two great-great-grandfathers and a great-grandfather; of the three, two came back alive, which for a war that claimed so many lives was not bad going.

The Lives of the First World War website is being launched to the public on Monday, and it's got me thinking about the life stories I've been able to trace - largely thanks to the huge amount of genealogy work my mum has already done, to say nothing of the fantastic family archive we're lucky enough to have. So I've decided to try writing up those three life stories.

This is the first: my great-grandfather Henry Alfred Clement Browning, known more generally as Alf.

Henry Alfred Clement Browning was born on 29 January 1894 in Barton Regis, Gloucestershire to Thomas Browning and his wife Lavinia Beauchamp, the oldest of their five children.

This is the only picture we have of Alf's parents, Thomas and Lavinia, taken in the early 1890s.
Browning-possThomas and Lavinia1 - 1890s

By the time Alf's brother Archibald was born in 1896, the young family had moved to Cardiff, Wales, where we've been ever since. On leaving school in his mid-teens, Alf worked as a Docks labourer, and later as a Docks railwayman. His family lived in Kilcatten St, East Moors, and somewhere along the line he met Edith Cooper of Carlisle St, Splott. They were married and their first child - my grandfather Henry Arthur - was born in December 1914, when Alf was 20 years old and Edith just 18; judging by the dates, it was a bit of a shotgun wedding. They would go on to have a long family of 11 children, 10 of whom survived infancy - and my grandfather also remembered his mother miscarrying at least once, so the family could have been larger still.

War was just breaking out and Alf joined up - whether voluntarily or by conscription I don't know. Here he is in 1917 with his wife Edith and the two children they had at this point: Arthur and Kenneth
Browning-possAlfred, Edith, Arthur, Kenneth 1917

And some more pictures of Alf in uniform and with a couple of comrades
Browning-possAlfred1 Browning-possAlfred3 Browning-possAlfred4

This is a postcard that Alf sent home to wish his family happy Christmas - "from yours truly, somewhere in France - paddling in the mud," he writes. The tone is light, but it conjures up an image, knowing what we know of the war, and the front of the card is sentimental, perhaps saying what he could not.
postcard1 postcard2

We don't know much about Alf's war service, but apparently (this is the story told by all his children) he was gassed and this continued to affect him throughout his life.

This is the only picture that exists of Alf's family all together, taken in the mid-late 1930s when his oldest son, my grandfather Arthur, had already married and left home.
Browning-family
Left to right, starting at the back, that's Stanley, Kenneth, Cyril, Ivy, Robert, Arthur, Phillip, then Marion, Alf, Georgie, Edith and Marjorie. The family lived in Railway St, Splott, and it was a standing joke in the area that Edith always had one on each arm, one in the pram and another on the way... Only Marion (my great-auntie Mai) is still alive today.

Some more pictures of Alf and Edith
1930s - Browning - Alf Edith Browning-EdithAlf Browning - grandparents

Edith died in 1968 and Alf went to live with his middle daughter Marjorie and her family. He suffered badly from dementia in the last years of his life, which his children always blamed on his being gassed in the war - but since a number of them went on to develop Alzheimers themselves, I suspect it would have happened anyway. That genetic pre-disposition does not bode well for me!

Alf died on 23 March 1978 when I was just one year old, almost 60 years after the end of the war. He was one of the lucky ones. He made it home and went on to live a full life.
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