Three Brothers

I did wonder whether to write this post just yet as it seems all I have been doing lately is writing about war heroes and fallen soldiers in my family but that is the subject matter on my mind most at the moment given I’m currently working on a large scale project to commemorate these wonderful men but also I’ve had some new information come to light a couple of weeks ago about one of the individuals in this post and just felt it had to be shared. My post this week is about a whole family really but with particular attention being paid to three members of that family. It is the story of my Great-grandfather and his family.michael-charles-metcalfe (MIchael Charles Metcalfe, 1885-1917)

My Great Grandfather was one of seven children born to Thomas Metcalfe and his wife Eliza Pettit. Both Thomas and Eliza were born and married in Cambridge and raised their family there. Very little is known of Thomas and Eliza themselves. They were particularly difficult to trace and information about their family was difficult to come by but perseverance and patience has proved fruitful and continues to prove to me that ancestral lines should be frequently revisited and every possible line of enquiry investigated because we now know substantially more of this family than I ever thought possible when I first began researching them.

What I do know of Thomas and Eliza is that they were both familiar with the colleges around Cambridge. They were both employed as College Servants. The last known occupation for Thomas is that of an Assistant in Physiology within the college in 1891. Their address in 1891 was 13, Earl Street in Cambridge, a short move from 5, Earl Street where they were living 10 years previous in 1881. Thomas and Eliza were aged just 36 and 39 respectively in 1891 when their youngest child was born and the trail for them after that dates just disappears. I have as yet been unable to find a death record for either of them but the daughter-in-law of that youngest child was able to confirm for me that both of them died not very long after their youngest was born and it is quite a sad story for them and consequently for all the family. Both of them were apparently alcoholics according to information passed on from that family member but they reformed towards the end of their life and became Salvationists after they “saw the light”. However, their health had suffered terribly and Thomas died first and then Eliza from a haemorrhage. Their deaths must have occurred before 1914 as attestation papers for one of their children lists his next of kin as being his sister rather than his parents. Other information leads me to believe they could have died even earlier and not very long after that last 1891 census that I have for them.

Their apparent death brought about division and separation for their young family with very different outcomes for all of them. My Great Grandfather was caring for himself at a very young age. In 1901 and at age 16 he was taking up board and lodgings on his own and working as an apprentice domestic gardener, an occupation he kept on after he married and right up until his military service.

Their eldest daughter, Annie Maria Metcalfe, aged 12 in 1891 took up service as a Lady’s Maid and appears to do very well for herself. She worked in Mayfair, London and was very well travelled. I have in my possession her passport which contains many stamps from countries such as Argentina, Chile, France, Mexico, Brazil, Switzerland amongst others. She never married and eventually died in Kent at age 90.

annie-maria-metcalfe img_20161003_140401

(Annie Maria Metcalfe, 1879-1970 – her image as it appears in her passport)

Their other daughter Elizabeth Ruth Metcalfe was just 7 in 1891 and she was employed as a domestic too, working as a housemaid at Queen’s College in the Master’s Lodge. She travelled as well and in the 1920’s emigrated to Canada looking for work and as far as I know remained there or in the USA where she was also found to have been travelling. I do not know where she was when she died but family seem to think she married for the first time aged 70! I am still investigating the truth of this story and have yet to find any evidence of it. I do have a photo of her too which is tiny and poor quality as it came attached to a Border Crossing Card but it is enough to give an impression of what she looked like. She looks like her sister Annie I think!


(Elizabeth Ruth Metcalfe as she appeared in 1928, aged 43.)

Two of the boys, Thomas William, aged 10 and the youngest of the Metcalfe children and Harold Stubbings Metcalfe who was just a baby in 1891 went to live with their Aunt Fanny, Eliza’s sister. She was a Tobacconist at the Ranelagh Hotel in Chester but moved back to Cambridge in 1891 and took in the two boys. Thomas William stayed there at least until he was 29 and worked as a Compositor/Printer. Some time after 1911 he also emigrated to Canada and his story was that he arrived in Canada on Christmas Day, penniless and with no job and no home, but was befriended by a couple who took him in and gave him accommodation and a job in the print industry. There he met and married Ellen Hunt who was also originally from Cambridge, England. He remained in Canada for the duration of his life, having one daughter who never married herself and who died just in 2011 unfortunately without our ever meeting or making contact. Thomas, her father died in 1944, aged 63. The youngest brother Harold didn’t stay with his Aunt as long as Thomas. By age 20 he was living on his own and working as an Assistant to a Baker before becoming a fully qualified Baker himself. He married in 1913 in Hackney, London where he remained until his death from a burst ulcer in 1979, aged 88. I have no pictures of Thomas but have several of Harold and his wife and children that have come to me through his daughter-in-law who recalls visiting his home in Hackney regularly and speaks of Harold as being a lovely generous man. 


 (Harold Stubbings Metcalfe, 1891-1979)

And so I come to the last two brothers who along with my Great Grandfather all shared a similar fate but in 3 different parts of the world. Walter and Arthur Frederick Metcalfe were both sent to a Barnardo’s home after their parents died. Harold’s daughter-in-law recalls that Arthur was placed in the home at just 7 months old which if true means that their parents died in 1891 right after their final appearance on a census record. Walter wouldn’t have been much older aged about 3 at that time. I do not know why these two brothers were placed in a home rather than being cared for by another family member as two other brothers were. It seems so sad that they were all separated but it seems that they all grew up very quickly and managed to maintain some degree of contact with each other. Arthur and Walter were both still situated in the same home; Swansea House Boy’s Home in Kingham, Oxfordshire in 1901, aged 11 and 13 respectively. Walter enlisted in the army once old enough and joined the 1st Oxfordshire/Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. He fought and lost his life on 30 Jun 1916 whilst in active service during WWI in Mesopotamia. He was just 28. No burial was reported for him and he is remembered on the Basra Memorial. His younger brother Arthur Frederick Metcalfe followed his brother Thomas to Canada. As he was unmarried in 1914 the government placed him in the Home Guard. He went on to fight during WWI with the 1st Battalion of the Canadian Infantry where he became a Lance Corporal. He is believed to have been killed on 15 Jun 1915 after having survived many of the great battles of Ypres. He was reported missing for some time from that date but then it was reported that he had been killed whilst attempting to crawl under the German wire during the attack at Givenchy-Les-La-Bassee. He was 24 years of age and no burial was ever recorded for him either. He is remembered on the Vimy Memorial. Sadly, I have no picture for Walter but do have one of his brother Arthur. Again, the family resemblance is strong – he looks like his brother Michael!


(Arthur Frederick Metcalfe, 1890-1915)

My Great Grandfather, Michael Charles Metcalfe is the only member of his family for whom the genetic line continues. Out of seven children, only 3 had children of their own and only Great Granddad’s children went on to have further children. He married and had six children, the youngest of whom was my Grandmother, before losing his life fighting with the 1st Battalion of the Cambridgeshire Regiment on 26 Sep 1917 during the Battle at Passchendaele aged 32. His body too was never recovered for formal burial and his name is remembered at the Tyne Cot Memorial.

I was very excited to have just recently received the following image of my Great Grandfather along with a transcript of an article about him that was published in the Cambridge Independent Press on Friday 5 October 1917 just after his death.


(“Pte. M. C. Metcalfe, of Trumpington, Lewis gunner, Cambs. Regt., killed in action, September 26th 1917”)

The article reads:

“News was received yesterday (Thursday) by Mrs M. C. Metcalfe of 6 North Terrace, Trumpington, that her husband, Pte Michael Charles Metcalfe, Cambs Regiment, had been killed during an attack in France on Wednesday, September 26th. The following letter announcing the death has been received from Corporal A. H. Merry of Cherryhinton, Cambs Regiment: “Dear Mrs Metcalfe. It is with deep regret and heartfelt sympathy that I write these few lines to inform you of your dear husband’s death. He was killed by a sniper during an attack which we made on September 26th. I was standing beside him at the time. I am quite certain that he suffered no pain. His belongings I am sending to you. I can assure you that Charles was a great chum of all in the company and that everyone here will miss him greatly. He was every inch a soldier, and he is now resting in peace with some more of his brave comrades, who have made the great sacrifice. I cannot express to you my sincere sympathy enough, as he and I were the greatest chums, but I trust that God will bear you up under the great strain of your sad bereavement.” Pte. Metcalfe was 32 years of age, and leaves a widow and six children (ages 11 years to 1). Previous to enlistment he was employed as gardener to Mr Hopkinson, Adams Road, Cambridge. Two of his brothers have been killed in the present war.”

How special it was to receive this new snippet of information about Great Granddad. It’s amazing to know the exact circumstances surrounding his death and to hear the words of a man who was stood right with him as he died. The few simple words of this man convey so much and begin to create a picture of a man I never knew in life but for whom I have great affection for. I imagine his words must have brought a small measure of comfort to my Great Grandmother Mercy.  She went on to marry again to a man who already had eight children with his first wife and they then had a further 6 children together.  (20 children in the mix altogether – but that’s a whole other story!)

I can’t begin to imagine the level of grief and pain that this one family endured in life. Seven children whose parents overcame alcoholism to then lose them before they reach adulthood and endure being separated from each other by that circumstance and then also to have 3 of their brothers lost to one war. How cruel life must have seemed to them at times and yet they were stalwart and courageous too. Each made their own way and made good on their terms and I feel an enormous sense of pride in having come from that resilience and strength, qualities I know have been passed on and I see in my family today. I hope to stand before them one day and have them know just how proud I am of them.

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