It is not uncommon to find reminders of our wartime past on the Thames foreshore - and when I am mudlarking, I frequently come across ordnance, military buttons and pieces of shrapnel washed out with the tide. With the military buttons in particular, I always wonder whose uniform they were once sewed on to. A few weeks ago, I found an object whilst mudlarking, with no obvious connection to the war, and infact I very nearly left it where it was. It was a large and heavy, rusty padlock. What peaked my interest though, was the fact that I could see a name stamped on it across the front. I hesitated before putting it (along with another one right next to it), in my finds bag and lugging it home.
When I arrived home and looked at it more closely, the lettering became apparent and read:
G. E. Morrow & Son
G. E. Morrow & Son
The first thing I discovered when I started my research, was a newspaper article in the London Gazette from January 1931, when G. E. MORROW & SON was being handed over to one of the sons (Frank Alfred Morrow). I learned that G.E. Morrow was a "Mast, Oar, Scull & Pump Maker", based in Brightlingsea Place, and also Narrow Street in Limehouse, East London. Rather miraculously, I stumbled upon an old photo from what I believe to be the early 1900s, which shows G.E. Morrow's premises here.
George Edward Morrow was born in Australia in 1858, but sometime during his childhood, his parents moved back to England, and George married Clara Pow, a girl from the East End, in 1882 when he was 24 years old. He established his Mast, Oar, Scull & Pump making business at around about the same time. They settled in Limehouse (a place long associated with ship building and with strong maritime links), and they went on to have 11 children by 1899, five of whom died in infancy. All 11 of the children were baptised in St Anne's Church, Limehouse.
My research lead me to discover that George and Clara’s son Frank Alfred Morrow who was born in 1892, fought in both WW1 and WW2. An article in the London Gazette dated 13th Februay 1917 said that Sergeant Frank Alfred Morrow, of the 3rd Worcester Regiment, service number 14512 was awarded the Distinguished Conduct medal for his actions during the Leipzig Salient during the battle of Thiepval on 7th July 1916.
A diary entry by a soldier who witnessed Frank Morrow's actions on 7th July at Thiepval, wrote:- “Sergeant F. A. Morrow took command of leaderless men of both units, held his ground and reestablished the position. Attack and counter attack followed in quick succession and the losses were very heavy, but the troops fought splendidly” Records show that on that day in 1917, Frank’s regiment lost 145 men. He went on then to be commissioned as Second Lieutenant into the 5th Reserve Battalion Worcestershire Regiment, on 25th September 1918.
Frank survived World War One, and went on to fight in World War Two. He died in 1944.
I then discovered the story of Frank's younger brother Sidney Walter Morrow the youngest son of George and Clara. Sidney was born on 15th May 1899 and was baptised at St Anne's Church, Limehouse on 4th June 1899.
In May 1918, just days after his 19th birthday he was dispatched to France with the 10th Battalion (City of London) Royal Fusiliers.
Sadly, just 4 months later, on 14th September 1918 just under 2 months before the end of the War, Corporal Sidney Walter Morrow, service number 72002 lost his life in a battle east of Trescault, in Flanders.
Sidney never returned to Limehouse. He is buried in the Hermies British Cemetery in France.
I decided to visit the War Memorial in the graveyard at St Anne's Church in Limehouse to see if Sidney's name was included.
It was a moving moment to find Sidney's name on the memorial, in the shadow of St Anne's church where he was baptised. His name is listed alongside the hundreds of other men from Limehouse who lost their lives during World War One.
I am happy that curiosity got the better of me and that I decided to bring the padlock home with me. It is a fine example of the wealth of stories and history contained in the River Thames. Finding and putting together these fragments of lives washed up on the foreshore is so immensely important to me. In this case, this old rusty padlock really did unlock a story from the past, and for a while brought the Morrow family back to life. There are so many more ordinary people and families whose pain and loss as a result of World War One we will never know about, and by paying tribute to Sidney, Frank and their family this November, 2018, one hundred years after the end of WW1, this is also a tribute to all those who fought and lost their lives during that conflict, the countless unknown soldiers, and the families who mourned them.
We will remember them.
We will remember them.
If you would like to watch the YouTube video about my research into the Morrow Family, you can find it here:-
Thank you to David and Lindsay Wheatley for their help on researching the Morrow family. Also to Ancestry, an invaluable resource - and of course to the various resources to be found on the internet.