Wednesday 18 July 2018

Picking At The Past

The long running BBC series "Who Do You Think You Are"  is on BBC1, the popular channel, and the tales are personal interest in families and not academic studies into social, military or other history. They hire a few academics to give a veneer of history but what is surprising is not what they tell us but what they do not.

The latest programme about Lee Mack, or Lee Gordon McKillop, was in my own territory in that the main item was about The Kings Liverpool Regiment in World War One and the second one took us to Ballina in County Mayo in Ireland. His great grandfather William was among the first to sign up for the Liverpool Pals of the Kings Liverpool Regiment in the 17th Battalion.

The McKillop part concentrated on the Battle of the Somme in July 1916 and the role of the 17th and then his being part of a concert party, The Optimists, who performed as well as being soldiers in the line. After that the story of the 17th becomes hazy. The records are difficult to explore. But between 1916 and 1918 the 17th was twice much reduced in numbers.

What happened to William? A guess is that he may have been injured at some stage, or gassed, because he was said to be out by early 1918? Or was he? It might have been interesting because the 17th was part of the Murmansk Expedition of 1918 to northern Russia when the allies intervened with a force to try to keep Russia fighting Germany by supporting the White Russians against the Reds.

It failed, the Tsar and his family were murdered and some argue that the Expedition was in part responsible for causing the Bolsheviks to go on a killing campaign to remove all opposition. This I suspect, is not something the BBC would want to see in a family personal interest programme.

There was something else in the family that was skipped. William's father was born in the West Indies, in Tobago around 1869. If you want a detailed item then go to this LSE thesis of 1995 on Tobago in that period.

To add to it Tobago was hit be a major hurricane in 1847 which led to major economic changes. So it is not certain what these McKillop's might have been doing. Usually, a West Indian ancestor would be featured, but not it seems one perhaps of Scottish origin.

Lee is an entertainer with a large audience but when the second item took us to Ballina in County Mayo, Ireland, for one of the maternal line name Farrell or O'Farrell or variant it was to a period parallel when this leading figure was active, even down to running a shebeen.  The book is by Andrew Lamb and titled "Leslie Stuart. Composer Of Floradora" and the link is to page 46.

Leslie Stuart was the professional name, he was born, like Lee in Southport and again like Lee made his name in the theatre etc. world of his time. Born Thomas Augustine Barrett his parents were from Ballina and he did not forget it. Then it was Liverpool, Manchester, London and New York. Moreover, in his time Leslie was one of the leading composers and impresarios in his field.

To have an entertainer with family from Ballina, there at the same time as the Barrett's, there were a number of those families, and one of the leading lights of musical theatre in his time and fail to make the connection is astonishing. How much "research" do they actually do?

The O'Ferrall surname is one of the leading ones in the area in the 18th and 19th Centuries. The BBC item was a sorry story about a lady left with a child but not a husband who later left for the USA. They were an ordinary family but in the large extended families of that time there were many of humble status who generations back had ancestors of the upper orders.

As the series goes on it will be fascinating to see what they will miss out in the others to come.

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