Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Who Do I Think I Am? Part 2


My mother's family were in India for many generations and it is plain that they were stalwarts of the British Empire, serving in the Indian Army.
How stalwart I didn't realize until doing a bit of research lately. I knew that my grandfather was a Colonel as there is an old photograph of him in uniform, jodpurs and all, with an alsatian dog at his side. But I didn't realize that his father had been a Captain in the Bengal Sappers and Miners, and had actually served in the second Anglo-Afghan War. In fact he even got a medal. The war began in 1878 when he was 21, and it was the most futile war since the first Anglo-Afghan War. You could even say it was the most futile until ...well, until the current Anglo-Afghan War. All part of a great tradition.
The Cocksedges were a military family and a Private Thomas Cocksedge fought at the Battle of Inkermann in the Crimean War. In fact, a Cocksedge even fought at the Battle of Waterloo. So Samuel, who left England at the age of 19, had a lot to live up to as he slogged in the hell and the heat of Kabul and Kandahar. The medal he got shows Queen Victoria on one side and a fortress on the top of a mountain on the other. The clasp on the red and green striped ribbon indicates that he fought with distinction at the battle of Ali Masjid on the 21st November 1878. Ali Musjid was a fortress on a hill overlooking the Afghan end of the Khyber Pass.
After the victory at Ali Masjid. the Sappers and Miners went on to help defend Kabul in 1979, and were among the troops that took part in Major General Sir Frederick Roberts' famous march from Kabul to Kandahar in 1880.
By 1887, Captain Samuel Cocksedge had left Afghanistan and was in Fyzabad, Bengal, where he married the 17-year-old Hilda Gertrude Budd. His subsequent career is charted by the ever-changing birthplaces of their ten children. Beatrice, the eldest, was born at Indore in Bengal in 1889, and the second, Edward Charles, at Mhow in Bengal in 1892. The gaps between children suggest absences on military duty. Their third child William George Harrington Cocksedge was born in 1894 at Sewree, Bombay, but died at birth. Two more daughters Dorothy Gertrude and Gladys Hilda, were born in 1895 and 1896 at Secunderabad in Madras.

By the time my grandfather, Harold George, was born in 1897, they had moved to Bangalore, in Madras, and they were still there eighteen months later when his younger sister Ivy Millicent was born. His younger brother Percival Roy was born at Kidderpore in Madras in 1900 and curiously not baptized for three months. Two more younger sisters followed: Phyllis Marguerite, born in 1902 at Meean Meer in Bengal, then Eunice May, born at Belgaum, near Bombay in 1904. By 1907 they had returned to Madras, where a final child, Margery Mary, was born at Bellary, but died two months later. By the time she was 37, my great-grandmother had nine surviving children and the eldest, Beatrice, was grown-up. Beatrice had no intention of living a similar life. By hook or by crook, she got herself into Trinity College, Dublin and graduated in Modern History in 1910. Smart move, as so many young men of her generation were killed in the First World War. They included two of her own brothers.
A family tradition has it that she worked as a secretary to Sidney and Beatrice Webb. I don't know if this is true. [This is has since been confirmed by her daughter Freda Potts.] A century has passed since she got her degree but essentially she was the first modern woman in my family and my daily existence would not seem too strange to her.

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