Blackmore Area Local History

The Garnham Family of Stondon Massey

When family members find new information about their ancestor on 'Blackmore Area Local History' this is particularly pleasing.  They have generously shared the story of (Private) Fred Garnham who died in the Mons Retreat at the beginning of the First World War.  This page is dedicated to him.
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Stondon Massey Great War webpage Great War Gateway Commemoration page to Frederick Garnham Stondon Massey

Fred Garnham: Original entry.  

Fred Garnham was killed on
8th September 1914 in the retreat from Mons.  His name appears on the War Memorial at Highwood.  Revd Reeve (Rector of Stondon Massey) wrote: “We hear of the death of Private Fred Garnham, killed in action in France, early in September.  Now living at Radley Green near Writtle, his father for some years held the Soap house Farm in Stondon.  (His widow afterwards received on his behalf the 1914 Star and Riband issued in commemoration of the Gallantry shown by our ‘contemptible little Army’)”.  The ‘Commonwealth War Graves Commission’ includes this citation.

Buckingham Palace

I join with my grateful people
in sending you this memorial
of a brave life given for others
in the Great War.

George Rex

Family correspondence: Fred Garnham

Amanda Kruizenga from
Texas wrote:  

"Oh my gosh,  

"My great grandfather was Fred Garnham. I have been trying to find out information about him and my great great grandparents.   My grandfather, Frederick Garnham was born a few days before Fred was killed.  We know nothing about Fred or his parents.  I have been researching for several years and just came across your blogger.  I couldn't believe what I was reading.  I have a picture of my great grandfather if you would like to post it."

Adolfo Lopez wrote from the
United States

"I happened to stumble on the website. My wife is from
Chelmsford, Essex, England.  Her Grandfather was killed in The Great War, 1914, Sept 8th.  We have been researching my wife’s family for some years now and she has some interesting stories. We also have a few pictures of her family that we are going to send along with her note.  My step-daughter (Amanda) has been corresponding with you."

Family correspondence: Fred Garnham

Maureen Garnham-Lopez wrote: 

Frederick Garnham, was born 25, September, 1887 in Chadwell Heath, Dagenham, Romford, baptised 22, July, 1894 in the Parish Church of Stondon Massey, where both his parents were living. His father was foreman at the Soaphouse Farm. 

Private Fred Garnham enlisted in the Essex Regiment, 2nd Battalion.  He was in Norwich, market square where pictures of the troops were taken, he sent two of these photos (postcards) which were dated 10, August,1914, to his wife. He was deployed from
Norwich to France, was killed in the Battle of the River Marne, 8, September, 1914 and is buried in Montreuil-Aux-Lions, British Cemetery, France.  

His name is on the memorial inside and outside of the church in Highwood, also inside Roxwell Church, and is on the Essex Roll of Honour in the Essex Chronicle dated Friday, 8, January,1915.  

My father, Frederick Wilfred Garnham was born 4, September, 1914.

Photos: Top. The War Memorial at Highwood Church.
Middle: A letter sent from Buckingham Palace, accompanying the medal sent posthumously to Fred Garnham's wife.
Private Fred Garnham's 1914 Star, also referred to as the Mons Star.

Bottom:  Frederick Garnham, a Stondon-bred man who died on 8 September 1914

Pictures: (Above) Copies of original postcards that Fred sent to his wife, Rosa, from Norwich before leaving for France. (Below) Medals granted posthumously to Fred Garnham's widow, together with a copy of the accompanying letter.

Pictures: (Top Left) A commemoration issued by Buckingham Palace. (Middle) Maureen Garnham-Lopez kneels at her grandfather's grave. (Bottom). A photograph of Fred Garnham with his wife, Rosa.

Meeting Grandad for the First Time

Our trip started at my brother Dennis and wife June's house in Cooksmill Green, it was early August, 2004, you could feel that there was much anticipation of the events that were about to happen in the next two days.   

Dennis had packed his uniform, he is in the Essex Yeomanry Band, we packed our clothes for two very special days. Muriel, my only sister, Adolfo, my husband, Dennis and June were all getting ready for our road trip.   

June had packed all of us lunch and snacks, we finally got into Dennis' car, it was hard to believe that we were finally on our way, we took a ferry across to France, Dennis was nervous about driving on the other side of the road.  He read the map before arriving, mapping our route, had to stop a couple of times more to reread the map, as we got lost, but found our way pretty fast after that.   

France was very beautiful, breath taking countryside, quaint little villages with only a few houses, all with wooden shutters and they were all closed. It was as if there was only one road going through the middle of colorful fields, we had seen only two farmers working the fields and that was it.   

From a distance, I could see the cross, the memorial it was just like they said, 96 kilometres South-South-West of Riems on the road from Château-Thierry to La Ferte-sous-Jouarre, just off the main road. As our car came to a stop, my heart started racing, I stepped out of the car, opened a small gate, it squeaked just like in the movies. We were looking, all looking for him, where was he? I believe Dennis found him.  I could not believe how I felt, it felt like I was meeting him for the very first time, this man whom I loved so much. We all said our hello's, expressed our love, shed some tears and stood there in silence, putting our hands on the headstone like we were gently touching him. Grandad, we have found you at last, I thought.  

We found a hotel a few miles away, and all took a shower and got dressed. Dennis had put on his uniform and was ready, he had a job to do, a job he yearned to do for many years, this day was finally here. Dennis drove us back to the cemetery. It was a hot day, 90 degrees. I knew he was hot in that wool uniform. The first thing Dennis did was to drape the stairs of the memorial with a Union Jack and St. George flag. June handed us our programs, grandad's photo was on the front cover.  Inside, we all had parts to read and hymns to sing.  Adolfo proceeded to say his part, everyone else followed, Oh! Boy! Were we proud. Dennis got to do what he had only dreamed of for years and that was to play the taps for Grandad, as he has done for many other soldiers but this one was different, it was for Grandad. All eyes were on Dennis, he quivered, sounded a little off key sometimes but for all of us, this was the moment, his moment and we knew it.  

We had our service for Grandad, when it was over, we all went to the grave, stood there, had our private words, walked around just taking in all the sights and sounds.   

At the entrance, in the brick wall of the gate, inside was a visitor book. Dennis and I signed it, thanking the French people for doing an immaculate job in taking care of the cemetery.  

The following morning we drove around in the countryside and picked poppies to take to Grandad's grave. It was a day of mixed feelings. We had a picnic near Grandad's grave, it was another hot day, we sat there enjoying every moment we could, gave each other time for a private goodbye. I promised Grandad that I would not ever forget him and will tell others of him when ever I got the chance.

Maureen Garnham-Lopez

Tracing the family

Amanda wrote:   

"Our search for my great great grandfather is where the whole thing is so confusing.  We cannot trace George Garnham who was married to Harriet Lewis (born
18th July, 1841) in Gt Bealings, Suffolk.  She first married a George Smith.  They had one child Charles Smith born 1861.  George died in 1871 in Swilland.  Harriet then married a James Garnham on 24th November 1874 in Swilland.  They had at least two children: Alice Harriet (born 1875 in Witnesham) and Rosa Emily (born 13th September 1877 in Henley).  This is where it starts to get confusing.  

"The census shows Harriet with a George Garnham.  We know that James is still alive in 1907.  So when I saw my great grandfather Fred Garnham on the website saying that his father was George, I knew for sure that we were on the right track. But then we do not have a birth for George and we don't have a marriage for George and Harriet either.  We have a certified copy of George's death but didn't get any info off of it.  The mystery lies here ... We got a copy from the parish of George's burial and it said he was also known as Joseph Smith  ... And the 1911 census says that they were married for 40 years and it just doesn't add up.  So that is why I was hoping to see if you had any information and I was so excited."   

Family Secrets in Stondon Massey

During 2005, Adolfo and I made several visits to the Essex Record Office (ERO) in Chelmsford [to look at the Census and Parish records held there on microfiche]. This was always an exciting time for us as we always liked looking for our family members. We find this very rewarding. 

When looking for family in Stondon Massey, we came across a burial of a Joseph Smith long known as George Garnham. Who is he, is he our George? He was the right age, right place, everything matched up to our George.

It all then added up.  That was why we could not find a birth certificate of George or a marriage to (Great-Grandma) Harriet Garnham.

Something must have happened to Harriet or James Garnham (her second husband) before 1881 since their oldest daughter Alice was placed in a workhouse and Rosa Emily was placed with family members.  

In 1891, Harriet appears in Romford, Essex with someone calling himself George Garnham with a son Frederick Garnham. They moved to Stondon Massey before 1901 and lived at the Soaphouse Farm.

Harriet Lewis first married a George Smith. Her second marriage was to James Garnham.  Did Joseph Smith steal those two names?  In the 1911 censes they were still living together at the Soaphouse Farm. George and Harriet lived at least ten or more years at the farm. I believe until they became too sick to take care of themselves, Harriet was living in Radley Green at the time of her death, while George was in the Stanford Rivers Poor House [Ongar Union Workhouse] at the time of his death. Both passed away in the same year 1916: Harriet in April, George in November, and are buried at Stondon Massey.  

I started thinking of my father Frederick Wilfred Garnham losing his father, Frederick Garnham at 4 days old, and his grandparents George and Harriet at the age of 2. All he knew was his mother.  [Frederick Garnham was killed in the Retreat from Mons at the beginning of the First World War.] 

Most of all, who was this man calling himself George Garnham? Then this meant, who are we? Have we been Garnham by name all these years but are Smith's by blood. What secret was Stondon Massey holding about all of us and why? 

In my heart, I believe that Joseph Smith became George Garnham when he got involved with Great-Grandma Harriet Garnham. 

It saddens me greatly to think our family tree ends here on the Garnham side, it is our namesake. Why the lies and for what reason did this information come out at the burial at Stondon Massey. What did Revd Reeve know, and if anything, what did he think. Did he really know George Garnham? 

In the 1901 Census:

Harriet and George Garnham lived in Stondon Massey at the Soaphouse Farm. They had a boarder named Arthur Bolt, 9 years old, birthplace unknown. 

Revd Reeve mentioned an Arthur Bolt, 11th November 1918 . At this time I have no idea whom this person is, maybe family somehow, another mystery person. Other family members mentioned with Arthur are Alec Shuttleworth and a Arthur H. Watts, both are relatives of mine. 

Maureen Garnham-Lopez
Last updated: 9 May 2010