The Heath Family 1890-1920

Written by Louise Ryland-Epton

Along with many of those working on the Bremhill Parish History project, recently I was looking at local census returns. One family caught my eye in the return for 1911 from Tytherton Lucas. Firstly, they were a household of nine that included four adults who shared a house of only five rooms. Secondly, the census return indicated they had lost two children. It encouraged me to look further, and I found a tale of love and loss.

Sidney Heath, a farm labourer from Sutton Benger, married Kate Knight from Tytherton Lucas at her local church on 2 February 1890. Both were the children of farm labourers; farming was in the blood. On their marriage, they moved into a cottage in the village and their first child, a son Frank, was born and baptised in October. Children: Fred, John, Maurice and Charlie followed. Between the birth of Frank in 1890 and Charlie in 1900, the family lost one child. This may have been a pregnancy which ended in a miscarriage as there was no baptism or burial recorded at Tytherton Lucas, where the family celebrated baptisms and mourned the death of another baby, Edward Septimius. Edward lived just seven weeks and was interred 30 March 1901. Unusually it was marked in the parish register as a ‘private’ burial. I don’t know what he died of, the distress of his parents I can only imagine. It is my presumption, but I think their Christian beliefs sustained them. Their last children were named for two of the three great Christian virtues, Faith and Hope.

After the birth of so many boys, the cottage was now fit to burst. Maybe with five boisterous boys, the two girls were a relief. As they grew, they certainly would have helped their mother around the home.

The years rolled by. The children would have attended school, possibly at East Tytherton. There were complaints locally that children were taken out of education by their parents to help at harvest time or planting, maybe it was the case with Sidney and Kate’s boys. Certainly, as soon as the boys could earn a living, they joined their father in the fields. By 1911, four of them were working as farm labourers, including Maurice, aged just 14. This brought more money into the household after what I imagine had been lean years as the family had grown. We cannot know the Heath boys’ aspirations or hopes for the future, but in Europe the start of hostilities in 1914 was to change the course of their lives.

Like many with a flush of excitement and optimism it would be over by Christmas, the Heath boys quickly joined up. Maurice was only 17 when he enlisted with older brother Fred. The boys journeyed to Bristol and joined the Navy, on the same day 9 September 1914. I wondered why the Navy and not the Army but maybe it had an exotic appeal, they may not have seen the sea until they chose to join up. They are certainly not the only young men to have joined the Navy from the parish. Indeed, there are records of local boys and men enlisting in the Navy from at least the Napoleonic Wars, often like Maurice and Fred, working as farm labourers.

The enlistment papers of the Heath boys reveal they were both fresh faced with hazel eyes and brown hair. Both gave their father, Sidney, as their next-of-kin. Tragically, they both perished during the hostilities. After serving on HMS Venerable on the Dardanelles and the Mediterranean, in 1915 and 1916, Maurice was reassigned to join the frontline in Flanders. He was killed on the first day of the 2 nd Battle of Passchendaele. His name is on the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing, in Belgium, along with many thousands of others. Fred saw action on HMS Britannia which served in the Adriatic and Atlantic, he survived almost the whole war unscathed but died two days before the Armistice in 1918 when Britannia was sunk by a German torpedo off Cape Trafalgar.

The tale of the Heath family is replicated many times over, the loss of children in infancy was not unusual in the late nineteenth century, and Maurice and Fred died with millions of that generation in World War One. The pain of their parents I can only imagine. Their lives, however, have also encouraged me to think about the hundreds of other young men from the parish who served across the centuries, something which I hope we will explore fully in the project going forward.