How the project came about
I am a stand-up comedian. Many people will say that their greatest fear is speaking in public, worse even than the thought of dying. So it's not a surprise that people will often say to me, "I couldn't do what you do". Comedians having a bad gig are often described as 'dying on stage'. This has always seemed to me somewhat of an exaggeration.
There wasn't much of a hint from my background that I might one day be a stand-up comedian, but then I didn't pay much attention to my family history, so wouldn't have used that as a guide.
I was aware of having family members who served in both world wars but knew little of the detail. I knew my mother had Austrian heritage, but my upbringing was rooted in Yorkshire and my mother never talked about 'the war'.
Sadly my parents passed away some years ago but with the centenary of the First World War approaching, I decided to research my family tree in detail. I was soon hooked as I uncovered really interesting stories of ordinary people in my family who were caught up in both world wars. This was on BOTH sides.
The people that served and the families left behind went through so much. I decided I must write down their stories, and document what they went through. Only later did I think, surely writing a spoken word show would also make sense. Why not use the talents I have to share their stories with the wider world?
Talking to Festival promoters made me realise that the potential was indeed there to develop a show which would commemorate the centenary of the end of World War 1 and also honour those family members who served. There is a wealth of information to share but natural limitations on what can feasibly be disseminated in one go. So the show I'm going to tour will focus on two of my serving relatives who died in 1918. The fact my grandfather fought 'on the other side' (for the Austrians) may have to be skimmed over for this year, but I will attempt to balance the fact that there were two sides to the conflict on the Western Front. This has become my personal 'conflict of interest'. And I for one am dying to tell the tale.
These family histories have gripped me, as I hope they will you too. It may be almost one hundred years since the guns fell silent on the Western Front, but what happened is still relevant today.
William Hanley Cammish (1894-1918)
William Hanley Cammish was my great uncle (he was married to my paternal grandmother's sister).
Born on 19th January 1894 in Scarborough, Yorkshire.
Enlisted with the Royal Naval Reserve (Trawler section) on 9th April 1915.
Married Eliza Cowling in Scarborough on 18th June 1917.
Serving on HMAPV Dirk at the head of a convoy of merchant ships when the ship was torpedoed by a U-Boat - died at sea on 28th May 1918 off Flamborough Head. All hands were lost. His body was never recovered.
His daughter Wilfreda was born on 28th October 1918.
Frederick Watkin Cowling (1887-1918)
Frederick Watkin Cowling was my great uncle (my paternal grandmother's brother).
Born March 1887 in Scarborough, Yorkshire.
Married Lille Bell in Scarborough on 27th January 1909.
His daughter (also called Lillie) was born on 2nd May 1910.
His son Arthur Watkin Cowling was born on 1st October 1912.
Was living in Ferryhill, County Durham, when he enlisted with the Northumberland Fusiliers, then served in the Durham Light Infantry.
Landed in France on 20th April 1915.
Promoted to 2nd Lieutenant on 1st May 1918.
Fought at Havrincourt between 12th and 15th September 1918. Awarded the Military Cross for gallantry in that battle.
Wounded fatally in the stomach in fighting on 20th October 1918.
Buried at Carnieres Communal cemetery.
Other serving family members
Harry Alfred Murphy (1893-1914)
A cousin of my grandmother's, Harry Alfred Murphy attested on 22nd July 1912 at Tottenham, aged 18 years and 9 months. He served with the 4th Battalion, Duke of Cambridge’s Own (Middlesex Regiment) as part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), joined the front fighting against the Germans on 12th August 1914 and was killed at the Battle of Mons on 23rd August. He was awarded the 1914 Star and Clasp, British War Medal and Victory Medal. His name is one of 52 First World War soldiers commemorated on the St. Neots War Memorial, the town where his parents lived.
His body was buried by the Germans in a specially built cemetery at St Symphorien Military, 2 km east of Mons, on the road to Charleroi, which is in modern day Belgium, at Hainaut. The cemetery contains the graves of soldiers from both sides of the conflict. The Germans even erected a memorial to the Middlesex Regiment. He lies here, in Plot III, Row A, Grave number 36, and the inscription reads: ‘Their glory shall not be blotted out’.
Sergeant Jacob Rowntree Cammish (b.1883)
William Cammish’s eldest brother, Jacob served with the Royal Field Artillery and was badly wounded during October 1917 whilst taking part in the Third Battle of Ypres [Passchendaele], such that his right arm had to be amputated.
Lance Bombadier Robert ‘Bob’ Cammish (1887-1927)
Another elder brother of William Cammish, Bob Cammish served with the Royal Field Artillery and was badly affected by a gas attack during 1917 which meant he died prematurely at the age of 40.