Monday, December 08, 2008

Getting in touch with my forebears

There is something I would like to write about before the year is out. November 2008 saw the 90th anniversary of the end of World War I - The Great War as it was known, or "the war to end all wars"! British television has been full of commemorative programmes, documentaries, reconstructions of battlefields and photographs of war cemeteries in Europe. These have drawn my thoughts once more to the only one of my blood relatives who died in the war: my mother's first cousin Arthur Brian Rabone. I have always known that he died in The Great War, but as I watched some of these programmes I began to wonder exactly when and where.

Captain Arthur Brian Rabone

So I consulted my brother's genealogy of the family, and found that he was a captain in the 6th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment, and had died in France on 1st July 1916, the first day of the Somme offensive by the British and the French. I believe that the Battle of the Somme is considered to have been one of the most wasteful of the war in terms of massive casualties for a very small gain in territory. The bodies of many were never recovered, and there is a cemetery, and a memorial to the missing soldiers, at Thiepval in the Somme. It is the work of the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens. The sixteen pillars are engraved with the names of 73,367 British and Commonwealth soldiers who fell during the First Battle of the Somme between July and November 1916 and who have no known grave. Our records say that Brian (as he was known) was buried at Thiepval. He was 29 and had been married two years. He left no children.

Thiepval Memorial and cemetery

And that is where his story becomes my story. Because Brian Rabone was an only child, and left no children of his own, when his mother, already widowed, came to dispose of her personal estate, she chose to leave it to her three sisters. One of those was my grandmother, and her investments have eventually come down to me through both my mother and my mother's unmarried sister. Without that inheritance, my family's life, and my own, would have been very different. My great aunt died in 1938, which is why, in 1939, my father was able to give up trying to sell cars in Birmingham, which he hated, and become semi-retired. We moved to a country smallholding near Worcester, where he was able to work hard, and happily, raising fruit and vegetables for market.

My great aunt Mary Maude Rabone

My great uncle by marriage Arthur J Rabone

In 1949, at the age of 21, I was given my first holding of shares in John Rabone & Sons, makers of rules, tape measures and spirit levels. When I eventually came to sell these shares in 1972, as a member of the family I was able to keep the original share certificate as a souvenir. Also out of sentiment, and as a frequenter of antique markets, I have added considerably over the years to the one or two Rabone rules and measures that I already had in my possession. The collection has now passed to my son. So my inheritance has enabled me not only to indulge my own interests, such as collecting, but also to live comfortably on my own for the last 23 years.

Like so many family firms John Rabone & Sons eventually merged with another, becoming Rabone Chesterman in 1963, and finally being taken over by Stanley in 1990. Below is a picture of the original Birmingham works, taken from a price list and catalogue dated 1878.

I reflect often on how my great aunt's great sorrow has meant comfort and support for my family. But this year, in the context of the commemorative TV programmes, and with the additional information I have found, I feel that I have come a little closer to this cousin who died before I was born, and to whom I owe so much.


Julie Oakley said...

Gosh, that is so interesting. When I was at art college we were all encouraged to go out and buy a decent Rabone Chesterman steel rule - I think I still have it somewhere. They were definitely considered the finest rulers you could buy.

Judith said...

So glad it rang a bell, Julie. Writing about the Rabones has revived my interest in their products, and I want to start colleccting all over again. I am almost regretting passing my collection over to my son. The early ones were made of boxwood bound with brass and the quality is so great. The early extending rules were made of tape in acircular leather case with a lovely brass wind-up handle. I have just come upon one on Ebay which is made out of brassbound ivory which is particularly special - very likely a ladies' rule is my guess. The seller wants £178 for it!!!!!!! But I'm yearning.

Avus said...

Interesting and poignant, Judith.
I inherited one of the boxwood, brassbound Rabone rulers from my father, a carpenter and joiner. I also have his leather cased extending tape with the brass handle.

Sheila Joynes' Musical Diary said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sheila Joynes' Musical Diary said...

That's a lovely tribute to your relatives, Judith. They would be pleased to know their contribution to your life was so much appreciated.

Linda S. Socha said...

What fun you blog is Judith! It is a bit like traveling through a new town and discovering the landmarks
Thank you

Simon Best said...

Hello Judith

Lovely blog and especially so as my Great Aunt, Jessie Dewes Best was married to Arthur Brian Rabone.

I have the following information about Arthur as follows:

Letter from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission "Captain Arthur Brian Rabone, serving with the 6th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment died on 1 July 1916 and has no known grave. He is therefore commemorated by name with those who served with the 6th Battalion on pier 9 Face A & B & Pier 10 Face B of the Thiepval Memorial France. The Thiepval memorial which commemorates over 7000 British Soldiers who lost their lives in the Somme Area and have no known grave and is situated a little south of the village of Thiepeval about 8 kilometres north east of Albert.

Regards and hopefully you don't mind that I downloaded the picture of Arthur to include into my family history program.


Judith said...

Simon ~ So good to have you comment here. I love these moments in blogging when you accidentally hit somebody else's spot. And thank you so much for the details of Brian Rabone's death and memorial. Of course I don't mind your using the picture.

I am forwarding your comment to my brother who is the genealogist of the family. Is there some way we could contact you privately if we want to know more. If you are prepared to give me your email address, you will find a link in my full profile here to email it to me.

Anonymous said...

just lookin for new spirit level when i came across your post. have been using rabone chesterman level for last 30 years still as accurate as ever,just getting hard to read at times. good to read history of company. pitty new tools are not made to same standard.

Judith said...

Good to hear from you Anonymous. Some of the earlier Rabone products, before they joined with Chesterman, are sought-after collectors' items now. They made some wonderful things, including a rule with braille markings for blind people!

Lozicle said...

Hi Judith,
I stumbled across your blog looking for information about Brian Rabone. I was researching him as part of the upcoming commemorations for the centenary of WW1. I chose him as I am a patient of the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in Birmingham and the physio gym there has a plaque dedicated to him. I hope this fine you well and if you are interested in anything I have found please get in touch.