The article about Germans in Stratford and the internment camp in the latest issue of Cockney Ancestor brought to mind my husband’s great grandmother’s family, the Rothenburgs. Her family had definitely been in England since the 1780s and possibly from the early 1720s. After a colourful start they had moved to Bromley by 1840, then Whitechapel. In the late 1860s WILLIAM ROTHENBURG settled in Stratford. He and most of his family were clay pipe makers. By 1914 of the eleven children born to him and MARY ANN BROOKS who had survived into adulthood (three had died in infancy), two daughters had emigrated to Canada and their eldest surviving son William was leading what seems to be a double life between Stratford and Grimsby. William’s legitimate family were in Grimsby but he also had a mistress and two children back in Stratford. William and Mary Ann’s other children were all living in or near Stratford and their two younger sons Albert and Edward both served in the army in World War I. By the outbreak of the War they were a real East London family but with a very German sounding name.
ALBERT EUGENE ROTHENBURG was born in Stratford in 1882. In the 1901 census he was living with his parents at 38 Francis Street and working as a blouse deliverer, possibly with his cousin Arthur Brooks. In the summer of 1905 he married in LILLIAN EMILY GOODALL. Lillian had been born in Islington in 1882 the daughter of William and Emily Goodall. By 1901 the family had moved to Mile End Old Town and Lillian was working as a wire winder. In May 1906 they had a son ALBERT WILLIAM ROTHENBURG and two days short of Albert William’s fourth birthday his brother WALTER ERNEST ROTHENBURG was born. The 1911 census shows Albert living at 77 Cedars Road Stratford, just across the main road from his mother (William his father having died in 1901). His occupation was now porter for a blouse manufacturer and with him was a lodger, a blouse cutter. Emily and the two boys were meanwhile visiting her sister, Alice Scanes in Chadwell Heath. They are listed a visitors so it seems a temporary arrangement, but might there have been more to it than a routine family visit, or Lillian needing to help her sister for some reason? Albert gained a reputation as a black sheep of the family and this was due to, shall we say, his fondness of women. Possible martial issues aside Albert seems to have been in steady work throughout the first decade of the 20th century. It was not so easy for his younger brother Edward.
EDWARD ROTHENBURG was born 20 January 1884. Like his brother Albert he was still at home with their parents on the 1901 census, occupation stable man. However times were hard and around the middle of the decade he and his older brother William decided to try and find work on the trawlers leaving from Grimsby. They spent several days sleeping on the beach there, and then Edward found being at sea didn’t agree with him so he walked back to London. However William stayed and moved his wife, three daughters and son to join him. On 11 September 1910 Edward married ROSE SPRATT at St Paul’s Church, Stratford. Rose was a local girl, her father Alfred Spratt had been a railway worker in 1901 and was a builder’s labourer in 1911. On the marriage certificate Rose gave her age at 19, in fact she was just short of her 17th birthday. Her eldest child ROSE MARY ANN ROTHENBURG was born in the month following the wedding. Edward’s mother didn’t approve but it turned out to be a very happy marriage lasting two months short of 60 years. At the time of their wedding and the 1911 census Edward was a pitman. In 1911 Edward, Rose and baby Rose were classed a visitors at Rose’s parents’ house, 148 Heneker Street, Stratford. Later Edward and Rose were to live at 6 Huneker Street for many years.
So we come to 1914. The Rothenburgs may have spent the bank holiday on 3 August like many other East Enders. They may have gone to Epping Forest , Southend or a local park. More unlikely they went up West, with the clouds of war overhead the centre of London was full of people. If Edward was still a potman he was probably working. He and Rose by now had a son two year old EDWARD WILLIAM ROTHENBURG, known as Bill and Rose was expecting another child. It is not surprising that he and Albert failed to rush to join the colours, both had families and at first the Government was looking for men 30 and under. Even so they must have felt nervous, as well as angry following the bombing from sea of the coastal towns of Old (East) and West Hartlepool, Whitby and Scarborough which killed 137 and wounded 592 including many children. William’s family wasn’t that far away in Grimsby. Edward was certainly at home in January 1915 when he was visited by his cousin SAMUEL JOB BROOKS.
Samuel Job Brooks known as Joe to his family was born in Stratford on 16 April 1874. He was the second son of SAMUEL BROOKS, brother of Mary Ann, Edward and Albert’s mother. Samuel had a sad and disturbed childhood. His mother died was he was seven, and it affected him badly, he refused to go to school for a year. In 1883 he was sent to the Forest Gate Essex Industrial School and then one in Chelmsford. Meanwhile his father remarried and it would seem his new wife, who had her own children, did not want to be burdened with stepchildren. Joe’s younger brother HENRY BROOKS became a Barnado’s boy, Joe was sent to Canada in 1890 and Henry followed. What happened to them in Canada is a story in itself, but remarkably they found each other there and worked together for years prospecting. They also maintained contact with family back in England. In the article ‘The difficult life of James Cowell’ in the last issue of Cockney Ancestor Christine Head thinks her ancestor went AWOL trying to find his sisters. Fortunately for Joe he didn’t need to search. Joe enlisted as soon as war broke out, and in October arrived in England as part of the 48th Highlanders, 15th Battalion, “F” Company. Like James Cowell he was suffering a cold and wet winter on Salisbury Plain.
Rose gave birth to a second daughter Grace early in 1915. Later in 1915 Edward or another family member in England received a very poignant parcel, containing Samuel Job’s kilt and sporran. He had landed in France on 4 March 1915 and his Battalion was outside Ypres at the start of the 2nd Battle of Ypres on 22 April. The following day, the 23rd Joe was killed on the Zonnebke Road near St Julien. He was probably blown up by a shell as no body was found and he is remembered on the Menin Gate. It is a puzzle why the kilt and sporran were returned to England and not to his brother Henry in Canada who he had given as his next of kin. Sadly the kilt was lost when Edward’s house was bombed in WW2.
As the war progressed anti-German feeling grew and reached a climax in 1915, not only caused by the deaths of our soldiers and sailors and the East coast bombings, but also by stories of German atrocities, the sinking of ships, particularly the Lusitania on 7 May, the execution of Edith Cavell on 12 October and so on. This was combined by the fear of German spies amongst our midst. Anyone with a German name became suspect. Shop keepers who displayed their foreign sounding names were particularly vulnerable. So many bakers' shops were destroyed in the East End of London, with bags of flour emptied and loaves smashed in the street, that a local shortage of bread immediately followed. The crowds were often unable to distinguish between German and other foreign names, a mob in Leytonstone, where Albert was now living, took one look at the name of a Scottish landlord Strachan above the door of a pub and promptly smashed all the windows. Edward and Rose lived very close to the transit internment camp for aliens in Stratford. How were Edward and Albert with their obviously German sounding name personally affected? Well they were fortunate in not having a shop or other business displaying their name and anyone knowing them couldn’t but believe they were East Londoners born and bred. Apparently they did suffer the odd comment but nothing serious. Rose in particular who became your archetypical East End matriarch would not have stood for any nonsense
As 1915 progressed it became clearer that voluntary enlistment wouldn’t satisfy the manpower needs of the war. Registration in the summer was a clear indication that conscription was on its way. I do not know whether Edward volunteered under the Derby scheme in the second half of the year whereby men could attest, showing their willingness to serve, to be called up later, or whether he waited until conscription. It is very frustrating that up to now little information about Edward’s war record has been found, including his date of attestation.
When he attested on 4 December 1915 in Leyton Albert was living 12 Mayville Road Leytonstone and his occupation was still a warehouseman. Closing date for voluntary enlistment under the Derby scheme was 15 December. By the time he was mobilised on 3 August 1916 he had moved to 94 Melford Road, Leytonstone, and his wife and children were living with him. In Leytonstone they were living close to Albert’s older sister ANNIE MARTIN. Annie had sons in the army, and her son CHARLES MARTIN an able seaman was one of the survivors when HMS Russell was suck by a mine off the coast of Malta on 27 April 1916. Initially Albert was in the 5th Battalion Kings Royal Rifles but was then transferred to the Machine Gun Corps on 12 September and went to France 13 December 1916. When he transferred he took with him 2 pairs of boots, 1 cap, 3 pairs of drawers, a great coat, 2 jackets, 1 pair puttees, 2 pairs of trousers, a cardigan, 3 shirts and 3 pairs of worsted socks. There was also a kit bag, a cap badge, braces, brushes for blacking, polishing and shaving. A toothbrush, hairbrush and clothes brush, a cap comforter, comb, identity disc, fork, knife, spoon, holdall, housewife, two hand towels three pairs metal titles. Does anyone know what these metal titles were?
Within the Machine Gun Corp he served as an officer’s batman, and he was judged to be sober, intelligent and reliable with an aptitude to being a cook and batman. A batman cleaned an officer's kit, lugged about his valise, sometimes cooked his food and often acted as bodyguard and confidential runner. He suffered a gunshot wound in the hip on 21 March 1918, the first day of the German great offensive. This at least gave him what turned out to be a permanent return to blighty on the 28th March. He had a furlough between 26 June and 5 July. His home address had become 60 Tudor Road, Upton Park. On the 1st October he was assessed in category B III, not fit for active service but fit for a labour corp. This turned out to mean carrying out sanitary duties in the South Camp Ripon. He was discharged from there on 3 March 1919. When he was discharged he was not a well man, he was assessed as having 40% disability through bronchitis, and a pension of 11s a week for six months, and 4s 8d a week for his two children
I do not know whether Edward volunteered under the Derby scheme or waited to be conscripted. He was first in the Worcestershire Regiment and then the Hampshire Regiment. Unfortunately we have been unable to find out which battalions, so we have been unable to follow his movements through the battalion war diaries. However with dates this would not have possible anyway. I’m sure other readers have found the same brick walls! The only anecdote that I have been told is that at one point he was stranded behind enemy lines and was helped by civilians. This must have happened to men quite often. One such incident happened in St Quentin during the retreat from Mons when our troops had to leave the town hurriedly. Many had taken the opportunity to relax and enjoy the town’s attractions. Two who didn’t manage to get away were Private Thomas Hands, 1st Battalion Kings Own Royal Regiment (Lancaster) and Private John Hughes of the 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Rifles. They were both hidden by French families and given civilian clothes. Hughes regularly went into town, quarrelled with German soldiers and struck up a friendship with a young woman who betrayed him for a reward. The two were immediately arrested as were the families, some of whom were deported. Both soldiers were executed as spies on 8 March 1915. Another incident is given in a book which I strongly recommend Ben Macintyre ‘A foreign field’. Fortunately Edward safely returned to his own line. Edward’s war ended with him in a pioneer unit. A roads and quarries sub unit of the Royal Engineers. Like Albert he may have been deemed no longer fit for active service, or he may possibly have been transferred there after the war finished.
Of course war finishing didn’t end its impact on people’s lives. Albert was obviously suffering with his health, but for him and his family the war might have had another impact. It would seem that he and his sons changed their name. Albert died in 1944 as a Rothenbury. I have several times come across Rothenburg being transcribed as Rothenbury. I think this is due to a handwritten g sometimes resembling a y. However in this case Albert’s son Albert was married as a Rothenbury in 1930, died as a Rothenbury in 1992 as his wife born LOUISA MEDLOCK had done in 1990. His son was registered as a Rothenbury when he was born in 1937. Albert’s son Walter went to Canada in 1936 as Rothenbury. Neither were they the only Rothenburgs to change their name. Several members of an unrelated Rothenburg family in Hull became Rothbury following the war. I don’t know exactly when this change took place. I hope to be able to consult the electoral registers soon which may give me the answer.
Albert back in civilian life had a coffee stall at Upton Park station (well the army did consider him suitable for catering) and was kept company by a dancing dog. Edward and Rose had another six children and lived their lives out in Heneker Road.