My Grandad Gilbert Allison (6th October 1856 to 10th October 1934)
... was 61 years old when he was selected to visit the Western Front in March 1918, as part of a Trade Union members’ group. I would like to share his unusual story, together with the many extraordinary documents he brought back and kept for our family to treasure. I believe the objective of this group visit was to feedback British workers’ views on how their efforts were being put to good use on the Front. Obviously this was a move by Whitehall to provide some “good” propaganda!
Gilbert was admitted a Member of the London Branch of “The Amalgamated Society of Lithographic Printers of Great Britain & Ireland” on the 31st day of January 1881. Our family hold his certificate of admittance.
This became “The Federated Society of Electroplaters & Stereotypers & Assistants” (of Gt. Britain & Ireland). Its Central Office moved to 80 Blackfriars Road, London SE1 from 40 Wood Vale, Forest Hill, London SE 23. I understand that the records for this society are archived at Warwick University. We have Grandad’s example of the society’s headed notepaper.
The National Council (of Electro & Stereotypers & AssistantsTrade Union) were invited to nominate representatives from various parts of the country, who would be able to faithfully report their experiences to members on their return. There were two groups of delegates:
The group containing Gilbert consisted of:-
Six delegates from the Miners’ Federation, South Wales; A Civil Servant; and five London printers – Mr J Sullivan (London Branch Secretary NSOP&A), Mr Hayes (Chairman, Platen Machine Minders), Mr Allison (Lithographic Printers), Mr Finch (Correctors of the Press), and Mr W. Wallace (General Secretary).
All of this information is contained in the pink booklet entitled “The Western Front: Some Impressions by your Representatives of their Visit to France in 1918”, published and printed by the National Society of Electrotypers, Stereotypers and Assistants. I have an excellent copy of this publication.
Grandad Gilbert received a typed letter from H S Lindsay from 6 Whitehall Gardens, London SW1, asking him to complete forms of application for a passport sending back 4 small photographs with his signature on the back. He also recieved a set of “do’s and dont’s”, which he had to sign. I have both letters.
Accommodation on the eve of departure was provided at the Shaftesbury Hotel, Great St Andrews Street, London WC. This was Sunday 17th March 1918. They were to be paid 10shillings for each day of work that was lost. They departed on Monday 18th by train from London. Once in France they were escorted to various sites.
Day1 Albert, Ovillers-La-Boisselle, Pozieres, Martinpuish, Pys Warlencourt-Eaucourt, Bapaume.
At Albert the group had it’s photograph taken, standing by the side of the ruined cathedral. I have this photo, with Granddad standing on the far right.
Day2 Arras, an aerodrome near the Front Line, Vimy Ridge. Stayed overnight in the chateau where Lord Roberts died (?St Omer).
Day3 Saw Armaments Stores, Army Ordnance Shops, Army bakery, Hospital Ship.
Day 4 At departure port. Saw Army Printing works.
They were due to return on Day4, but fog delayed their departure until the next day. A letter dated 23rd March was immediately sent by H S Lindsay (Secreatry) from Whitehall to Gilbert’s wife Jessie Agnes, informing her that his party was held up, but he was “quite well and safe”. I have this letter, on headed paper from the Ministry of Munitions of War, 6 Whitehall Gardens, London SW1.
They returned safely to the Shaftesbury Hotel in London. The second visit group was headed by the Midland District Branch secretary, Mr H Brown. He reported that they visited the following sites: Somme battlefield; Albert, Fricourt – seeing the original “No Man’s Land”; Fricourt Wood, Mametz Wood, Courcy, Delville Wood, High Wood, Courcelette, Clery, Peronne, Villiers, Carbonne, Estrees, Amiens.
Gilbert also retained many additional documents in good condition (which I have), including:-
Photographs - a French Tank, “Hydra” battery production in the arsenal at Toulon (near Marseilles) and graduated disks for gunsights in the arsenal at Toulon.
The booklet “A Souvenir for Visitors to the British Front”, printed in Great Britain by R Clay and Sons Ltd, Brunswick Street, Stamford Street, London and Bungay, Suffolk.
11 Postcards – Portraits of generals by Francis Dodd – General Sir H S Horne; General Sir H C O Plumer; General Sir E H Allenby; General Sir H S Rawlinson; General Sir H de la Poer Gough; Field-Marshall Sir Douglas Haig; Lieut.-General Sir W N Congreve; Lieut-General Sir H E Watts; Lieut-Gen the Rt Hon Jan C Smuts; General Sir W R Birdwood; General the Hon Sir J H G Byng.
Postcard Album – “Albert (Somme) Apres le bombardement – After the Bombardment”, complete with 20 photographs from 1916, printed by G Lelong, 21 rue St-Martin, Amiens, France.
Booklet “La Defense de Verdun – Documents de la Section Photographique de L’Armee”, with “Greetings from the French Army” in the top right hand corner. Edited by “Le Pays de France”. This contains 32 photographs with descriptions, translated into English, Russian and Italian. It shows a cartographic map of the German positions on the right and left banks of the Meuse river. Other photos are of – Pagny-sur-Moselle, Haumont, Fromezey, Samogneux, General Petain and General Joffre,Hennemont, Hardaumont, Douaumont, Monsieur Poincare and General Joffre, Malancourt, Fresnes-en-Woevre,Bethincourt, Avocourt.
Printed by “Imprimerie du Journal” 6 Boulevard Poissonniere, Paris.
Booklet “LaVictoire Francaise du Chemin des Dames” --- “The French Victory on the Chemin des Dames”, containing battles on the Aisne river, and 27 photos from the area.
I have done some family history research and have accessed Gilbert Allison’s census records 1871 to 1901, and other information, including the fact that he was born in Edinburgh, Scotland; married and had four children, before leaving her and the family, then meeting my grandmother, 24years his junior and having another 4 children!
Whilst working as a lithographic printer off Fleet Street in London, we believe he came into contact with John Everett Millais. The family story is that he worked with Millais in producing the Pears’ Annual poster “Bubbles”. We have copies of this print, together with “A Daughter of Eve” and “A Gypsy Queen”. We also have lithographic prints of Landseer”s Stag paintings “The Challenge” and “The Sanctuary”, Leonardo da Vinci “The Last Supper”, “The Windmill” by John Linnell, “Ophelia” by Henrietta Rae, “Mother and Son” (also by Linnell?), and 2 views of Seton Hall.
Grandad was also a keen gardener in later life, and won a trophy for his allotment. He was a very formal man and we have a photograph of him by his allotment in his suit!
Ironically, having lived a full, interesting and eventful life, he died tragically. He popped out to the corner shop in Billet Road, Walthamstow to buy some cigarettes, and a car mounted the pavement and knocked him over. He died in hospital, and is buried in a pauper’s grave in St John’s Church burial ground, off Hoe Street in Walthamstow. This must have been tough for his widow Jessie, who had children aged 20, 16, 14 and 11 at home.
It is a shame that I never met him – he would have been 104 if he had lived until I was born in 1960! However, I hope this proves useful to someone who reads this, especially those whose relatives may have been on the trip to the Western Front. It may also bring to light more facts about Gilbert Allison that we would appreciate very much.
To Ed Cooper,
I would be pleased and very interested to make contact. Please email me at email@example.com. Then I will be happy to provide info. Dawn.
Ed Cooper commented
I was very interested to read your grandfather's history. I am carrying out genealogical research for a member of my extended family who is a direct descendent of Gilbert Alison.
My cousin would love to find out more about his paternal lineage.
I would be grateful if you would get in touch with me so we could share some genealogical information.
Thank you in anticipation.
Yvonne Fenter commented
Hi Dawn ...
Your granddad's story is a really fascinating one.
I've set him up on Lives for you, citing the mention of him in the booklet that you have as the seed source for his Life Story. Please see https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/LifeStory/7666205 .
Although a lot of the information that you have about him doesn't fit neatly into the various categories on the system, fortunately you can add it as free-format stories. If you are able to copy what you've posted here as stories on his record, that would be brilliant. If you put dates on the various story segments that you add, then they will appear on his main timeline, and tell his story chronologically for all to see.
It would also be great if you are able to scan and upload images of the documents and photos that you have, so then they will be preserved with his Life Story.
I look forward to reading more about him and his visit.
Yvonne, IWM Volunteer
I believe that my Grandad may have been working still for the Lithographic printing company in London, but I do not know which company name it was. I believe he was still working because he had recently set up home with my Grandmother, and started his second family!! [He had 4 children by his first wife, and another 4 by my grandmother!].
Is IWM interested in seeing (or indeed having) these documents mentioned in my story?
I would be interested to hear whether IWM are wanting any memorabilia and how rare , or otherwise, my documents are. Thank you for your comment, and the start of my Grandad's story.
Trevor Penfold commented
Was your granddad still working for a company that produced material for the war effort when he visited the Western Front or had he retired at this stage please?
I can add a Life Story for you but first need this clarification.