Merry little Wilson circles

Sometimes in research the phrase ‘merry little circles’ springs to mind! Working on the assumption that no individual deliberately sets out to misrecord information with the express intent of causing confusion, unravelling the story of Cecile Marjorie Heath Wilson has been one of said little circles. To begin with, she was always called Bridget although that name does not appear in her family or its records. Nothing has been found to explain this oddity but her probate record uses the name as if it were an official one so, somewhere along the line, the name Bridget has become appended to her other three forenames. It is parenthesised in her school records so would appear to have been in use for most of her life: it is not present on her birth record but it is on her death record.

Born in Wheatenhurst (now called Whitminster), Gloucestershire on 22nd September 1927, Bridget was the youngest child of George and Winnifred (spelled Winifred & Winnefred too) Wilson. Between the birth of older brother George Heath Wilson in Richmond and that of her sister, Barbara Heath Wilson, in 1923, the family had moved from Surrey to Gloucestershire. The astute amongst you will have detected a name pattern here – the Heath forename stems from the grandmother’s maiden name and was given to all three children. Unfortunately, the son being called George as well as the father inadvertently caused a great deal of confusion to all and sundry including official recorders of information. Bridget’s school record gives her father’s name as George Heath Wilson and states that he was a sub-conductor in India. This is a Warrant Officer not attached to a specific regiment and usually working for the Public Works Department. Then it also said he was a Squadron leader, DSO, DFC and had died but neglected to give a date. The two professional roles did not seem to fit together but it all took a considerable amount of unpacking! The search was not helped by the mother’s maiden name being recorded as Wood on Bridget’s birth record but elsewhere as Woods. (You sometimes have the feeling that the family historian god is a bit of a mischief maker.)

Tracking George Heath Wilson, DSO, DFC, it did not take long to find his name recorded on Runnymede Memorial as having died on 25th June 1944.

Runnymede Memorial

image from

He was in RAF (VR) 139 Squadron and his plane took off

on the night of 24.June 1944 from RAF stn Upwood in company with nine other aircraft of the Squadron to carry out an attack on Berlin. The aircraft was not seen or heard from after take off and failed to return to base.

It had two crew: F/Lt William Wrixon Boylson DFC & Bar (pilot) RAAF and S/Ldr George Heath Wilson DSO DFC (nav.) RAFVR.

Via Googlebooks, this information was expanded upon.

A 139 Squadron Mosquito B.XX, one of the 27 that went to Berlin, was shot down thirty kilometres northwest of the ‘Big City’ by Leutnant Ernst-Ewald Hittler of 3./NJG1 for his fifth and final victory. Twenty five year old Flight Lieutenant William Wrixon Boylson, DFC RAAF and Squadron leader George Heath Wilson, DSO DFC were killed.

German Night Fighters Versus Bomber Command 1943-1945 by Martin W Bowman, Casemate Publishers, 2016.

Although the age of the pilot was given, George’s age was not and no details of this appeared on the CWWG website either. It was only when a newspaper report from the previous year was found, announcing his being granted the DSO and which stated that he had been born in 1920, that it became clear (well, slightly clearer!) that Sub-conductor George and Squadron leader George could not be the same person. Not even the most highly decorated officer is a father at the age of 7! However, they could be – and indeed were – father and son. Although the father is not recorded officially as George Heath Wilson (only ever as George), it may well be one of those family things, like the addition of the name Bridget, known within the family but not written down.

Once it became clear that Squadron leader George was not Bridget’s father but her brother, the hunt was on for Sub-conductor George. Finally, a breakthrough came when a British India Office marriage was found for a Winnefred Blanche Woods to a George Wilson in Simla in 1919. As the names of the couple’s fathers were also given, it became much more straightforward to trace the correct families.

George Wilson, then, was born in Moreton in the Marsh in 1879 and in 1891 he was with his parents, their address given as Police Station, Bristol Road, Wheatenhurst where Edmund Wilson was a police sergeant. “A police station with a petty sessions court was built at the junction of the main road and School Lane in 1867”

Winnifred was thirteen years younger than her husband. She had been born in Portsmouth in 1893 and her father, Arthur John Woods, was a Staff Sergeant in Bengal, India (Unattached List). Given that Winnifred’s siblings were all born in India, it is possible that the family returned there as they do not appear on many census returns in UK. At the time of her marriage, Winnifred was a clerk in Q M Gant’s branch which might suggest that she and George met in India although we cannot be certain of this. Within a year of their marriage, the newly-married Wilsons returned to UK where George Heath Wilson was born. They were clearly still in UK in 1923 and 1927 when their daughters were born. Sadly, George died in 1933 and this made Bridget eligible for a place at the school. She was certainly there by 1939 as she is listed on the national register at the school and she appeared in a school performance of Quality Street (Barrie) at about this time. (The date of the performance is unknown, just a cast list in records, but the names on it place it about 1938/9.) This comic play was so popular that

Quality Street chocolates and caramels were named after it, and the confectionery originally used characters from the play in their advertising and packaging

Quality Street candy history. Société des Produits Nestlé S.A., accessed 2 March 2010, cited by Wikipedia.

Having become a pupil after her father’s death, Bridget’s young life was once again touched by tragedy when her mother died in 1943 and then her brother in 1944. She left school in 1945 with, amongst other accolades, Grade VIII piano (distinction) and a good school certificate result. Perhaps Nietzsche’s aphorism may well be true here: what doesn’t break individuals makes them stronger. Bridget went to Gloucestershire Training College of Domestic Science and qualified in 1948 with a 1st class certificate and had a post as Head Cook, Barrows’ Stores, Birmingham.

Barrows Stores

Barrows, very much a landmark building in Birmingham was begun by a member of the famous Cadbury family. (That’s the second confectionery item in this post!) John Cadbury, b 1801,

… took an apprenticeship with a tea company in Leeds, and upon his return to Birmingham in 1824, he borrowed money from his father to start a business. He opened a shop on the 4th March 1824 at 93 Bull Street, next door to his parents, selling tea and coffee.

The store was well known throughout the Midlands and

By 1905 the store had been rebuilt with a new cafe on the first floor for the customers to try the companies [sic] products, and had numerous departments from glass & china to food … This new premises incorporated a ‘restaurant’ that was opened on the first floor of the stores in 1905, partly so that customers could sample the tea and coffee sold by Barrows. It sounds tempting to the weary shopper: The Cafe has large windows overlooking Corporation Street, from which a peep of the busy throng below can be obtained.


Barrows catalogue
Catalogue image of Barrows 1926

This picture of the store is taken from the 1926 Christmas List. Image from

Presumably, it was not tempting enough to keep Bridget as by 1950 she was the cook at the Royal Masonic Hospital (school magazine 1950)

Royal Masonic Hospital

Images of hospital from

After her post at the Royal Masonic Hospital, she was a cook at a Holiday fellowship Hostel in Conway and later Head Cook at a Scottish hostel near Loch Lomond; then she had entered the Glasgow College of Domestic Science to study dietetics (school magazine 1951)

Caledonian Uni
Glasgow College

Image of College

Now the Glasgow Caledonian University, it was at the time a Cookery College known affectionately as the Dough School.

Cookery course
‘The Dough School’ in action

Image from

Dietetics, which had been taught at the College since 1925, was formulated into a diploma course in 1954. Students on this postgraduate diploma course received training in nutrition and diet therapy, biochemistry, bacteriology, physiology and chemistry, and undertook a six month placement in a hospital dietetics department. The course offered some women an opportunity to establish a career in a relatively new field of health and medicine.

Bridget’s excellent school record tells one story but her post-school career suggests another – that she was rather unsettled. Having qualified in 1948 she had a post in Birmingham; moved in 1950 to London and a new post as hospital cook; moved again the following year and then two other posts (one in Wales, one in Scotland) and all before she entered the Glasgow College of Domestic Science to study dietetics. As this was all reported in the school magazine of 1951, it does reflect a rather hectic and unsettled period. In 1953 she was on the move again. This time to India (her sister was living there) where travel documents give her as a dietitian [sic] and she went from there to New Zealand before returning to India. Finally, she returned to UK via S Africa and took up a post as Assistant District Caterer for Oxford Geriatric Hospital.

Cowley Rd Hosp
2 images of the hospital

In 1951 the first geriatric day hospital in the country was opened on the site. [Cowley Road] It was under the United Oxford Hospitals until 1974, when responsibility passed to Oxfordshire Area Health Authority (Teaching). The hospital functioned as a geriatric unit from 1958 until closure

images above and text

As so many hospitals, it began life as the Workhouse. It was eventually demolished in 1981.

Bridget clearly maintained her contact with the school throughout her travels. It would have been impossible to reconstruct her story without this as she and her sister only appear on records fleetingly. One of these fleeting records gives us the information that she died at the Radcliffe Infirmary in 1966, her death reported in the magazine. She was living at 3 Crown St, Oxford at the time, her probate record informs us.

Oxford address
Crown St, Oxford

Google Earth Street view 2015

Despite the difficulties in unpacking the records, it is possible to re-construct a life. It just takes longer! What we can never learn from the records, however, are the emotions behind the story. Bridget was only 38 when she died and she did seem to have packed a lot into her life but whether she was escaping from or to something is merely speculation.

The Life of Reilly

To be entirely accurate, Fanny Susan Craig was only a Reilly upon her marriage but, as she was barely 18 when she married, it was the greater part of her life. So we can stretch a point.

Born in India, that sub-continent and the military life in general informed a large part of her life. She was born on 8 September 1865 and baptised almost a month later (4 Oct 1865) in Bangalore Holy Trinity. This was built in 1851 for the British army regiments stationed there and is large enough to seat 700 people. (The School Chapel, as a comparison, seats 500.) Fanny’s baptismal record gives her father as Alexander Craig, Serjeant H M’s 2/10th (Infantry regiment) and her mother as Ellen Craig. The 2/10th is now the Lincolnshire Regiment.

Bangalore church
Holy Trinity, Bangalore (creative commons)

external image from

Holy Trinity

Holy Trinity Church, Bangalore (1922), by Rev. Frank Penny’s Book ‘The Church in Madras’

Her father was a career soldier as was his father Hamilton. Alexander had been baptised in 1834 at St John the Evangelist, Lambeth while his father was stationed at St George’s Barracks nearby. By 1841, young Alexander was being educated by the Royal Military Asylum which he left in 1848, discharged to his parents. In 1851 he was a drummer boy in 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards and then joined the 10th regiment of Foot, 2nd Battalion where his subsequent postings included South Africa (where he first became a Freemason) and India – and probably Ireland too as, in December 1859 he married an Irish girl, Ellen Reddan, in Ballysax, Kildare, Ireland.

Google Earth map showing Ballysax

Coincidentally, the father of another pupil of the School was also in the 1st Battalion and his daughter, Rose, was born in Japan. However, Fanny left the School just as Rose joined it so they are unlikely to have known each other.

By 1863, the Craig family were in South Africa and one of their children was born there. Alexander was a member of a lodge in King William Town so this is probably where his regiment was based. It is where the 1st Bn had been before leaving for Japan. From there, the Craigs went to India where Fanny and her brother were both born. It is also where their father died of dysentery, aged just 36, on 13 Aug 1871, buried the same day at St Mary’s, Madras.

St Mary
St Mary’s Church, Madras (now Chenai)

Fanny was elected to the School in April 1875 with 927 votes and joined on 19 August 1875 (Register reference & accession number  GBR 1991 RMIG 3/2/1/1 A12013). Of her school career nothing is now recorded other than that she left in September 1881. It is not noted in School records what she intended to do upon leaving school but by 1882 she was back in India and it may be that she returned immediately upon leaving. On December 6 1882, she married Thomas Burke Reilly in Sitapur, Bengal.

Bengal region showing Sitapur

Thomas was 29 years old to Fanny’s 18 but, as her mother was a witness to the wedding, it must be assumed that she approved. Thomas was a Barrack Sergeant in the PWD.

“The Public Works Department was a government department that was responsible for buildings, roads, irrigation and railways. Public Works in India, such as the construction of roads, water tank, etc. was originally conducted by the military.” (Wikipedia)

The Reilly’s three children were all born in India between 1883 and 1893: Trevor Burke, Mabel Evelyn and Violet Ethel. [In yet another of those extraordinary cris-crossings of coincidence, Violet later served as a VAD in Malta at the same time as another former pupil, Dorothy Mortimer Watson, was also nursing there. Dorothy subsequently lost her life in Malta and is the only former pupil to die on active service in WWI.]

The Reilly family continued to live in India until the C20th. In fact, Fanny only ever appears on two census returns in Britain: one when she was at school and the other after her husband retired and they returned Home. She was probably still in India in 1906 as her daughter, Mabel, was married in Quetta, Bengal but by 1911, Thomas & Fanny had returned to UK and were at 100 Chichester Road Portsmouth.

Chichester Rd
100 Chichester Rd today

Image above taken from Google earth

Perhaps their place of residence inspired their son as Trevor continued the family tradition of military service, albeit on water rather than on land. He served with the Royal Naval Reserve on HMS Topaze.

HMS Topaze
HMS Topaze

Ship image taken from

Like his grandfather before him, he also died whilst in service. On 28 Nov 1918 he died of pneumonia when his ship was off Aden. He is buried in Al-Maala, Aden (now Yemen).

The ship’s log for 28 Nov records his death and burial. (

Lat 12.83, Long 45.0

am: Hands care & maintenance.

am & pm: Hands disinfecting ship.

am: Lieut. Reilly RNR died in Hospital.

pm: Funeral of Lieut. Reilly RNR

His grave is marked by a cross and the words ‘Until the day dawn’ placed there by his wife (Fanny’s daughter in law). The cemetery records also tell us that Thomas and Fanny were living at the time in High Park, Ryde although their son and his wife had an address in Preston Rd, Brighton.

Fanny’s address had become Woodham Lodge, Hill Road, Ryde by 1939 although the street map shows that High Park Rd is a continuation of Hill Rd so it may, in fact, be the same address. By this time, however, Fanny had been widowed as Thomas died in 1933.

1939 OS map
1939 map from FindMyPast 1937-1961 1:25000 OS map

Her final address was Stella Maris, 40 Melville St, Ryde. This is closer to the shoreline than Hill Rd, running more or less parallel to the Esplanade. Perhaps the name of the property hints that it had a sea view: Stella Maris or Star of the Sea. Fanny died on 30 November 1948, aged 85, with probate granted to her unmarried daughter, Violet: the life of Reilly brought to a gentle halt.

Melville St, Ryde

Image above from Google Earth