The father of the Trueman family of Hythe did not have an auspicious start in life. Henry William Truman was born in 1857 in the Elham Union Workhouse, the son of Jane Trueman, a single woman. His father was not named. What became of Jane is unknown, but little Henry was taken in by Thomas and Harriet Pilcher, who kept the Providence beerhouse in Hythe High Street. There must presumably have been a blood relationship, since the Pilchers already had a brood of children and were in no need of an extra mouth to feed. Thomas Pilcher died when Henry was twelve, during the dreadful winter of 1869-70. The town’s water pipes were frozen and he collapsed trying to carry water down from a spring at the top of the hill. Harriet carried on the business alone. Thomas took the Pilchers’ name and was raised as their son. When he left school, he worked as a groom and assumed his birth name.
On 14 November 1876, at St Leonard’s church, Hythe, he married Rosanna Burrows of Ashford. She was the fourth child of the eight of James Burrows, a coach smith and his wife Abigail. Their wedding ceremony seems to have been rather chaotic. The bride misrepresented her age, saying she was twenty-one, not nineteen. Her Christian and surnames were both misspelt as was Henry’s surname. Nearly fifty years later, they went back to the church to have the record set straight.
They set up home in Theatre Street, Hythe, a road of mostly small terraced cottages. Their first son, James Henry (Jim) was born on 17 April 1878 and William John in 1880. Frederick Charles followed in 1881, then Harry Sydney (Sid) in 1886. By 1891 Henry was prospering. The family lived in Bartholomew Street, and he had become a cab driver and groom, and also a ratepayer, which entitled him to a vote. They stayed there until at least 1901, by which time the three eldest boys had left home and young Sid, at fifteen was apprenticed to a carpenter. Once Sid had left home as well, Henry and Rosanna moved to 50 North Road, where they ran a general store and Rosanna’s father James moved in with them. He died in 1911 and is buried in St Leonard’s churchyard.
Their eldest son, Jim, became a tram conductor. Horse-drawn trams had started running from Hythe to Folkestone in the 1890s and by 1894 ran all the way from Red Lion Square in Hythe, where the tram sheds and stables were built, to the Sandgate hill lift, which took visitors up to the Leas. Because of its seating arrangement, the tram was known locally as ‘the toast rack’.
The ‘toast rack’ on its way back from Folkestone to Hythe. The conductor is standing at the back.
The tram sheds at Hythe, now converted into offices.
In 1899, Jim married a local girl, Cecilia Powell, the daughter of a marine storekeeper. They settled in Frampton Road, not too far from the tram sheds and two children were born: Georgina in 1900 and James Percy in 1902. Then, perhaps not seeing any great future in his line of work, Jim and Cecilia and their children emigrated to Canada in 1913. During the early-twentieth century, emigration from Britain reached unprecedented levels, with approximately 3.15 million people leaving between 1903 and 1913. The most popular destination during these years was Canada, drawing almost half of Britain’s emigrants.
They sailed on board the Sicilian from London on 27 March 1913 and James, entirely untruthfully, told the immigration authorities that his occupation was ‘farming.’ The family went to Elgin County in Ontario, but within months Cecilia had developed Bright’s disease (which could be any sort of kidney failure) and she died in hospital on 7 April 1915.
Jim and the children moved on to Fronterac, also in Ontario and Jim took up house painting instead of farming. By now, war had broken out in Europe, and Jim immediately joined the Princess of Wales Own Rifles, a reserve infantry regiment, but did not volunteer then for overseas service. When he did, on 1 November 1916, he joined the Canadian Army Medical Corps, and was attached to a Field Ambulance Unit. He had brown eyes, dark brown hair and was 5 feet 5 inches tall. Two weeks before this, he had married again, to Violet Bertha Reid. When he joined up, he made his will, leaving everything to her.
He returned to England on Boxing Day 1916, aboard the SS Olympic and was sent to Dibgate Camp, used as a training depot for the Canadians and very near to Hythe. Within a month he was admitted to hospital at Sir John Moore barracks in Shorncliffe and by April was seriously ill with nephritis (kidney disease). Although he rallied briefly, he was discharged from the army as no longer fit for service on 29 June the next year, and died at his parent’s home in North Road a month after that, on 24 July 1917. He had told the military authorities that he did not want to return to Canada.
Jim was buried in the same grave as his maternal grandfather, James Burrows. His children were at his funeral, probably old enough now to make the journey from Canada alone. Rosanna Trueman, Jim’s mother, became their guardian. Violet, however was not there. The army discovered that she had not legally been Jim’s wife: she had ‘married’ several soldiers in order to receive the separation allowance when they were sent overseas. Sensibly, Violet, if that was in fact her name, disappeared.
James Percy grew up to become a gardener, married and did not die until 1981. Georgina married Percy Blackman, had a son and was still living in Hythe in 1939.
Jim’s next brother, William, stayed put in Hythe and opened, when he was still a young man, a newsagent and tobacconist in Bank Street, where he also lived with his wife and four children – Vera, Edna, Iris and Wilfred. He also took on the old family home in Bartholomew Street and rented it out. A Conservative, he was also a Freemason and member of the bowls club. In his forties he became ill and missed his mother’s funeral in 1927, which took place not long after she celebrated her Golden Wedding Anniversary with Henry. William died, aged only forty-eight in 1928. and was buried in Saltwood churchyard.
William’s grave in Saltwood churchyard. His wife Emily Evelyn is buried in the same grave.
Frederick Trueman, the third brother, had meanwhile left Hythe but had not gone far – only to Folkestone where he worked for some years for a brewery, E. Finn and Co., of Lydd, first as a clerk, later as manager of their Folkestone branch. He spent his working life in the catering trade, later with Maestrani’s in Folkestone and towards the end of his life at Slatter’s Hotel in Canterbury. Both were considered to be rather up-market establishments.
The Maestrani family’s café and restaurant in Folkestone. It was demolished in the 1930s.
Slatters Hotel in Canterbury, now also demolished
Frederick did not marry, and died in 1930, also aged forty-eight, weeks after his father. He is also buried in Saltwood, while his father is with the rest of the family in St Leonard’s churchyard.
Sid, the baby of the Trueman family went away, too, to Plumstead. He seems never to have become a carpenter, but worked as a canvasser and collector for a second-hand clothes dealer. He married and moved to Maidstone. He is absent from the list of mourners at his family’s funerals, but occasionally sent a wreath. He died in 1959.
But there is a postscript. For years, the Canadian Army and Commonwealth War Graves Commission listed Jim as having no known grave, as although his family had notified the army that Jim was dead, they had not told them where he was buried. His name was recorded instead on the Brookwood Memorial to the missing in Surrey.
Then, in 2015, two Canadian researchers, Diana Beaupre and Adrian Watkinson contacted St Leonard’s church. They were researching the whereabouts of the graves of Canadian soldiers who died in the UK. We were able to tell them exactly where Jim’s grave was, and a couple of years later, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission erected an official War Grave memorial, in addition to the existing headstone. Since then, however, that original stone, already badly weathered when its inscription was recorded in 2015, has collapsed.
The Trueman grave in St Leonard’s churchyard as it was in 2015. The inscription could only be partly deciphered:
Nearer my God to thee
In memory of/ …mes Henry …/…. 25th I….h aged …
… James Henry Trueman/ died July 24th 1917 aged 40
Rosanna Trueman/ died December 29th 1927/ aged 71 years
And/ Henry William Trueman/ died February …th 1930 aged 72 years.
On the obverse:
Also of Cecilia/Wife of James Trueman/who died 7 April 1915/buried Kingston Canada
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone for James Henry Trueman, the only CWGC stone in St Leonard’s churchyard.
The fascinating research undertaken by Diana and Adrian, now complete, can be seen here:
I am indebted to them for providing me with a record of Jim’s military service from the Ottawa Archives.