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The short life of Stanley C. Griffin

By Liz Thornton, Gayle Southern and Alan D Craxford


I have been researching the branches of my family tree for several years and I first came across Stanley C Griffin in my study of the 1901 England Census where he was described as a grandson of George and Sarah Smith. I discovered that Stanley's middle name was Craxford and that he had died during the first World War when I visited the Leicester Regiment Museum with my sister. At that time I was unable to locate his mother.

When I visited my last living Thornton uncle in Warwick in 2007 I asked for his memories of the family. He remembered Elizabeth who married and had lots of children in Fillongley (a village outside Coventry) "most of whom had ended up in the cemetery!". There was "Aunt Louie", who must have been Sarah Louise who married Frank Harrington, and Aunt Emma who married William Bruce. Then there was Celia Agnes who was his mother and my grandmother. But he had no recollection of a Mary Ellen. He seemed to recall that there was an illegitimate child who was brought up by George and Sarah which he thought may have been a daughter, but he also commented that "as the youngest child of the youngest child I was not made party to the family secrets". When I told him of Stanley C Griffin, my uncle seemed to remember the name but knew nothing of his parentage. There is a family memory that George received a letter on his deathbed which gave him much pleasure. What it was we will never know but it may have related to Stanley.

Given his story, Stanley is my favourite ancestor to date and I think of him with a fond sadness. I hope this article will be a suitable tribute to him. - Liz Thornton

His early life

George and Sarah Smith

George and Sarah Smith

Sarah Jane Craxford was born in Gretton, Northamptonshire in 1852, a village which had been the family home for the previous 230 years. In her late teens she moved to Leicester and entered into domestic service with the family of William and Elizabeth Bramley (an ironmonger and gas fitter) who lived in Granby Street. She met and subsequently married George Smith, a railway worker from Wolvey in Warwickshire, in 1872. Over the next twelve years they had seven children and set up home in Wigston, a village on the southern edge of the town.

Mary Ellen was their second daughter, born in 1877. The records show that she married Fred Griffin in Leicester in 1896 and went to live in Anstey, a hamlet on the edge of the Charnwood Forest to the north west of the town. Stanley was their older child, born the same year. A second son, Archibald, was born about eighteen months later.

The story now becomes mysterious and Mary Ellen vanishes from the scene. George and Sarah's household appears quite stable over the thirty years covered by the censuses up to 1911. All the children, including Mary Ellen are included in the 1881 census. Beyond that date children leave at intervals through marriage and their subsequent paths can be traced ... except for Mary Ellen. She does not appear on the 1891 or later returns. No convincing entry has been found in the indexes to confirm her date of death or to suggest a remarriage. However, Stanley, aged 4 years, can be found on the 1901 census living with his grandparents in Wigston.

Stanley continued to live through his childhood and adolescence with his grandparents in Wigston and contact appears to have been maintained with his aunts and uncles. As soon as he was old enough, in common with his aunts he was employed in Leicester's hosiery industry, first as a factory hand (1911) and then as a warehouseman (1914).

The war years

The latter part of the nineteenth and the opening years of the twentieth century had seen momentous changes and upheavals in the geopolitical makeup of the countries of Europe and ever-changing strategic and military alliances in an attempt to maintain a balance between the needs and aspirations of the "great powers" (Britain, France, Germany, Russia and Austria-Hungary) of the continent. Fighting broke out in the Balkans in 1912 and the conflicts spread throughout the region over the next two years culminating with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo, Bosnia on June 28th 1914. It became increasingly clear that a full scale intercontinental war was inevitable. Germany began to mobilise its forces on July 31st 1914 and declared war on Russia the following day.

Kitchener banner

Call to Arms 1914 (2)

At the beginning of hostilities, the British Army was made up of regiments of professional long-service soldiers supplimented by battalions of reservists (a total strength of 710,000 men including 80,000 war ready regulars (1)). Almost immediately, the government issued a call for an additional half million troops, the campaign reinforced by the now-famous posters and newspaper advertising. The original black and white image of Lord Kitchener designed by Alfred Leete appeared on the front cover of the London Opinion magazine on September 5th 1914. The response, through sentiments of patriotism and an enthusiasm for the fight, was overwhelming and by the end of September 1914, 750,000 men had enlisted.

Stanley Griffin was one of these early recruits. At the age of eighteen years and 360 days, he volunteered for a three year short service enlistment "with the Colours and the Reserve" - his attestation being signed on September 8th 1914. On that day he became Private 14612 of the 10th Battalion (2nd Reserve), Leicestershire Regiment. His commitment was defined in the following paragraph: "A term of three years unless War lasts longer than three years, in which case you will be retained until the War is over. If, however, the War is over in less than three years, you will be discharged with all convenient speed. If employed with Hospitals, depots of Mounted Units and as Clerks, etc., you may be retained after the termination of hostilities until your services can be spared, but such retention shall in no case exceed six months. In the first instance you will be required to serve for one day with the Colours and the remainder of the period in the Army Reserve until such time as you may be called up by Order of the Army Council." (3)

We know from his enlistment medical examination that he was a fairly slight young man; 5 feet 8 inches tall, weighing 122 pounds. He had a fair complexion, grey eyes and light brown hair but no other distinguishing features. His religious denomination was registered as Church of England.

Nothing further happened for the next year. Then in July 1915, Stanley developed a sore throat and a fever. He was admitted to a military hospital with an initial diagnosis of tonsilitis. Throat swabs were taken which subsequently confirmed that he had contracted diphtheria. He was an in patient for 34 days.

He appears to have made a full recovery from this illness because two weeks after his discharge he was posted to a training camp at Barnard Castle, County Durham for ten weeks. After that, the batallion was relocated to Rugeley Camp, a large training facility on Cannock Chase outside Birmingham. This detail lasted until early June 1916. In July 1916 Stanley became part of the Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force and by early August he was stationed in the region which has become the present day Iraq. In less than one month he became ill with an enteric fever. He was taken to a field hospital at Amara but died on September 7th 1916.

A family's grief
WW1 Victory medals

British War and Victory Medals (4)

News of Stanley's death was relayed home to his grieving grandparents in Wigston, Leicestershire but it was not for almost a year before his meagre personal possessions (an identity disc, four photographs and a christmas card) were forwarded to them. The acknowledgement receipt was signed by his grandmother. She died shortly afterwards at the age of 65 years.

At the end of the war, Stanley was posthumoulsy awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal, these being sent to George Smith in 1919. George also signed a declaration of Stanley's blood relatives known to be still alive in May 1919. These included uncles John Joseph and George Smith and his 20 year old brother Archibald. The statement notes that both his mother and father were dead, that he was unmarried and that he "was brought up by his grandparents from babyhood".

Continued in column 2...

Page added: October 26th 2009
Last updated: August 21st 2012

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The Griffin family

Frederick Griffin (Fred as he appears in many of the official records) was the second son and youngest child of Eliza Griffin of Anstey, Leicestershire. There is no convincing evidence that she was ever married although she is described as a widow in the census of 1911. In 1861 she was living with her widowed mother, Henrietta Griffin, and her sister Hannah and child; all three were framework knitters - an occupation Eliza pursued for the next twenty years. By 1871 she had moved into her own house and by this time had three children of her own. Fred was to appear later in 1877. By the beginning of the 1890s she had taken on a grocery and newsagents shop in the Main Street which she was still running in 1916. (5)

Like his son, Fred was a fairly small man; five feet six inches tall and weighing 126 pounds. He had a fresh complexion, blue eyes and medium brown hair. He had a distinguising scar on his right temple. He is registered in the 1901 England census along with his son Archibald living with his mother in Anstey. He had a number of jobs over the years up to the outbreak of the war including page boy, coachman, tripe dresser and groom. He enlisted in the Regular Army in April 1915 and was assigned to the Royal Army Service Corps. His trade and aptitude towards horses was noted, although his military attitude was described as "bad" on more than one occasion. He served as a driver in France with the British Expeditionary Force between March 1916 and May 1917. Upon his return home he was admitted to the Lord Derby War Hospital, Warrington, Lancashire. Although not detected in his preliminary medical examination he was found to have a congenital heart defect. Although not the cause, his active service was considered to have aggravated the condition. He was declared to be permanently unfit for further war service, home service or light duties. He was discharged at Southport to a home address at Church Gate, Leicester in September 1917. A medical board subsequently awarded him an incapacity pension of 30% for one year. This was finally rescinded in January 1919.

Stanley's brother Archibald enlisted in the Army during the war, and saw service firstly as a private with the Leicestershire Regiment and later with the Hampshire Regiment. Although it has not been corroborated there is a suggestion on record that he saw service in Aden at the end of the war. No further information has been forthcoming on either Frederick or Archibald.

Footnote: The Mesopotamia Campaign

"Mesopotamia is an ancient desert land, through which run the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. It was rich in oil upon which Britain relied to keep its navy at sea and the oilfields and pipeline near Basra were occupied early in the war to protect and defend them from German forces. However conditions in Mesopotamia defied description. Extremes of temperature (120 degrees F was common); arid desert and regular flooding; flies, mosquitoes and other vermin: all led to appalling levels of sickness and death through disease. Under these incredible conditions, units fell short of officers and men, and all too often the reinforcements were half-trained and ill-equipped. Medical arrangements were quite shocking, with wounded men spending up to two weeks on boats before reaching any kind of hospital. These factors, plus of course the unexpectedly determined Turkish resistance, contributed to high casualty rates. During the campaign 3985 troops died of wounds and 12678 died of sickness." - The Long, Long Trail (7)

In Memoriam

Stanley was buried in the War Cemetery at Amara (Plot XXII G5). His war service and death are commemorated in the Rolls of Honour held at the headquarters of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in Maidenhead. Interestingly, despite the known history, he is named as the son of Frederick and Mary Ellen Griffin. He is also commemorated on the headstone of the Smith family plot at Wigston Cemetery, Leicestershire under the names of his grandparents.

Iraq Rolls of Honour

The Iraq Rolls of Honour (8)

The Smith Family headstone

The Smith Family headstone


Liz Thornton


Alan Craxford


Our relationship calculator shows the following pathways from Stanley Griffin to the authors: Liz Thornton (first cousin once removed), Gayle Southern (first cousin twice removed) and Alan Craxford (fifth cousin)


1. Recruitment to the British Army during World War I: wikipedia (link opens in a new window)
2. World War One Kitchener recruitment poster designed by Alfred Leete. wiki commons (link opens in a new window)
3. British Army WWI Service Records 1914-1920: The National Archives
4. The British War Medal; The Victory Medal: Sarah Jane Framing and Medals (link opens in a new window)
5. Kelly's Directory for Leicestershire and Rutland: 1916. Page 20
6. Historical Map of WWI Mesopotamia 1914: Courtesy of the United States Military Academy Department of History at: History for the Relaxed Historian Emerson (link opens in a new window)
7. Mesopotamia: in The British Army of 1914-1918 for family historiansThe Long, Long Trail (link opens in a new window)
8. The IRAQ Rolls of Honour: Commonwealth War Graves Commission (link opens in a new window)

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