Monday, 20 February 2012

Charles Paton in the RAF

I never knew my grandfather, but the more I learn about him the more I wish I had. Born in 1905 in Brussels, Belgium, to two Scottish parents, he spent his early childhood in Belgium before visiting Scotland for at least two years, where he is found in the Inverness school record books and later the 1911 Glasgow census. By 1911 he had returned to Belgium and was trapped in Brussels throughout the war as an enemy civilian, along with his parents, a brother and sister (with his father dying in 1916 whilst avoiding internment, and his brother subsequently interned a few months later).

After the war Charlie moved to Glasgow, married a Glaswegian born daughter of Ulster immigrants, and moved to Northern Ireland in the late 1930s, where he pops up in several trade directories and the 1939 National Register. In 1942 his house was then blitzed by the Germans. After this trade directories noted his involvement with the RAF.

Until last year I knew little of his RAF service, but managed to obtain his service record, which showed that he had initially served with the Volunteer Reserve before transferring to the main body of the RAF after the war. In the last week the National Archives has now made Squadron Operations books available, prompting me to have another wee look at what he got up to.

On December 6th 1943, Charles (pictured standing on the right of this photo) joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve as an Aircrafthand/Wireless Operator (AC2), enlisting at "Edin/8 R & DC", presumably at a base in Edinburgh, Scotland. Charlie’s record shows that his service number was 1828704, and that his previous occupation in civilian life, surprisingly, was a utility man (labourer) in the rubber tyre making industry. The employer was noted as based in "Ind. KA. L279" (presumably an India rubber company?). Absolutely nothing else of this is known about, but it may be that this was some form of war work, as both prior to the war, and after leaving the RAF, he was noted as a wireless shop manager in various records. His home address upon attestation was listed as 187 1/2 Dalmarnock Road, Glasgow, c/o Currie, therefore the home of his in-laws, though his next of kin was noted as his wife, Mrs J. Paton, resident at 42 Whitewell Crescent, Belfast. Did Charlie come to Scotland to enlist, or was he already here when deciding to join up? Charlie’s physical description was given as 6 foot and a half inch tall, a chest size of 33 1/2 inches, with brown hair, blue eyes and a fresh complexion. Under marks, scars etc it states "Vac. 1 L.A.", presumably a note of a vaccination. His date of birth is confirmed as May 24th 1905 and in Brussels, Belgium, though his nationality was given as British, whilst his National Registration number was again noted as UAFH 849/1. A previous medical on November 9th showed his medical category as "Grade II (A) ft".

On Feb 3rd 1944, Charlie was posted to "13 RS", location unknown, and from May 3rd was working at Central Depot, Colnbrook, Buckinghamshire, not far from Windsor. On June 23rd he was transferred to 5358 Wing. This group was one of the Aircraft Construction Service wings equipped with mechanical plant and specialist quarrying and construction units, which was employed in expanding and improving airfields all over the country. 5358 Wing was comprised of 5024, 5025, 5026 and 5207 Squadrons. When Charlie joined, it was in the immediate aftermath of D-Day (June 6th). Most ACS Wings took part in the Normandy landings, but there is some confusion about Charlie’s movements here. An article in an online magazine called Line of Communications (issue 2 September 2007) states that 5358 Wing was "formed in 1945... to construct airfields for the RAF on Okinawa and was en route there when the war ended". But Charlie’s record clearly states him to have been with the wing from June 23rd - was he therefore in Normandy? Still working on that!

On October 31st 1944 Charlie was posted to HQ No. 33 Base (a), RAF Waterbeach, and then rejoined 5358 Wing on December 9th. On April 1st 1945 he was promoted to AC1, and on April 28th was specifically assigned to 5025 Squadron within the wing. On July 3rd he was then posted to 5011 Squadron, within 5351 Wing. It is believed this was based in Britain. Just over two weeks later, on July 20th Charlie was posted to "11 EU", where he spent the next fifteen months. During this period, on November 1st 1945, Charlie was promoted to be a Leading Aircrafthand. From April 24th 1946 to May 13th 1946 Charlie qualified to become a French Instructor (Class C), having attended an EVT Instructors Course No. 25 at RAF Barton Hall. Just a few months later, on October 14th 1946, he was formally discharged from the RAF Volunteer Reserve.

That wasn't quite the end of it though – on the following day, Charlie re-engaged with the RAF, at his last RAFVR post at 11 EU on October 15th, and continued to serve there. From December 6th-19th 1947 he was granted re-engagement leave. After the war (and perhaps during as well), Charlie apparently used to bring his children and his wife over to Scotland on holiday once a year. One of his nieces, Sheena, daughter of his brother John, has memories of him coming to visit them at their home in 1947, in the aftermath of her father's death, and remembers him making frequent visits right up until she was about ten years old, which may imply that he based himself in Scotland during periods of leave. Sheena describes him as having been a really handsome man, and always a good laugh when he visited her house.

On January 15th 1947 Charlie was again promoted to the rank of Corporal (T/Cpl), and from February 18th to March 3rd he was again granted 14 days End of War leave. On August 18th 1947 he was transferred to "HQ RAF, NI Unit". Following four more days End of War leave from October 25th, he joined 82 Squadron at RAF Benson in South Oxfordshire, and on January 28th 1948 was further transferred to RAF Station Eastleigh, near Nairobi in Kenya, for the next eight months. According to his daughter Sheila, Charlie had once stated to her that he had been somewhat sad that he had not been able to bring his house boy with him to his next post, having grown fond of him during his stay there.

From September 28th Charlie was then posted in West Africa, and on October 1st he was further promoted to the rank of Sergeant [A/Sgt (PO)]. On December 6th he was awarded a Good Conduct Badge, displayed as an inverted chevron on the cuff of his left jacket sleeve, which was awarded after receiving three years consistent Very Good appraisals, and which entitled him to an extra 3d a day "good conduct pay" (3s 6d a week). On December 18th 1948, he was admitted to the "Eur. Hosp." (European Hospital) in Takoradi, and discharged three days later on the 21st. No reason is given, but at this point the Squadron Operations Records provide some useful detail:

“The morale and health of the Squadron has on the whole been good. Fifty airmen reported sick during the month and 11 were admitted to the Hospital in Takoradi. It was found that no less than 44% of those treated were victims of some kind of skin disease, 12% minor injuries and 10% ear trouble and 8% tonsolitis, 2 cases of dysentery were treated, and thanks to paladrine, only once case of malaria.
“Xmas period found the detachments very content to stay put and not return to Takoradi. At Takoradi a good programme was arranged, excellent food laid on, and all ranks participated heartily, if somewhat beerily”
(AIR 27/2436)

Although Charles is not named, the records provide details on his squadron’s mission in Africa, which was essentially to carry out aerial survey work across the Gold Coast. It was based in separate camps at Takoradi and Lagos, as well as Lungi (Freetown), from which Dakotas and Lancasters were sent up in repeated sorties to photographically survey the West African topography, though on many days cloud cover frustrated their attempts to get airborne.

On February 18th 1949 Charlie was prepared for Home Embarkation at 5 Personnel Dispatch Centre. Four days later, on February 22nd 1949, Charlie took up his next post at the Air Sea Warfare Development Unit at RAF Ballykelly, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland. The base had actually closed at the end of the war but had been re-opened in 1947 as the home of the RAF Joint Anti-Submarine School, a training flight flying Avro Shackleton aircraft. Charlie spent the next 20 months here, with only one major two weeks period of End of War leave from July 3rd 1949. He was finally discharged from RAF Whole Time Service on October 14th 1950.

The release of the Squadron Operations Records is a useful resource in terms of background reading on the squadrons’ monthly movements, though it can be expensive. Each document costs £3.50 each, and in some instances I have found four documents a month, so it may take some time to get through all the relevant records unless I can get to visit Kew at some point. Nevertheless, they are another useful resource, slowly adding a bit more detail to Charlie’s career. He eventually passed away in Northern Ireland in the late 1980s.

Obviously if anyone knew of him during his service I'd love to hear from you!


Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Marriages in Scots

Although this took place two years ago, the marriage of Colin Wilson and Fiona Henderson has just been tweeted by @scotslanguage on Twitter. It shows footage of the first non-religious wedding ceremony to take place in Scotland in the language of Scots, more specifically the Doric of the north-east, rather than in English. It apparently took some organising as the couple were first refused permission to have the ceremony carried out in their own tongue, but subsequently received an apology from the Registrar General over the issue. The full story is at

Scots wedding from scotslanguage on Vimeo.

(The exchange of vows is about 5 minutes in!)

For those not in the know, Scots is not the same language as Scottish Gaelic (Gaidhlig), but a separate dialect of the old Germanic tongue that later became English. It was actually referred to as 'Ynglis' or 'English' in Scotland in medieval times, but over time evolved separately to its southern linguistic neighbour. Gaelic ironically used to be referred to as 'Scottish' but later was given the more derogatory title of 'Erse' (meaning 'Irish'), with 'Ynglis' becoming known as 'Scots'. The wedding above now apparently sets a precedent in Scotland for others to be able to do the same.

Incidentally, when it comes to civil marriage, Scotland again differs, as in so many areas legally and genealogically, with the rest of Britain. In England and Wales you could marry in a civil ceremony from July 1837, with the establishment of civil registration. In Scotland, it did not happen until the Marriage (Scotland) Act of 1939 established the practice, despite the commencement of civil registration in 1855. The reason was simple - we didn't need it. You'll often read in family history books and publications that 'irregular' marriage, i.e. a ceremony performed without the prior proclamation of banns (or marriage license) and by the Church of England, ended with Lord Hardwicke's Act of 1753. Again, this was only in England and Wales, with this English law not having any relevance to Scotland at all (with the exception of driving hundreds of elopers over the border to Gretna and other border marriage centres!). Irregular marriage here continued mainly until the reforms of marriage law in Scotland in 1939, and even then was not totally abolished - it was not until the Family Law (Scotland) Act of 2006 that it completely went away, with the abolition of 'marriages by cohabitation and repute'.

So there you go - Happy Valentine's Day!


Monday, 13 February 2012

Doctor Who Do You Think You Are?

I love it when worlds collide! One of my passions apart from genealogy is cult television, particularly shows from the 60s such as The Prisoner and Doctor Who. Earlier today I purchased a DVD of an old William Hartnell Doctor Who story from 1964, the ninth story ever made, entitled The Sensorites. Little did I know that I was about to watch a half hour of genealogy related programming...

It seems that the writer of the episode, Peter R. Newman, had only once written a story for the series. As a consequence very little was known about his career, and so the DVD makers, funded by the BBC, decided to commission a special feature as an extra to try to find out more about him. In the feature the presenter tried to find out about Newman by first visiting Westminster Registry Office to locate his death certificate from 1975. Further investigation then took him to meet the archivist of the old Hammer films studios at Shepperton Studios, where it was discovered that Newman had written a war film of all things for Hammer, but had later priced himself out of the market as a writer.

Following his story for Doctor Who nothing further was known about him. Tracing his parents back to Ilford in Essex through his birth certificate the presenter established the names of several siblings, and through investigation into local electoral registers for the area he then traced the writer's sister and niece, who recalled his final days. Having developed writer's block Newman had taken up a job as a porter at the Tate Gallery, but had later collapsed from a cerebral haemorrhage in 1975 and died. The feature ended with the presenter interviewing the niece, and her comments that he would have been delighted that a show written for children almost 50 years should still see his name discussed all these years later. The presenter concluded the piece by then listening to an audio recording made by the writer in the 1960s, in which he had recited some Shakespeare.

Completely unexpected - who needs a celebrity for an interesting genealogy show?!

Now to the main feature....! :)


Sunday, 12 February 2012

Rottnest Island cemetery

In the summer of 2007 I visited Perth, Western Australia, with my wife and two sons, as part of a three week holiday. During the trip we spent two days on Rottnest Island, just an hour or so away from Freemantle, and whilst there I came across the most amazing wee cemetery, which was just begging to be photographed! I previously hosted photos and a summary of those buried on my old genealogy research website, but here it is presented once more.

Thirteen people are believed to have been buried in the cemetery, though the names of only seven are known:

Luke ANKERMAN Drowned 19th Dec 1883 Age unknown

Henry PHILLIPS 7th B. Rifle Brigade Died 1st Nov 1862 Age 46 years
Emily SHEA Died 1869 Age 9 years
Queenie GURNEY Died 3rd Nov 1893 Age 6 years 4 months
Florence Mary STORRS Died 10th May 1898 Age 10 1/2 weeks
Patrick William O' DONOGHUE Died 13th Jan 1899 Age 10 weeks
Henry HALL (Father a warder) Died Unknown Age 26 days

To learn more about Rottnest Island, visit the following Wikipedia link: Rottnest Island

The following are the photos of their graves - click on each to enlarge.


Saturday, 11 February 2012

Land inheritance in Scotland

I'll be writing a book soon for Unlock the Past ( on Scottish land records, but thought I'd do a quick post on the fundamentally big differences between Scottish land and property inheritance and the situation around the rest of the British Isles.

When Scots died in the past, their assets comprised of moveable and immoveable goods - things pinned down and things not pinned down - or the house, as an example, on one hand, and its contents on the other. Coats of arms were also classed as 'heritable' property (and just to clarify, there is ABSOLUTELY no such thing as a 'family coat of arms' - use someone else's coat of arms, even if he or she has your surname, and you're breaking Scots Law). Houses and land fell into the 'immoveable' or 'heritable' goods category, and prior to 1868 could not be directly bequeathed in a will, unlike the rest of the British Isles, thanks to Scots Law dealing with the matter in a different way to English Law. (There were exceptions, such as 'trust dispositions' from the 19th century on, but let's not muddy the water just yet!)

If you couldn't leave land in a will then, it had to be disposed of in a separate manner. Until 1964 primogeniture operated in Scotland, the right of the eldest son to inherit land and property, and his dad's coats of arms etc. In the past, the way that the formal inheritance of land worked involved the heir having to prove that he (and sometimes she) was the legitimate heir of the deceased, but how you did that depended on who your 'feudal superior' was. We had a very long, complicated and brilliantly fascinating land system based on feudalism until 2004, which basically ensured that there was a long chain of people looking after land through a web of supervision all the way back up to God.

Here's the definition of feudalism in a nutshell - God was a busy chap, so let the monarch look after Scotland for him - except he was too busy off shooting wild boar and grouse. To keep the house in order he in turn carved Scotland up into vast tracts of land known as 'feus', and let a few earls and nobles look after them on his behalf. In return they paid him a tribute for the privilege, which was known as a 'feu duty' - this initially comprised of them volunteering some of their tenants to go off and get hacked to death on the king's behalf when he lost his temper with an enemy or two. Later everyone realised paying a sum of money would be a lot more civilised and would save on the body count - the king could also now just buy boar and grouse with the proceeds, so turned his attention to shooting deer and pheasants (not to be confused with 'peasants') instead. The nobles were also fairly busy, so they in turn kept on carving up their territories into smaller portions, with those looking after the land on their behalf giving them a feu duty also, which the nobles would pass part of back to the king. The land was in turn divided again and again until it became impossible to carve up further (unless you are my eldest son, who in 2000 apparently became the laird of one square foot of the Isle of Islay!). As long as the feu duties kept passing up the chain, everyone was happy. Feudalism was not the only way that land was managed in Scotland, but was almost universally the main method until finally abolished in 2004.

Lots of land was 'feued' directly from the Crown - in which case the Crown was the feudal superior (i.e. the person above you in the chain). Other lands were feued from one of a series of middle men beneath the king, as described above, who were known as 'subject superiors' or 'intermediate lawful superiors'. So how you formally inherited land - who you had to prove your entitlement to inherit to - depended very much on whether your superior was the Crown or a subject superior.

The first thing to note though is that when someone died, the heir actually immediately became what was legally known as an apparent heir, and had certain rights from the start. He or she could actually take possession of the property immediately, and assume various responsibilities (for debts etc). The problem was an apparent heir could not pass on the property himself unless he completed the process of inheritance.

That's where the type of superior comes in. If it was one of the middlemen, the subject superiors, all you had to do was to obtain a document from him that showed that he (it was mainly a he!) recognised that you were the lawful heir. This document was known as a precept of clare constat which basically started its wording along the following lines:

"___ having, &c, the said precept of seisin, commonly called a precept of clare constat, made and granted by an honourable genetleman A of___ , in favour of the said B of ____ , as heir to the said umquhile D of ____ , his father, of all haill the lands, annual rent, and others under written, of the date, tenor and contents after written".  [Followed by the description of the property etc]

There is no register of such documents unfortunately, as they are scattered all over the place in estate papers, dusty cellars, solicitors offices and probably in a few compost heaps - assuming they've survived at all. However, anytime land was transferred, whether by purchase or by inheritance, it had to be entered into the Registers of Sasines which can be consulted either in Edinburgh or at a local county archive (depending on the type of register - again, let's not go there for now!). So usually if land was inherited after a precept of clare constant was issued, you'll find it mentioned in the sasine record. Here's an example of a sasine abridgement that does that:

MARION McKECHNIE, spouse of Hugh Paton, Grocer, Largs, as heir to John McKECHNIE, Grocer and Manufacturer there, her father, Seised, in the half of a Dwelling House with Byre and Yard at the back thereof on the north side of the Street of LARGS, and of a Barn extending to about 10 Feet in length adjoining, par. Largs; on Pr. Cl. Con. by Gen. Sir Thomas Makdougall Brisbane of Makerstoun and Brisbane, Sept. 21. 1849 P. R. 353.249.

[Pr. Cl. Con = precept of clare constat]

NB: Other documents would be involved possibly also, with Godforsaken names such as writs of clare constat and charters of confirmation, but the bottom line is you'll find evidence for them in the sasine registers, not in some dedicated central register for heirs.

If the Crown was the superior, however, it was a different kettle of fish. You instead had to do something a little different, and go through a process called the Services of Heirs to prove you were the legitimate heir. This was a jury of local landowners who would take a decision as to whether you were who you said you were. If they agreed, they 'retoured' their decision to the Chancery, and you were recognised as the lawful heir and could take full and formal possession, no longer as just an 'apparent heir'. The Services of Heirs are therefore also known as the retours (Scots word for 'returns'), and these judgements are today held at the National Records of Scotland (there are exceptions, such as areas known as regalities not having to retour their findings, and some local courts forgetting to send the records through etc etc - but you get the song now, "let's not go there for now"!). There were two types of retour - general retour and special retour, basically dependant on whether the heir was about to be made infeft into land left by his ancestor, or simply needing to be recognised as an heir (e.g. to inherit a heritable benefit not involving his predecessor's land, such as a heritable bond, or if simply needing proof to convince a subject superior that he or she was who they claimed to be, in order to receive a precept of clare constat).

(It's also worth noting that the retours were also used to record the appointment of tutors for minors - via 'brieves of tutory' - when they succeeded an ancestor but were too young to take full possession of an estate - but that's another story for another day!)

On the whole the retours or services of heirs were indexed in the 19th century, with records from 1530-1699 indexed between 1811 and 1815, and records from 1700-1859 indexed in 1860. After this they were indexed annually. The indexes from 1530-1859, as with the later indexes, are available for consultation at the NRS, though it's worth mentioning they aren't quite complete - in the annual index for 1906 there are in fact five pages added which contain details of missed entries for material from 1700-1859. The indexes from 1530-1699 and 1700-1859 are also available on CD now from the Scottish Genealogy Society (

An index entry for a retours / services judgement would typically be as follows:

Paton – Marion: Wife of H. Paton, Grocer in Largs, to her father, John McKechnie, Weaver there – Heir General – 6th October 1849 (Recorded 1849, Oct. 12)

The eagle-eyed among you will notice this is actually the same piece of land being described above with the precept of clare constant. Some people actually went through both just to be super-sure, getting a court to back up the position as well as the local superior.

There was actually a third method by which an heir could secure his or her position. The following quote comes from A Dictionary of the Law of Scotland from 1815 (available on Google Books at, and describes the third process that could be undergone by the apparent heir:

"...he may give a trust bond to a confidential friend, who, having charged him to enter, may adjudge, and in that way acquire a title by an adjudication, which will enable him, without representing the ancestor, to try the effect of any right the ancestors may have given; and having cleared the estate of any claims, the adjudger may transfer to the heir the whole right under the adjudication."

So there you have it, a ready reckoner to the simplicity of Scottish land inheritance...! (You'll notice I quickly left the last bit!) It's actually a lot more complicated than all of that, with different types of heirs, such as heirs portioners, heirs of tailzie, and more, but this is the basic backdrop guiding it all. Thankfully from 1868 onwards you could just chuck it all in a will and deal with it that way - but there was a certain elegance to the old system!

I'll be dealing with Scottish land records and inheritance in my forthcoming Scotland 1750-1850: Beyond the OPRs course taught through Pharos Teaching and Tutoring Ltd from May 16th - see Prior to that though I will be teaching a more introductory course entitled Scottish Research Online from March 8th - see Both courses cost £45.99 and last 5 weeks.

Hopefully see a few of you there!

UPDATE: The book is now available from - from sasines to skat, and retours to tailzies, it's all in there! :)


Wednesday, 1 February 2012