This blog is a place to share the stories of the Blaney family - their lives in Birmingham, England and across Canada. Hopefully I will make contact with other descendants along the way. Family names currently being researched are Blaney, Elcocks, Cheffins, Langley, Bellingham, Welch, Lewis and Barnes.
There is an old saying “when you assume - you
make an ass out of u and me” and that is exactly what I did with the photo of
my grandfather in a splendid military uniform that is shown here.
I found it in my
grandmother’s photo album along with four other military photos of him. I
decided to use it illustrate a blog posting about Harry Welch’s time in WWI. I
thought this interesting photo would be a great addition to the piece.
One thing did trouble
me about the photo.
I knew from one of the
documents I had, his May 1918 discharge papers, that he had enlisted in the
Army in 1915, was called to service in January 1917 and served with the Army
Service Corp until his discharge due to health reasons. However, my grandmother
had written alongside the photo “Harry Ball Dress 1913”.
Taking the military
document as higher authority than my grandmother’s note, I assumed she was mistaken about the date when she compiled the album
much later in her life, likely after she was widowed.
Since I wanted the
blog to be as accurate as possible and I was trying to compile a good
description including the colour of the uniform and the accessories, I researched
WWI British Army uniforms at some length expecting to find that the uniform was used in
1917-1918. I had no success in finding anything similar to the uniform in the
I had been curious about internet forums for
some time but I did not know much about how they worked nor taken the time to learn
about them. While researching my grandfather’s role in WWI I came across a
website devoted to WWI information which I found helpful in some of my
research. (The Long Long Trail www.1917-1918.net ) I noted at the time that there was a forum
attached to it and I read a few entries as a visitor. I decided I would finally take the time to
sign up and learn about forums using this one to see if there was any information about
the uniform known to other users of the site.
To my surprise, within
hours, I had half a dozen replies from people who have served in the military
and have a wide knowledge of WW1. They were telling me that the uniform was a
Royal Navy Officer’s Uniform. They
agreed it was likely ball dress and noted the dance shoes he was wearing. Some made
reference to the Ruler of the Queen’s Navy from HMS Pinafore.
The reference to the
HMS Pinafore was due to the story behind the Gilbert & Sullivan comic opera
of 1878 which among other things lampoons the Royal Navy and the rise of
unqualified people to positions of authority. In the production the First Lord
of the Admiralty, the character of Sir Joseph Porter, brags of his career from office boy to
First Lord of the British Navy and calls himself The Ruler of the Queen’s Navy.
In fact the actual First Lord of Admiralty at that time had no nautical or
I knew my grandfather
had never been in the navy although my grandmother’s brother was but not as an
officer. So, I did some looking and found some British Navy Dress uniforms at
the Royal Museum Greenwich uniform collectionthat were much like the one in the photo including the unusual hat.
The uniform examples I
found that were like the one in the photo was identified as a Royal Naval
Uniform circa the mid 1800s. A similar beaver felt with gold lace cock hat was
presented to Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Napier in 1855. Other similar features
were the epaulettes, sleeve and collar detail as well as the double breasted
Feeling foolish, I
began to think of other reasons why the photo might be dated correctly after
My grandmother had an extremely good memory, my
grandfather won a ballroom dance contest in 1914 and later in life they both
enjoyed “dressing up” for theme parties or special occasions.
I have come to the
conclusion that Harry was wearing a military costume with dance shoes to attend
a fancy dress ball in 1913 when this studio photo of him "in uniform" was taken.
This experience has
been a reminder about the dangers of making assumptions in family history and
the need to consider all explanations that come to mind.
Regardless it is
a wonderful photograph and I still love it.