The Sole Society, a Family History Society researching Sole, Saul, Sewell, Solley and similar names



by Peter H Saul


 This article was originally published in the April 2008 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society



In my family tree there is one individual whom I have researched more than any other, with until recently little success. Since he was my paternal grandfather, John Thomas Saul, that may seem surprising, but as he died in 1924, it is perhaps less so. The one photograph I have of my grandparents is shown below; at a guess, this is about the time of their wedding in 1916. On the marriage certificate, the groom’s father, Joseph Saul, once a Police Sergeant, was shown as deceased; he died of enteric (i.e. Typhoid) fever in 1894. The bride’s father was John Henry Schofield, and one of the witnesses was Susan Jane Schofield, sister of the bride. The family story is that John Thomas Saul was in a “reserved occupation” – I now know that the correct term was “starred occupation” - in WW1. Now, although WW1 military record survival is limited, there is even less about those who did not enlist.

Figure 1, Beatrice Mary Saul and John Thomas Saul, about 1916

Figure 1, Beatrice Mary Saul and John Thomas Saul, about 1916


John is shown above with a lapel badge, which for years I had assumed was some form of military affiliation. I have in my possession, although I have no idea where it came from, a Royal Field Artillery cap badge. The RFA mainly recruited in the North, and one of the main recruitment barracks was Bury Barracks, on Bolton Road, Bury. When married, the couple lived at Middleton, and were married at Royton, but moved at some point, probably just after the marriage, to Connaught Street, Bury, literally two minutes walk from the Barracks. There are two possible candidates for John T. Saul in the medal rolls, one a Second Lieutenant in the Army Cyclist corps (unlikely), and one a Driver in the RFA. He was only listed as having the Victory medal. So, what was he – in a starred occupation, or the RFA?


Last year, I went to a local family history fair in Northampton. I spent a few minutes talking to the proprietor of one stall selling WW1 reference books. I asked him if he knew anything about reserved occupations. He said that he did not, but this lady, who was standing by the stall, might, as she was Pauline Saul! I had never met her before; it was a complete coincidence. She was a Saul by marriage, and no longer uses the surname, but is a well-known author of genealogy books, and was formerly President of the Sole Society.


She explained that it was possible that both answers could be consistent. In WW1, many men rushed to volunteer, sometimes from employment which was actually vital to the war effort. Sometimes their employer would insist on their return, especially if home for example wounded. That had happened to her grandfather. He had been issued with a badge from his employer showing that he was on war work, i.e. not to be handed white feathers etc. This gave me a new theory to work on.


Returning to the photograph, I had originally thought that the resolution was too poor to be useful. However, researching “reserved occupations” finally led me to an excellent and informative web site by Tom Tulloch-Marshall, The WW1 expression was not reserved occupation, but “On War Service”, i.e. in a starred occupation. Men were issued with badges, at first by employers, then by the Admiralty, for naval work, then more generally for munitions work. There were several badge patterns, one of which is shown below, with an enlarged view of my grandfather’s lapel badge. It’s not certain, but I am fairly confident that these are the same badge type.


In 1916, the marriage certificate showed his occupation as “Fitter”. At death, in 1924 he was shown as “Iron Fitter”, while my grandmother’s death certificate in 1959 shows that she was the widow of an engineer. The question is where? I still have no means of determining where he worked, although it was presumably in Bury or Bolton, both of which had extensive engineering works at that time. Locomotive manufacturers could have been switched to heavy gun making relatively easily, and easier still to the manufacture of shells. Any thoughts would be welcome.



Figure 2, The Lapel badge enlarged and  Figure 3, The 1915 "Economy" pattern OWS badge.


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