I found Alan Carr’s Who Do You Think You Are? episode intriguing – I was constantly unsure what direction his tale was going to take. We started by exploring his northern mining roots. His grandfather Wilf Carr had all the promise to be a top footballer for Newcastle United only to be struck down by a knee injury and spend his working days down the mines instead.
But the programme soon changed track and we swapped to Alan’s maternal line. Alan and his mother’s knowledge of her family was very limited. Her father had been one of 12 children, born to Maria Annie Wayman and Henry Carter. This is where the mystery began, as Alan’s mother knew that they also went by the surname Mercer.
We then went on a fascinating journey through Mary Ann’s life. We first spotted her with Henry in the 1911 England Census. We then looked at the England, Birth Indexes and certificates of their 12 children. It became clear that they moved to Crayford in Kent in 1916 – Henry was working at a factory producing artillery for the war. But the question still remained what else was Henry doing during World War I?
At the Imperial War Museum, Alan and the researchers started looking at the WWI service records and Henry’s career history. We saw that he signed up in 1915 as part of the recruitment drive led by Lord Kitchener. However, Henry’s resolve soon came into question, as his conduct records showed he went absent without leave. On September 13th, he went missing again and this time did not return. They tried to track him down to his home in Camberwell, but he had disappeared with Mary Ann and the children.
Alan was embarrassed by this revelation – but he quickly changed his view and considered how different things may have been had Henry not deserted. The story then unravelled and we discovered that despite appearing in the Police Gazettes during this time and being a wanted man, Henry was able to evade capture with his family by changing their surname to Mercer.
I found the ending really thought-provoking, as domestic deserters is a subject I know so little about. I even found myself considering my view on this when I woke up this morning – considering the fear that young men at this time must have felt, particularly if they had a wife and family that they wanted to protect.
What are your thoughts on this difficult subject? Let us know in the comments below.