As an avid family historian I’m always trying to solve the myriad of little mysteries that beset every family – mysteries that always seem to come to light just after the death of the last person would could have provided an explanation. One such in our family concerned the wartime service of a great-uncle, Arthur Axford. Nothing secret or anything like that, it was just a puzzle. He was a chef in the army, and during the war he was in based at Thropton near Rothbury in Northumberland. According to my dad’s 1942 diary, he and mum, and several other family members, spent their summer holiday (June 28-July 5) at nearby Longframlington and met up with Arthur several times during their stay both at Thropton (where they saw a water rat) and at Longframlington. But the mystery was – search as I might, I could find no record of an army unit based at Thropton, nor could any of the elderly locals I contacted remember the army being there.
Today I spotted something I’d not noticed before – in the address section of that same 1942 diary is a reference to “Thropton Hostel” – no address, no context, just those two words alone on one page. As far as I’m aware our family has no association with Thropton other than Arthur’s army service there, so it seemed a fair bet that Thropton Hostel was Arthur’s address. But what was Thropton Hostel? A quick “Google” produced a single hit – an Imperial War Museum index entry for an account of one girl’s experiences serving in the Women’s Land Army including her “first posting to Thropton hostel near Rathbury (sic), Northumberland”. I’ve sent off a request for a copy of the document, but even without it this seems to provide the solution – Arthur was posted as chef to a Women’s Land Army hostel. What a dream posting for a 32 year-old single man! Revelations like this make family history a uniquely fascinating hobby.
[Picture – click image to enlarge – shows Arthur Axford at Thropton with his sister-in-law Ethel, nee Ennis, and brother Jack.]