Updated: Mar 11, 2022
This is about a photograph that was sent to Stanley Coleman from Fred Willis in Middlesbrough. Stanley had fought in the 7th Green Howards and this photo of Fred shows him wearing his forage cap with the Green Howards cap badge.
Trying to find his family to share the photo with.... and did!
The back of the photo had the only details my family know about him.
To find the details the images and little information I had were posted on the Middlesbrough history group page. Requesting information about Fred from Middlesbrough. You can read the responses here.
Someone managed to find this old Census of 1939.
This document helped confirm his full name Frederick H Willis and his location, but also shared information that he was a Steelworks laborer. Fred was 20 living with his Father William Willis 49 and Mother Hannah M Willis 52 and sister Ernest W Willis 22. Ernest W Willis later married and changed her name is Dawson.
Then someone can forward knowing Fred....
That person knew him as Uncle Fred who confirmed that he took part in WW2 and worked for ICI.
This information aligns with my Grandfather Stanley Coleman from Hartlepool and fought in the 7th Battalion Green Howards in WW2. After the war, he went back to civilian life working at ICI. He rode his bike from Brenda Rd to the Billingham plant every day.
Did they know each other at ICI before or did they become friends in WW2? Where they in the same battalion?
Finding Fred's military history.
The first initial military search was using www.faindmypast.co.uk which is a great source for finding UK civil and military information documents. I put in the full name with a 5+ date range around 1942 and typed in Green Howards as his regiment.
The result! was finding out that he was a casualty in 6.4.1943 and his service number 4392266 Willies F.H Pte in Tunisia.
This casualty date was on the Attacks on Akarit 5/6 April 1943 capturing Pt. 85 also known as the pimple. 7th Green Howards fought hard and suffered heavy casualties. Great podcast to listen to is fightingthoughpodcast with a interview of someone who was there.
Searching on www.ancestry.com I was able to find that Frederick Heward Willis had died at 82 years old, registration date May 2001. Married to May Beach 1928-2009 and had a son William Irvin Willis 1950-1998. The death of his son must have been so hard.
Ancestry is a great way to find relatives or people that know that person. Simply search for a person and see who has saved them in their own Family trees then message them!
A few people replied but were distant cousins, but one person gave me a lead.
Using Facebook to find ancestors
With the lead of a name, rough-age range, and an idea of location. I then messaged a bunch of people that matched using the Facebook search>people function. This is a little creepy but it works.
To make it less creepy that message contained a link to this blog and pictures. Also, this helps make it not look like junk and more enticing for that person to respond.
Found a connection!
Bingo! After several messages someone confirmed that I had the right person! I am so happy that I was able to find the person and to share the photos and information I have with them. I cannot wait to get to know them more, to share what I have found and to learn from them.
So far Fred Willis had a glass eye from WW2. From an injury that occurred when his fellow soldier was not so lucky and stepped on a mine. This incident must have occurred when he was logged as a casualty in 6.4.1943.
Also confirmed Fred was in this picture, front left, with Stanley back right.
Can you help identify the others? Please email me.
Don't give up!
There are so many times my research could have come to a dead-end, but if it's important enough and you want to find the answers. Don't give up! Keep asking, asking in different ways, ask different groups, research differently. Think of it as a murder mystery!
Something I live by is what my Nana Jenny tells me "Shy people don't get" if that person can't give you an answer, ask for another person or location to contact. You will be amazed at these results.
Keep treasure hunting!
Be sure to keep up to date with what we find from Fred Williis and follow our facebook group.