Feb 122014

by Sally Beaman

Some years ago I had been helping to clear some of the weeds and excessive green growth that was threatening to take over the cemetery and one grave caught my attention as I was clearing it. It was of the Gaunt family and the stone read as follows:-

In Loving Memory
William Gaunt
Who fell asleep July 30th 1929
Aged 80 years
Precious in the sight of the Lord
Is the death of his saints.
Also Lizzie Gaunt
Beloved wife of the above
Who fell asleep August 28th 1940
Aged 81 years
Also of two sons
Harold Prior Gaunt
Killed in action April 9th1917
Aged 22 years
Cyril Prior Gaunt
Killed in action April 23rd 1917
Aged 20 years
Walter Percival Gaunt
Departed this life July 12th 1933
Aged 37 years
Sidney Gaunt
Died December 9th 1899
Aged 1 year
Not a single shaft can hit
If the God of love sees fit

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I felt what a tragedy for Lizzie as she lost 3 sons, then her husband and then her remaining son before she too died. And so I always wondered what the family was like and who they really were, especially Walter.

Peter Cooper gave me some of the information he had compiled, and through this and talking with him, it was clear that Lizzie was William Gaunt’s second wife. He had previously been married to Mary, with whom he had 2 sons and a daughter – Arthur John, Charles William and Edith Elizabeth. Charles married Ethel Burling with whom he had 2 daughters – Hilda and Kathleen. I think Charles William was the ‘Billie Gaunt’ people talk of and it is Hilda who kept the shop in Church Street. But I stand to be corrected if this is wrong! From the dates on the grave it was clear that Lizzie had married someone a lot older than her, which is more explained by it being his second marriage, and hence it was always likely he would predecease her by a longish time.

It was clear from the stone what had happened to Harold and Cyril – a common enough fate at the time. Peter had some information on them from a document put together by Brian Thompson, of the men whose names were on the War Memorial in the village. It gave details of their service. Harold had been in the 5th Battalion of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, while Cyril had been in 1st Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment. The document also gives details of the battles they were involved in when they got killed.

Before joining the Oxford and Bucks, Harold had been a private in something I hadn’t heard of, the Huntingdon Cyclists Battalion. This battalion never fought overseas, but many of its members transferred to fighting units in a variety of roles including infantry, cyclist scouts and stretcher bearers.

In Brian Thompson’s notes he mentions Harold being a brother of Cyril and ‘William’, but he is unsure whether this should be Walter or Charles William. But he says that the William he mentions, had been in the Non Combatant Corps. The thing is that both Charles William (probably known as William or Billie) AND Walter exist.

In Peter’s notes it says that on Oct 17th 1916 Charles William had been exempt from combatant service but had enlisted in the 8th Eastern Company; he was later discharged from the 5th Southern Company on 2nd April 1919.
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So what about Walter?

He would have been eligible to be called up for military service since he was the middle brother of the 3 who lived past infancy. But trying to find anything about him via the Forces Register which I’ve subscribed to, hasn’t revealed anything yet and my last query came back with the response that my question wasn’t understood! I will keep trying. They did give me a link to some Non Combatant information, but this just seems to be an essay all about it and conscientious objectors.

However, when in the archives last week, Esther let me look at a couple of books which were a record of applications for exemption from military service for the borough of St Ives. There were only two – one for part of 1916 and one for 1918. The name of Gaunt doesn’t appear anywhere! However there were one or two other local names in it! Most of the notes associated with each case were in short hand so it’s hoped that maybe someone knows someone who would be able to translate them – Hunts Archives would be most appreciative!

Another archivist also gave me email addresses of people in Cambridgeshire who are involved in WW1 commemorations, one of which just bounced back and I’ve yet to try the other.
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The other reason for my interest with the Gaunts is the connection with the Baptist church. The one minutes books that had disappeared from the church has turned up again! And there seems to be a bit of intrigue in 1905 regarding William Gaunt (the father).

At a meeting on Feb 5th 1905 the following was noted:

“The teachers of the Sunday School at a meeting held on Feb 2nd, having passed a resolution that it is necessary to appoint a Superintendent over the school and having recommended that Brother Gaunt be asked to take the office, we hereby appoint him accordingly.

We regret that circumstances of an unpleasant nature led to Mr Gaunt’s resignation and also that reports got into circulationin the village detrimental to his character: by making the above appointment he is exonerated from all untrue reports”.

(The appointment was proposed and seconded by the Pastor and Bro Slater).
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Church meeting 7th July 1907:

“The conduct of Bro William Gaunt was considered, he having with drawn himself from the worship at Needingworth and was reported as having taken a seat at Crown Yard St Ives although still living here. Bros Slater and Houghton proposed and seconded that the Pastor and Bro Slater visit him.

Church Meeting July 26th 1907:

The visitors to William Gaunt stated that he was still obdurate and did not intend to fill his place in the worship again at Needingworth. Church resolved to withdraw from Mr William Gaunt in accordance with 2Thes3:6 – “We commend you brothers to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us” (Paul writing)

In two or three meetings before these, William Gaunt had seconded proposals, or closed in prayer, so What Happened?!

Then a year later at a meeting on August 8th 1908, 4 people applied for membership of Needingworth church, 2 of whom were Mr CW Gaunt and Mrs Gaunt (his wife Ethel, nee Burling). Ethel transferred membership from the Strict and Particular Baptist church in Streatham and after giving her testimony, was accepted by Needingworth. Charles William Gaunt and Henry Norman would be received into membership after baptism on September 6th 1908. This Charles William was William Gaunt’s son by his first wife and as mentioned was probably ‘Billie Gaunt’.

Hardly any mention of CW and Ethel Gaunt appears after this. Then in 1921 Walter Gaunt’s name appears as a witness to the document prepared with new trustees, to complete the sale of a cottage in Somersham (F Harvey had prepared the document. Walter is mentioned again in 1930 on a list of names submitted as trustees, where it was agreed to ask the S and P Baptist Society to help make a new trust deed.

Other mentions of ‘Mr Gaunt’ come in the accounts, which I haven’t gone through completely yet, e.g. Sept 1919, under payments “Mr Gaunts bill – £1 16s 0d”. This is likely to be a bill for coal as both he and his father were coal merchants or ‘hawkers’, and I’m assuming this is CW Gaunt, not his seemingly errant father!
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After the meeting on Tuesday 11th Feb, I started briefly started looking through the Sunday school meetings minutes from 1897. Here the elder William Gaunt is already Superintendent and Mr Gaunt junior is mentioned several times. I wondered if this was the older son Arthur, but sometimes the initials CW are used. Most of the minutes are to do with organising teas and anniversaries and making the annual decision to stop counting the attendance marks by mid December to ascertain which child should have which prize! I will look further when time!
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