February 9, 2016 by auntkatefirmin
I have posted cousin Arthur’s letters, and now it is the turn of his brother George. Since there are only a few letters, I will include the entire correspondence in a separate post.
George was older than his siblings Fan & Arthur but younger than his sister Sarah Kate. He was the third child in the family of George Henry Berkeley Firmin to move to Boston, arriving in 1903. (Only Fan did not leave England.) He does not speak of his childhood, but he enlisted in the military at age 18 and appears to have worked at Hunter & Palmer’s prior to that.
George wrote that he left England after completing military service in the “Boer War.” There are two enlistment documents for George that can be seen at findmypast. One is from 1893 where it appears he is enlisting in the 4th Battalion of the Oxford Light Infantry and one is from 1896 where he is enlisting in the “Dragoon Guards.” I have been unable to locate any information online about an Oxfordshire 4th Battalion prior to WWI. Based on the 1896 document in which George states he worked as a hairdresser for the past four years, I am temporarily concluding that he was a private in some type of reserve or local unit prior to 1896 when he changed units. He served in South Africa from 3 November 1899 to 24 August 1902 and his records show “First Provisional Regiment Dragoons.” While I’m certain there is more that could be learned from his military documents, they can be a bit cryptic to interpret from this distance in time for a person not well-versed in British military history.
In 1896 George was 5′ 8″ and weighed 135 pounds; he had a “fresh” complexion, brown hair, and hazel eyes. In his dress uniform for the dragoons he no doubt looked quite dashing in his scarlet tunic.
After his return to England, George felt that he had more opportunities in North America and in 1903 he joined his siblings in Boston. There he met and married Catherine Maria Pilkington, an immigrant from Ireland. George is described as a coachman in his marriage papers, a tailor in the census and most of his children’s birth registry documents, and a janitor in 1939. Like Firmins of his era he appears to have turned his hand to any available employment.
Based on the passenger list, when he traveled to England in 1939 on the Aquitania to visit Fan he used a US Passport – Catherine did not travel with him. He was naturalized in Massachusetts in 1936. While he intended to visit Fan again after the war he was unable to do so.
George and Catherine had five children, listed below. His seven grandchildren have not yet been identified by name. (George’s sister’s name was Fanny, but the family apparently thought this was a nickname for Francis.)
1. George, who suffered from “sleeping sickness” and died at age 36 in 1943 in Westborough, MA.
2. Charles Michael, who remained in Massachusetts, married in 1938, and served in the Navy in WWII. If his sister Kathryn had five children, he must have had two children, assuming it is correct that George had seven grandchildren. Only one son, Charles Michael, has been identified.
3. Mary Josephine, who was buried in 1976 in the family plot in Southborough Rural Cemetery as Mary J Firmin. She was living with her parents in 1956 when her father died.
4. Kathryn who married Raymond Gould before 1932 and later Elmer Dingley. The five Gould children listed in the 1940 census are assumed to be five of the seven grandchildren from George’s obituary. Her obituary confirms that her children were Mary, Raymond, Charles, David, and Gerald.
5. Eleanor Marie, who lived the longest, dying in 2008 at age 92. She was living with her parents in 1956 when her father died and wrote to Kate Firmin enclosing the following clipping.
Apparently a published soldier’s diary exists for the period that George was in South Africa: A soldier’s diary, South Africa 1899-1901, written and illustrated by Murray Cosby Jackson.