Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Hannah's Children: David Rodrigues Da Costa -- a Remembrance Day Tribute

Tyne Cot Memorial, Belgium
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, --
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
Anthem for Doomed Youth – Wilfred Owen
I had meant to write about Eugene Da Costa, the second child of Hannah and Joseph Rodrigues Da Costa, but here we are on yet another Remembrance Day and I find myself thinking about their youngest son, David, who was killed in the First World War.
David is the only one for whom I have baptismal information, thanks to Father Gerry McLaughlin, the Archivist for the Roman Catholic Church in Kingston, Jamaica. He was baptized by Father Joseph Dupont who wrote in the register:

"On the 6th of August 1876 I baptized David Rodrigues Dacosta, born 7th July last, son of Joseph Rodrigues Dacosta and Hannah Lindo. The sponsors were Charles H. Nunes & Josepha Duquesnay."

Apart from that I knew very little about David, discovering bits and pieces of information about him as I researched the family. In searching for information about his older sister, Ida, and her children, I came across an immigration record for young Ida Clementina, age 17, sailing from Liverpool to New York on May 26 1913, going to her mother, Mrs. Ida Couch, at 152nd Street, New York City. Ida gave her address in London as that of her uncle, D. R. Da Costa, 149 Strand. This is how I discovered that David was living in London. Again, when I was following the saga of Ida and Frederick Walter Couch, I discovered them on a passenger list travelling from Jamaica to England in 1892. Listed with them was their infant son, Frederick Joseph, along with a Master Da Costa, age 16, who must have been David. Perhaps he had decided to seek his fortune in England. Strangely enough, his father, Joseph, had named him along with Hannah, as an executor of his will made July 19, 1910, a few months before he died. I wonder why Joseph named David who was living in England, as his executor, rather than his other son, Eugene, who was right there in Jamaica.

Once the 1901 British census became available I went looking for David and found him lodging with one Alfred Collins, an engraver in gold and silver, living at 52 Bromar Road in Camberwell. David’s occupation was given as journalist and author. I was also able to find David on various passenger lists between England and New York as well as Jamaica. In November 1909 David sailed on the RMS Mauretania from Liverpool to New York. He was still lodging with Alfred Collins and his family, and indicated that he was in transit to Jamaica. I imagine that he was going to see his father, Joseph, who was most likely ill at this time, as he suffered from chronic heart disease. David then sailed from Jamaica aboard the ss Clyde on January 19, 1910 en route to New York, intending to return to England. However, he returned to Jamaica on August 6, 1910, sailing from Avonmouth to Kingston on board the Port Henderson. No doubt by this time his father Joseph’s health had deteriorated. Joseph died September 26, 1910.

David remained for some time in Jamaica to help settle his father’s estate because he does not show up in the 1911 census -- his landlord, Alfred Collins, is shown living with his family at 41 Larkhall Rise, Clapham. David himself returns to England on board the Elders & Fyffe ship, ss Nicoya, arriving in Manchester on May 8, 1911.

It was purely by chance that I discovered David’s name on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website. He is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial, near Ieper, Belgium. It is one of the four memorials to the missing in Belgian Flanders, covering the area known as the Ypres Salient. David was killed on October 13, 1917. According to the information on the site he was a private with the 10th Battalion, Sherwood Foresters (Notts. And Derby Regiment). He was 41 years old. I immediately searched for his war record and was fortunate to find both his attestation papers as well as other documents, and also the war diaries of the Sherwood Foresters on the Documents Online section of The National Archives. Curiously, David did not join the Sherwood Foresters but the Royal Flying Corps, on July 31, 1916. He was forty years old and gave his address as 58 Danville Road, Camberwell, London, S.E. He listed his occupation as journalist, was not married and gave his mother’s name – Hannah Da Costa, 54 East Queen Street, Kingston Jamaica -- as next of kin. He was described as 5 ft. 9 inches (the Da Costas are not tall!).

This is the badge of the Royal Flying Corps. According to his statement of services, David remained in England from July 31 1916 till April 27 1917, and then was sent to France from April 28 1917 until his death on October 13, 1917. He was listed as a private, regimental number 41271, in the Royal Flying Corps, military wing, stationed at South Farnborough, as of July 31 1916, then on September 24, 1917, he was compulsorily transferred to the 10th Battalion, Nottingham and Derbyshire Regiment, retaining his present rate of pay, but with a new service number, 72329.

This is the badge of the 10th Battalion, Sherwood Foresters.

Another document in his records indicates that he belonged to Group 41 (Journalist) and had been attached to Balloon Party, and was also attached to 63rd R. N. Div. 1.B.D. for training as infantry personnel. It is not clear to me why he was transferred.

According to the war diaries I found on line the 10th Battalion was stationed in October 1917 outside of Hazebrouck, through which thousands of British soldiers passed en route for Ypres or the Somme. It became an Army Headquarters in October 1914. The war diary for the time of David’s death does not indicate any action on the 13th of October, but that there were casualties on October 12th

It reads as follows:
“The enemy continued their counterattack during the day – all of which were dispersed by M.G. (machine gun) fire and artillery fire. Congratulated on the information sent back to Div. and Brigade. Observation forts were established at CONDIE HQ & MILLERS HOUSES. Number of casualties during the day were officers killed 2, wounded 4, and O.R. (other ranks) killed approximately 15. Wounds 150.”

Perhaps David was among the wounded and died later, but based on the fact that he has no known grave it would seem that his body was not found and he would have been considered killed in action.

This has been a long post but I wanted on this day to remember David Rodrigues Da Costa and his ultimate sacrifice in 1917.

"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn;
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We shall remember them. " – For the Fallen, Lawrence Binyon


Judith said...

Wonderful piece of research, writing, devotion.

Jacqueline Smith said...

What a lovely tribute. David, unknown no more.

Arras Memorial

Arras Memorial

Trooper Victor Dey Smedmore

Trooper Victor Dey Smedmore
My uncle Victor