Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A portrait trimmed in black crepe: William Francis Pell: 1891-1915

The Pell surname is a relatively new one on the maternal side of my family tree. The name emerged during a conversation I had with my mother back in July of 2011. Mom recalled her many childhood visits with the family, whose surname she felt sure was Pells. Visits to the home of the Pells, with her father Patrick, were something which my mom and her siblings excitedly anticipated. Mom did not recall the precise nature of the connection between her family and the Pells; however, she did recall some details about where they lived. In particular she remembered a portrait in a beautiful dark wood frame with a small ribbon of black crepe encircling the rim. The portrait hung above a side board in the front room of the Pell household; it was a photograph of a handsome young man in uniform about whom no one ever spoke.

While conducting research in Ireland, I discovered the surname is Pell, not Pells, but the error is understandable, since a visit to the family was probably preceded by the explanation, "We're going to visit the Pells." In a child's mind, one Pell becomes all Pells.

William Francis Pell was born in Dublin Ireland in the Autumn of 1891. He was the second born child, and first born son, of Teresa Early and John Pell.  Teresa Early Pell was the youngest sister of my maternal great-grandmother, Jane Early Ball. At various times in the late 19th and early 20th century, the two sisters and their respective families lived together. William's cousin, my grandfather Patrick Ball, was six years old when William was born. The Pell family in total appears on the 1901 Irish Census; William is notably absent from the 1911 Irish Census.  One might assume he was already serving in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, but I have not yet found evidence to support such an assumption.

Unfortunately, not much remains of the World War One record of young William, aside from his medals card, an entry in Ireland's Memorial Records, and a photograph of his grave.  I do know that upon enlisting William served in the rank of Private, and his gravestone attests to the fact that he held the rank of Lance Corporal when he was killed, so one may assume that his short military career was a fine one.  Just as William Dunne (paternal tree) did serve, William Pell also served in the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers; his regimental number was 8328. William Pell was killed in action on 7 January 1915. He had only just celebrated his 23rd birthday.

I do not know how well William Pell and William Dunne knew each other, if at all. Their families were not yet connected, and would not be for some forty years to come. However, in an extraordinary coincidence, both of these men are interred in Prowse Point Military Cemetery in Belgium, two among a total of only two hundred and twenty-five interred. Their graves are only a few yards away from one another.

According to his medals card, William Pell was awarded the 1914 Star, the Victory Medal, and the British War Medal.  The card bears the telling phrase 'K. in A.', the benign way of noting that he was killed in action. The medals card also states his qualification date as 9 October 1914.  Since this date is just three months before his death, one can presume the medals may have been sent posthumously to his family. At the time of his death, the Pell family was still living in the home into which William was born, at 23 Liffey Street, Kilmainham, Dublin. Although there is no slip of paper bearing the signature of his mother or his father for receipt of those medals at their door, I wonder what that day was like when those medals arrived, and just when was it that the Pell family added the ribbon of black crepe to the portrait of their young man?

Prowse Point Military Cemetery, Belgium.  Site of the graves of William Pell and William Dunne.

William Pell's Medal card.  National Archives UK.

The Book of Ireland's Memorial Records under glass in St. Patrick's Cathedral Dublin.
Pell, William. Reg. No 8328, left column, third from top.
Click on photographs to view larger version.
Unless otherwise credited, All Photographs Copyright©irisheyesjg2007-2012.

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