Moseley in the Frame
Wednesday, 20th September 2017
The poignant story of an unknown soldier’s ‘homecoming’ to Moseley was recently broadcast on ‘Midlands Today.’ Cameras joined the Moseley Society History Group on June 29th to record the presentation of some fascinating memorabilia which Graham and Linda Richards had brought from their home in Simi Valley, California.
It is 50 years since Graham emigrated from Portsmouth to the USA. 20 years ago he was on a trip back to his native England and was browsing in a Stratford-upon-Avon antique shop. He was fascinated by a framed portrait of a WW1 officer; he recalled his own grandfather who had enlisted at 15 and had been horrifically scarred. Graham “fell in love with it” and took it home to California where it took pride of place on his mantelpiece.
One day his late wife was cleaning the brass frame and out dropped an old newspaper cutting and a postcard. The newspaper reported on a Moseley wedding between 2nd Lt William Henry Furse of School Road and Beatrice Law of Cambridge Rd followed by a honeymoon in Formby. The postcard showed the house in Formby where the couple stayed in October 1915.
Armed with a name, Graham’s second wife Linda, turned detective. Google yielded some helpful Moseley references; the first was Moseley B13 magazine which featured William Furse in June 2014 as the second in our ongoing WW1 series ‘Who Do You Think They Were.’ The second was a fuller account by Edwina Rees for the Moseley Society Local History Group. They contacted the Group and Edwina was able to enlighten them further about Bill Furse’s story. Last autumn Graham and Linda resolved to return the portrait and mementoes to Moseley – they told their local newspaper it was ‘the best final resting place for this brave officer’s legacy of service to his country’.
Among the archives of the Moseley Local History Group is a collection of family photographs donated by the owners of 36 Salisbury Rd who had found them in the attic of the house they bought following the death of C. Furse in 1981. These were first identified in 2014 by Moseley artist, Sarah Moss who was sourcing old photographs to inspire some copper plate etchings of ‘Moseley Then and Now.’ Sarah delved into the Archives at the Birmingham Library and found that the Furse family had moved from School Road to Salisbury Road in about 1919. Terry Carter’s book “Birmingham Pals” provided numerous extracts from the letters and memoirs of William’s brother Alan Furse. Slowly William’s history began to unfold.
He was born in Hampstead in 1891, the eldest son of Henry Furse an electrician from London and Florence Mundy Cox who was born in Moseley. They married in Solihull in 1890 and set up home in Hampstead. In 1892 a second son Alan was born followed later by Claude in 1900.
By the 1911 Census the family had moved north to 53 School Road, Moseley. The elder brothers had attended Solihull School while Claude the youngest went to King Edward’s School. At 19 William was a clerk at Lloyds Bank in Stirchley.
At the outbreak of war William and Alan volunteered for the Birmingham Battalions known as the Birmingham PALS. They served in the 14th Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. In September 1915 William was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the 21st Northumberland Fusiliers. At 6’5½” he was the tallest man in the British Army.
In October William married Beatrice whilst on leave and embarked for France in January 1916. He was billeted near St Omer part of the 34th Division preparing for major action.
Second Lieutenant William Henry Furse was 25 when he was mortally wounded by a bullet in No Man’s Land and died within hours. 40 miles away his brother Alan was celebrating his 24th birthday but could hear some distant guns. It was 1st July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme.
At the presentation Linda and Graham said “You should have it back in this country. We felt it should be returned; it’s a kind of a way of showing respect that they have not been forgotten.”