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  • Writer's pictureWendy Percival

The mystery of Mr DeLacy-Staunton

When I volunteered to help find information about an unknown WWII hero, I thought it would simply be a case of looking up a few things on Ancestry. I should have known better! I’ve since found myself caught up in this intriguing mystery which has taken me "all across the world" looking for answers.

The church warden in the parish where I live had been curious about a plaque high up on the wall of the church, commemorating Edward Hugh Harold DeLacy-Staunton, who’d died “serving in the Merchant Navy on 29th November 1941, aged 19”.

St Mary's parish church, East Worlington

But his attempts to learn anything more about Edward and his connection to the village had drawn a blank – no one knew who he was and his name wasn’t listed in the Commonwealth War Graves records. When he appealed for help from the community via the local newsletter, I offered to see what I could find out from my family history subscription sites.

Having assumed that such an unusual name would be straight forward enough to track down, my first discovery was that Ancestry does not cope well with double-barrelled names, meaning it tends to “gloss over” everything between Edward and Staunton… meaning if you limit a search to these two names, unsurprisingly, Ancestry throws up a multitude of hits – 4,752, to be precise.

I thought maybe there was some trick I was unaware of to overcome this. I threw out the conundrum amongst the genealogy community online and also contacted Ancestry. A few suggestions came in from fellow family historians but didn’t get me very far and Ancestry’s “customer help” said the search engine had no capacity to deal with double-barrelled names… sigh.

I mentioned my little puzzle on Twitter’s #AncestryHour and Rosie Rowley (@MaccHistorian) got on the case and tracked down a Commonwealth War Graves Commission listing for an Edward Hugh Harold Cope. This Edward had similarly died while serving in the navy, on exactly the same day as “our” Edward and was the same age. Surely this was a match! So why the difference in name?

The CWGC entry records that the ship on which he was serving was the SS Thornliebank. The website, records the merchant ship’s fate. It had been hit by two torpedoes from a German U-boat, about 240 miles north-northwest of the Azores. “[it] blew up in a great explosion. The master, 69 crew members and ten gunners were lost.”

Meanwhile, as I was digesting this information and all set to explore other leads Rosie had thrown up (as well as noting mention of the Canadian Merchant Navy), the church warden received a reply from Devon Archives in response to his email enquiry.

The archivist, it seemed, had uncovered two tantalising clues which would prove very useful in starting to unravel the truth about Edward…

But you’ll have to wait until next time to find out more!


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