The battle babies of Essex

Hannah Salisbury, Engagement and Events Manager

Jessamy Carlson recently published a post on the National Archives’ blog about the First World War phenomenon of giving babies war-related names.

Jessamy found 1,634 babies with such names, with 1,229 babies named after battles. The most popular battle to name children after was Verdun, with 901 babies given this name in 1914-1919. Verdun was one of the longest battles in human history, fought over 303 days from February to December 1916. Recent estimates put casualty figures at 976,000.
By coincidence we recently came across an Essex baby born in 1916 named Nancy Verdun, christened in Goodmayes in 1917. She was the daughter of bus driver Harry Miles and his wife Anna Louise Miles, who lived at 17 Percy Road.

Nancy Verdun Miles

This got me wondering how many other babies were born in Essex with the sort of war-related names that Jessamy had found, so I took to FreeBMD to find out. (The search results for Essex included the registration districts of Edmonton, Royston, Risbridge and Sudbury, which are mostly in Hertfordshire or Suffolk but include some Essex parishes.)

Verdun was by far the most popular battle baby name, with a peak in the second quarter of 1916 as the battle raged.

Jessamy also identified two other categories of war-related baby names – ‘hero babies’ and ‘end of war babies’. Hero babies are those named after significant First World War figures, such as Edith Cavell, Field Marshall Haig, and Lord Kitchener. End of war babies were those with names such as Peace and Victory.

Nationally, 25 babies were named Cavell in 1914-1919, and 3 of them were in Essex. Of 11 babies nationally named Haig, 2 were born in Essex, strangely enough both in the Romford district.

I can find only two babies named Peace (both registered in Edmonton so potentially actually in Hertfordshire), but 11 babies named Victory – including Victory D Tipple, born in Romford in the third quarter of 1919.

One wartime name which as far as I know is unique to Essex is Zeppelina. Zeppelina Clarke was born in the early hours of the morning of 24 September 1916, the night that two Zeppelins crash-landed in Essex. Zeppelin L32 crashed in Great Burstead, with no survivors, and L33 crashed in Little Wigborough, narrowly missing some farm cottages. The crew of L33 walked away largely unharmed. In nearby Great Wigborough, Mr and Mrs Clarke welcomed a baby girl, and their doctor suggested naming her Zeppelina, to mark the extraordinary circumstances of the night of her birth.

Zeppelin at Little Wigborough - Essex Record Office

The wreck of Zeppelin L33, after which baby Zeppelina was named

It is hard to understand today why people might have named their children after such terrible events as wartime battles, perhaps battles in which close relatives may have been lost. It would be fascinating to know how the babies given these names felt about them as they grew up – if anyone has any insights do leave a comment below.

5 thoughts on “The battle babies of Essex

  1. My Grandfather Parowmas Harris 1896- 1963 was a Royal Marine and lost a leg in the battle of Zeebrugge on St George’s Day 1918. He was very poorly and it was uncertain if he would survive. As a result, his sister named her daughter Iris as this was the name of the ship he had been on at the taking of Zeebrugge. Later in 1930 he named his own daughter, my mother, Valeria Iris in memory of his strength in surviving the battle. My mother has always been very proud of this connection, although at times, my father would joke it was the battleship connection!!

  2. I was very interested to read your post ‘The battle babies of Essex.’

    I am Essex born, but my great great uncle was born 1st qtr 1855 just the across the border in Sudbury, I was amused to see his parents gave him the name ‘Alma Sebastopol SPENCER.’ Reference: Sudbury volume 4a page 405.
    So far I have not found any of his relatives who might have served in the Crimean War.

  3. It’s said that a baby in Witham was named Warwick, after the Warwickshire Regiment, whose soldiers were billeted in the town in large numbers in WW1. I was told once that the first baby died, and so the next one was also called Warwick in his stead. I haven’t checked the records.

  4. I include the Wigborough zeppelin crash in a talk I give on Essex. On one occasion a lady raised her hand and said that she had known Zeppelina and that she had always hated her name! Hardly surprising I guess.

  5. I knew Zeppelina and have a photograph of her. She was a lovely, lively, lady, her most unusual name and the interesting circumstances of her birth ensured that she had a fascinating life.

    Dr John Salter, the long serving GP at Tolleshunt D’Arcy who lived there in 1916, records in his diary that, after he watched both airships brought down from his bedroom window, he fell asleep, but was soon woken by two men knocking on his front door. One of the men was a local special constable, who asked DR Salter to accompany him to attend to a badly injured farmer Wright, of Little Wigborough, who’d been following the L33 airship on his motorbike when he crashed into a car that was following the airship from the opposite direction. driven by the fighting Vicar of West Mersea, Pierrepoint Edwards. The drivers of the vehicles had fialed to see each other’s vehicle due to the blackout, which meant they couldn’t use headlights.

    The other man was Mr Clark, Zeppelina’s father, the airship crash and fire had sent his wife into labour early and she having some difficulty giving birth. Dr Salter attended Famer Wright and sent his deputy to attend to Mrs Clark.

    The next next morning, Dr Salter called on Mr and Mrs Clark and their new baby girl to ensure all was well. The Clarks had not chosen a name for baby. Zeppelina told me that Dr told her parents: ‘This is a historic day, you give that baby a historic name, call her Zeppelina.”

    Zeppelina told me that she disliked her name at school as she was often teased about it, her sister, Margaret, if I remember her name correctly, was jealous of her name too. As an adult, however, Zeppelina came to like her name, as she was invited to so many extraordinary events as a result of her name and its history. On one occasion, she was taken for a trip in a zeppelin by an airship pilot who loved her name.

    Zeppelina had a large collection of zeppelin and airship photographs and artefacts, some of which were given to her on account of lovely name. Zeppelina told me that she believed she was only woman in the world with her name, though one other woman who was born after her was given the name many years later