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  • Writer's pictureSarah von Allmen

What's in a name?

Part of my MSc thesis involved compiling a database of First World War servicemen from the Stockport suburbs of Heaton Chapel, Heaton Mersey and Heaton Moor. Among those I identified were a dozen men who were sons, grandsons or great-grandsons of German immigrants and who had German forenames or surnames. During the war there was often considerable hostility shown towards members of the German immigrant community, even those who had been naturalised for many years, prompting some to change their names (whether by deed poll or more informally. Even those serving with the British forces were not exempt, although their patriotism could hardly be called into question!

For Remembrance Weekend, here is my tribute to those twelve young men, including two who gave their lives in the service of their country.

Demierre, Carl Werner Emil Henry and Hans Conrad Adolph

The Demierre brothers were part of a large family born to Aloïs Demierre and his wife Emmy Luise Janss. Aloïs, the manager of a shipping merchant’s office, was born in Clarens, Switzerland, while Emmy was born in Hamburg. They spent their married life in and around Manchester and Stockport and were naturalised as British citizens on 19 April 1911.

Carl was born in Manchester in 1888 and worked as a mechanical engineer. He enlisted in the 13th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment very early in the war, on 22 September 1914 and was drafted to France on 7 September 1915. He was fortunate enough to escape serious injury or illness, and finished the war as a corporal, having spent the final months of his service in Salonika.

Hans was born in Manchester in 1890 and joined the Merchant Navy at the age of 15 in 1905. He spent the war years as a Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Reserve.

Although Demierre is not a German-sounding surname, by the end of the war the brothers (if not the rest of the family) had modified it to de Mierre, possibly in an attempt to make it seem uncompromisingly French and compensate for their Germanic forenames. The 1918 absent voters list gives their home address as 31 Heaton Moor Road, Heaton Moor.

Giesenberg, Leonard, Edgar and Ludwig

Rudolf Giesenberg, a commission agent born in Hamburg, came to England in about 1880 and was naturalised on 23 July 1889. He married Martha Brannagan, an Irishwoman, in Manchester in 1891 and the couple settled in Heaton Moor. By 1893 the family was living at 30 Peel Moat Road.

Leonard was born on 20 December 1886, four years before the marriage of his parents, and baptised as Henry William Rudolf Joseph Leonard Giesenberg shortly after their wedding, although he was always known as Leonard. He enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps on 1 April 1915 and was drafted to Egypt on 10 May 1916. About a year later his section was transferred to France, where he was wounded in action on 7 April 1918 and repatriated to England for treatment. After convalescence he returned to France on 12 October 1918 and fortunately suffered no further significant injury or illness before demobilisation.

Edgar was born in Heaton Moor on 22 July 1897 and was an apprentice in the glove department of Hall, Higham & Co. in Manchester when he enlisted in the 1/7th Battalion, Manchester Regiment in September 1914 at the age of 17. He was drafted to Gallipoli on 18 August 1915 and killed in action just three weeks later on 8 September 1915. He is buried at Twelve Tree Copse Cemetery, Helles, and is commemorated on the Heaton Moor/Heaton Chapel war memorial as well as the memorial at St Thomas‘ Church, Heaton Chapel.

Ludwig was born in Heaton Moor on 4 March 1900 and enlisted in the Cheshire Regiment on 9 November 1914, claiming to be aged 19. He was discharged three weeks later (presumably when his true age was discovered), but at the time of his brother’s death, he was reported to be in training with the Lancashire Fusiliers – still considerable underage! He appears to have finally served overseas with the North Staffordshire Regiment, although this service record has not survived.

Rudolf died in 1913 and on 6 October 1917 the surviving members of the family changed their surname to Gee by deed poll. At the same time, Ludwig changed his first name to Louis and Leonard officially dropped his other forenames.

Grötecke, Karl

Karl was born in Chorlton-cum-Hardy on 26 May 1897 and was the great-grandson of Karl Heinrich Grötecke, a German who came to England before 1828 and was naturalised by 1851. Karl was living with his parents at 359 Manchester Road, Heaton Chapel and working as a telephone fitter when he attested for military service on 9 December 1915. He was mobilised to serve with the Royal Engineers on 9 May 1916 but spent most of the war in England (probably on communications duties) before going to France shortly after the Armistice.

While Karl’s surname was occasionally misspelled on various records, these variations appear to be purely accidental.

Hellfritsch, Hermann

Karl Hermann Hellfritsch came to England from Germany in about 1891 and married Alice Kay in Manchester in 1892. After spending the early years of their marriage in Manchester, where their children were born, they moved to Heaton Moor, where they lived at 37 Elms Road.

Hermann was born in Ladybarn in 1897 and was mobilised for service with the 1/4th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment in late March 1916 shortly after the introduction of compulsory military service: he had possibly volunteered earlier under the Group Scheme, but his service record has not survived to confirm this. Following his initial training he was drafted to France, where he was reported missing on 4 September 1918. His parents placed an advertisement in the Stockport Advertiser a month later, asking if anyone had news of him, but he was finally presumed to have been killed in action on the day he was reported missing. Hermann has no known grave and is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing, as well as the Heaton Moor/Heaton Chapel war memorial and the memorial in St Paul’s Church, Heaton Moor.

Klein, Robert Emil

Albert Wilhelm Klein, a manufacturer’s agent born in Barmen, came to England from Germany in the early 1880s and married Margaret Booth in Manchester in 1884. The couple set up home in Heaton Moor and Albert was naturalised on 27 June 1890. By 1901 the family was living at 22 Brownsville Road, Heaton Moor.

Robert, the couple’s only child, was born in Heaton Moor on 12 December 1885 and baptised at St Paul’s Church. He attested for military service under the Group Scheme on 8 December 1915, at which time he was working as a manufacturer’s agent like his father, and was mobilised to serve with the Royal Garrison Artillery on 18 December 1916. He was transferred to the Middlesex Regiment on 5 October 1917 but fell ill with appendicitis and was discharged from the Army as unfit for service on 7 October 1918 without having seen action overseas.

Kolligs, Fritz Ferdinand Hugo Ernest

Ferdinand Hugo Kolligs, a shipping agent born in Frankfurt, came to England in the 1860s and married Minnie Ellen Newton in Manchester in 1876. The couple lived in Heaton Moor at “Oakleigh”, 166 Heaton Moor Road and Ferdinand had become a naturalised British subject by 1881. Following Minnie’s death, he married Wilhelmina Catherina Louise Bachmann (another immigrant from Germany) in Stockport in 1892.

Fritz was born in Heaton Moor on 16 September 1892 and baptised at St Paul’s Church. After qualifying as a dentist shortly after the outbreak of World War I, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant on 27 March 1915 and subsequently posted to the 11th Battalion, Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. He was attached to the Royal Flying Corps in November 1916 and reached the rank of captain in the RAF by the end of hostilities.

As “Fritz” was used as a derogatory term for all Germans during the war, it is hardly surprising that after a short time Fritz decided to drop his first name and be known as Ferdinand, although he retained his original surname.

Moritz, Harold Merton

Henry Meyer Moritz was born in Tempelburg, Prussia (now Czaplinek, Poland) and came to England with his wife and children in the early 1870s. He was naturalised as a British citizen on 26 January 1877.

Henry’s grandson Harold was born in Manchester in 1889 and moved to Heaton Moor as a small child, living at 7 Peel Moat Road. He followed in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps and became a tarpaulin manufacturer. Fairly early in the war he obtained a commission as Second Lieutenant in the 1/8th Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers and went to Gallipoli on 25 September 1915. He was severely wounded on 26 September 1916 and discharged from the Army on account of “ill health caused by wounds” on 19 April 1918.

Harold changed his surname from Moritz to Morland in late 1916 or early 1917.

Rosenberg, Eric William

Ferdinand Rosenberg was born in Hamburg and came to England in 1856, working as a tobacconist and later a cigar importer in Manchester. He married Leah Spier, daughter of another German immigrant, at Manchester Great Synagogue in 1861 and had become a British citizen by 1871.

Ferdinand’s grandson Eric was born in Withington on 4 February 1894 and was living with his family in Heaton Moor by 1911. He enlisted in the 16th Battalion, Manchester Regiment (the first of the Manchester “Pals” regiments) on 1 September 1914, when his address was given as 18 Alma Road, Heaton Moor. Eric’s father had married outside the Jewish faith, and Eric gave his denomination as Church of England. He was drafted to France on 8 November 1915 and after being wounded twice in 1917 was discharged as no longer physically fit for military service on 2 May 1918. He wrote to the Army two months later, enquiring when he would receive his Silver War Badge (a lapel badge worn on civilian clothes by soldiers discharged for medical reasons), because “it is not very nice to walk about the streets and have people asking you how it is you are not in the Army”.

Eric’s father changed his surname to Rose by deed poll on 3 December 1914 and although Eric’s military record is in the name of Rosenberg, he is recorded as “Eric Rose” in the list of servicemen from the parish of St Paul’s, Heaton Moor published in the Stockport Advertiser on 8 January 1915, and he would use this surname for the rest of his life.

Schobelt, Carl Akhurst

Friedrich Wilhelm Adolph Schobelt, an engineer born in Berlin,came to England in the 1850s and married Elizabeth Adnum in Manchester in 1862.

Friedrich’s grandson Carl was born in Manchester on 13 February 1898 and moved as a child to Heaton Chapel, where the family lived at 166 Wellington Road (subsequently renumbered as 412 Wellington Road North). He was a research chemist when he attested for compulsory military service on 24 February 1916 at the age of 18 and his occupation is probably the reason why he was not called up until 30 April 1918. After training, he was posted to the Machine Gun Corps on 7 September 1918 and completed his military service without going overseas.

Of this small group of men, four changed their surname completely and two modified it slightly. One also changed his forename, while another started using his middle name. The sample is too small to draw any solid conclusions, but I find it interesting that three of the six who retained their original surname spent most or all of the war in England; another would presumably have changed his name along with the rest of his family if he had not been killed.

Many World War I service records were destroyed by incendiary bombing in 1940, so there may be other men not mentioned above: it is particularly difficult to identify those who spent the war on home service (coastal defence, logistics, military hospitals, etc). If you know of any other Heatons men in this category, or can add further details of those above, I would be delighted to add them to my database.

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