World War One: when War Reunited a Family

In Killed by Enemy Action: a Family Tragedy I wrote about my uncle Joseph Boyland, who was machine-gunned walking along Scotland Road, Liverpool, in September 1940. That was a story about a family devastated by the consequences of war, yet a generation earlier war had brought the Boyland family together. 

John Boyland, Joseph’s father, fought for the Liverpool King’s 5th Regiment during World War One. He was born in Liverpool on 28 October 1890. He was the youngest in a family of seven children, his parents were Patrick* and Mary Boyland (nee Morrissey).  Patrick and Mary had married in Glasgow in July 1872. Their fifth child, Bernard, known as Barney, born 7 July 1884, was taken from the family when Mary, according to family lore, was in Scotland visiting her family in February 1894.  She had left him in the care of friends. Brought before the magistrates he was sent to St George’s Industrial School, West Derby, Liverpool, before being sent to a new life in Canada as a British Home Child.

Family tree of Patrick and Mary Boyland (nee Morrissey)

Mary, by all accounts, was heartbroken to have lost her son. It is unclear whether she was able to visit her son in St George’s Industrial School before his departure. I was given details around fifteen years ago regarding his admittance and I have since been told that there is no legal requirement to keep documents older than 75 years, so there is a possibility that registers may have been destroyed. With luck, I’ll find them in an archive. What is known is that contact with Barney was lost once he sailed to his new life.

Fast forward twenty-years and Barney enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force and headed to France to fight in what became known as the Great War. John, married in March 1911 and later travelled to France with his regiment. 

I’ll admit now, what I know about boxing, boxing in the Army and boxing in World War One, can be written on the back of a postage stamp, but it transpired that both my grandad John and his long-lost brother boxed for their regiments during the war. 

The story goes: two officers were discussing an upcoming bout and one named his soldier as Boyland and so the other said something along the lines of ‘by Jove! isn’t that funny, we’ve a Boyland, too!’ The two men were brought to meet each other and discovered that they were long-lost brothers!

Both John and Barney would repeat this story over the years and it has travelled the generations and, to me, never having met either, it is somewhat apocryphal, however, my older relatives assured me that it was true. However, the historian in me would love to source a document proving that the two men were in the vicinity of each other in France, lending the tale credence. 

Bernard (Barney) and John Boyland 1949

Barney’s Attestation Papers, signed in December 1915, are digitised on the Canadian Archives website. They show that his mother’s actual address was added at a later date. He signed his last will and testament in October 1916, bequeathing everything to her. I assume that if a meeting had taken place between John and Barney, it was during 1916. By September 1916, Mary Boyland, was in receipt of $15 (CAD?) monthly from Barney’s stipend. 

The Attestation Paper of Barney Boyland (credit: Canadian Archives)

There are so many desperately sad tales of war, it is nice to think of how on this occasion war brought two brothers together and reunited a mother with her son. 

*Research proves that Patrick Boyland was not John’s father, having been born 18 months after his father’s death, however, he is the father listed on his marriage certificate and the copy of his baptism certificate. The original baptism register states that his father was John McCarthy. 


10 thoughts on “World War One: when War Reunited a Family

  1. Wow! Why was Barney taken? I couldn’t imagine – the guilt and despair felt by Mary, and what did Barney feel?
    My own father, the youngest of eleven, was sent to an orphanage as a little boy. He had a family; his sister would visit him. But the orphanage was hours away, and he never went home. It was not until he was an adult that he reunited with his family. He never forgave his parents, but at least he had his siblings once again.
    Thanks for sharing this story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. He was taken according to the Frequenting the Company of Prostitutes Act, so whether he was an errand boy for one, I can only speculate. One of the reasons I’ve not completed a full run-down of Barney’s story is that I need to investigate this Act. The Act has something to do with vagrancy laws and the family story was that he was sent to Canada for ‘sagging school’. He was something of a hero to his nephews growing up. He might have been out trying to earn a few pennies – I’ve seen a couple of records that show my great grandmother was living in poverty at this time and my grandfather was put in the workhouse for persistent diarrhoea. Barney returned from Canada and settled in Manchester so was able to visit family.
      How sad for your dad. The same thing happened to someone close to me – 2 children given up for adoption and 2 children kept. They couldn’t fathom why their family was split up but as adults the siblings were close.

      Liked by 1 person

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