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.
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.
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.
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.