A century after his gallant death, a brave Northumberland Fusilier has his good name restored

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Brave Tom Quin’s Norham war memorial with, alas, the misspelling

HAVING SPENT TOO MUCH of my adult life explaining “It’s not Musgrove, it’s Musgrave”, I am particularly keen on getting people’s surnames right.

Examining the handsome and poignant World War One memorial in Norham a few weeks ago, I noted that the fourth-mentioned fatality was one ‘Corporal Thomas Quin of the Northumberland Fusiliers’. Now that’s an uncommon version of the usual spelling of ‘Quinn’, I thought.

Meandering into the peaceful graveyard of St Cuthbert’s Church behind the cenotaph, I located an impressive headstone for the man. Its inscription informed me: “Sacred to the memory of 291016, Cpl. T. Quin. N.F. Only son of Tom and Annie Quin, who died in Hornsea Hospital, 23rd Nov 1918, aged 20 years. Enlisted 28th June 1915, served 11 months in France, and 10 months in Salonica.”

The first clue in my quest: Tom Quin’s headstone

This caught my eye because I have friends in Hornsea, a small coastal town in East Yorkshire. How sad that the young lad died aged only 20, I thought, less than two weeks after the Armistice, and away from his own folk.

Alongside the family memorial stands the Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone. On here, annoyingly, gallant Thomas Quin’s surname is rendered in the more familiar form: it calls him ‘Quinn’.

Surely, I reasoned, that’s a mistake. The family and the village memorial would not have got it wrong?

An online check confirmed that Army records do indeed have Northumberland Fusilier 291016 recorded as ‘Quinn’. This looked to me like an Army clerk’s admin error.

I needed to go further: I belong to a Facebook group called Britain in detail: quirk, charm and craft in the built environment, which highlights interesting stuff we can see around us. So I posted my photographic ‘evidence’ and a brief explanation.

In no time at all, Nick Basden, an Edinburgh-based member I didn’t know, had searched the 1911 England Census and confirmed my suspicion: the family and village had it right and the Army had made, to use a wartime military term, a SNAFU (Situation Normal, All F***ed Up).

I planned to contact the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and point out thar anyone searching for ‘Thomas Quin’ in Army records would not find him. Nick Basden beat me to it. The reply from the CWGC Enquiry Support team was prompt, courteous and pleasing:

Re: 291016 Lance Corporal THOMAS QUIN, Northumberland Fusiliers
Thank you for contacting the CWGC. I have amended our records to show that Thomas QUIN is his true family name, and that he only served as Thomas QUINN. Please allow 24 hours for the amendment to show on our records.

I doubt the Commission will go to the trouble of replacing or correcting the Norham headstone, whose design – created in 1917 by a panel including architects Edwin Luytens, Herbert Baker and Reginald Blomfield, plus fonts expert Leslie MacDonald Gill – leaves little room for amendments.

Nevertheless, I am pleased to have helped to cherish and protect the memory of young Tom Quin. Like his thousands of fallen comrades, he deserves to be remembered accurately as the man he was.

The CWGC is responsible for the commemoration of 1.7 million war dead, whose graves and memorials are at 23,000 locations in more than 150 countries and territories. In the UK alone there are 300,000 war graves in the Commission’s care, across 13,000 locations.

I wonder how many others have been affected by the slip of a clerk’s pen?

 

5 COMMENTS

  1. Regarding the article about the wrong spelling on headstone in Norham churchyard, I’d just like to point out that Hornsea is, (and always has been as far as I ‘m concerned), in the EAST RIDING of Yorkshire . God’s own county is divided into thirds: North Riding, East Riding and West Riding.
    Pauline Frater (a Yorkshire lass)

  2. Apologies to all readers for me being at least 24 years out of date. Since writing this piece I have discovered that the dubious entity of North Humberside was dissolved in 1996 and Hornsea is happily back in the East Riding of Yorkshire.

    • Thanks to a Yorkshire Lass’s keen eye and Eric Musgrave’s prompt remedial action, the mistake has been corrected – Editor

  3. You may be interested to know that it is possible to get the grave stone replaced. I investigated this following a trip to the Menin Gate two years ago, when I discovering that my wife’s great uncles inscription has the wrong rank.

    I believe that any enquiry to have a new headstone in Norham would have to be initiated by a family member. Perhaps your article will reach out to someone with a family connection?

    The Royal British Legion has a strong campaigning pedigree and I salute your work to correct this error. Would you be interested in joining our Branch? We’d love to have you on board.
    Rob Porteous
    Vice Chairman
    North Northumberland RBL

  4. May the record show that I am a Yorkshire lad, so there is really no excuse fro my oversight. I was born and bred in the attractive Aireside settlement of Leeds during 1955 to 1973, followed by three years sauntering around the University of Hull (in the East Riding of Yorkshire). Any displaced Loiners might enjoy my 2019 book, “Leeds Then And Now”, which celebrates the architecture of the city centre. I’ll get me cloth cap…

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