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.”
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?