Saturday 14th April, 1894: Arsenal 0, Burton Swifts 2 (scorers unknown)
"I've always been a coward": a soldier of the Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment takes the Hounds of Love for a brisk constitutional...
An interesting year, 1894. W.K. Dickson received a patent for motion picture film on January 7th. In February, French anarchist Martial Bourdin was foiled in his attempt to blow up the Royal Greenwich Observatory. The following month, fires destroyed over a thousand buildings in Shanghai. 71 years years before I'd be born, Nikita Sergeevich Khruschev laid prior claim to my birthday on 17th April. Mayday saw riots in, of all places, Cleveland Ohio. French President Sadi Carnot was assassinated on June 24th. In September 12,000 tailors went on strike over the sweat shop conditions in which they were expected to work. The inventor of the saxophone, Adolphe Sax, died. Bessie Smith was born. And on a spring Saturday, Woolwich Arsenal ended their first season in the Football League (Division 2) with a home defeat to Burton Swifts. They finished 9th, 22 points behind 2nd Division Champions Liverpool, who'd beaten "the Reds", as they were then known, 5-0 at the Manor Ground and 2-0 at Anfield. Quite a year, but the most momentous thing that happened in that year, at least as far as my family history is concerned, isn't to be found in the Football League Handbook or entered on Wikipedia.
My great Grandfather, Charles William Knight, was born in Woolwich. I like to think that at some point he might have joined the steadily growing swell of spectators who would watch the forefathers of the current side then called Royal, later Woolwich, Arsenal play on Plumstead Common or at the Manor Ground, close to the Royal Arsenal itself from which the football club grew. A Scotsman, David Dankin, was the prime force behind the establishment of the first Arsenal side. Little more than a works' team, this group of players had named themselves Dial Square after one of the Royal Arsenal's workshops, situated between Woolwich and Plumstead. Bouyed, no doubt, by a 6-0 demolition of Eastern Wanderers in their first ever game on 11th December 1886, two weeks later, on Christmas Day, they changed the name to the far grander Royal Arsenal. I wonder, did he ever see them play?
"Would you mind, awfully...erm, falling in chaps?": the badge of the Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment - as seen on a member of Dad's Army near you (source: wikipedia) The motto - "Quo fas et Gloria Ducunt - Invicta" isn't as rude as it sounds...
By my reckoning, there would have been 8 years between the formation of the club and the earliest time my great-Grandfather might have made the move from Woolwich. At some point, Charles joined the Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment and that step would lead him to Ulster where the fortunes of his family and that of the Crawfords would meet. At some time in 1894, the 1st Battalion of the Royal West Kents was sent to Enniskillen, County Fermanagh in pre-partition Ireland. I can't say for sure that Charles William Knight was sent on that initial despatch, but even if he wasn't, that's certainly where he ended up. That's where my grandfather Robert George was born, at New Row in Enniskillen on 27th June 1908. Charles had obviously liked Enniskillen enough to stay, or had had no option to leave.
I have a feeling it was the former. Another Charles - his grandson, my uncle - told me recently that Charles William Knight had joined the "Enniskillen Rifles" as my uncle described them, when he retired as a regular with the West Kents. Perhaps he'd found it hard to give up the life of a soldier; I believe he'd made it to (at least) the rank of Captain, sometime around the period of the Great War. I can't be sure it's my Great Grandfather Charles, but a C.W.R. Knight was awarded the Military Cross between 1914-18 and held that rank at the time of the award. It's just that rogue 'R' that makes me doubt it - it doesn't show up anywhere else, but everything else fits. Whether those Enniskillen rifles are the same as the famous Fusiliers, who fought in the Boer and Great Wars, I'm not sure. It looks that the first Battalion spent World War I stationed in Dublin. I'm pretty sure that was the Battalion with which Charles would have gone over to Ireland in or after 1894. It's a gut feeling, but I think the averages also suggest that you had a better chance of living to a pensionable age and seeing your son get married (as he did) serving in Dublin than on the Western Front.
My hunch is that if he carried on soldiering after retirement, it would have been with the emergent Ulster Volunteer Force or one of the quasi-militia that appear to have been quite legal providing you could find a judge sympathetic (or, more honestly, Unionist) enough to enable you and your mates to parade and drill your arms; publicly, provocatively. Or, possibly, he just kept a rifle handy in case of emergencies. Whatever the case and regardless of whether he ever got to see the team that grew up in his home town just as he was leaving it, great grand da Charlie was, I'm sure, a gunner all his life.
But then, maybe it wasn't the guns and the authority and the adventure. Perhaps it was the lure of Enniskillen itself? I've never been there, but I've seen enough of Ulster to know how entrancing that combination of glistening lough and dark, smouldering land can be; the light lasering through the trees and blazing onto those vast steel sheets of water. Enniskillen is Inis Ceithleann in the original Irish. It means Kathleen's Island. And it is an island, of sorts, situated as it is between the two lakes that make up Lough Erne. Enniskillen or Inis Ceithleann? I prefer both of those to the grimly appropriate Inniskilling. I imagine that if Charles Knight had indeed set off there in 1894, it would have been a tense garrison town he'd have been confronted with. The previous year had seen the collapse of the Second Home Rule Bill, Horace Curzon Plunkett's Irish Agricultural Organisation Society had been formed the same year that the West Kents arrived, the non-violent pressure for some redress for the historical debt accruing to the inequities begun with Cromwell's plantations appearing increasingly unanswerable...
And yet, remaining unanswered. It would have been a strange time, a sort of cold war-style prelude to the Easter Rising and the Civil War. And all the time, the country's natural beauty standing there before the participants as a rebuke to the divisions and suspicions and mistrust that carried on patiently brewing; mounting daily, biding their time, waiting to explode.
So maybe that's why this London boy stayed; the country - Kathleen's Island - had its talons in him. Or perhaps it's even simpler than that. Not a Kathleen, but a Catherine. I can't be certain of the particulars beyond the facts in my hand; Charles and Catherine Knight had a son, Robert George, my grandfather, on 27th June, 1908. Word would have been sent back to the Knights in England, no doubt. Perhaps a few pints were downed in celebration at the Royal Oak, the pub where on that Christmas Day in 1886, Royal Arsenal was toasted by the players from Dial Square? A toast or two, perhaps, raised to their own, the Queen's Own West Kent, the loyal gunner all those miles away over the water. They'd say God Bless the protector, keep the faith as they clinked their glasses. Keep the faith, defender of the faith.
But then, maybe they'd all have met up already? For the wedding. I think I have a year. Sometime in 1904, did they ever make the trip to Enniskillen, those crusading Knights? It's hard to pin it down, because several Catherine Rooneys who show up on the 1901 census as residing in Fermanagh could have been his Catherine, my great-grandmother. But I think I've narrowed it done to one who was 25 in 1901, of perfect marrying age in 1904 (28) and ripe to bear a son in another four. She lived and was married in Lisnaskea, in the parish of Aghalurcher, and that's also a place with our family's ties. So I'm pretty sure that I've seen my great-grandmother on that list and that she was a lass from Lisnaskea and I feel I know her a bit better despite knowing nothing, really, about her at all.
But even if I'm wrong, and she came from somewhere else - Ardmoney, Crummer, Derrygannon, Derryneese - she shares one thing with all those other Catherine Rooneys. Something else that doesn't quite fit. Because whatever else she may have been, the woman that this defender-of-the-faith ancestor of mine married and settled down with was not a protestant. Scrolling down the third column in the list of results, two letters bind all these disparate Catherine Rooneys - whether from Greaghnafine, Drumcully or Ederdacurragh - into a sororial regiment of their own; RC...RC...RC...RC...RC. If Charles Knight stayed in Ulster for the love of a woman, it must have been of the powerful and overwhelming kind. Because unless she evaded the census or came out of the sky like a bolt from the blue, one thing is for sure; my great-grandmother was almost certainly a Catholic.
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