My grandfathers and their names

My two grandfathers were Charles John Stacey Holford, born in Goulburn, Australia in 1899, and George Frederick David Simmonds, born in Redhill, England in 1905.

Charles John Stacey Holford 1899-1977

Charles had a different surname when he was born: he was Charles Holdorf, which was the same as his father’s. But on his return from the Great War in 1917 my great grandfather changed his name from a German to an English one – understandable for that time and place. Grandpa was 18 at the time, but his name changed along with all his younger siblings, of which there were four: George, Eric, Marie and Sylvia.

Grandpa’s second name, John, was after his German grandfather, Johann Holtorf, who had changed his first name to be more English when he had migrated from Germany in 1857. However, though John sounds distinctly English, Holdorf still had a ring of German, so it seems likely that John Holdorf was not ashamed of his German heritage, but rather wanted a first name that was easier for English speakers to pronounce. His son Charles, however, after experiencing the horrors of the Western Front, seems to have wanted to leave his German heritage behind. I certainly did not grow up with any knowledge of my German roots. Interestingly, Charles’ youngest brother, Lewis Holdorf, who was also a veteran of the First World War, kept his German name after he returned from France in 1918.

Grandpa’s other “middle” name was Stacey, which was his mother’s maiden name: she was Florence Stacey, of Goulburn, the daughter of George Stacey, who had migrated to Australia from Bedford, England, though I am unsure when. Florence, my great grandmother, died of typhoid shortly after the birth of her fifth child, Eric, in 1908. She was just 30 years old, and it must have been a terrible tragedy for the family. Grandpa’s father never remarried – he was nine years older than Florence – but was still not yet 40 when she died. Sometime after her death he moved to Sydney and lived in Manly with his mother, Caroline Holdorf, who was a widow. Caroline had raised 9 children. She was eminently qualified to raise 5 more, her grandchildren. When Charles sailed off for the battlefields of Europe in 1915 he left his 5 children in her care. Unlike many other Australian soldiers he returned so that his five children were spared the sadness of losing their father as well as their mother.

It seems as if the connections with the Stacey side of the family diminished after Florence’s death and the move to Sydney. Despite his country roots, Grandpa grew into a city boy. He lived the rest of his life in Sydney. Oddly enough his son, Ian, my dad, would marry a country girl from Goulburn, my mum, Gwen Simmonds. So the Goulburn connection was not over.

George Frederick David Simmonds (1905-1955)

George Frederick David Simmonds was the grandfather I never knew; he died 6 years before I was born. The name on his birth certificate is simply George Butler, so how did he end up as George Frederick David Simmonds? Mabel Butler was his mother’s name; she was unmarried when she had George, her first child, in Redhill, just south of London in Surrey. She moved soon after his birth, with George’s father, to Heston, Middlesex, west of London, close to modern day Heathrow Airport. The first census after Grandpa’s birth, the 1911 census, lists the family names as George Simmonds, Mabel Simmonds and George Simmonds (junior), though by then a younger brother Frederick had also arrived (born in 1908) and Mabel was pregnant with John who would be born later that year.

Grandpa George was always known as George Simmonds. I don’t know if even he knew that his parents were unmarried when he was born; Mum certainly knew nothing of that. What she, and presumably he, did know was that his father’s name had originally been Lilley. It would seem that George Lilley and Mabel Butler had a son, then relocated to a different village where they were thenceforth known as George, Mabel and George Simmonds. Where the Simmonds name came from I don’t really know. I have always assumed that George Lilley changed his name before he met Mabel, but perhaps it was a name they chose together. For some reason great grandfather George did not want to be a Lilley any more, and for some reason, Simmonds was the name he chose to take on. Great grandfather Holford wanted to leave his German roots behind, and it is not hard to understand why. But what about the past was great grandfather Simmonds leaving behind? What crisis of identity was he really going through? Who had he been, and who did he want to be?

Even if George senior wanted to leave the Lilley name behind he seemed happy to pass on his own middle names to his son, names given to him by his own father, George Lilley. Grandpa’s father’s baptism record from 1874 records his name as George Frederick David Lilley, son of George and Mary Lilley. But what do the Frederick and David signify? Where did these names come from? These are questions I can’t answer just now, but it was from these names that I got mine, David. That was Mum’s idea, I suppose. She named me for her father as a memory of him, and he got his names from his father, George Frederick David Simmonds (Lilley), market gardener of Heston Middlesex, WW1 veteran, whose four children migrated to Australia between 1923 and 1946.

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2 thoughts on “My grandfathers and their names

  1. Hi Dave, with respect to the caption under the photo of Grandpa Holford, I always believed that he died sometime between 1973-1975, shortly after we returned from England and before I can remember. I remember 1977 very well – the year we lived in America and I don’t think he died then. Just a thought.

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