Celebrity genealogy series. Alan Carr explores his family's connection to football and his grandfather's brush with fame, before investigating a mysterious name change.
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I've always been intrigued about, er, genealogy.
That is genealogy, isn't it? It's not...
What's the one we look when you're looking at rocks?
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
-Alan Carr has become one of Britain's most popular entertainers.
-Do you do the same as me?
When someone rings you up in the morning and wakes you up, why do you pretend you've been up for ages?
His performances on stage, television and radio have made him a household name.
I mean I'm, like, 35 this year and you start realising your place in life.
I'm at that stage now where, oh, OK, this is happened, this has happened, this is what people think of you.
And then you start thinking about your legacy, your heritage,
what you'll pass on and then you start wondering what you've been given.
"Oh, have I woken you up?" HUSKY VOICE: "No, I've been up for ages"
I'm so intrigued just go back.
And I know a lot of people will probably think that there'll be
black and white pictures of people, women and men, looking like me with glasses and my teeth going back,
Yeah, I'd like to see where I come from because I don't know where I'm going.
Alan's travelling north to Newcastle to explore the family history on his father's side.
I think some people, through my stand-up comedy, will know about my dad
being a football manager.
And my dad has sort of become a bit of a comedy foil for me
being this northerner, this Geordie, this gruff talking...
You know, "I like what I say and I say what I bloody well like", you know, like that?
Oh, look, here's me with my dad there.
The Carr family, where he comes from, people, very working class,
everyone worked down the mines,
but my dad wasn't a miner.
He followed my grandad, who was a footballer and so my dad became a footballer, too.
Well, it sort of dawned on me pretty quickly that it wasn't really for me.
Yes, he was disappointed that I wasn't a footballer, but he wasn't Stalin, you know?
He wasn't, like, beating me! I could just sense the disappointment.
And when you're younger things get magnified
and I look back, I mean, I just think he wanted me to be happy, really.
Alan wants to explore his family's connection with football.
He's come to meet his father, Graham, at Newcastle United where he works as the Chief Scout.
Oh, my God!
Did you think I'd ever come out of this tunnel?
With a strip on!
Yeah! You all right?
Not half! Would you like to play on that pitch?
I can't believe it.
Alan wants to know more about his grandfather, Wilfred Carr.
He was the first footballer in the family,
playing here for Newcastle United 80 years ago.
One thing I don't get, football came first and then the mining.
-Well, he was in the mines first and I think it was a great opportunity to go in,
play football. Yeah, this is Newcastle United, 1931-32. Could you pick...
No looking at the names at the bottom!
No. I can recognise me own grandad, yeah. Yeah.
That was him there, yeah.
Did you ever see grandad play?
No, no, not at all. No, no. Didn't quite make it here and he went to West Brom hoping for
a better opportunity and he had a spell at West Brom where he had a knee injury and that finished him.
And then it was back to the mines, which was the only thing to do in those days.
He was there until he was 65, so you're talking 35 years
in the pits.
I mean did you get any feeling of regret or anything?
Because I'm thinking if I was a stand-up comedian and then I suddenly
lost me funny bone, I'd be gutted because I've had a taste of it.
Did you find him...
Was he a bit, like,
not bitter, but was he sad about it?
Well, I think possibly
he wanted to carry on as long as he could, you know?
So, when you finish, I think he was 27 or 28 when he actually finished,
-and the only thing in the North East at that time was the just the mining.
God, it's funny, isn't it?
Because people don't understand the Carr knee.
-You had a bad knee and I've got a bad knee.
-But mine isn't through football.
Typical, isn't it? I get the
injury without doing any...
Yours is from dancing!
It's weird that hasn't happened before,
but me and my dad just taking time to talk about my grandad, Wilf.
It's weird. And to think that he actually played there.
It sort of gives me a warm feeling inside to think he was...
..that he once played on there. I feel like I'm getting closer to him.
And you've got to understand, the grandad I knew was this man with
a gammy leg and a stick who talked like that.
HOARSE VOICE: "Hello, Alan".
Like that. You can even imagine that he could even walk up those stairs, let alone run around here.
So, it just didn't dawn on me.
I mean, you know, this man playing football, getting a knee injury
and how frustrating it must have been.
In search of more information about his grandfather's career,
Alan's arranged to meet historian Robert Colls.
They've come to the Strawberry Pub, shrine to Newcastle United.
Right, Alan. Well, I've been digging around in the archive
for the two years Wilf played for Newcastle, 1928 to 1930.
And here we have Newcastle United Reserves beating Walker Celtic,
who are a local side, 3-0. And guess who scores the goals?
"A goal scored by Carr after 32 minutes gave Newcastle a rather lucky interval lead,
"but on the resumption the home side kept up a constant attack and Carr completed his hat trick!"
Get in Wilf! That's great, isn't it?
-You know what a hat trick is, don't you?
Wow, a hat trick!
Now, here we have the North East Challenge Cup.
This time they're playing the deadly enemy, Sunderland.
-Oh, yes, Sunderland.
-Can we find Carr?
Here you are. "With the wind in their favour on the resumption
"it was expected that the Wearsiders would give a much better display,
"but when Carr put them farther behind in the first two minutes they seemed to give up all hope."
So, that's good, isn't it?
-Can't get better.
-No. We've made Sunder... My grandad...
Look at me, "we"! I'm using "we"!
-I'm like a proper Geordie. I'm turning Geordie!
-Well, you are.
"We made Sunderland give up hope."
It's funny, because I knew he played, but I didn't know he scored so many goals.
I didn't even think that he would be like, not worthy, but to be
in a newspaper and to be talked about like that.
I remember playing football with him outside as a kid,
because he couldn't move his leg he was hitting it with his stick, you know?
And I'm kicking it, going, "Ooh, you're rubbish!"
You know what I mean? And then he's done all this.
Although the history of football in England dates back to
the Middle Ages, the modern game was invented in the 1860s.
By the time Wilf Carr signed for Newcastle United in 1928, football had become a national obsession.
But it hadn't always been the sport of the masses.
Football, really, from about the 1880s was the old rock and roll.
It comes as a craze.
Before that, football was a middle class or quite a posh sport played at public schools.
-But from the 1880s it becomes a kind of working class craze.
There seems to be a link, especially with Wilf and I think with the
Northumberland area, that there's a link, isn't there, between football and mining?
1882, very interesting year.
That's the last year an old Etonian team win the FA Cup.
the first time we hear of a recorded Association Football match in a Northumbrian mining village.
-So, we can say from 1882 it really builds up in Northumberland, football.
And, of course, it's a team sport and miners are perfectly built for team sport.
Every colliery is a little team, really.
Yeah. Because they're all fit. They must be so fit.
They're fit and strong and they're competitive.
So, generations of North East men, miners included, learnt that this was their game, their passion.
For the coal miners of the North East, football was part of everyday life.
By the 1920s, each colliery had its own team
and professional clubs like Newcastle United
routinely exploited this local pool of athletic young men.
For these miners, football was the only
viable alternative to a dangerous and punishing life in the pits.
Dozens of professional footballers came from the mining villages of Northumbria,
including Newcastle United's most famous goal scorer, Jackie Milburn,
and England's World Cup winning brothers, Bobby and Jack Charlton.
-now that we live in this world where footballers are surviving on 200 grand a week, I mean...
Yeah, I know, my heart bleeds!
be on anything near that, would he?
Well, if you want to know about footballers' wages in the '20s,
the best rule of thumb, Alan, is to take a working man's wage and roughly double it.
George Orwell, in the '30s, looks at miners' pay stubs and they're earning around £2 to £3 a week.
So, Wilf was probably earning about four to six,
maybe £8 a week in the very short career he had.
-And if you asked him, if he was sitting there now,
and you said, "What was it like, Wilf?", he'd say, "Great.
"I was earning twice the average and I was a star."
Just hearing all this,
I just feel the frustration on my grandad's side when he got that knee injury.
It must have been gutting.
What would happen then, if his knee...
Did the money just stop?
I suppose he wasn't going to get any,
you know, any money or compensation or anything.
-Who'd want a footballer with a bad knee?
It's true that when he got his injury, his footballing career and his stardom would be cut dead.
-Dead. But, there again, this is a man who is a coal miner.
-He knows about being injured suddenly.
He probably knows men who've had their backs broken or had been killed, Alan.
This is a time when 700 coal miners were killed every year.
A battalion of the British Army, equivalent, is being killed every year in the 1920s in the pits.
-So, Wilf would know all about sudden ends.
Wilf Carr's short-lived football career ended when he was just 25.
He had no choice but to return to the pits where he saw out the rest of his working life.
But he did see his own son, Alan's father, Graham,
enjoy a long and successful career in professional football.
Such a shame, to have a taste of what it's like and then to have it taken away.
Because if he was rubbish at football and he was just down the pits anyway,
you know? But it's almost sadder that he's had
a taste of this, whoo, scoring the hat tricks and the goals and everyone cheering, and the next thing you know
he's filling a tub up full of coal for eight hours a day underground.
The taste of it just makes that a little bit sadder.
Before Alan's grandfather Wilf, the Carrs had worked in the same pit in Northumbria for generations.
But the family history on Alan's maternal side is not so straightforward.
I'm going to go and see my mum and do my mum's side of the family.
But with my mum's, it is a genuine mystery.
After my grandad Carter, which is her dad, my grandad, it stops.
And I think that there was talk in the family of a name change and no-one can ever clarify anything.
I love a mystery and...
I smell a rat in the Carter family, in the best possible sense!
Alan's come to his parents' house in Northampton, where he grew up, to talk to his mother.
It's your son, Alan.
-Had a nice drive up?
-Yeah. It was good, yeah.
-Nice to see you.
-Yeah. Nice day for it, isn't it?
It is, lovely. Lovely.
Right. I've done you, your family, now I've got to do you.
-What's in store?
Alan wants to know about his mother's family,
the Carters, beginning with his grandfather, Cyril Carter, who died when Alan was a child.
Now this is him
-in the Navy.
You're going to have to put this in a frame, aren't you?
I mean it's just a great picture.
-I will, yeah.
-I've never seen him in his prime.
-And that's the only photo I've got, isn't it?
-Of you and him?
Me and him, yeah, yeah.
So, what do you know about my grandad, your dad, Cyril's mum and dad? Do you know anything at all?
-Well, I've done a little bit of research.
And his mum's name was Maria Annie Wayman.
And she'd been married before, before she met my grandad.
In 1905 she married Thomas Laing
and she had a son called Tom Laing.
But when she left Thomas Laing, I do not know.
Whether she was divorced, don't know.
What about the dad?
About Cyril's dad?
Well, I know his name was Henry Carter, but when Mum,
my mum, first met the family, she said the name was Mercer.
So, there's a name change somewhere.
But why would you change your name?
I don't know.
So, are there any records of Henry marrying Maria?
Not that I've found, no.
So, what happened to Thomas Laing, the first husband, did he die?
We don't know.
-So, Maria Annie Wayman, my great grandma...
Yeah? Marries Thomas Laing
and then for some reason, we don't know why,
Maria meets Henry Carter slash Mercer...
..and then they have my grandad, Cyril.
Plus 12 others.
Plus 12 others.
Not forgetting Tom Laing, the half brother that she had with Thomas Laing.
I think I need a drink.
That's a lot of information.
-You know Cyril's siblings?
Are any of them still alive?
Not that I know of.
Alan's grandfather, Cyril,
was one of 12 children born to Henry Carter and Maria Annie Wayman.
Although his mother has lost touch with the Carter family,
Alan has discovered that his grandfather's youngest sibling is alive and well.
Alan's tracked down his great aunt Doreen, still living in Crayford, Kent, where she was born and raised.
She's invited Alan to a Carter family reunion.
Hello, my long lost family!
I'm here, I'm here!
So, who's Doreen? Who's Doreen?
How are you?
Yeah, you're my great aunt!
-Yeah, I know.
-I've never met you before.
Oh, I've met you when you was like that.
Really? Was I as good looking then as I am now?
-Oh, you're beautiful, you are.
-But before the teeth came through.
-I'll tell you what, you look much more good looking than on the telly.
-I think so.
-I'll come here again.
You look lovely, very pretty.
Alan hopes that Doreen might know more about his great grandparents
and the mystery of the Carter Mercer name change.
That's my mother.
-Oh, there she is.
So, that's my great grandmother.
-Wow! She's pretty, isn't she?
Yeah. She was a lovely woman.
-Do you know where your mother comes from? Where she originates from?
I think it was Dulwich somewhere.
-Dulwich. I think so, yeah.
-But they both came from that area.
-Dulwich, yeah, yeah.
-Either Bermondsey or Camberwell, they come from that area.
So where's Henry, my great grandad?
There you are. That's him there, Richard.
I thought he was called Henry.
-It is Richard Henry.
-Richard. But did he like people to call him Henry?
No, I didn't think so.
-He always signed his name, if he had to, Richard.
His death certificate is in Richard Henry.
Yeah. It's just that my mum always used to say, "Oh, Henry! It's Henry!"
That's why I've got it in my head.
Yeah. Oh, dear.
-Do you know anything about this surname?
Mercer. Mercer and then Carter and...
The only thing I said is maybe they weren't married and maybe this is why he changed his name.
-Because she had a husband that was named Laing.
I heard, Thomas Laing.
And if they weren't married, they've come down to Crayford together,
it could have been to get away from Mr Laing, couldn't it be?
Oh, yes. Yeah. Start a new life.
All my nephews think this.
Did your mum ever talk about that or anything?
Never. Never. And nor did my dad.
-Never said a word.
-So, so far we've got Richard coming down, Richard Henry coming down...
-With Anne Marie.
And then they started a family which includes you, Cyril, Dolly, Wally, everyone, yeah, yeah.
That's right, yeah, yeah.
-But you don't know where this Mercer comes from?
-No, I do not know.
If you find out, Alan...
Oh, well, you haven't seen the last of me!
I'll be back. I'll be back.
Well, I've gone to find out about Henry
Carter and I've found out through Doreen that he was called Richard to everyone.
It was on his death certificate. Even Cyril, my grandad, called him Richard.
So that's a bit weird.
So, I need to find out about that.
And also this Mercer Carter thing.
Even Doreen didn't know and none of them talked about it.
So, I've gone looking for answers and actually I've found more questions.
Alan's great grandparents, Henry and Maria, were both born and raised in London.
According to Doreen, they moved away to Crayford, Kent, shortly after they got together.
Alan's returned to south London,
-where his great grandparents grew up.
-Hello, Alan, nice to meet you.
-Yes, I'm fine, thank you.
-He's asked historian June Balshaw
to find any official records that might help him piece together their lives here.
So, I've got a series of certificates here that I've found.
The first one is the birth certificate
of Henry Carter.
Where's the Richard come from?
Because everyone calls him Richard
Henry, and I, I've looked there... Oh, that's...
It could be that that was a name that he used later on or it could be it was a middle name.
-They didn't always get recorded on the birth certificate.
-But, certainly, when he was born he was put down as Henry.
So, now I'm going to show you a marriage certificate and this is
the marriage certificate of Thomas Laing and Maria Annie Wayman.
-They marry in October, 1905
and then we can see what their ages are here.
An 11-year difference.
-Is that quite a big...?
-It's quite a big gap.
Thomas is 30, Maria's 19.
Now, the next certificate I have is July, 1906.
Almost nine months to the day after they're married
Maria and Thomas have their first child and his name is...
Thomas Laing, after the dad. Yes.
And then in April 1908 they have a second child.
So, where does Henry, my great...
my great grandad stand in all this?
Well, let's move forward to the census of 1911
-and a rather different picture begins to emerge.
Here we have
And boarding in his house is Annie Laing.
Oh, I see! They're getting closer, they're getting closer.
It recognises that she has two children and what I have been
able to find is that they are on the census living with her father.
-So, the boys are safe and well, but they're not with her, they're with her father.
And there's no sign of Thomas Laing.
So, we don't know why Maria and Thomas split up.
It could be that Maria had met Henry and decided that he was the one for her.
-Or it could be that she had a very difficult time with Thomas.
But what this signals is the start of Annie, as she's calling herself here,
giving birth to quite a lot of children with Henry Carter.
-And, in fact, Annie gives birth to several sets of twins.
-So, twins are born in 1916 and he is now, bearing in mind this
is during the First World War, he's now a labourer at Vickers.
-Which was based at Crayford and during the First World War they built...
-They did, and they built guns.
So, they've moved away from where they were living, away from south London to Crayford.
It's not a million miles away, but it's certainly enough to
-put some distance between themselves and the past.
Finally, July 1938, when they've been together for a good few years,
and they're both 51 years old, Maria and Henry get married.
-Ah! That's closed the door after the horse as bolted, isn't it really?
-But it also begs the question, why did they wait so long?
Now, this is the first time she's putting herself down as a widow.
-Now that would suggest that Thomas Laing...
I mean, that's great about that marriage certificate, because Doreen didn't even know.
She couldn't even find a marriage certificate.
But I just love the way it feels like they're doing the right thing.
Doreen planted the seed yesterday that maybe they had changed their
names and moved to Crayford to escape the Laings.
Do you reckon they could have been on the run from Thomas Laing?
If it was the case that they wanted to escape from Thomas Laing,
then there are a number of options open to them, which could involve
name changes, could involve the moving to a new area.
But what I would suggest you need to do next is see what you can find out about Henry.
Because we know from the birth certificates of some of the children
that he was working at Vickers during the war, but was he there during the whole of the war?
We don't know. And that's the direction I would head in next if I were you.
Right, OK, yeah. Okey doke, I will.
I mean, obviously, I can only speculate so much because there are big gaping holes in it, but
maybe Thomas Laing was a bit of a drifter. She fell in love with Henry.
They came away to Crayford.
They changed their name and lived happily ever after with, you know...
Well, they must of because they had about 12 kids!
Yeah. I don't know, maybe I'm biased because I've met with the Carters now and I'm, like, one of them.
Maybe I am a bit more, "He can't do no wrong, Henry Carter."
It just seems a bit weird, doesn't it, leaving and taking the kids with you?
Although Alan knows that his great grandfather was at home working in Crayford in 1916, he doesn't know
what he was doing during the rest of the First World War.
He's asked Nigel Steel from the Imperial War Museum to help him find out more.
They're meeting at the historic home of the Royal Artillery in Woolwich
to view Henry Carter's Service Record.
Nigel, what have we got here?
This is the attestation form, this is where he signals his willingness to become a soldier.
He's signing up short service, for the duration of the war.
So, basically, at the age of 28 he did, he joined the Army,
he did what he thought was best for Britain.
Yeah. He joins up and one of the interesting things,
if you come back to the, to the date, 28th April,
-the war's really just beginning to warm up.
Because from a historical point of view, it has been quiet over wintertime.
And so when he enlisted, he might have thought it was reasonably quiet
-and had this idea that the war's running to an end.
-But within a few weeks he'd have realised that there was major stuff going on.
-The first big battles were all rolling out and it's kicking off with a new campaign season.
In the first two years of World War One,
before the introduction of conscription in 1916,
the War Secretary, Lord Kitchener,
spearheaded a major recruitment campaign,
urging every man to do his bit for King and Country.
When Henry Carter enlisted in April, 1915,
at the tail end of this patriotic surge,
many believed that the worst of the war was already over.
So what did he do in the war?
Well, from these documents, we know that he becomes a driver
in the Divisional Ammunition Column, um, Field Artillery Camberwell.
What's unusual about Camberwell is it formed its own Artillery Unit
and they managed to recruit between January and June enough people
to create a whole of an artillery brigade.
So, basically, a group of people in Camberwell said,
-"Right, let's do our bit."
And Henry's gone, "Yeah, I'll...yeah, count me in, I'll do it, too."
That's what it would appear to be, because he's right in the middle at this recruiting period
and the Camberwell Artillery
have a farewell parade
through the streets of Dulwich and Camberwell.
This is, we have every reason to think,
-that Henry would have driven in his wagon through Camberwell as part of 4,300 Officers and men.
-Parade through Camberwell.
-So, and that would have fired him up,
-walking along all these places where he'd...
-I'd imagine it was.
To have gone to the trouble of producing all this and having it listed,
this would have been a grand day. And I would have thought
it's through something like this that you really can feel that strong sense of civic pride.
-These are our men, these are our boys,
-doing us proud and going off to the front.
The Camberwell Artillery was made up of men who'd volunteered
to fight alongside their friends and neighbours
in a specially-created local regiment.
-This was one of the so-called Pals Battalions
that helped make up Lord Kitchener's new army.
Introduced in 1914,
predominantly in the industrial towns and cities of the north,
over 50 of these Pals Battalions were formed,
comprising around 2.5 million men.
Men who would form the backbone
of the British fighting force on the Western front.
The Camberwell Artillery is drawn in to the 33rd Division.
Um, and 33rd Division,
we can see if you look at the published history of the 33rd Division,
from the end of 1915 onwards,
becomes a very kind of hard-fighting battle division.
It's involved in some of the key stages of the war,
-the bits that people will know about.
I'm not like you, I don't know about World War One, I'm not a specialist,
but Battle of the Somme, even I know how grim, grim and devastating that was.
Then we go forward into the Battle of Ypres, Passchendaele,
-people would know...
-Go through that.
Then in 1918, they stand firm when the Germans attack up in Flanders,
and then they're involved in the final phase.
And the 33rd Division ends the war with a total of casualties
-of over 37,000. That's killed, wounded, missing, everything, which is...
Have you got any more information on him or...this Henry?
We do, actually. It's a very interesting file.
-What we've got here is a conduct sheet.
OK. And so the first thing happens at the beginning of June, 1915.
-What happens is he goes absent without leave.
Only for a day in this one. So you can see
from 8th June through to 9th June. And this isn't...
-this happens to a lot of people, I think.
-He just overstays and gets drunk, oversleeps,
whatever it would be, they don't treat it very badly. But then, 3rd August,
which is exactly the period where the artillery units from Camberwell
are all going on nightly trains down to Salisbury Plain to get their...
-start cranking up, get their proper guns, does it again.
So he, he stays at home, er, for another 24 hours.
-But what is interesting, on 3rd September...
..he obviously is back home, he's gone back to Wakeley Street
on some leave, and it gets a little bit more serious
because you can see, after four days,
he still hasn't turned back up again.
-He doesn't want to go, does he?
-He doesn't want to go.
-He doesn't want to come back again. I think he's beginning to think...
-"This maybe isn't for me", yeah.
And so on 13th September, he leaves again,
and he doesn't come back.
So they hold the Court of Inquiry a month later
and you can see that what then effectively becomes,
if you come down to here,
-is he's deserted.
So classified as a deserter on 13th September, 1915.
Henry Carter joined up in April 1915.
Although the year had begun quietly,
his enlistment coincided with the beginning of a series of devastating battles,
starting with the Second Battle of Ypres.
By the time Henry deserted in September,
it was clear that this was going to be a long and costly conflict.
You can see in some of the rest of these papers here,
is they're looking through, recording how much pay he's not going to get.
-How much he'd earned. "Unable to find..." They can't find his wife.
They tried his mother. They're looking for him here.
Months later, it's quite true, this isn't a mistake,
-he's not overstayed his leave by this time.
-What does that say? Can I just see that?
"Reserve...The last address held by...of his wife is at 58 Wakeley Road."
So am I right in thinking they've turned up there and the wife's not there?
Anna Marie Wayman has gone?
Only his mother is still at home
and she doesn't know where they've gone.
You see, I'm torn now, because, you know,
when you said deserter, I was a bit embarrassed and that.
-But then when you told me that statistic of the 33rd Division.
You might think, "Oh, you coward, you let down your country."
But then you could see, "You know what? You weren't."
You know, yeah, "You're not stupid."
He was clever enough to figure out that if he was going to do it,
he needs to do it now, whilst they're still at home,
while he can sort it out, because if he waited six months and he got to France,
there's no way he could have done this.
OK, I'm going to be honest with you.
Henry Carter in a....
"Your Country Needs You" kind of thing is... It's embarrassing.
You know, he's a deserter.
But I can't help thinking of him in a human sense, you know.
He's got the wife at home, you know,
he's got those two kids, you know,
and, in a way, it was cowardly but in a way it was brave.
It's obvious now that he wasn't escaping the first husband.
He was actually escaping the First World War,
that's why the name changed and that's why they went to Crayford
and changed their name.
I think the Mercers, I think that's becoming really clear now.
Um, so in a way, Thomas Laing's...
we've got bigger fish to fry now, he's a deserter.
Hello, Mum, it's me, Alan.
Oh, God, well I...
I spoke to this artillery expert,
he's told me so much about Henry Carter you won't believe.
Henry's desertion is a family secret
that has remained hidden for generations.
..he just disappears.
Well, that's it, he's gone.
He's just gone. He's deserted.
And they go round to Anna Marie Wayman with the kids, to the address -
they've gone, too.
They've all gone.
And, I mean, the man was saying about, "Oh, the 33rd Battalion,
"they fought in the Somme, they fought in the Battle of Arras,
"and Ypres.." and I'm, and I'm like, "Oh, my God!"
And he said that like 30,000 people died.
And I'm like, "Oh, my God, so he's a survivor."
And then I said to him, "No wonder he bloomin' survived the Somme,"
he weren't even there!
I know, I know. But do you know what, Mum,
I said if he had gone, he would have been dead and we wouldn't be here.
Over half of the five million British men who joined up
during World War One were wounded or killed in action.
A choice to desert may have saved Henry's life.
But it also made him a wanted man.
Alan wants to know what happened to his great-grandfather next.
He's visiting Winchester's Military Museums,
home to the archive of the Army Legal Services.
Alan's meeting historian Edward Madigan.
I found out yesterday
that my great-grandad Henry Carter was a deserter.
What...what are the implications... What would his life be like if you deserted?
Would you be stigmatised? Would people be after you?
Well, your great-grandfather's case is fascinating.
We know quite a bit about men who deserted at the front.
So on the Western Front or one of the other theatres of war
and what happened to them. There's been a lot of attention from historians and the press
and many of them were executed. So we're quite familiar with all of this.
Domestic desertion, which was the case of your great-grandfather,
we know a lot less about that.
So he went missing on September 13th, 1915.
The very next day, his name appears in the Police Gazette.
-That's your great-grandfather there.
This would have been circulated to police constables,
um, to give lists of men who were on the run.
He appears again in the Police Gazette a few weeks later,
see him here, on the second page.
And for men who went on the run, life was tough.
I mean, every police constable, every military policeman in the land
-was constantly on the look-out for deserters.
So any men acting suspiciously were liable to be...
And I'm assuming, just by the fact of being a man,
people are like, "Why aren't you fighting the war?" Was that the case?
That's a good point, and especially after conscription was introduced.
At that stage, from early 1916 onwards, theoretically,
-every young man in the country, and Henry was only 28...
-..um, had to be either fighting in uniform...
-..or doing some sort of specific war work.
By May, 1916, although some skilled workers were exempt,
conscription had been introduced for all able-bodied men
between the ages of 18 and 41...
..making life increasingly difficult for deserters like Henry Carter.
What kind of punishment would be dished out to him if he got caught?
Well, desertion was an extremely serious offence during the First World War,
and military justice,
even by the standards of the time, um, was very harsh and unforgiving.
The maximum penalty for desertion in wartime was death,
and you can see it's very clear here in this Book of Regulations.
"Deserting the service, maximum punishment - death."
Crucially, however, he didn't desert at the front.
Not in active service. He was at home, so he was a domestic deserter.
And the situation there was quite different.
In this case, Henry, if he was caught, he would have gone before a District Court Martial.
Now, a District Court Martial was empowered really only
to sentence men to two years in prison with hard labour.
So, still quite serious, but not a capital offence.
-So not a question of life and death.
-Phew, two years hard labour.
Are you always... Is it once a deserter, always a deserter?
Was there ever an amnesty?
Or would Henry Carter have that for all his life,
looking over his shoulder?
Well, in the couple of years after the war, 1919/1920,
deserters were still very actively pursued.
There's a debate in the House of Commons in 1923
where they raised this issue about should we introduce an amnesty for wartime deserters.
They don't. Deserter, that tag of deserter,
really would have stayed with him for the rest of his life.
During World War One,
around 50,000 men were officially listed as deserting,
or going absent without leave,
abroad and at home,
where every civil and military policeman
would have been constantly on the look-out.
It's sort of, um,
cos you sort of get told at school that everyone's like,
"Yeah, let's fight, let's fight." And it's almost quite...
I sort of warm to him a bit cos he maybe had the know-how
to go, "Wait a minute, this isn't all, yeah, let's fight for our country."
He sort of had a reality check. I mean would that...
Were people walking blindly into a war or were people going,
"This isn't going to be over by Christmas.
"We're going to come back maimed or..." Is that true?
-Well, this is what makes these cases so fascinating.
-Millions of men volunteered.
But, obviously, and this case really proves this,
-significant numbers of men...
..joined up in haste or were conscripted later on,
-and decided very quickly that army life wasn't for them.
Now, I've got some interesting press reports here.
The detailed cases of men who were tried for domestic desertion.
And there's some really fascinating detail in this.
"Confession of an alleged deserter."
"The truth is I'm not entitled to the Victoria Cross.
"The one I've been wearing I bought out of a curiosity shop
"for 30 shilling about a fortnight ago.
"I have never been in France and the statement made by me
"to the effect that I was presented with the Victoria Cross by King George in France is untrue."
-He's basically a pathological liar.
-Yeah, he's a... He's a villain, all right.
-Another interesting case.
"Deserter disguised as a woman."
-Is this for real?
-I'm afraid so, yeah.
"The police sergeant touching one of the woman's curls
"found that it came away in his hand." Oh, dear!
"The 'woman' thereupon confessed to being a man and to attempt to desert.
"He said his wife had cut off some of her hair so that he could wear it."
I know my great-grandad deserted but he never resorted to dressing up as a woman.
-Well, at least you have that, OK.
-At least I've got that.
But you know I was laughing about this deserter disguised as a woman,
I know it's quite comical now...
-but how desperate.
And like with the woman helping, you know, his wife helping him.
-The wife doesn't want him to go to war.
-She wants him there.
There's a story in the Carter family that Henry changed his name.
Would that be something a deserter would do? Was it easy to do?
-Would that makes sense?
-I mean this was a really common tactic, changing your name, assuming an alias.
It was something deserters did.
And criminals generally did all the time.
Establishing a new life for yourself was much easier in 1915
-and 1916 than it would be today.
The average citizen didn't really leave much of a paper trail that you could trace him by.
So I think if Henry managed to change his name,
-to get outside London and establish a new life for himself...
..once he'd done that, if he kept a low profile,
his chances of remaining at large and not being caught
-were reasonably good.
Henry Carter's desertion may have provided a motive
for his alleged name change.
But Alan has kept copies of all the documents he's seen so far.
And looking through the birth certificates of his great-grandfather's children,
he's not convinced.
I understand with someone on the run,
and being a wanted man, I've seen the Police Gazette thing, I mean, he was a wanted man,
I can understand him changing his name, calling it Mercers,
and like the man said, you know,
having an alias was common in those days.
My mum said, "He was called a Mercer and all these people called Mercer."
However, we look at these birth certificates,
you know, there's nearly something every year here and he's always called Henry Carter
like 1914, 1916, 1916, 19...all through the war he's still calling himself Henry Carter, so...
I understand why you would change your name
but I can't see any proof that he did.
Alan knows that by 1916,
his great-grandparents were living in Crayford in Kent.
He's come to the Centre for Kentish Studies
where he's asked historian Sandra Dunster
to help him resolve the story of his great-grandfather's name change.
-I've got Henry here and he's on the run.
-And he's taken his family with him.
And there is talk in the Carter family of a name change,
-he changed his name to Mercer.
And I've got all these documents here
and some of them are nearly every year, and he's always Henry Carter.
I'm just thinking why, if you're on the run,
why would you put your name and address on the birth certificate?
He's not...he's not hiding it very well, in fact he's being open about it,
which I wouldn't expect from someone who was on the run.
I think it's a question of looking at how the police might have gone to try and find somebody.
-They're unlikely to have looked through every single birth certificate,
death certificate, marriage certificate that was ever produced.
-So that sounds ridiculous. Why?
-Well, I think,
you have to think about the number of certificates that are produced,
the number of children that are born in, what, the whole of south London,
North Kent, that area, he could be anywhere in the country.
They're more likely to look at things like rent books,
-electoral registers and so on.
Long before computerised records, the authorities' strategy
for tracking down deserters
focused on records relating to everyday life.
Have you got anything at all? Do you know where he was living?
I've got it here.
Should be here somewhere.
-In 1916, he arrives at Star Hill in Crayford.
-And he's working at Vickers.
As a labourer.
-In 1919, he's in 58 Barnes Cray Walk, Crayford.
Well, in that case, what we could do is have a look at the electoral register
-or the electoral rolls for that...that address.
And see who's living at that address at that time.
-That's a good idea, yeah.
-And, and see if we can do that.
Now, I've marked the page here,
and you can see here we have the Parliamentary Parish of Crayford.
-This is Crayford Ward.
-So what number are we looking for?
So, let's see if we can find 58.
-How far does it go...
Turn the page...
58. Richard Mercer.
Does that ring some bells?
Now, what we can do now is have a look and see what happens by 1926.
Because that was the next certificate you've got with him living at that address.
And here we have the same thing for, er, there we are, Barnes Cray Walk.
-At the top here.
-What happens here?
-Well, 58 Barnes Cray Walk,
-you've got Richard Mercer...
..and Annie Mercer. So she's started calling herself Mercer.
-So she's telling a little fib. Or quite a big fib.
Alan's finally discovered proof that to the outside world
his great-grandfather, Henry Carter became Richard Mercer.
Just one question remains.
-Do you have any idea why they chose Crayford, of all places?
Um, basically, during the First World War,
the factory there, the Vickers factory there,
expands beyond belief, because what it does,
it goes from making motor cars and a few small bits of munitions,
-to making large scale munitions work for the war effort.
I mean, and the growth there is phenomenal.
I mean before the war, it's employing around 300 people.
By the end of the First World War, they're employing 14,500 people.
And if you want to go somewhere where you don't really want to be found too much,
going somewhere where there's a massive workforce like this is quite a good idea.
Now, actually, I think he will be in this picture somewhere
because this is a photograph of the whole workforce on Armistice Day.
So if you think you could recognise him...
-..in all of this.
-He'll be the only one who's ducking his head so no-one knows him, he's a deserter.
Yeah, he's probably there at the back, isn't he? Yeah.
The Vickers factory in Crayford employed thousands of men,
manufacturing machine guns and aircraft.
Although no employment records survive,
all of its male workforce would have been exempt from fighting,
either because they were skilled workers,
too old or on medical grounds.
Henry wasn't a skilled worker.
But if he'd lied about his age,
or, more likely, his health,
then that, along with changing his name, could have kept him safe.
-A new identity, a new life.
-And a new start.
-Yeah. Go to Crayford, change your name,
and you become much more difficult to find.
And he's right. It's taken me this far to find out, so you know, he's, er...
-yeah, I think he did a really good job.
-Oh, no, I mean he, he disappeared very well.
Henry and Maria stayed in Kent for the rest of their lives,
establishing Crayford as home for their 12 children
and for generations of Carters to come.
Alan has come to see the street his great-grandparents first moved to
when they began their new life together almost 100 years ago.
Right. So here I am,
9 Star Hill. I think it was 9, wasn't it?
So this is where my great-grandad, Henry Carter,
packed up his family, left Camberwell and was on the run, a deserter. So...
So this is it here, 9.
So this is where he would have come to start a new life with his family.
Escaping from Camberwell, man on the run, wanted man,
coming here. It's amazing, innit?
But you know what's really weird.
Come with me, I'll show you.
You won't believe this,
but I actually lived here in Crayford in Chapel Hill.
That was our back yard there.
They've put a gate there now, but innit funny,
you go looking for something and actually it's...it's back where you found it.
Alan's great-grandfather was never captured for desertion,
and his family never knew his wartime secret.
Henry lived to see all eight of his sons,
including Alan's grandfather, Cyril, fight in the Second World War.
He's definitely made me believe in fate,
the fickle finger of fate, I mean especially where we've ended up here,
and I lived down here and, you know.
If Henry Carter had picked another place,
then maybe my dad wouldn't have met me mum, oh, you know what I mean?
And it also makes you think you know, not "What's the point?"
but how flimsy life is, how...fragile it is.
You know, if Henry Carter had said, "No, I am going to go to war,"
hadn't deserted, more probably than not he would have been killed
and so I wouldn't be here.
But when you really look down at it, he had a wife to look after,
she would have had, what a life, with four kids, two different fathers?
I think he protected her and I think he was quite savvy.
And, yeah, you know...it sounds cheesy, but he chose love over war.
He was a lover not a fighter.
And I'm proud...yeah.
And I think that's good.
I'd like to be called that meself.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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Alan Carr explores his family's connection to football and his grandfather's tantalisingly brief brush with fame.
Alan then turns super-sleuth as he sets out to investigate a mysterious name change on his mother's side of the family. In an extraordinary story of twists and turns, he finally discovers the shocking truth, and exposes a previously hidden chapter of social history.