Lives Lived and Lives Lost - Portsmouth and the Great War

In writing the family history of a WW1 casualty, the author is to some extent constrained by the amount of relevant information in the public domain, and perhaps more importantly it's accuracy. In the case of Henry James Trueman an element of doubt is attached to almost every stage of the story and yet the tale can still be told, albeit with a degree of caution.
1914 would have been an especially momentous year for Henry James as the outbreak of the Great War took place just a few months before his father John James Trueman died, aged 74. John James had not been born in Portsmouth but moved to the Borough from his birthplace in Bedford during the 1850s. The 1861 census suggests that he settled into his adopted town quickly as that year he married Patty Brown Parkinson and took on responsibility for her two children John and Sophia Parkinson after their father John Parkinson had died in 1857. Unlike her new husband, Patty had been born in Portsmouth during 1832, the daughter of John and Elizabeth Leggett.
John and Patty lived first at 53 Prince's Street, Portsea but by 1871 they had moved to 22 St. Mary's Street, Old Portsmouth where they would stay until by 1891 when they had moved a few doors to No. 34 St. Mary's Street. At the census that year John and Patty declared their ages as 51 and 48 respectively and their children as James (b. 1865), George (b. 1870), Elizabeth (b. 1873), Walter (b. 1876), Fanny (b. 1885) and Henry James (1886), all born in Portsmouth. On previous censuses other children had also been declared, Albert (b. 1863), Henry (b. 1864) and Lydia (b. 1871). John seems to have supported his family from his earnings as a 'Grocer and Greengrocer's Master', as described in the 1891 census.
Henry James Trueman does not appear in the 1901 census and nor do most of his family. He is probably recorded as an Able Seaman aboard HMS Hermes in 1911 (under the name Henry G. Trueman) and in 1913 he appears in the records as marrying Mary A. Plaskett in Portsmouth. He had certainly joined the Royal Navy some years before the outbreak of the war as by 1916 he was a Leading Seaman aboard HMS Broke when she took part in the Battle of Jutland. Henry Trueman was killed when Broke sustained severe damage after the German battleship Westfalen had opened fire on her.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) list Leading Seaman Henry James Trueman (219697), Royal Navy, HMS Broke, died 31/05/1916, aged 29. Commemorated on Portsmouth Naval Memorial (Panel 12). Son of James Henry and Fanny E. Trueman, of Portsmouth; husband of Mary A. S. Trueman, of 72, Clive Rd., Fratton, Portsmouth.
Henry Trueman is also commemorated on the Portsmouth Anglican Cathedral WW1 Memorial Cross and the Cenotaph. He is not listed in "The National Roll of the Great War", Section X.
The CWGC record states that Henry James was killed in 1916, aged 29, which makes his date of birth c1887. The Register of Hampshire births offers a birth date of the fourth quarter in 1886 at Portsea for Henry. There was no one else with the same name born around that date.
There are a number of things wrong with the entry for the Trueman family in the 1891 census. Firstly, a small error, Henry James was four years old in April 1891, not three as stated, and secondly his parents names according to the CWGC were James Henry and Fanny E Trueman, not John and Patty. The CWGC record must be wrong as the only James Henry and Fanny in any records are both siblings of Henry James. If we accept that John and Patty should appear as his parents in the CWGC record, there is still a problem, and that concerns Patty's age.
If she was 48 in 1891 then she should have been born around 1843, indeed, a date of 1842 was faithfully recorded by the Register of Deaths when she died in 1895. However, the birth records contradict this. Her maiden name has been established as Patty Brown Leggett and the birth date associated with that name was 1832 (Hampshire Register of Baptisms). Of course it is not unusual for a woman to lop 10 years off her age, but in Patty's case this meant that she was 54 years old when Henry James was born and not 44 as suggested in the 1891 census. 54 is somewhat beyond the normal age for conception.
There is another reason to believe Patty was born in 1832, namely that the marriage between John Parkinson and Patty Brown Leggett took place in 1850 which would not be credible if she was born in 1842.
The invention of her age as 48 in 1891 would be understandable if she were not in fact the mother of Henry James (or even Fanny) but wanted to make it appear to be possible. In any case, Patty already had a son called Henry and there is no record of his death prior to the birth of Henry James. A copy of the latter's birth certificate is probably needed for clarification of his parentage.
Henry's wife Mary AS Trueman suffered a double loss on the day of the Battle of Jutland as both her husband and her older brother George Albert Plaskett were killed when their ships were sunk.
Tim Backhouse
October 2014