The eight brothers who fought in World War One

By Monica Rimmer
BBC News

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Image source, Linda Withey
Image caption,
The eight brothers were aged from 43 to 20 when they enlisted

Thousands of soldiers fought and died alongside family members in World War One, but Thomas and Eliza Everton watched as all eight of their sons went off to battle.

Only one of the couple's boys did not come home.

The rarity of the family's situation prompted The Privy Council to send a letter in 1915 on behalf of King George V thanking the parents for their sons' contribution to the war.

Signed by the keeper of the Privy purse, it said the King had "heard with much interest" about the brothers.

"I am commanded to express to you The King's congratulations and to assure you that His Majesty much appreciates the spirit of patriotism which prompted this example, in one family, of loyalty and devotion to their Sovereign and Empire," it read.

'Tremendous stuff'

The framed letter with photos of each serving son has been passed down through generations of the Birmingham family.

"Eight sons all serving at the same time - it's unique, outstanding," said John Jones, 76, whose wife Rita is Eliza's great-granddaughter.

"And they were all volunteers. They weren't youngsters - it's tremendous stuff."

Image source, Linda Withey
Image caption,
Thomas and Eliza Everton pictured alongside their letter from the King

Thomas John Everton, born in 1851, married Eliza and went on to have eight sons and two daughters.

Originally from Chaddesley Corbett in Worcestershire, Thomas and Eliza Everton moved to Birmingham in search of work but employment was scarce and they fell on hard times.

In 1881, Mrs Everton ended up in a workhouse in Aston with her five eldest children after they were evicted from their home.

It was not for too long and the family were reunited when Mr Everton secured a job with the City of Birmingham council as a pavier and a house in Bordesley Green.

Then came the summer of 1914 and on 4 August, Britain declared war on Germany.

Realising a bigger army was needed, Lord Kitchener, the Secretary of State for War, made a direct appeal to the men of Britain.

So keen was the family to help the war effort, all eight brothers, who at the time the war began ranged in age from 20 to 43, enlisted at some stage.

The eldest, Alfred, and his younger brother Francis were married and left their families behind.

All eight served in different regiments and they all saw front line action.

Francis, who was known in later life by his middle name Frederick, sent beautifully embroidered silk postcards home from the front line to his wife Gertrude, who he had married in April 1914, just a few months before war broke out.

Image source, Linda Withey
Image caption,
'A Kiss from France' on a silk postcard sent to Frederick's wife Gertrude
Image source, Linda Withey
Image caption,
Postcards were exchanged between Frederick and his wife Gertrude while he fought on the front line

Sadly, the heartfelt messages he wrote in pencil have rubbed off over time.

Thirteen months into the war, tragedy struck when the second eldest brother, Thomas William, was killed in action. He died on 25 September 1915 in the Battle of Loos at the age of 38.

Image source, Linda Withey
Image caption,
Frederick Everton served in World War One along with his seven brothers

A few months later, in June 1916, Frederick was given 14 days' leave from battle to return to his wife after the death of their daughter Lillian, who was 21 months old.

But as the war reached its end, the rest of the Everton brothers came home to their families, and were decorated for their contributions to their country.

"They must have been stars of that community," said Mr Jones of the returning heroes.

The Everton brothers and sisters

  • Alfred: Born 1871. Married with one son and two daughters. Served in the Royal Field Artillery, as a gunner Sergeant. Enlisted in August 1914. Was discharged with three war medals.
  • Rosina: Born 1875.
  • Thomas William: Born 1877. Served in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment as Lance Corporal. Killed in action in the Battle of Loos on 25 September 1915. He had previously been listed in north Africa in 1897 for which he received five war medals. He also has a commonwealth grave in France.
  • Francis Frederick: Born 1879. Served in the Royal Garrison Artillery. Married Gertrude Griffiths on 2 May 1914. Rita's mother, Gertrude Rose was born. He was discharged in February 1919 and was awarded three war medals. Died in June 1949.
  • Edwin Charles: Born 1880. Served in the Royal Berkshire Regiment as Corporal. Enlisted July 1915. Discharged in August 1918 with four war medals.
  • Frederick Arthur: Born 1886. Served as Acting Sergeant in the Royal Engineers. Discharged in March 1919 with three war medals.
  • Eliza: Born 1888. Named after their mother.
  • Albert: Born 1891. Served as a gunner in The Worcestershire Regiment. Enlisted in August 1916 suffered a gun shot wound and was discharged in June 1917 with three war medals.
  • Howard: Born 1892. Served in the Duke of Cornwall Light Infantry, then later the Royal Dublin Fusiliers as a Private. Enlisted in August 1914 and discharged with four medals in February 1919.
  • George: Born 1894. Served in the Manchester Regiment. Enlisted in May 1914 and was discharged with four war medals.

Linda Withey - Mr and Mrs Jones's daughter, and Frederick Everton's great-granddaughter - said she imagined her ancestors to have been "quietly proud but at the same time matter of fact with getting on and getting by with everyday life" during the war.

"For them to have kept the document sent on behalf of the King in such pristine condition and for it to have survived to this day it must have been something that was both treasured but also a reminder that at least one was killed in action," she added.

"I also recall being shown these documents on several occasions as a child so it was clearly something that was a matter of pride.

"They were keen to keep the memory of the service given to King and country."

Like so many soldiers who returned from front line action, Francis Frederick Everton never spoke about the horrors he had seen and endured through the war.

He lived through World War Two watching one of his daughters, Joan, go through the anguish of seeing her fiancé go to fight but thankfully return safely.

Image source, Linda Withey
Image caption,
Frederick Everton (right) at the wedding of his daughter Joan to Arthur a few years before he died

Mrs Jones recalls going to visit her grandfather Frederick every Saturday with her mother Gertrude Rose.

"He was quite a quiet and reserved man (but he was) always there every Saturday," she said.

Mrs Withey said she had always been aware of the history of her great-grandfather and his brothers.

"Mum said he [Frederick] was a very stout and quite stern man, as was usual at the time I guess."

Image source, Linda Withey
Image caption,
Frederick Everton - sat third from the right on the seated row - with his comrades of the Royal Garrison Artillery

The house stayed in the family and Mrs Withey recalls it "always smelled of aniseed".

And she fondly remembers a "treasure trove" sideboard full of antique glasses.

"I have some of these treasures now myself and they often remind me of that house."

Image source, Linda Withey
Image caption,
Rita Jones with her daughter Linda Withey

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