On 9th January 1916, 43-year-old former builder’s labourer, Charles Day, died at the General Hospital in Alexandria, serving as a Private with the 9th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment.
He was born in Knowle in 1872 to parents John (an agricultural labourer) and Ann Day, and was the fifth of their six children to be born in the village 1864-1874. Ann had two older children from her first marriage to George Day, who was actually the older brother of her second husband. Ann and George married in 1855 at St Martin’s Church, Birmingham, but George died in 1860, aged 26. In 1864, Ann married his 21-year-old brother, John, at Knowle.
Marriage to a deceased wife’s sister or to a deceased husband’s brother came under the degrees of relationship prohibited by the church. The reasoning was that as the Bible deemed a couple to become “one flesh” through marriage, this meant your spouse’s brother/sister became your brother/sister. Any marriage to your brother-in-law or sister-in-law would therefore be deemed akin to incest. Until Parliament explicitly prohibited such marriage in 1835, the marriages were not technically illegal, but could be voided if challenged in the ecclesiastical courts. A paper by Rebecca Klippen explains the situation in more detail.
It wasn’t until 1921 that the “Deceased Brother’s Widow’s Marriage Act” was passed by Parliament to permit a woman to marry her brother-in-law after her husband’s death. The House of Lords debate on the Bill specifically mentioned the number of men killed in the war as being a factor in the desire to change the law, and that many such marriages had already taken place, leading to complications for the Ministry of Pensions. The “Deceased Wife’s Sister’s Marriage Act” allowing a man to marry his sister-in-law after his wife’s death had already been passed in 1907.
Often a change in parishes between the first and second marriages would help to disguise the fact that the marriage was illegal. This could be the case with the marriage in Birmingham of Ann White to George Day in 1855 and the second marriage in Knowle of Ann Day and John Day in 1864, although John was himself born in Knowle, and Ann in Hampton-in-Arden, so it seems likely that the earlier marriage could have been known in the local area.
In any case, John and Ann stayed in Knowle until at least 1891. Their son, Charles, married Emma Wheeler in 1896 and the couple, with three children aged between two and six, were living in Kenilworth Road, Knowle at the time of the 1901 census. At this time, Charles was working as a gas stoker. Ten years’ later, Charles and Emma had moved to Queen Street, Cubbington, Warwickshire. The census records that they had six children, but that two had died by 1911.
It’s not known when Charles enlisted, although he first entered a Theatre of War on 11th December 1915, less than a month before he died. His widow, Emma, married William Coop in Warwick in 1919.
Charles is commemorated in Egypt at the Alexandria (Chatby) Military and War Memorial Cemetery, as well as being remembered locally in Knowle and in Cubbington.
If you have any further information about Charles Day, please let us know.
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
tel.: 0121 704 6977