Private Matthew Willison, 17th Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery died of wounds on 4th October 1918, aged 28. Born in Birmingham in 1890, he was the youngest of the three sons of parents James (a labourer) and Clarissa (née Breese) who had married at St Andrew’s Church, Bordesley in 1882. It seems that James had previously been married to Clarissa’s sister, Jane Fawn Breese, who died in 1881, aged 29. James and Jane had one son, Arthur Ernest (born 1876).
Despite several attempts to change the legislation, marrying the sister of a deceased wife was prohibited under the Marriage Act 1835. It wasn’t until 1907, when the Deceased Wife’s Sister’s Act was passed by Parliament, that it became lawful. Similar legislation enabling widows to marry the brother of their deceased husband wasn’t passed until 1921.
It looks as if James’ connection with the Breese family (listed as Breeze in some records) arose out of his brother, Matthew, marrying Ann Fawn Breese (sister of Jane and Clarissa) in 1871.
James’ second wife, Clarissa, died in 1895, leaving James widowed for the second time and with three sons aged 5-12, as well as the 19-year-old son from his first marriage. James married for the third time in 1897, marrying spinster Florence Ann Hardy, with whom he went on to have three daughters – Lily Ethel (born 1898), Florence Clarissa (born 1901) and Edna Mabel (born 1902).
Sometime between 1901-1911 the family moved to Earlswood. By the time of the 1911 census, James was a publican at the Reservoir Hotel, Earlswood and 20-year-old Matthew was still living with the family and working as a gardener. James died the following year, aged 57.
On 11th August 1917, Matthew married May Manley at St Patrick’s Church, Salter Street, giving his occupation as a trolleyman. This was the name given to the driver of a wagon or cart, often running on rails, or a labourer pushing a cart or trolley between departments in a factory or warehouse. Presumably, Matthew wasn’t serving in the Army at this point.
Gunner Matthew Willison died of wounds at no. 12 Casualty Clearing Station on 4th October 1918. He is buried at Tincourt New British Cemetery, France and is commemorated locally on the war memorial at St Patrick’s Church, Salter Street.
His widow, May, married Alfred E. Carter in 1922.
If you have any further information on the family, please let us know
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
tel.: 0121 704 6977