Man’s appeal to help in his quest to trace local roots

James and Michael Gilman in the former town hall cells on their recent visit to Hastings
James and Michael Gilman in the former town hall cells on their recent visit to Hastings

A pensioner from Durham is keen to trace his Hastings roots and is asking local residents for their help.

James Gilman recently visited 1066 Country and became more eager to find out about his family history.

He said: “My widowed grandmother and her five children, one of whom was my mother, lived in Walthamstow in London during the First World War. Throughout the war there was a soldier on guard duty every night at the crossroads by their house. My grandmother took pity on him and every morning when he came off duty invited him in for a mug of hot cocoa. I think he may have been in the Essex Regiment, a Territorial Army unit based in Walthamstow.

“He was a Hastings man, and after the war he wrote to my grandmother thanking her for her kindness, and said that in return he’d like to offer a week’s holiday with him and his family in Hastings to one of her children. My mother, then 17, was the one chosen for this, and she spent a happy week at his home in Hastings.

“On the Sunday morning she was walking along the promenade when she came upon a Salvation Army open-air service on the beach, stopped to watch, and caught the eye of a handsome young man playing the cornet with a great deal of flourish. He caught her eye too and it was love at first sight!

“He escorted her back to her Hastings lodging, and the following year they became engaged. He went out to China as a Salvation Army missionary officer. They were married in Peking in 1925, and I was born there in 1932. Hence, had it not been for the Hastings soldier on guard duty in Walthamstow I would not be here today!

“I’d very much like to try to make contact with his descendants, but as I have no name for him nor any address, this isn’t all that easy. My paternal grandfather, also called James Gilman, was actually locked up in the Town Hall in Hastings in 1912 for his Salvation Army activities, and I was very pleased to be able to look at the old cells there on a recent visit. It has made me even more determined to try and find out more about the Hastings soldier who was on duty in Walthamstow in the First World War.”

Kevin Boorman, head of communications and marketing at Hastings Borough Council, said: “This is a great local story, and I was very pleased to be able to show James Gilman and his son Michael where their grandfather/great-grandfather spent the night in the cells. I’d love to be able to help James in his search, so if any local family historian knows of a Hastings soldier who was based in Walthamstow in the First World War, and then invited the daughter of a local resident back to stay in Hastings, please contact me at Hastings Town Hall.”