(1902 - 1942)
|Alexander Fowler Wyncoll, known as "Alec", was much the
youngest of four surviving children born into an army family during the
heyday of the British Empire. Alec's father, Charles Edward Wyncoll, was
on active service in the Boer War when he was joined in Kimberley, South
Africa, by his wife Mary Joanna (nee Fowler) and their 16 year old daughter
Gladys in August 1900. Both Gladys and Mary contracted typhoid fever during
this visit and returned to London in March 1902, Mary being in the middle
stages of pregnancy during the steamship journey.
Alec was born on 20th June 1902 at 29 Eardley Crescent, Earls Court, London. His father was able to get home on leave for a few months later in the summer of 1902, and Alec was baptised at St Matthias Church. After this it may well be that the family returned all together to South Africa; at least we know that by August 1904 they were back in England with Alec's father stationed in Portsmouth.
The earliest picture of Alec shows a confident boy of about six wearing full highland dress, and standing at the foot of a classical stone stairway, such as might be seen in the grounds of a stately home.
From age 14 to 18 Alec was educated at Bedford, an English Public School of the traditional type: a boys only boarding school. After leaving school he followed his father and older brothers into a career in the army, with two years at the Sandhurst Military College. His first posting as an officer was on 31st Aug 1922 as 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Sussex Regiment.
At some time during the year which followed it seems likely that Alec served with the army in Londonderry, part of the newly created six-county Northern Ireland province. During this time he captured the heart of Frances Caroline Cooke (who was called "Carline", pronounced "Car-leen"). Born on 12th June 1900, she was the eldest daughter of a well-to-do family who lived at Boom Hall, on the west bank of the River Foyle about a mile to the north of the city.
Quite how they met remains uncertain, perhaps through a shared interest in tennis or greyhounds, but family tradition alleges that the match was not viewed favourably by Carline's family, and that her parents may have had "other plans" for her. It is said that Alec and Carline "eloped" together and that in consequence she was formally disinherited by her family.
and Carline's photograph album may well have been a wedding present, because
the first pages show their marriage on 21st August 1923 at Heene Church,
Worthing, Sussex. The frontispiece is of the couple hurrying out of the
church, and the formal group wedding photographs include only about 15
guests; the bride's family conspicuously absent. A two-day honeymoon at
Virginia Water in Surrey followed, and the next day Alec was in Magilligan
Camp, Londonderry, commanding No 11 Platoon, 1st Battalion of the Royal
On 15th Sept 1923 Alec transferred "on prob" to the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC) and was stationed at Woolwich in south-east London; a note in the photograph album suggests they were living at 1 Nightingale Place, Woolwich. Alec and Carline spent Christmas that year together in Worthing, and from March 1924 they were in the army town of Aldershot probably lodging in a house named "Netherton" in Cargate Avenue.
The couple's transport during this time was a Rudge Multi motorcycle. Against one of their photos of the bike is the annotation "goes when pushed" - a comment perhaps on the effectiveness of the variable belt-drive transmission system characteristic of that model, which ceased production in 1923. Conveniently Alec was attending courses in mechanical transport at the RASC training centre.
Much of the couple's recreation time was spent exercising an ever-increasing pack of greyhounds whose names are meticulously recorded against each photo.
||By spring 1925, during her first pregnancy, Carline seems
to have become to some
extent reconciled with her family. Perhaps the anticipation of a first grandchild soothed relationships, in any event sufficiently for Carline to be spending at least the last week of her confinement back at Boom Hall, the family seat, where daughter Angela Mary was born on 24th March 1925. Alec was at Boom Hall, with at least two greyhounds accompanying, in the weeks around Angela's birth, and is pictured looking relaxed both with the new baby and at ease in the grounds of the house. One of the greyhounds, Gyp, is shown posed beside the steps of Boom Hall's private lighthouse.
Exactly how welcome a guest Alec was at Boom Hall may perhaps be judged from his later account to Angela of the day of her birth. It seems he spent several anxious hours outside in company with the gardener waiting for news to be relayed from within.
June 1925 sees the family back in Aldershot at Cargate Avenue, and in July the Rudge bike has yielded pride of place to a smart-looking Morris Cowley car. In September they moved to a house named "Dollarbeg", which was to be home for the next seven months. Angela was baptised at St Georges Garrison Church in Aldershot.
At the conclusion of his two-year "No 5 Long Mechanised Transport Course" Alec was stationed at London's Kensington Barracks. The family were living locally and there are pictures of Angela toddling in Kensington Gardens. The couple's second daughter, Rosemary Penelope, was born at 24E DeVere Gardens, Kensington, on 4th May 1927. The earliest photos of Rosemary were taken during a visit to Worthing where the family stayed at Leslie Lodge, Grapwicke Road in August and September 1927; while they were there Rosemary was baptised at Heene Church on Alec and Carline's fourth wedding anniversary. The first of a sequence of photographs which celebrate the anniversary each year was taken following the christening.
Alec and Carline only had two children. Rosemary explains that this was because one of them had a rhesus positive blood type while the other was rhesus negative. This resulted in a condition which would have afflicted subsequent offspring. While straightforward to treat today, the limited medical understanding of the condition at the time deprived Alec and Carline of the opportunity of producing a male sibling. This is said to have been a source of disappointment to both of them.
Changing addresses was always to be a feature of family life, an inevitable part of a career in the armed forces: from Sept 1927 to June 1928 they were at 22 Gordon Place, and then at 53 Hornton Street until March 1929. For all the upheavals of moving, the photographs throughout that time present a picture of contented and relatively prosperous family life. On holiday in Belgium during August 1928 Alec is clearly enjoying playing on the beach with Angela and Rosemary, digging
||huge holes, forts and ramparts in the sand for them to
paddle in, encouraging them onto horseback,
demonstrating the use of a shrimping net. The Five-Years-Married
picture shows Carline looking as happy as at any time through the whole
In 1929 the family uprooted to Harrogate in Yorkshire where Alec served an army sponsored apprenticeship with Crossley Motors. The Morris Cowley seems to have survived the move and is pictured during family days out to the Brimham Rocks beauty spot and to Scarborough on the North Sea coast. Home was 134 West End Avenue, where the children are shown playing on a stile which leads to the fields behind the house. In the summer months there was another family holiday to Belgium where they stayed at the same Reubens Hotel at Knocke-sur-Mer, and the fosse and rampart constructions in the beach sand look even more impressive than those of the year before.
|As an apprentice-piece Alec built what he describes as a "Fabric Car" in the Pattern Shop at Crossley Motors, and Angela and Rosemary were obviously delighted with it. At this time the family transport was a "15 Horse Crossley", although in November 1929 that vehicle was superceded by a "Rustin Hornsby". The latter appears to have accompanied the family on an extended leave break to Northern Ireland in summer 1930, where it is pictured outside Learmount, one of Carline's relative's stately homes.|
||That summer they all stayed at Troy Hall outside Londonderry,
remembered as yet another of the residences of Carline's extended family,
and their being welcome there seems indicative of a growing acceptance.
There are pictures of excursions across the border to Fahan and Buncrana
on Lough Swilly, to the Giants Causeway, and of Angela and Rosemary at
an ever-so-slightly stilted looking childrens' party.
In 1931 Alec was appointed officer-in-charge of Army Land Transport in Jamaica, then a British colony. The family embarked from Liverpool on RMS Orcoma on 5th March and after port-of-call stopovers at La Rochelle, Santander, Corunna, Bermuda and Havana, they arrived at Kingston, Jamaica, on 25th March. They soon made themselves at home among the expat community, relaxing at Bournemouth, described by Alec as "Jamaica's Joy Spot".
Family transport was a most elegant looking Nash, and expeditions for family picnics in Newcastle, Bog Walk, Port Henderson, Tom Gringles Cotton Tree, Hope Road and Robins Bay are recorded. Whether all these outings reached their intended destination is a matter of conjecture; Angela recalls that the picnic would as often take place wherever the vehicle broke down, and a picture of Rosemary's 4th birthday cake on a wall by the roadside with candles ready to be blown out might support that recollection.
Alec is one of a victorious RASC tennis team, and other pictures show him celebrating the King's birthday on 3rd June 1931 and as a member of a Cricket XI and a swimming team. His Jamaica photographs focus as much on work as on relaxation time, with troopship embarkations and the facilities at the Camp as diligently recorded as groups of friends and colleagues, all meticulously annotated. Additionally there are street scenes which might well be of interest to local historians. From 1932 the family were living at Greensdale.
the end of their stay in Jamaica Alec is shown sampling the delights of
shark fishing and as a member of a crocodile hunting party, and there is
a poignant sunset-and-palm-trees "Goodbye Jamaica" photo dated 9th Feb
1934. The return journey seems to have been a contrast to the outward voyage
on the Orcoma where the children are pictured being made a fuss of by Captain
C W Benson; beneath the photo of the Somersetshire, which brought them
home, Alec comments "reminds one of unpleasant Captain and crew".
Angela recalls that the family were effectively homeless when they returned from Jamaica, and that they were put up at Ferryquarter, Portaferry on Strangford Lough (at the southern end of the Ards Peninsula in Co. Down) by Carline's younger brother Sholto Cooke.
||On 30th August 1934 Alec was promoted to Captain and appointed
Commanding Officer of F Company, RASC at Woolwich; the family moved to
live in Eltham, nearby in south-east London. That summer's "11 years married"
photo accompanies some pictures of the wedding of Alec's niece Peggy Page
(daughter of his sister Gladys) and Basil Breeze. Angela and Rosemary are
bridesmaids and grandfather Colonel Charles Wyncoll cuts a dashing figure
at a sprightly 77 years.
Alec seems to have inspired F Company to much success on the sports field; his own comment on a formal group picture with an array of trophies: "How we could beat them". The RASC newsletter pays him a sincere tribute in October 1936 at the end of his posting with them. He was clearly proud of his achievements with them and includes a shot of himself as Officer Commanding a large parade at Woolwich. There is however some sign of the increasing stress he may have been under; an Xmas 1934 party photograph shows him looking rather the worse for wear, albeit in fancy dress. With the family though he is the consummate proud father, with wife and daughters clearly enjoying being with him on summer holiday trips to Margate and Hythe.
of Alec's hobbies was woodworking, and during these years living in Eltham
he built a most intricate model sailing ship, which may have been based
upon Columbus' "Santa Maria".
In 1938 Alec was appointed Assistant Inspector of the Tanks Division, representing the Chief Inspector of the Mechanised Division in Birmingham. He had a team of 40 engineers reporting to him, and in 1939, just before the outbreak of World War II, he was promoted to the rank of Major.
At this point their old wedding-present photo album is filled up, and although Alec is still taking photographs and being photographed, it is Angela who takes over the annotation and compilation of the new album. There is a fishing and canal holiday at Ellesmere in summer 1939, but beyond that wartime preoccupations begin to dominate. At "16 years married" daughters Angela and Rosemary are as tall as their parents, and, with bicycles and their own friends, seem to be acquiring a greater degree of independence.
A move to Kennethmont, Aberdeenshire, Scotland and the photos are mostly of field manoevres, camps, military vehicles and personnel. There is a matter-of-fact annotation by Angela: "The End of a Suicide" above three photographs of a funeral. The deceased was a member of Alec's unit and he felt the loss deeply. The event is indicative of the stress people were under in the early months of the war. In particular Alec's responsibility for inspection of army motor transport in the months surrounding the Dunkirk evacuation, when much equipment had to be abandoned, must have made it time of extreme duress. Almost immediately after this sad event are steamship photos with Angela's comment "Goodbye to Scotland. Ireland bound". A brief interlude at "The Distillery" in Belfast and "Maze Camp" followed.
next pictures show the family's arrival at Downhill on the north coast
of Co Londonderry. The circumstance was that the stress occasioned by the
burdens of wartime had led to Alec being assigned to recuperative sick-leave,
later retiring from the RASC to live nearby in Castlerock. Between the
family photographs there is a noticeable weight-loss in Alec's features
and on 26th October 1942, aged just 40, he passed away. It seems to me
that he was a victim of the war every bit as much as if he had been killed
on active service.
Alexander Wyncoll is buried at Articlave near Castlerock. Carline survived him by 11 years, moving a few miles up the coast to Portrush, where she is most fondly remembered by her grandchildren. She suffered a fatal stroke in 1953 and is buried with Alec.
Angela married in 1943, raised a family, and has developed a talent as a fine art painter. She now lives in the south of England.
Rosemary also married and brought up a family; she studied medicine as a mature student and followed a very successful academic career. She lives in the USA.
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