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66 men - Reginald Robinson

[Reginald Robinson signature]

Reginald Robinson's signature from his US naturalisation papers,
27 June 1918

Reginald Vivian ROBINSON

Reginald Robinson is an interesting case: he shouldn't be on the war memorial because he didn't fight in the First World War.

He was born on 11 October 1888 in the parish of Holy Trinity, just to the north and across the river from Grandpont. His father was a carpenter joiner, Alfred Robinson, who had been born in 1861/62 and was from Albert Street in St Ebbe's. His mother was Clara, born in Wendlebury near Bicester in 1859/60. The couple had three children: Kate (born 1885/86); Reginald (1888) and Esther (1895). In 1891 the family were living at 33 Friars Wharf in Holy Trinity, but by 1896 they had moved to 43 Western Road in Grandpont.

Reginald started work as a college servant at Christ Church when he was 14. He was a Junior Common Room boy from April 1903 and then a scout's boy from October 1903 until January 1911. His college employment notes say that he 'Left to better himself, to private services in America. Excellent boy in every respect.' However, in the 1911 census (taken on 2 April) he was recorded as being a Private in the Royal Army Medical Corps (Territorial Force), stationed at the Royal Victoria Hospital at Netley near Southampton, together with the Scragg brothers, Reginald and Horace and 31 other recruits from Oxford, all in the RAMC.

Reginald did go to America soon afterwards though: he sailed on the SS Cincinnati from Southampton on 13 October 1911, bound eventually for Kansas City, Missouri. He returned to England in December 1912, giving his occupation as butler and his place of permanent residence as the USA. He went back to America in March 1913 and went to Chicago before moving to Washington State in May. In November he married Idena Celia Trast, of Elsmore, Kansas, at All Saints church in Seattle. He was 25 and she was 20. Idena was Swedish American: her father Oscar had been born in Stockholm and her mother Lydia (née Larson) had been born in Galesburg, Illinois. They were farmers, and many of their neighbours in Elsmore were also of Swedish origin.

A year later, in November 1914, Reginald and Idena had a daughter, Bernice. In February 1915 Reginald applied for American citizenship; he was working as a lunch counterman and was described as 'dark complexion, 5'10", 195lb [14 stone], black hair, dark brown eyes'. In June 1917 he was called up to join the US army, and gave his occupation as a shipbuilder, employed at Ames ship building and dry dock in Seattle. However, he was granted exemption from the draft on account of his wife and young child (and in fact non-US citizens were required to register but were not subject to induction into the American military).

In June 1918 Reginald was the manager of a restaurant called 'White Lunch' and his petition for naturalisation (American citizenship) was granted. However, he died only five months later, on 2 November 1918, aged 30. The cause of his death was bronchial pneumonia, secondary to influenza; a Spanish influenza epidemic had been declared in Seattle two weeks earlier. The wearing of masks had become mandatory across the state on 29 October, three days after Reginald had first been seen by the doctor. He was buried at Lakeview Cemetery, Seattle.

Reginald's widow Idena married Herbert Houck, a police officer, on Christmas eve 1919 at King County Courthouse, Seattle. Bernice took her stepfather's surname. Herbert already had three children from his first marriage and he and Idena had another child, Thelma, in 1921. By this time the family had moved to California and by 1930 Idena was working in the cookie industry and Herbert was a plasterer. Their daughter Thelma died in 1930, aged eight.

Idena and Reginald's daughter Bernice married Milton Bryant in May 1937, in Oakland, California. Her mother died in February 1973 in Alameda, California, aged 80 and Bernice died there in February 1997 aged 82.

Back in England, Reginald's younger sister Esther married Harrison Murray, a chauffeur, in September 1922, at St Matthew's church. Reginald and Esther's parents Albert and Clara were still living at 43 Western Road in 1928 but were no longer there in 1939. It appears, however, that they remained in Oxford and that Clara died in 1955, aged 95, and Albert in 1962, aged 100!

With thanks to Judith Curthoys (Archivist, Christ Church) for additional information and for permission to show a copy of Reginald Robinson's college employment notes.

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