It’s been bothering me.
I always look at war memorials when I see them, I read the names. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a memorial to a woman killed on active service. And she was pretty much the same age as my daughters.
My interest in graveyards started when I was a kid. I wanted to know the stories behind the people who were buried. I wasn’t being morbid, I was curious about who these people had been and whether anyone remembered them.
I also have an interest in family history. Not in a ‘let’s build a family tree’ way but more in a ‘who were these people and what were their lives like’ sort of way.
It’s all about the people and their stories.
So this morning I had a couple of hours to spare (going in to work late after a dental appointment) so I looked again at this photo.
And then I thought I would try and find out Barbara’s story.
She was a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force.
RAF companies had been present in the Auxiliary Territorial Service (the women’s equivalent of the Territorial Army) since 1938 but in May 1939 the government decided a dedicated women’s air service was needed and it was mobilised in August that year.
Barbara would have been a volunteer. Conscription into the WAAF didn’t start until after she had died. Mostly the women were between 18 and 40 years old and the sort of work they did ranged from packing parachutes to transporting planes. Some were nurses and flew into France to collect wounded from the battlefields. They were known as the Flying Nightingales.
She would have had short hair too. Standard regulations said the hair must be cut two inches above the collar.
But what of Barbara herself?
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission told me where she was buried and the date she died … but I already knew that.
It also gave me her service number: 422674 and told me she was an Aircraftwoman 2nd Class and her full name was Barbara Ethel Louise Knipe.
It said she was the daughter of Second Lieutenant Edward Knipe and Winifred Mary Knipe of British Columbia, Canada.
I googled her father and came up with a family tree that included details of her parents (but not her). It seemed her mother was not Canadian after all, but most likely from Norfolk so I searched for more.
Edward Knipe and Winifred Bodington married in 1913. Their marriage was registered in the Marylebone District of London.
Although I haven’t tracked down an exact birth date for Barbara, it would appear she was their first child and she was born in March 1916.
Six months after her birth 2nd/Lt Edward Knipe was killed at the Battle of the Somme. He is buried at the Peronne Road Cemetery in Maricourt, France.
He was a member of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers. The Borderers were based – and the regimental museum is now housed – at Berwick upon Tweed.
Here, in fact. I was there last month on our trip to Northumberland.
At the time of his death, the family appeared to have been living in Richmond Park Avenue in Bournemouth. The road still exists, I walked down it on Google Street View. It looks like a nice area.
Winifred, presumably with the six month old Barbara, appears to have stayed in Bournemouth and in 1930 Winifred remarried to a man called William Hunt.
Which is why Barbara’s grave lists only a mother – a Mrs Hunt of Bournemouth.
What sadness she must have known; widowed by the First World War and having a small baby to look after who then grew into a young woman, volunteered to serve her country and was killed on active service in the Second World War, a little more than a year after the WAAF came into existence.
So I have discovered much about someone else’s family.
But I want to know more about Aircraftswoman 2nd Class Barbara Knipe. I do not yet know how she died and how she ended up in the graveyard of a tiny church in the middle of the Wiltshire countryside. I would love to find a photograph of her and to document her story for people to read.
And the next time I am in Wiltshire, I will take some flowers to place on the grave of this woman I never knew.