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23 February 2015

Manuk: From the Killing Fields of France to the Diamond Fields of Africa

Geoffrey Manuk’s Extraordinarily Short Life.

His Armenian pedigree stretches back several centuries with ancestors such as Khojah Phanoos Kalandar, Coja Sultan David Shameer, Astur Sarkies de Agavally, Ter Johannes Sarkies, Phanoos Bagram and Kevork ter Simon to name just a few, it is surprising to find that he was in fact baptised in a Scottish church in Calcutta, his parents clearly shunning the family history that was in his DNA.

Born in London 5th January 1894 to Percy and Nellie Manuk he was baptised in St. Andrew’s Church Calcutta a year later[1]. 

Birth certificate of Geoffrey Chater Manuk

Baptism record of Geoffrey Manuk at
St. Andrew's Church, Calcutta

A 2 x great grand nephew of Sir Paul Chater a philanthropist from Calcutta, Geoffrey’s own father Percy was a renown barrister and art collector who lived in Patna, India where he practised law. An only child he spent his early years in Calcutta. Like many young men in India, Geoffrey applied to join the Indian Army, something that would give him a footing for the future. When the First World War broke out he sailed for England to sign up.

He was assigned to the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and by the end of October 1914 had been appointed with a temporary commission as Lieutenant. Just a month later he was again promoted this time to temporary Captain and by January 1916 he had been posted to the 7th Battalion in France. He fought, marched, fought some more, saw many friends die in the killing field and spent a year in the godforsaken trenches before returning to England in February 1917. By May 1917 he was back in France.  Extracts from the battalion war diary[2] for October 1917 give a snapshot of the life, conditions and routine that Geoffrey would have encountered on the front line.

War Diary of the 7th Battalion
King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry
Extract for October 1917

Place, Date, Hour

PROVEN, 1.X.17

In camp (P5) preparing for move.



Battn. Marched from camp to PROVEN RAILHEAD and entrained 11am for BAPAUME, arriving midnight.



Marched with transport to YTRES via ORCQUINEY arriving about 6am. Remainder of day resting and changing camp.


4.X.17. 12.50p.m

Bn (with transport) left camp at 12.50 and marched to HAUT ALLAINES via ETRICOURT, MANANCOURT & MOISLAINES, arriving at 2.30pm.



Refitting and reorganising. Weather very wet. MAJOR LP STOOR 12th KINGS, attached to Bn as Sec-in-Command to A/Lt-Col J.T. Jenson 6/10.17.


8.X.17. 9am.

Embussed at MOISLAINES & debussed near FINS, marching thence to Nisson Huts at SOREL, arriving noon.


9.X.17. 9pm

Relieved 21st Middlesex Regt. (40th Divsn. 121st. Infy Bde) A B & HQRS at GUISLAIN (x2B9) & C+ D Coys behind GONNELIEU (R26 c +d).

Continued to SUPPORT LINE 7 days, providing garrison; also working parties for 7 SOM L.I. (right front coy) and 7 D.C.L.I. (left front coy).

16.X.17. 8pm

A/Lt.Col J.T. JANSON left for 30 days special leave in UK. Major LP STORR assumed command with Capt. R.G. ROYLE as Sec-in-Command.

GONNELIEU 16.X.17-22.X.17 Relieved 7 D.C.L.I. in left front sector, with companies distributed as follows: Right Front B, Left Front D, Right Support A, Left Support C. On the 19th there was an inter-company relief, the support coys moving into front lines and the front line coys into support.


2/Lt. W. Short appointed ADJUTANT vice 2/LT R.C.W. SMITHERS (killed in action Aug 16/17) from Aug 17th.


2/LT C. Ellis with a patrol of 18 D.R. lost direction and entered a German trench. The party effected its escape leaving the officer behind.

20.X.17. 10am

Court of Enquiry convened by MAJOR LP STORR assembled at BN. HQRS. Members. CAPT. R.G. ROYAL (President), LT. N.D. GYE & 2/LT H.R. PRUST. Instructions: to record opinion on “(I) Whether Sec.Lt. ELLIS is missing, killed, prisoner of war or wounded and prisoner of war.

(II) Circumstances attending loss of Lewis Gun & Three Rifles and culpability of men in charge of same”. After examining nine witnesses, the Court found that 2/LT ELLIS must be wounded and a prisoner of war. A qualified culpability was brought against men who abandoned Lewis Gun & rifles.


22.X.17 – 29.X.17

Relieved in left front sub-section by 7 D.C.L.I. & proceeded into RESERVE: hqr COY & a*c TO Vaucellette fm & b&d Coys to RAILTON. Intensive training in musketry, bombing, PT & close order drill was carried out with good results.


Bn took baths at HEAUDECOURT. Also on 27th.


Concer at HEUDECOURT arranged by Pdre. Rev. F.M. WINDLEY (C of E).


Football match at MOUSLAINES. 62 field ambulance V. 7. K.O.Y.L.I result Amb.4 K.O.Y.L.I. 1


Voluntary Church parades and working parties.


Relieved 7 D.C.L.I. (less 1 Co) in left front sub-Sector with Companies disposed as follows: right front “A”, Right Support “B”, Left Front “C”. “D£ Co was at Fins assisting R.E.s.

30.X.17. 6am

“D£ Co relieved “C” Co. D.C.L.I. in Left Support.


Battalion extended its front to the left. Right support co took over No. 1 Post R. Front Co. Right Front Co took over posts 1 & 2 L.F. co. Left Front Co took over posts from 10th K.R.R. bringing his left to the GOUZEAUCOURT-CAMBRAI RD.

Due to illness Captain Manuk left the unit on 30th October 1917 and headed for Rouen from where he sailed for England arriving on the 16th November 1917. He was one of many to suffer P.U.O. commonly known as trench fever, something that plagued hundreds of soldiers in France.

“Medical Officers during World War 1 tended to put trench fever down as PUO - pyrexia (ie fever) of unknown origin. Often they would take a stern view and prescribe "M&D" - medicine and duty. The unfortunate soldier would be returned to duty with some medicine, often the notorious Pill No. 9 (see right). Pill No. 9 was a laxative beloved of the British Army doctor; it's doubtful that it did much to help a man suffering with a fever.

Not all men suffering with trench fever could return to duty, they were simply too ill. In those cases, they would be evacuated to a hospital for rest and recuperation. It's likely that many of them were in no rush to recover and rejoin their unit. Trench fever, though unpleasant, was undoubtedly a welcome relief from being shelled on the front line.[3]

By January 1918 Geoffrey Manuk had been placed in a convalescing home at Osborne on the Isle of Wight. In February of that year he wrote a desperate letter to the War Office stating that he was still too unwell and not fit for service. In April a report from  Maudsley Neurological Hospital in London recommended no further hospital treatment for Capt Manuk but perhaps another 4 months spell at a convalescing home and suggested he “may again be fit for sedentary duties at home”. However, that was not to be and he relinquished his commission on account of his ill-health on the 19th June 1918.  He was granted the honorary rank of Captain.

He was awarded the British War and Victory medals on the 21st December 1921.

Geoffrey was awarded the British and Victory war medals

After the end of the war he can be found living in Iverna Court, London in 1919, ironically not far from the Armenian Church.

Geoffrey was living close to the Armenian Church in London

In the early 1920’s having recovered from the illnesses that had cut his war service unexpectedly short and perhaps yearning for some warmth on his body and maybe a safer adventure for his heart, he can be found in South Africa as a diamond digger. A bachelor with no commitments, he might have thought it would be a good way to make some money. It was in fact a brutal way to earn a living, the searing heat and basic conditions of the mines were not for the faint hearted. He didn’t last long and on the 19th October 1924 at Droogveld, Sydney-on-Vaal in Barkly West he died aged 30 years and 9 months. Having been through the very harrowing and bitter times of WW1 in Flanders, he met his death in the harsh scrub land of the South African desert panning for diamonds.  His debts amounted to £100 (sterling) which were paid by his father, P.C. Manuk. The list of possessions as noted in his estate inventory show the very bare minimum he had with him[4].

Geoffrey's Estate Papers are held at the
Cape Town National Archives

1 silver wristlet watch
1 pocket compass
1 wood and canvas stretcher bed
1 box kitchen utensils, Beatrice and primus stoves
1 cabin trunk containing clothing
1 leather suitcase, containing clothing
1 bundle of clothing, etc. & helmet
1 leather writing satchel and contents
1 box boots (3 pairs)
1 box sundries (shaving and toilet requisites etc)
1 square tank (wood and iron) 6' x 4'
1 house (since smashed by the wind) 8' x 9'
1 single bebe
1 overcoat (gents)

He is buried at the Old Mine Cemetery, Sydney on Vaal, Delportshoop, Barkly West District, Northern Cape, South Africa.[5]

Buried in the Old Mining Cemetery at
Sydney on Vaal, South Africa
Photo courtesy of: Gansie Coetzee, South Africa
Via website: The Genealogical Society of South Africa  eGSSA branch

My thanks and acknowledgments go to Gansie Coetzee and the Genealogical Society of South Africa for photographing and recording the graves at the Old Cemetery, Sydney on Vaal (rural farm cemeteries) where Geoffrey Chater Manuk is buried. A simple tombstone and taking into account the harsh sun and dusty conditions in the African veld, it has a remarkably readable inscription.

There are no Armenians in Sydney on Vaal and it is likely that his grave has never been visited by family or friends - maybe one day someone will.

[1] British Library: N1-241-43
[2] King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry War Diaries: National Archives, Kew WO 95/2127/2
[3] Trench Fever and Lice in WW1.
[4] Estate papers of Geoffrey Chater Manuk: Cape Town National Archives, South Africa
[5] The Genealogical Society of South Africa  eGSSA branch

13 February 2015

Catholic Armenians: Let’s Build A Church

As I continue to review the Wills and Inventories of the various Armenian legacies and bequests left in India, a large and complex story is developing on some all-but-forgotten Catholic Armenians. In this short blog post I will refer only to a small branch of a much larger family tree only because I am still working on the larger family tree and have yet to get to the British Library to research first hand. There is nothing quite like getting into original source material and although a nice selection of British Library documentation can be found on-line, there is MUCH more that isn’t available to the internet user and a trip to London is always nice.

This is a delightful little find. Maria Margarita Gonsalves nee Eyoob [apologies: originally I posted she was nee Simeon which is incorrect.] from a Catholic Armenian family in Serampore (with connections to the Armenian Catholics of Bombay, Surat and Madras) appears to have purchased a Catholic Church at Chandernagore as can be seen from this extract from the Will of Mary Theresa Simeon, Maria’s niece, dated 1911

".........Item 8. Under certain circumstances the Chundernagore Roman Catholic Church attached to the Roman Catholic Convent of Chandernagore reverts to the heirs of my maternal aunt the late Maria Margarita Gonsalves should it revert to me and should at the time of my death Changernagore be a British Possession, I bequeath that church to the said most Reverend Doctor Brice Menlemain s.j. Roman Catholic Archbishop of Calcutta or to his lawful successor or successors in office should my death take place whilst Chandernagore is still a French Possession I then bequeath that church to my trustees in Europe and give them full power to do as they may think best in consonance with French laws always bearing in mind that the intention of the said Maria Margareita Gonsalves in purchasing that church was to prevent it being used for secular purposes and to have it used for religious purposes............."

The same paragraph is repeated in the Will of John Simeon, Mary’s brother. The siblings died within 3 months of each other, John in March 1918 and Mary in June of that year. They both wanted to ensure the future and continuation of the church at Chandernagore.
Further research reveals that the chapel is indeed attached to the Convent. On the heritage website for Chandernagore it states: "THE CHAPEL (INSIDE ST JOSEPH’S CONVENT) :

The Chapel was established in 1720 by the Roman Catholic Clergymen of Tibet mission. In 1869, the Chapel was presented to the Sisters of St Joseph’s Convent by Mrs Gonsalves. The massive entrance door has the date 1720 inscribed on its metal framework."

The doors into the chapel

Front view of the chapel

Looking into the chapel

 Acknowledgements and my grateful thanks for the use of their images go to Shrutakirti Dutta, Ian Magedera and their flickr site 

The fact that the heritage site mentions Mrs. Gonsalves by name is a good indication I have found the right church. 

In addition, St. Joseph's Convent website also gives a hint to the purchase of the chapel, although they do not seem to know the name of the donor. They state: "In 1869, an old chapel, which had been built by the Capuchin Fathers, and which touched our establishment, was bought by a generous lady who gifted it to the community....."

Mrs. Gonsalves is a 1st cousin once removed of Rose Nesbitt of Bombay who in 1787 built a private chapel in Mazgaon which is the present day St. Anne’s Church. A wealthy woman at her death her inventory consisted of several properties comprising 11 houses, 3 stables, 13 warehouses and 1 office within the Fort; an extensive house and grounds at Byculla; the estate and village of Mattawady, another house at Byculla and a piece of land with a stable at Mahim. Rose’s husband was the Bombay H.C. Marine Commodore Andrew Nesbitt. Upon her death the chapel and her property were transferred to the Roman Catholic Church. She was buried within her own private chapel but it would appear that in the 1960’s after the Second Vatican Council, which decreed that the celebrant face the congregation her remains were removed from the grave in her Church,  and are said to have been interred at the foot of one of the two side altars of the present Church. Sadly during this process her tombstone was not preserved.

First paragraph of Rose Nesbitt's Will

The foundation stone is the only remaining original piece of her chapel, and can be found in the sacristy of the current St. Anne’s Church, it says “This church was built by Rose Nesbitt in honour of St. Anne 1787”.

It would appear charitable and philanthropic traits run in the family and I have no doubt that Rose Nesbitt’s generous example of giving back to the Catholic Church played a large part in her cousin Mary Gonsalves’s own devotion to the Church.

 A second cousin of Mary Gonsalves, another Catholic Armenian from Madras also built a Roman Catholic Church, but this one was in Surrey, just outside London. Alexander Raphael (1775-1850) built the St. Raphael's Roman Catholic Church in Kingston Surrey as his own personal chapel and it was part of his vast estate in Surrey in the grounds of his home Ditton Lodge at Thames Ditton. 

The Coat of Arms of Alexander Raphael Esq., a Catholic Armenian from Madras. M.P. for St. Albans Hertfordshire, and the first Roman Catholic Sheriff of London. Note that Mount Ararat is included in the crest. This coat of arms is still in use by the family today by the Savile Family.

He is also credited with being the creator and builder of the town of Surbiton. He donated hundreds of thousands of Pounds to the Catholic Church. The family crest (above) is built into the stained glass windows of the church. He is buried in the crypt of St. Raphael's church.

St. Raphael's Church, Kingston, Surrey

The family both near and extended were devoted to the Catholic faith and it is extraordinary to find such evidence of church building by Armenian cousins within a family.

I am in the process of a more detailed blog article on Rose Nesbitt, her family and her Armenian connections which I hope to post here soon.