Joan Smith nee Wesbroom

Joan Margaret Wesbroom was born in Lambeth on 1st June 1923. Her parents were Frederick Henry Wesbroom and Margery Kate nee Seabourne. In 1945 Joan married Sydney Lewis Smith, known as Syd. They had two children: Nigel L Smith in 1949, and Dianne C Smith in 1954.

The wedding of Joan Wesbroom and Sydney Smith in 1945

All I knew about Joan to begin with was that she was a school friend of my mother’s in the Greenwich and Woolwich area, that she married a man called Syd in about 1945, and had a baby called Nigel. My mother consistently gave her last name as Westbroom.

I also knew that the father of a friend of my mother’s, whose name she never mentioned, was fatally wounded when a doodlebug fell on Elmer’s End bus garage during WW2. It wasn’t too hard to find a match. He was listed as Frederick Henry Westbroom, a civilian casualty, in the CWGC records. Surely this was Joan’s father?

Frederick was a fitter’s labourer for the London Public Transport Board, and an inspector on the buses, based at Elmers End Bus Depot. He was also an ARP warden in the decontamination team at the garage. A V1 flying bomb fell on the depot on 18th July 1944, fatally wounding Frederick. Frederick was not meant to have been on duty that night but was standing in for someone who was ill. He died on the next day, 19th July 1944, at Beckenham Hospital in Kent. He was commemorated on a memorial which was unveiled in 1954 when the Elmer’s End garage was rebuilt. The memorial is now on display at the London Transport Museum.

Now the trouble started. Despite a positive identity for Frederick, I could not find him in any other records. Nor could I find a birth for Joan, a marriage to a Sydney, or a Nigel with a mother’s maiden name Westbroom. It drove me mad for a while, but then I looked at their address in the CWGC records and searched for it using an address search in the 1939 Register. And therein I found the problem. Ancestry had not indexed Frederick’s last name. No wonder I couldn’t find him. (I’ve corrected this now). Joan’s record was redacted, and that’s why I coudn’t find her, either.

Once I had the 1939 Register entry another problem became obvious. The family’s last name was Wesbroom, not Westbroom. The only records in which the spelling Westbroom was used were Frederick’s death registration and the CWGC record.

I was thrilled to find Joan’s son Nigel via Ancestry, and having made contact with him, I was able to post him a few photos of his parents Joan and Syd, and of himself as a baby. He told me that his grandmother later remarried, and that perhaps because of this, or perhaps because of the mix-up with the spellings, she never knew that her first husband Frederick had been remembered on a memorial.

With Nigel’s agreement I asked for his grandfather’s name to be corrected in the CWGC records. Within a few days I had a reply thanking me for my e-mail and associated documentation, and assuring me that they had amended the casualty’s surname accordingly.

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