Great Uncle Andy

Able Seaman and Opera Singer

#52 Ancestors 52 Weeks: Brick Wall

All I knew about Andrew Ralph Cutting was his name and a family story of his prowess as an opera singer. I realised that there would be a time when information about him would reveal itself to me, when the time was right.

I did my usual searching in Find My Past and discovered that Andrew was a naval officer in the 1st Naval Brigade ‘Collingwood’ during the first world war, and was held first in the Doberitz prison camp in Germany and then was transferrred, spending the rest of the war interned in the camp in Dyrotz and Goningen, Holland. The Collingwood Battalion was involved in the Relief of Antwerp in 1914. When at the beginning of WW1 the Royal Naval Division was formed it was decided to name the Battalions after Admirals or Ships, hence Collingwood was named after Lord Cuthbert Collingwood, Vice Admiral.

After five or six week’s training at Walmer and on the first Sunday in October 1914, the Collingwoods along with some of the other Battalions were ordered to pack their kit bags. They left Dover, sailing to France and landing at Dunkirk. The order came for them to go to the relief of the Belgians at Whybreck. On the 5th October the Collingwoods were occupying No 1 Fort in the trenches beyond Antwerp. The bombardment lasted 3 days and on 8th October, the RND were ordered to retire, this being under shellfire and part of the town being on fire.

In the confusion that arose only 22 of the 700 Collingwood Battalion arrived back in England, the rest were captured and interned in Holland or made prisoners in Germany.

Taking my lead from the idea that he was a singer of some repute, I wondered if he had been involved in the entertainment for fellow British soldiers, seaman and airman in the internment camps, especially in Groningen. No doubt such entertainment would have been part of the ‘call to action’ to rally the internees and raise their spirits. In the following research I found reference to Timbertown.

They were accommodated in wooden barracks in the so-called English Camp situated behind the prison at that time (currently the Mesdag Clinic) at the Hereweg.  They called it ‘Timbertown’ themselves.

Soon it became obvious that something had to be done to prevent demoralisation of the British troops.  A daily routine was meticulously clung to: exercise, march and practice.  Furthermore present qualities were utilised as much as possible.

Therefore numerous clubs were erected in which music, drama, crafts and especially sports were practiced.  The cabaret company ‘Timbertown Follies’ was very well known.  There was rehearsal space within the camp and workshops for the carpenters, furniture makers, tailors and electricians.  Furthermore there were classrooms, a small church, a post office and a large recreation room.

Searching for anything related to the internment camps, I located a myriad of references to the Timbertown Follies, a musical event that took place on board the H.M.S. Timbertown (the staged performances) of this troupe.

Piecing together the activities of performers in the Timbertown Follies, I was keen to know if Andrew was a part of this troupe. This took me down another rabbit hole to investigate the Camp Magazines. There was one for Groningen. There are many written diaries, histories and articles about life at Groningen, Holland.

However, without digging deeper into Uncle Andy’s service records, I could not be sure that he spent any time there. His medals transcript revealed:

Andrew was definitely an internee as attested by this record sent to me from Horatio 2 at

My research uncovered some images from the dramatic society performances and Andrew well may be among these here: Friends of the Royal Naval Division in WW 1.

I had recently been improving my skills of researching ancestral stories through old newspapers and was jolted into sudden awareness of where I might find Uncle Andy when I came across the name of this old newspaper: The Stage. This was relayed to me by a fellow genealogist in one of the many forums I frequent in social media. On further investigation, with the help of a fellow genealogist, we discovered his name mentioned in the role of ‘Lord High Everything Else, Pooh-Bah, in The Mikado performed by members of the Alliance Assurance Dramatic Society. This was revealed in the 1924 December edition of The Stage.

I was then sent a copy of a wonderful photo of his performance as part of the troupe. Andrew is standing centre back.

There is still more to be discovered about Andrew’s life pre and post WW1 but it seems that I will need to wait until the time is right for that to be revealed.

Andrew Ralph Cutting, my great uncle Andy, was born in Kingston-on-Thames in 1888, son of Harry Cutting my great, great grandfather. Andrew died in November 1930 of Tuberculosis at the Brompton Hospital Sanitorium.

Acknowledgements: thanks to my Genealogist friends for their help in discovering the history of Able Seaman, Andrew Ralph Cutting; thanks to the many family tributes that abound on the internet where the exploits of the Groningen Internees are displayed; thanks to the many articles and references provided by the military archives.

Tip of the Day:

Your ancestors will reveal themselves

to you when the time is right! Just keep digging!

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