Sunderland man died a hero - with a son and wife back at home

Joseph Rousell.
Joseph Rousell.
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A brave Sunderland man died in battle 100 years ago - and probably never got to see his child.

The First World War was raging when 23-year-old Joseph Rousell is thought to have been among 15 Durham Light Infantry soldiers trying to take a trench.

Trevor Williamson.

Trevor Williamson.

It was the first day of the Battle of Messines. Recently-married Joseph had only been at the Front for less than six months.

He died serving his country on June 7, 1917, leaving behind family in the Sunderland and Seaham areas.

Back at home, his wife Frances Catherine McCully was raising their son who was also called Joseph, and who had only been born in July 1916.

Joseph junior was only six months old when his father sailed off to war. He was still less than a year old when his dad perished.

I am fascinated about finding out about family

Trevor Williamson

Brave Joseph senior probably never saw his dear child.

He would have been training in preparation for conflict after enlisting.

Today, Joseph senior is commemorated at Ypres on the Menin gate memorial. He has no known grave.

But his tragic story can finally be told thanks to the research of Trevor Wlliamson, 58, who was employed as a biotechnologist and who rates genealogy as his greatest hobby.

The death notice for Joseph.

The death notice for Joseph.

Trevor hails from Stokesley now but is Seaham-born. He’s a published author and a keen follower of local history.

He admitted: “I have got a massive collection of copies of old photographs and it has extended into a hobby of genealogy.

“I am fascinated about finding out about family.”

One photograph inspired him in his research. He always knew about the picture his mother had kept of Joseph Roussel. He just never knew the incredible story behind it.

But as Trevor’s interest in his family tree grew, he decided to research the man in the photograph - his great uncle Joseph.

He soon unravelled a man of great interest.

To explain, Trevor’s mother Rebecca was Joseph’s youngest sister.

Joseph was born in 1892 in Seaham Harbour to Thomas and Rebecca Rousell (nee Reed). He was the second child of seven. Tragically, four would die at a young age.

Thomas Henry lived for only three years and Henry for two. Sister Mary died in 1914 aged just 19 and Joseph was aged 23.

The other three children were Henry who died aged 86, Thomas William who was 90 when he passed away, and Rebecca who was aged 62 when she died.

The family home was William Street, Seaham Harbour. Joseph was employed as a miner-shifter before he went to war and married his sweetheart Frances Catherine McCully at Sunderland Register Office on May 22, 1915.

Their home was in Water Street, off Water Works Road, Sunderland.

But only seven months after meeting his wife, he enlisted for the war effort. His life ended another six months later.

Now his tale has been taken up by Trevor who said: “I have been doing genealogy since 1990.

“The day that Joseph died was the first day of the Battle of Mesines. I believe the DLI was involved in it.”

The Battle of Messines lasted for eight days in the West Flanders area of Belgium. The aim was to capture German defences. As far as Joseph senior was concerned, it was possibly his first taste of a big battle.

His Army record shows he enlisted at Seaham Harbour in December 1915 and joined the Durham Light Infantry, 12th battalion.

After his training , he sailed to Boulogne, France, on Christmas Eve, 1916. He arrived at the Infantry base at Etaples on Christmas Day.

He was killed in June 1917 but what happened to those he left behind?

Trevor said: “In 1919 his widow Frances, re-married a William Bennett at Sunderland Register Office. They had a number of children who were step siblings to young Joseph and were thought to have lived at 1 Bright Row, Diamond Hall Estate then Ford Estate at Sunderland.”

He added: “Young Joseph was brought up by his grandfather and grandmother Rousell in Seaham and went on to have a large family of his own, living in the Deneside Estate at Seaham. He died in 2003 at the age of 87.”

Trevor would love to hear from anyone who may have more detail to help with his family tree - perhaps on how Joseph died in battle.

If you can help, email