O'Sullivan or Wilson?

Who was this man?

If you enjoy a mystery, please read my story and perhaps you can help out with suggestions for a solution. Why did he change his identity in the early 1900's? Here are the "facts" we have regarding my grandfather, or as much as he would tell...

His first occupation was as a drummer boy with the Cameron Highlanders. He was stationed at Fort William in Scotland. This would have probably been around the early 1900's. The Cameron Highlanders museum has no record of an Arthur John Sullivan. I believe he changed his name to Sullivan at a later date.

Next move was to the Royal Horse Artillery where he served for five years in India. Perhaps as a result of these two postings, or because of natural ability, he was very good with animals, and was a talented musician.

From the Royal Artillery he went into the Royal Warwickshire Regiment for the 1914-18 War. He may have been a stretcher bearer - there was some talk of it - as he knew how to roll bandages and probably a bit about first aid. In this war he was seriously hit by shrapnel and discharged. By the time of his discharge he had medals for "J Sullivan".

After discharge he worked in Woolwich Arsenal. At the time of his marriage, his profession was recorded as "Munitions Examiner".

In 1919 there is a marriage recorded between "Arthur John SULLIVAN", age 32 years (possibly incorrect) and Elsie Frances SEARLE. (The name Arthur seems to have been discarded and he was known to everyone as "Jack" another form of John, so for the purpose of this document, I'll call him Jack.) On the certificate, Jack's father is recorded as "Arthur SULLIVAN", occupation "Baker". He appears to have been living at the time of Jack's marriage, as only Elsie's father is recorded as "(deceased)".

The problem with this information is that around this time, Jack had an unwanted chance meeting with an officer on a railway platform. Jack tried to turn away but the officer was pleased to see him and addressed him as WILSON. Jack told the officer he had the wrong man, but the officer insisted he knew him as he never forgot one of his men.

Some time later, Elsie found a birth certificate tucked away in a drawer. It was for Robert Bruce WILSON. Jack's brother, Robert Bruce, had been lost at sea while serving with the Royal Marines in WWI. Elsie knew about him, but definitely not under the name WILSON. Jack served in the army, Robert was a merchant seaman. When asked about the certificate, Jack became quite irate. Apart from stating the certificate belonged to his brother the surname WILSON was never explained.

His birthday was always celebrated on July 5. He was supposedly three years younger than his wife who was born on July 4, 1881. However, in 1966 he wrote to my sister, telling her he would be 80 "next September". This was repeated in a letter to my brother in early 1967...

WAS HIS NAME ARTHUR JOHN SULLIVAN? What other name was he known by? It appears he also changed his date of birth. I hope perhaps some information might come to light by tracing his army records.

To go on with the story, as we know it...

After his marriage, Jack and his wife and daughter settled in Sheen, Surrey. Here he took on odd jobs including postman; and night watchman at the Crystal Palace in the 1920's. While in Sheen, Elsie gave birth to their son, Denis Bruce, who unfortunately died at an early age while being operated on at Great Ormond Children's Hospital.

About 1931 the family moved to Douglas Haig Memorial Home in Morden, Surrey, where Jack was initially head gardener. After about a year he became a private landscape gardener.

"John Arthur SULLIVAN" died alone in December 1967. He told his daughter he had put papers which would explain everything in a box in the shed. Unfortunately his home was cleared and none of the papers were ever found.

He SAID his mother's name was KELLY and his father was a baker.

He SAID he had cousins who he used to visit at St Helens in Lancashire. They worked in Pilkington glassworks.

This could possibly be that family. Taken from 1881 Census:

Bridget Kelly 45, b Ireland, Housekeeper
Patrick Kelly son, 20, St Helens, Lancs, Glassblower
James Kelly, Son, 16, St Helens, Lancs, Glassblower
Margaret Kelly, Daur, 13, St Helens, Lancs, Scholar
Thomas Kelly, Son, 10, St Helens, Lancs, Scholar

He had a sister, Christina, and a brother, Robert. Christina was a well known singer in Lancashire before marrying a man by the name of IRONSIDE. He ran Caledonian Pottery near Rutherglen Bridge in Glasgow. They had two children, one boy, one girl.

Also taken from 1881 Census:

Robert Wilson, 27, Liverpool, Lancs, Baker
Mary Wilson, 26, Liverpool, Lancs
Robert Wilson, Son, 7, L'Pool, Lancs, ScholarChristina WIlson, Daur, 10 (or 10mth?), L'Pool, LancsJohn Kelly, Visitor, 57, Ireland

I believe that John Kelly could be Bridget Kelly's brother (as shown in the earlier census record).

As a baby, two aunts cared for Jack. No mention of parents - he claimed he was an orphan. The only information he would ever give was that his father was a baker, his mother a Kelly and he had a brother and sister - Robert and Christina. He did mention that the "Salvation Army saved his neck" and I'm wondering if they helped with a name change for some reason. More to investigate!


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