From George's nephew's recollections:
"I can remember a Christmas which I reckon was 1909 or 1910 when on Boxing Day the family, Mum, Dad, two walkers and two in the pram, walked to Aunt Polly's for dinner. Anut Polly lived in Cameron Road, Normanton - a good three miles across Derby from where we lived in 'New Zealand' at Cobden Street. We found that my Uncle George with his wife Nelly and three children were also there. All went well until a heavy snowfall started and it soon became impracticable to trudge home so all were bedded down for the night - a bit of a squash with only three bedrooms. I clearly recollect Uncle George, who was the old soldier of the family, saying he would be all right on a chair with his feet in the oven!"
George Billing was born in 1871 to Joseph and Mary Billing in Church Broughton, a rural community about 8 miles west of Derby. His mother died in 1880 (probably in childbirth), and his older sister, Mary (or Polly as she became known), looked after the younger children. She was only 4 years older than George.
They came from a long line of agricultural labourers and George had worked as a labourer before joining the Sherwood Foresters when he was 18 (in 1891). It seems to have been around this time that most of the family migrated into Derby: sister Mary married a railway labourer, William Poynton, in Derby and her widowed father and brother (who also worked on the railways) went to live with them. Only George's grandparents, Joseph and Elizabeth, both in their early 70s, stayed in Church Broughton.The photo shows 'Polly' Poynton nee Billing with two of her great grandchildren (courtesy of Nicola Rippon, daughter of the curly-haired little girl)
Service records show that George was 5'5" (his son Lawrance was nearly 5'9" and Lawrance's sons were both around 6' tall). George had grey eyes, dark brown hair and a fresh complexion. After three and a half years learning about soldiering in Colchester, Aldershot and Dublin, George was posted to India, landing there in October 1894. He served in Umballa, Benares and Bareilly, contracting Enteric Fever (Typhoid) in February 1896. He had a series of stomach problems thereafter but I don't know if this was connected to the Typhoid. He suffered from 'dilatation of the stomach', which seems to be a lot more painful and serious than just overeating. One of the features mentioned on henriettesherbal.com pages is that 'the breath [is] unbearably fetid', which wouldn't have endeared the poor chap to his comrades.
Having reached the rank of Corporal and passed his exams for Sergeant, George was arrested on 30 November 1896 (while still in India) and tried by court martial for being out of bounds and drunk. He found himself reduced to the rank of Private. His disgrace apparently didn't alienate his future wife, Ellen Bull, since she married him in June the following year, only about three months after his return to England. He seems to have been transferred to the reserve list at this time.
After a brief lull, working as a Brewer's drayman, during which both Lawrance George and Priscilla Norah (Cilla) were born, George was called up again and sent to South Africa. However, this was short-lived as he was admitted to Netley hospital in April 1901 having been admitted first to hospital on board SS Orient (a troopship for the Boer War), and then in Elandsfontein. George continued to serve in the Army until August 1903 but was only fit for service at home. He subsequently enlisted in the '1st Class Army Reserve' for three or four years.
In 1905 he and Ellen had their third child, Dorothy Mary. Cilla wrote in later life, "[Doll] was daddy's darling and he put down the money for her house. I was nobody's darling, just one too many". The only comment that survives about Ellen is Cilla's intriguing reference to "my mother's side of the family, they were the folks with money".
At the time of the 1911 census George was working as a clerk (possibly in Offiler's brewery) and living at 118 Rutland Street in Derby. In June 1917 he was either called up or volunteered for "service in the Territorial Force as an Instructor to the Volunteer Force", and so for fifteen months he worked with the 7th Battalion Derbyshire Volunteer Regiment. When he left in September 1918 he was discharged (noted on one sheet in his record as 'permanently unfit' with a hernia and enteric fever) and transferred to the RAF. He left the army as Acting Regimental Sergeant Major and joined the RAF on 1st October as a Private. He was promoted Sergeant the next day, and went to work at the Discharge Centre and Reserve Depot in January of 1919. This seems a bit perplexing until reading that his trade in the RAF was "Disciplinarian" - the reviled 'MOD Plod'!
According to his nephew Joseph, George and Ellen lived at 'Midway' on Victoria Avenue in Borrowash for over 30 years. Ellen died in 1937 and on her death certificate George's occupation was still railway clerk. He retired after Ellen's death, his main interest being gardening. He had a friend with a large garden near the Anglers' Arms in Spondon. He died in a retirement home in Long Eaton in 1961.
Cilla married her cousin, Harry Chappell, in Barnsley in 1921. Cilla's granddaughter Jacqui wrote, "They both worked at the Celanese Factory in Spondon. As a child I recall having carrier bags full of ribbon ends and getting into trouble with Mum and Dad for leaving ribbon trails all over the floor!" Jacqui's father was Cilla and Harry's son, Charles. Jacqui continued: "Somewhere along the line Cilla used to travel to Spain on her own - way before package holidays, to see friends, I believe, in the Andalucia part of Spain. She used to travel by train and coach. She spoke fluent Spanish and tried very hard to teach me". Apparently Cilla also owned a Pekingese dog, so one wonders whether there was a connection with her sister-in-law, Hettie.
Dolly married William Cook of Shardlow (Derby) in 1924 and had two sons, Ralph and Gerald. Gerald was born in Wallingford, Oxfordshire, so perhaps they moved there permanently.
Going back to previous generations, Joseph Billing, born in 1840 in Church Broughton, was brought up with extended family living in the same village and in most villages nearby. They were all agricultural labourers of one sort or another. His uncle, Daniel Billing and family, lived next door throughout Joseph's childhood. In 1861 Joseph left home - though not the village - to work as Under Carter for farmer, Trevor Yates. Joseph's brother William also worked for Yates, as Under Cowman.
Joseph is pictured (left) in later life, playing a zither. This photo comes from Mary Elizabeth Allen of New Jersey, great great granddaughter of Joseph, and great grand niece of George Billing. Mary Elizabeth has a family history notebook written by her grandfather (another Joseph, as was his father, George's brother). In this notebook, as well as this photo and two below, and some new stories about the Billings - for which, many thanks - there is a photo of a vet's bleeding knife inscribed with the name John Billing and said to have belonged to an ancestor. There are two Johns so far discovered in the family tree: Joseph (senior)'s brother, born in 1797, and Daniel Billing's brother born in 1765.
Joseph married Mary Knight from nearby Sutton on the Hill in 1866, at which time she could not write, although Joseph could at least sign his name. Mary had been a nurse for a farmer's family and she came from a family of agricultural labourers. They had 6 children, the last of whom, Daniel, died with his mother or shortly thereafter in 1880.
Joseph himself was one of 6 children born to Joseph (senior) and Elizabeth Billing. Elizabeth (nee Chapman) came from Tutbury in Staffordshire but Joseph (senior) was born in Church Broughton. An agricultural labourer for most of his life, Joseph (senior) was employed as a gardener in his 60s. Joseph (senior) and Elizabeth are buried together in the village churchyard, marked by a smart headstone, which seems unusual for ordinary labourers.
Joseph (senior)'s father, Daniel Billing, was also born in Church Broughton (in 1760) but his father, William Billing/e/s (they liked to ring the changes in the 18th century!) was born elsewhere. William's wife, Alice Thorley, came from Hanbury in Staffordshire and although at their marriage in Hanbury in 1747 they were both described as 'of this parish', William was not born there.
Mary Elizabeth's great grandfather Joseph Billing and his wife, Sarah Allcock, are pictured below.