Major James Robb Edwards
Major Florence Emily Edwards
To:- Mark Steevens
The Anglo-Burmese Library
I have tried, in some small way, to capture the amazing character and personalities of James and Florence Edwards (nee Lake), my maternal Grandparents.
Sadly, I do not remember Grandad at all, or my childhood (three years) in England, but I was very honoured to meet Gran again in 1966.
Throughout our formative years, Grandad and Gran, the chief letter writer, posted weekly letters and parcels ‘down under’, with news from home. They always testified to their faith and trust in God. Grandad sometimes added a few, short and humorous sentences at the end of Gran’s letters.
Consequently, I learnt about Grandad through his Salvation Army service records and the all -too-brief and tantalising extracts from the ‘War Cry’, provided by the Salvation Army Heritage Centre in England. Despite serious and life threatening illnesses, he laboured on, returning to God’s work on the mission field and then soldiered back in England until his death in 1964. He was God’s man and an inspiration to all.
In 1966, Gran, aged 77 and alone, made the long sea voyage to Australia where she lived with our family, Mum, Dad, Kath, Steve and I. They caught up on a relationship, which they had missed for such a long time due to circumstances and geographical distance.
I took little interest in them as individuals whilst I was growing up. I did not listen as they spoke of their experiences and war stories. Regrettably, it is now too late for answers to the many questions that have arisen since sorting through old documents, photographs and memorabilia.
I have now collated all available information and written the biographies of James and Florence Edwards, and that of my parents, George and Edith Burtenshaw. Their descendants have copies of all documents and photographs.
By sharing this abridged version of James and Florence Edwards’ biography with the Anglo-Burmese Library, their names and experiences will live on into the future.
The story of James Robb Edwards and Florence Emily Edwards (nee Lake) is a fascinating one. It straddles four continents.
JAMES ROBB EDWARDS was born in Dundee, Scotland on 15thMay 1882. His mother was Jane Robb–andhe was illegitimate There was always confusion surrounding his surname, as his Abbreviated Certificate of Birth showed his middle name written in capital letters, whilst his surname was written in lower case i.e. James Edwards ROBB, as opposed to the other way around: James Robb EDWARDS. He was led to be that he was an orphan as he lived in an orphanage from a very early age, but somehow he eventually obtained the name of his father as it was included on his Marriage Certificate [‘J. Edwards’+.
James joined the Church Army in Scotland. In its Annual Reports for the period 1906 to 1908, he appears as a Commissioned Officer. He was 24 years old at the time.
The Church Army, a part of the Church of England, was involved in social work, evangelising the ‘down and out’, and emigration work to Canada. It trained young men on special farms within Britain, teaching useful trades before they immigrated to Canada.
James travelled to Canada as a Chaplain, assisting Church Army migrants during the voyage, disembarkation, and with their onward journeys to work on farms throughout the Canadian Provinces.
James left the Church Army and worked as a Waiter for the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), settling in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where he joined the Winnipeg Salvation Army Corp. He entered the Salvation Army Training Garrison on 29th September 1910. On completing his training on 30th March 1911, he became a Commissioned Officer and appointed to the Rhodes Avenue Corps, Toronto. He was now Lieutenant James Edwards of the Salvation Army.
On 1st June 1911, James was sent to the Oshawa Citadel, about 60 kilometres away on Lake Ontario, then on 19th October, appointed to Chester. On 27th June 1912, he
was appointed to Gananoque, near the St Lawrence River, Ontario. On 19th September 1912, he received a promotion to the rank of Captain and appointed to a staff position back at the Salvation Army Training College, Toronto. Six months later, on 14th February 1913, his appointment to Missionary Service commenced.
On 30th March 1913, James set sail for India, with the full support and prayers of the Salvation Army, to work specifically in Training. His appointment was to the Gorakhpur Settlement, a Salvation Army Industrial Centre, which was involved with silk-making, weaving and furniture manufacture. It is quite possible that here James met his future wife, Captain Florence Emily Lake, a young Salvation Army officer, who was also working at Gorakhpur.
Two years later, James was stationed at the Thomas Emery Hospital, Moradabad, India. He married Florence Emily Lake in 1916.
[NOTE: In this hospital, on 19th April 1922, their daughter Edith was born. – CH]
FLORENCE EMILY LAKE was born on 24thApril 1887 at 9 Station Road, Stamford Hill, County of Middlesex, England.Her father was Stephen William Edward Lake, a Brass Founder/Trimmer, who was born on 8th January 1854. Florence’s mother, Mary Cromwell, was born about 1853 in Pimlico, London. Her parents were married on 23rd February 1874.
Florence had a happy childhood, a close relationship with her parents and long lasting friendships with her brothers and sisters. In her early teens, she nursed her mother who had polio and probably did so up to her mother’s death. Florence had five brothers and sisters. The family believes that it has some genealogical connection to Oliver Cromwell.
Florence, at the age of 24, sailed to Madras, India. As a Salvation Army missionary, she faced innumerable obstacles. These included the many languages, castes and customs of the Indian people. She was white and female. “When I walked through some villages, I would hear Indian mothers tell their children that the white woman would take them away if they weren’t good”, Florence wrote many years later. She got used to the people themselves and the crowds. Travelling across India, her first appointment was to a criminal settlement of consisting of one thousand people, five hundred of them school-age children. She was terribly frightened but knew she had to win them over. She slowly learnt their language whilst facing the loneliness of being far away from home. She was given an Indian name: “Razi Bai”. She was working in a Rescue Home in Calcutta at the start of the Second World War (1914).
During those early years of marriage, James went “collecting” on behalf of the Salvation Army, whilst Florence “held on at the Boys’ School”. He visited villages around Chini on the border of Tibet while later Florence worked in the Girls’ school. On one of his journeys, James parleyed for peace between two angry, warring tribes.
Their eldest son, James Stephen Edwards (known as Jim), was born in Bareilly, India, near the border with Nepal, on 19th March 1917.
Malaria almost killed Florence during her second pregnancy in 1919, but baby Violet died at four months of age. Because of her difficult labour, the Edwards utilised their furlough to seek further medical treatment in Canada, taking two-year-old Jim. They returned to Phulpur, India, in November 1920.
In 1921, Florence fell pregnant again, entering the Salvation Army Thomas Emery Hospital in Moradabad to await the birth of the baby, leaving James with Jim at home in Chini. On 19th April 1922, Florence gave birth to Edith Belle Edwards (my mother). On 14th October 1922, James was promoted to the rank of Adjutant.
On 1st February 1923, they are transferred to the N. & M. Home in Bombay where
James worked at Headquarter whilst Florence “held the fort” at home.On 1st May 1924, James and Florence were appointed to the Boys’ School, Ahmednagar. On 15th July 1926, James was appointed to the role of Dispenser at Dohad in the Parach Mahals district of Gujarat. On 15th January 1927, transferred to a Working Men’s Hostel, Bombay, then to Bombay HQ.
During the next few years, Florence and James lost another child - four month old, David Livingstone Edwards.
Every seven years, Salvation Army Officers were entitled to homeland furlough. On 25th February 1928, the Edwards family departed India arrived in England eighteen days later on 15th March 1928 to holiday in Scotland. This was the first time that Edith (6) and Jim (11) had visited their home country.
James (46) Florence (41), Jim and Edith arrived back in India on 23 November 1928. Adjutant James Edwards’ next appointment was as Bombay District Officer, pro tem.
James & Florence, Edith & Jim, Christmas 1928
On 1st March 1929, James and Florence commenced three years service in the Muktipur Colony, now part of Bangladesh. On 25th May 1929, James was promoted to the rank of Staff-Captain.
In Anand, on 12th August 1931, David Robb Edwards was born. He was named after the famous Missionary explorer, David Livingstone, whose life was the catalyst for Florence becoming a Missionary.
Page updated 1st January 2024