Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Memoir of a Family: Part Six

This is episode six of the serialised journal, written up by my wife's great aunt, entitled, ‘Memoirs of my family and my parents, George and Louisa’. This hand-written journal offers a wonderful personal account of family life spanning more than 100 years from around 1863 onwards.

'During the war, my sister Bess, was married to Bert Cawte, who was a railway bricklayer. He became a soldier, and was taken prisoner in France.

Joan, their daughter, was born in November, 1916, when they were living in Braishfield. Bess and Joan spent most of the war years with us and my sister, Bertha and her two children, Reg and Ivy.

Bertha’s husband, Fred, had joined up at the beginning of the war, and was later posted missing, presumed dead. It happened just after he returned to the front after a short leave. This was a great tragedy and Bertha was so shocked that she and her two children came home and stayed with us for long periods.

Charles had married May Brownen, and they lived in rooms in Eastleigh until they came to Boyatt Farm House, which they shared with another couple. Lack of housing was a great problem, as no building was being done, owing to the war.

Charles was termed as not fit for military service, owing to the serious accident he suffered earlier. He became a fire warden in the second world war, on the railway. He had an accident during a bombing raid on Eastleigh, and died some months later in Winchester Hospital in 1943.

After Charles first accident, he became an alcoholic and was always aggressive. This was another great grief to Mum, and it caused great violence, especially when Bert was home. I remember they had an awful row on one occasion and they turned the kitchen table over, with all of the crockery and a burning paraffin lamp.

Our Christmases were happy though, despite all the troubles and lack of money. We always had our stockings filled with oranges, nuts and a gift. The Christmas pudding wasn’t made until Christmas Eve and was boiled in the copper in a cloth.

I remember Phil, Ted and I making paper chains, otherwise our decorations were Holly and Ivy. Our Christmas dinner usually consisted of home-grown vegetables and a cockerel which had been fattened especially. The first Turkey we had was sent by Nel, when she was working in London for Lady King. The cook got it for her and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Nel, who was so helpful, sent parcels of beef dripping, which we enjoyed. Mum brewed beer for Dad, among her many labours. We had fruit drinks, usually made from our own black-currants.

Lil had married Fred Pottle in 1917, during a forty eight hour leave from the destroyer, ‘Onslow’, on which he was a stoker. They had a special licence. Lil was a Parlour-maid at Braishfield Manor, where she met Fred. They were married at Otterbourne Church. Lil had borrowed a dress from a friend and the Reception was very basic. No Wedding Cake, as sugar was very scarce.

Fred’s ship was involved in the Battle of Jutland, one of the major naval battles of the First World War.'

Continued next week

To read from the beginning - click here

© 2010, copyright Martin T. Hodges


  1. Wow. That's such a precious thing to have. A social historian's dream.

  2. The wonderful thing about it is that it is like one of those rock samples - it cuts through the strata of history and shows what really is there.

  3. Mmm, I'd like to sample some of that home brewed beer.

  4. It always amazes me how the families came together in times of crisis - moving in with one another. You don't see too much of that nowadays, do you?

    Sounds like Louisa had a heck of a lot on her plate, what with the extended family, regular chores and beer-making on top of it!


  5. I love the bit about the beef drippings -- this whole journal would be a nice Blurb project for you, illustrated with some of your family photos -- a treasure for the granddaughters someday.

  6. I especially like the account of the Christmas traditions! :)

  7. This really gives a feel of how life was in those days. Very nice.

  8. Fascinating how a family can make so much out of so little... and still have joy left over to share, as well. I'm just so amazed by this diary... I truly am. It's a little history lesson in story form and it's a family's life and it's a picture of the past and it's just wonderful. And thanks, again, for sharing bits of it with us, Martin.


  9. Fran

    I do feel privileged. And it was a stroke of luck to discover it. I made contact with someone in the course of doing some family history research, and he kindly offered it.


    I agree, and a document like this is valuable, just as much for what isn't written down.


    I think brewing was quite popular in those days, but quite time-consuming, going through the various stages, before the beer was drinkable.


    It seems that families only has each other for support then. Very few social safety nets, other than Parish or Church charity.


    The idea has crossed my mind, and a 'Blurb' project would be a nice way to present this slice of family history.


    Christmas was much simpler then, wasn't it? Oh for the days before it was hi-jacked by the commercial world.


    Thank you. There's more to come over the next few weeks.


    I'm so glad you're enjoying the excerpts. Reading through the text has been a history lesson for me too.


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