Friday, 26 February 2010

Sepia Saturday: With a Soldier at Her Side

A couple of weeks ago, I contributed to Sepia Saturday with a post about my great grandmother's sister, Frances Lillian Thorne. I included a photograph of Frances, seated with the six eldest of sixteen children.

Since then, I found this picture of Frances, with her husband, James Mayell.

Frances and James married on 15th June, 1908, and I suspect this photograph was taken not many years after the event.

They look a splendid couple, although James appears a little awkward in front of the camera.

I'm short on details of their life together, so I'm really left to draw my conclusions from what I see.

Obviously a studio photograph, with Frances in a period dress, topped with a fine hat. James in uniform, a medal worn with pride on his tunic.

But there's something about them. Their stance, perhaps a look in their eyes. More than a suggestion that these were two young people who were preparing to face an uncertain future.

More Sepia Saturday participants HERE

© 2010, copyright Martin T. Hodges  

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Memoir of a Family: Part Seven

This is episode seven 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.

'The war ended in 1918 and gradually the men returned to find homes very difficult.

Bert came home, straight from the trenches, where he had suffered from lack of food, and was thoroughly depressed; he found it difficult to accept civilian life: he drank quite a lot. He brought home a German sniper’s automatic revolver, which Mum asked him to give to the Police. Of course, he didn’t, and whilst cleaning it one afternoon, Ted meddled with it and it must have been loaded. When Bert pulled the trigger, thinking it was unloaded, it went off and a bullet went through my knee and through an armchair and into the wall. It knocked me over for a short time. Ted, with great presence of mind, hid the revolver in the shed.

The doctor came the next day and said I was very fortunate not to have been permanently crippled: the bullet had missed the bone.

This happened just after he had returned home. His wedding to his cousin, Lily Webb, was the next day, and I was to be a bridesmaid. Bert threatened to commit suicide, but was forcibly persuaded by Mum and Dad that he must go to Portsmouth and get married.

Fortunately, Doll was just demobbed from the Air Force, so she took my place.

Then, there was the great worry as to where they were going to live. Bert returned to his work as a bricklayer and visited Lily at weekends. Lily lived with her two sisters. Winnie, the eldest, was a dressmaker, but also managed the housekeeping. Nel was married to Syd Cardy, and they had a baby, Gladys. Syd was an electric welder in the dockyard, earning good wages. He was also a very kind and generous man. We got to know him well, as he often came to visit, and he always brought chocolate and sweets which we enjoyed. They were scarce and classed as luxuries we could not afford.

By this time, Bert and Lil came to live at Broomhill and had two sons. Bert, three years and George, eleven months.

The following four years must have been the most heart-breaking of Mum’s life. On 2nd March, 1921, Dad died in his 70th year. He had the flu and did not recover fully. He was not seriously ill to begin with, but took ill again and died.

Just a year after Dad’s death, Bert died of Meningitis after a bad attack of flu. This was a terrible tragedy, and Mum had to face another situation. Lily was penniless, as Bert had only worked for a short period.

Fortunately, Syd offered a home for Lil and her boys at Cosham. Lil worked for many years at a restaurant and was looked after well.'

To read from the beginning - click here

© 2010, copyright Martin T. Hodges 

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

From the Front

There are new additions to my ‘virtual’ postcard collection, and I have my second cousin, Helen, to thank for that.

Helen’s grandfather, my great grandfather, William Benjamin Butler, served in France during the Great War.

During his time at the ‘front’, his wife and children must have been in his thoughts constantly, along with home comforts and the prospect of living a normal life once more.

In spite of the horrors that surrounded him, William didn’t forget his wife’s birthday. This card probably arrived, tucked inside a letter home.

A simple, but loving, message reads:

To darling Edith with best love xxx
From Bill aok.

I love the way he offers some reassurance with a simple aok, when signing off.

And one for his three children, including my grandmother, Hilda. No message on this one, but little doubt about how much they meant to him.

© 2010, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Sepia Saturday: Twins

My wife Mags, and I, have been blessed with identical twin granddaughters, but my grandmother, Hilda May Butler, and her brother, Wellington Aubrey (always known as Jim), were fraternal twins.

Here they are pictured in about 1926 in their early teens. Hilda was always keen to emphasise that she was the eldest… fifteen minutes! But with seniority, came responsibility. At school, Hilda was very protective of her brother, and that extended to taking the teaching staff to task. One day, when Jim was boxed about the ears by a teacher, Hilda flew for him and told him to leave her brother alone. She was called to the Headmaster’s room and asked to explain herself. The fact was, Jim had problems with his ears, and she feared that any blow might render him deaf. Hilda was excused punishment.

At some point during their childhood, they became separated temporarily. My great grandmother went to live on the Isle of Wight with Jim, and Hilda remained with her beloved granny, Jinny.

Throughout his adult life, Jim didn’t enjoy good health. But despite developing heart disease, he took up oil painting and dedicated most of his time to his passion, messing about on the river. He invested in his own boat and spent many happy years, cruising it up and down the Hamble River.

In the 60s, Jim and his wife, Terry, Hilda and my grandfather, took a river holiday on a cabin cruiser called 'Silver Sedge'. In this shot, Jim is at the helm and Hilda is far-right, doing a little sun-bathing.

Hilda also endured poor health in her lifetime. Anaemia in her early years, arthritis, hypertension and Polymyalgia rheumatica. This didn’t prevent her from working endless hours in her huge garden or taking a keen interest in diets and nutrition long before the big government-sponsored push towards ‘healthy eating’.

For years and years, Hilda, predicted that she would pass away aged 72. We used to tell her not to be so morbid, but she maintained a strong belief that her time would come at that age. Then, the oddest thing happened. It was Jim who died from a heart-attack……aged 72.

Hilda lived her life to the full until 2005. Then, tired and weary, she finally passed away aged 91.

More Sepia Saturday participants - HERE 

© 2010, copyright Martin T. Hodges 

Friday, 19 February 2010

Who Do I Know I Am?

About eight years ago, I began researching my family tree, using online databases and subscription sites, such as Ancestry. It was time to build on the information I had picked up over the years. An anecdote here and a recollection there.

In a relatively short span of time, I was discovering ancestors, places of origin, dates, families and occupations. All fascinating stuff, particularly as my father’s line has always been a bit sketchy.

I now know that my 3 x great grandfather, Benjamin, was a ship’s baker, born, 1819 in Somerset. He married Sarah Pitman in Holy Rood Parish Church, Southampton, in 1845 and, eventually, three children arrived, Benjamin in 1846, John (my great grandfather) in 1848 and Eliza Marie in 1852.

They all lived in a terraced house on the quayside in Southampton, with an ironmonger on one side and an Italian Jeweller called Galimberti on the other.

Life would have been tough for them in this area. Conditions were pretty insanitary, and in one street, 77 people shared the same toilet. Hardly surprising to learn that an outbreak of Cholera claimed 240 lives in the city in 1849.

Typically of any busy sea port at that time, there was a constant hustle and bustle, and some pretty unsavoury characters going about their business too.

In 1857, Benjamin sailed on the vessel, Atrato, to the island of St Thomas in the West Indies. He never returned.

His death was a mystery to me, until a volunteer at the Caribbean Genealogy Library turned up a document that listed Benjamin among the victims of a yellow fever outbreak. He was 39 years old.

I couldn’t help wondering what later became of Sarah and her children. Four years after the event, she is recorded on the census returns as a ‘Bonnet-maker’, but living in a street where prostitution was rife. Hopefully, she wasn’t driven to such desperation.

Although Sarah’s fate is unknown, I recently made unexpected contact with Jean, a distant family member who revealed an intriguing link between Sarah and Herbert Pitman, 3rd officer on Titantic, survivor in charge of lifeboat no 5.

Jean and I plan to meet and share what information we have. Slowly, a few more pieces of the picture are falling into place. The names on the records are showing me that they once lived and breathed, laughed and cried, loved and lost.

© 2010, copyright Martin T. Hodges

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

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Sepia Saturday: A Baker's Dozen + 3

When our daughter gave birth to identical twin girls almost 11 months ago, we considered ourselves blessed to have three darling granddaughters in total. Speckly Woo! being the eldest. We don’t envisage any further additions, but never say never.

It was a different tale for many of our ancestors. Anyone who has delved into their family history will be only too aware that large families were often the norm. And you don’t need to go back too far to find the evidence. Both of my grandfathers shared their parent’s affections with seven or more siblings. My late step-father was one of thirteen.

Two of my great great grandparents, Thomas Thorne and Annie Jane Longman, had ten children in total, including twins Bertha Beatrice and Frances Lillian.

I have to thank a fellow researcher for this wonderful picture of Frances Lillian (1886-1969). Imagine what a surprise it was to learn that she is pictured here with the six eldest of her sixteen children. Yes, sixteen!

More Sepia Saturday participants HERE

© 2010, copyright Martin T. Hodges  

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Where are the Negatives?

As a proud grandfather, I’ve found it hard to refrain from pointing the camera at our three granddaughters from the moment they arrived. So, it was probably inevitable that Speckly Woo! would develop a fascination with the digital photographic process.

We decided to order her a Vtech camera of her own, from Father Christmas, of course. He duly obliged and, ever since we wrestled it from the packaging, she’s been snapping away at a pace.

This week I offered to download her efforts and I was pleasantly surprised to find some rather nice shots in amongst the 300 or so stored on the SD card.

The photographs are quite low resolution but who’s going to get ‘picky’ when it comes to the artistic output of a three year old?

I’ve added a slideshow of her Vtech portfolio, just under the Speckly Woo! Gallery on this blog.

One thing we seem to have in common, is a love of shadows. Whenever we’re walking in the sun, she keeps a close eye on hers, just as I used to when I was a child.

© 2010, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Memoir of a Family: Part Five

This is episode five 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.

'On August 4th, 1914, war was declared on Germany, and that altered our lives in every way. Bert was on the ‘reserve’ list and was called up immediately. A telegram arrived to say that if he did not report at the Royal Engineers Quarters at Chatham, by midnight, he would be termed a deserter. He was at Portsmouth, visiting his future wife, Lily. 

Evidently, he managed to get there, and spent the whole of the war in Flanders. His job was to help with bridging rivers. He had two horses to ride and look after. He had one horse shot when he was riding it; he sustained a broken leg.

He was sent to a hospital in Sheffield, which meant that no one could visit him from home. Mum used to post a parcel of Woodbine cigarettes every week to him. He had an awful time in France and his letters told of the horrors he saw and suffered. There was very little food and everywhere was mud, wounded and dead lying together until the ambulances came to take the wounded to the field hospitals. It altered Bert’s outlook on life considerably.

Meanwhile, at home, there were food shortages and substitutes were used for things which we used to import. Sugar was very scarce, and dad had a ‘sweet tooth’. I remember going to Eastleigh to get some treacle, which was also scarce, and I had to take a jar. If I managed to get some, I felt as though I had found a treasure. Butter was also scarce and it was the first time we bought margarine. Nobody liked it, especially my sisters, when they came home on their afternoon off.

Of course, butter was available in the houses of the rich, as was other foodstuffs and, as usual, the poor people suffered most.

I remember the troops passing Otterbourne school on their way to Southampton. Miss Collins allowed us to go into the playground and cheer them. They were marching four abreast. The Cavalry went through with two or three horses to each soldier. They camped on Southampton Common before they sailed to Flanders.

At school we had schemes to collect herbs which were used by the medical services.

Mum found it very difficult to get enough food for us all. She used potatoes in every possible way. Ted took potato cakes to work. The flour was a dark grey, and the ‘Roly-Poly puddings’ didn’t look very attractive. We had home-made jam with them until mum’s stores ran out. I remember she bought a large tin of elderberry jam, which was awful. Rice was unobtainable, so our puddings were made out of maze flour, which was a bright yellow and not very nice.

Pritchetts, the local baker in Allbrook, provided the bread, huge cottage loaves; they were very good. They were the people who had the houses built in Allbrook for the railway workers, who had come down from Nine Elms when the Southern Railway was constructed.'

Continued next week

To read from the beginning - click here

© 2010, copyright Martin T. Hodges 

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

The Tramp

A cold, grey morning in winter.

A small boy is about to leave his grandmother’s kitchen with the scent of lavender polish in his nostrils and the strains of Michael Holiday in his ears. Just as he crosses the threshold, another log gets fed to the range. A puff of sweet smoke beckons from the open firebox, but his momentum is too strong. In a moment he’s outdoors, a chocolate coloured dog at his heels.

The breeze is light, but carries a chill that straps itself to his skin. He shrugs, and runs half-heartedly to the garden gate. The lane beyond is hushed, or almost. There’s a faint sound, like someone using a stiff broom. He shrugs once more and turns back to the house.

The dog wants to play. She finds a chewed tennis ball, and drops it at the boy’s feet. He stoops and picks it up. The dog is dancing on her hind legs in anticipation. The boy lobs the ball high and long. He watches intently as the dog’s shape dissolves into a blur of pursuit.

The sound in the lane has stopped suddenly. The boy looks casually towards the gate, where a man is standing, staring. The boy’s grandmother appears at the door and the dog is immediately distracted from play. Instead, she begins to bark wildly. So wildly, the movement of her jaws is soon out of synch with each yelp.

The man speaks to the boy’s grandmother, “I don’t want any trouble missus.” He raises a tin can and asks for some hot water.

Grandmother disappears into the house. She returns to the door briefly and calls out, “You stay where you are. If you open the gate, you’ll have the dog to answer to.”

The wind has got up, but nothing appears to be moving. The man stands, waiting, and the dog stands, small and squat, quietly growling and groaning.

Grandmother re-emerges with a jug and a small parcel in greaseproof paper. As she approaches the gate, the man holds out the tin, his scrawny bare arm extending, telescopic, from his sleeve.

The boy stands close to his grandmother as she pours hot cocoa from the jug. For the first time, the boy sees the man’s unshaven face behind a rise of steam. Wisps of white hair, flattened by the wind, against his frail head. A heavy coat, with a belt of string. Tattered trousers flapping and fraying over boots, with string for laces.

He is an old man. He has his life in a bundle at his side while he takes the tin in both hands and drinks the cocoa. When he finishes, he shakes the tin dry and places it with his belongings. The boy’s grandmother presses the little parcel into the man’s hand. “A piece of cake for you,” she says.

He accepts it quietly and buries it in his pocket. All the while, he wears the same expression, his lifeless eyes watering a little as he whispers, “Bless y’ missus.”

The boy and his grandmother watch as the old man picks up the bundle and shuffles up the lane, in the direction of the main road. As he moves from view, the first drops of a winter shower come stinging out of the grey.

The sound of dragging feet is washed silent with the rain. In the kitchen, a fire burns brightly and a dog dozes, while a grandmother tells a small boy tales of men with no homes.

© 2010, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Friday, 5 February 2010

Sepia Saturday: Train and Training

This is my maternal grandfather, Asher James Gregory, aged three or four. So the picture is dated sometime around 1913-14. He once told me how he remembered the photograph being taken, “ though it was yesterday..” A man came, with his camera mounted on a wooden tripod. He wrestled his equipment into place and set up the shot before promptly disappearing beneath a black cloth. After much fiddling about and repeated calls for grandfather to keep still, the deed was done. Miraculously, the photograph has survived for almost 100 years.

It seems entirely possible that the photographer in question was a local enthusiast with a passion for capturing village life through his lens.

At this age, the world should have been at Asher’s feet, along with his treasured model steam train. But, as was so often the case for many country-dwelling families at that time, life was uncertain. Constantly moving from one tied cottage to another. Having a bread-winner with a thirst for beer that was hard to quench. Watching helplessly while siblings fought and lost battles with commonplace, childhood diseases.

He left school at 14 years old, and took up a position assisting a gardener at the ‘big house’, before weeding his way to more skilful work. Over the years, he learnt how to thatch, make hazel hurdles, layer hedges along with mastering of the art of coppicing,.

He came through it all, a countryman all his long life, and lived to see his 92nd birthday before passing on in 2002.

More Sepia Saturday participants, here  

© 2010, copyright Martin T. Hodges 

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Memoir of a Family: Part Four

This is episode four 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.

'In 1913, Boyatt Farm was sold with Little Boyatt, so we had to move to Lincoln’s Cottage. Both farms were bought by the government and divided into small-holdings. Lincoln's Cottage was much smaller than Little Boyatt, so it was difficult to find room for us and our furniture. By this time, my sister Bertha was married to Frederick Maidment, and went to live in Hounsdown with her husband’s grandmother. So Bertha began her married life caring for her and husband, Fred.

My brother Frank had married Elsie Hewlett and lived at Nelson Road, Bishopstoke. He was a Fireman, and later became a steam engine driver. My brother Bert had joined the army, but had finished his time and was back home again.

Brothers, Ted, Phil and I were still at school, so we were very crowded. Both Charles and Bert were on the railway, but were only home at weekends, as they had to go wherever the railway chose to send them. They had to find their own lodgings and mother had to provide them with some food.

Charles had a very bad accident in 1910. A bridge at Fareham, which he had been repairing, collapsed, and he was severely injured. A broken leg and serious head injuries; no one expected him to recover. Mother had to walk to Eastleigh, through muddy fields, to visit him. The station was over two miles away and she did these journeys for twelve weeks. The hospital was quite a distance from the station, and when she arrived, she found no facilities for visitors. She had to ask a nurse for the lavatory. The nurse showed her one for the staff, but told mum she had better hurry, because if anyone saw her, she might lose her job.

Very often, in the winter, the journeys were in the dark and no lights. When she got home, mum had to start work again. She must have been thoroughly exhausted, both physically and emotionally. The washing alone, must have been enormous, but the standard of cleanliness was far lower than that of the present day. We only bathed once a week.

The clothes were boiled in a big copper, which was heated by a wood fire. It was quite a job to remove the clothes from the copper into the baths for rinsing. At this stage, we used a ‘blue-bag’ which contained a bleach, so the clothes looked really white. The washing took all day to complete.'

Continued next week

To read from the beginning - click here

© 2010, copyright Martin T. Hodges