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Wednesday 21 March 2012

The women left behind - 2

I find myself fascinated by women's history, a relatively new area of study. And so I've recently found myself reading an excellent book, 'Singled Out', which describes the triumphs and tribulations of some two million single women who lived out their lives without men post 1918. They are the forgotten victims of the war. Though some found contentment in careers and academia these were overwhelmingly the middling sorts and elites. For vast numbers of working class and middle class girls there was only sadness, loneliness, deep sexual frustration and a soul crushing inability to fulfill a desperate desire for motherhood. All at a time when the opportunities for a life away from the kitchen sink and the marital bed were few and far between.

And then there were the mothers who lost sons, their only son, or all their sons ....

The cemeteries & churchyards of South Lakes, Cumbria, Britain & Europe are peppered with mossy and largely ignored gravetones erected  when wives and parents died but bearing the name of a deceased soldier, often put in place decades after his death.

At Askam in Furness churchyard is the gravestone of  Francis & Maria Mailes. He died in 1930 aged 83, she in 1923 aged 71. Below their names is that of their son Charles, killed in action at Fampoux, France in 1917 aged 23. The stone must be post 1930.

KILLED IN ACTION.- Another Askam soldier has given his life for King and country during the great battle on the western front in the person of Private Charles Jones Mailes whose parents reside at 55, Steel-street, Askam. The sad news was received on Wednesday morning from the War Office. He met his fate on the 9th ult. He was a member of the 1/4th King’s Own Royal Lancasters, and had been abroad soon after war was declared. The flag at the Council Schools was hoisted half-mast out of respect to his memory.
 In Ulverston cemetery is a more poignant, simple gravestone of  Eleanor Dickinson who died in 1956, a 70 year old lady. Above her name is that of her husband, Edward,  killed in action near Spider House Farm, Oosttaverne, during the Third Battle of Ypres, July 1917. She had been left with two children. Odd that the family appears to have maintained the ascendancy of the husband in a marriage, putting his name first.

Mrs. Dickinson, 31, The Gill, Ulverston, has received official notification that her husband, Pte. Edward Dickinson, King’s Own Royal Lancasters, has been killed in action. He was 37 years of age, and the son of Mr. Matthew Dickinson, 34, Byron-street, and nephew of the late Mr. E. Dickinson, painter, etc., with whom he served his apprenticeship, and with the exception of about 12 months, when he was employed as porter in the Bank of Liverpool, at Barrow, he was in the employ of this firm all his time up to joining the army about a year ago. Pte. Dickinson was well known in the Ulverston district, and much sympathy is felt for the widow, who is left with two children, and other members of the family.

This story is much like my Gran's.
She was widowed in May 1918 when my Grandfather was killed and is sat on the right here, aged about 40, with my Mum! Front left is Beatrice Goodrich, happily married to an Engine Driver. Standing behind Gran is her cousin, Maggie Kenyon, whose fiancee was killed with the Accrington Pals - she was a stunningly beautiful young woman, looked like Angelina Jolie! Beside her is Betsy Waterworth, my Great Grandma, and standing on the left is Lena Westwell, Maggie's sister, whose husband, Fred, was also killed with the Accy Pals on the Somme in November 1916.

Maggie & Lena lived out their lives together as single women in Lime St, Accrington. I remember them as withered and exhausted old ladies, living in a time warp, a grey world of sadness and dusty old lady smells.

After nearly dying from overwork during the 20s and 30s Gran moved in with my parents when they got married in 1936 and lived with us till 1976 when she died, in her own bed, aged 90. A widow for 58 years. She never had another man and among her last words before she passed away was 'Dear Arthur', my grandfather.

Monday 19 March 2012

The women left behind -- 1

The Great War of 1914 -19 changed the world forever. Kings and empires fell, new countries emerged and the balance of power shifted inexorably from the old world to the new. And there was the start of a new, sexual revolution as women stepped out of the shadows, asserting themselves and demanding recognition for the contribution they made to the war. Millions of women signed up; as nurses, auxiliaries, industrial workers and in many other roles.

For some it was an opportunity to establish careers

The handsome (Emilie) Hilda Horniblow, CBE, was born in 1886 and joined the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps..By 1918 she was Chief Controller of the Corps, later becoming Headmistress of Fair Army Auxiliary Corps; Headmistress of Fair Street LCC Women’s Evening Institute and from 1935–42 HM Staff Inspector for Women’s Subjects in Technical Institutions.
For ordinary working class girls and women there was little chance of reaching the higher echelons of society. They returned to where they came from, the kitchen sink.

Many tens of thousands of middle class girls and women became nurses.

One such was Tamar Watson of Ulverston

Tamar joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) a corps of nurses established and organised by the Red Cross & the St John's Ambulance. She died on 11th or13 November 1918. The following appeared the the 'Barrow News'.
HOSPITAL NURSE’S DEATH.- The death, from pneumonia, of Miss Tamar Watson, eldest daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Watson, of Hoad Terrace, Ulverston, occurred on Wednesday at the Roundhay Military Hospital at Leeds where the deceased young lady was doing duty as a trained nurse. Miss Watson, who was 34 years of age, was a member of the Ulverston Amateur Operatic Society, and her sudden unexpected death is mourned by a lot of friends. The circumstances are peculiarly distressing, the bereaved parents having quite recently lost, as the result of influenza, a daughter-in-law and grandchild, who resided at Lancaster.
Interment on  (Saturday), cortege leaving Ulverston Railway Station at 3.30 p.m. Friends, please accept this (the only) intimation.

Wednesday 7 March 2012

An American in the heart of England

Those who are familiar with this blog will know that I often find myself in Hampshire where my much loved daughter lives. A beautiful landscape. While down there I like to meander through the ancient landscape of the chalk downlands with sleepy villages and churches to die for. Why do so many Saxon and Norman churches survive in such wonderful condition?

Last time I was there I found myself at Boxgrove, West Sussex, the home of Boxgrove man (and woman); at 500,000 years old indubitably the original and oldest English! There is also a wonderful Parish church dedicated to St Blaise that utilises the old conventual buildings of a Benedictine Priory founded in 1115 by William de la Haye.

The interior, originally the monks choir is a mix of twelfth century Romanesque and Early English. Absolutely exquisite..

Towards the east end of the nave is the spectacular 16th century De La Warr Chantry. I occasionally come across these late chantries. The melding of English gothic and renaissance styles and motifs produces structures of a stunning craftsmanship, beauty and elegance.

In the graveyard by the church there is the usual collection of villagers, some high, some low, but one gravestone stands out. Not least because it bears an American flag.

The grave is that of William Meades Lindsley Fiske III.

'Billy' Fiske was born in New York in June 1911, the son of a wealthy banker. Following a move to France he went to Cambridge in 1928 to study Economics & History. In the same year he led the American bobsleigh team at the Winter Olympics at St Moritz and again at Lake Placid in 1932 where he carried the national flag in the opening ceremony. He declined to lead the 1936 team at the Berlin Olympics. By 1938 he had learnt to fly and had married Rose Bingham, formerly Countess of Warwick. The couple moved back to New York.

In September1939, however, he and a fellow American resolved to join the fight and sailed to England on the Aquitania where Fiske signed up, as a Canadian, with the RAF Volunteer Reserve. By summer 1940 he was fighting with 601 (County of London) squadron out of Tangmere. 'The Millionaire's Squadron'!

On the 16th August, 1940, the German Air Force launched over 1,700 sorties against airfields, radar stations and London. It was a memorable day. Flight Lieutenant James Nicolson of No.249 Squadron won the Battle of Britain's only Victoria Cross after staying in his burning aircraft to shoot down one of the aircraft attacking him. Fiske flew two operations. On the second his squadron was scrambled to intercept a squadron of German dive-bombers. His Hurricane was damaged, but rather than abandon it he chose to bring the valuable and much-needed aircraft home. As he approached Tangmere, the aircraft caught fire. Fiske landed safely, but received severe burns. He was taken to Royal West Sussex Hospital, Chichester, where it seemed he would recover quickly. However, on 17th Billy Fiske died of shock. He was buried at Boxgrove beneath the contrails of his comrades continuing the battle high above.

 He was one of Eight Americans fighting with the Royal Air Force and the first to die. Eight other RAF pilots were killed on that day.

On September 17, 2008 a memorial window was unveiled in Boxgrove Church.

Among those attending was Squadron Leader 'Jack' Riddle of 601squadron.

 Pilot Officer Jack Riddle - 'Fighter Boy' - summer of 1940.

There are other memorials to Billy Fiske in the USA and in St Paul's Cathedral. At the unveiling of the latter Sir Archibald Sinclair, Secretary of State for Air said;

 "Here was a young man for whom life held much. Under no kind of compulsion he came to fight for Britain. He came and he fought and he died."

Quite a story.
Thanks to 601 Sqn site for pics.

Tuesday 6 March 2012

'The Temple' - Storrs Hall, Windermere

There are many buildings of note in Cumbria and the Lake District - some well known - some less well known. All have a history. One of the most elegant must be Storrs Hall on the East side of Lake Windermere, just south of Bowness. Since 1892 it has been a hotel, but for many years prior to this it was a private house.

 This old photo probably circa 1870 shows how it looked when in the ownership of the Rev Robert Staniforth who inherited it in 1848 from Elizabeth, the widow of John Bolton. 

John Bolton was an Ulverston lad, educated at Town Bank School, who made a vast fortune in the slave trade. A friend to Walter Scott, Canning, Southey and Wordsworth and many other Victorian elites he famously held a party that prompted Scott's son-in-law to say,  'It has not, I suppose, often happened to a plain English merchant, wholly the architect of his own fortunes, to entertain at one time a party embracing so many illustrious names.' A plain English Merchant! An odd sentiment to modern ears for one who owed all to the appalling trade in 'Black Gold'. 

Bolton acquired the house from John Pike Watts, a London Wine Merchant and uncle of John Constable. He in turn had bought it in 1804 from Sir John Legard, 6th baronet, of Ganton in Yorkshire (c1758-1808) who had bought the land and built the house during the 1790 and completed in  1797. It was around this time that he built 'The Temple'.

As noted in other postings, specifically that describing Finsthwaite Tower, the successes of the Royal Navy in the French Revolutionary Wars, fought against our ancient enemy, were celebrated by all classes. But it was the merchants and the middling gentry whose trade and fortunes were threatened who celebrated most as French and Spanish warships were swept from the world's oceans. In the absence of a continental army it was only the Royal Navy that could take the war to the foe, much like 1940. The Commanders were the superstars of their day. And here at Storrs Legard built his commemorative memorial to Admirals Howe, Duncan, St Vincent and the immortal Nelson.

Earl Howe gained a place on the memorial as a consequence of the action in 1793 known as 'The Glorious First of June' when he commanded a force that drove the French fleet into harbour where it more or less remained for a couple of decades.

Admiral Duncan gained distinction at the Battle of Camperdown in October 1797 when he defeated the Dutch fleet, then allies of Revolutionary France.

 John Jervis, Earl St Vincent, was a towering figure in Nelson's Navy. In 1797 he achieved a notable victory off Cape St Vincent against the Spanish fleet of 27 Ships of the Line with his own smaller force of 15.

At St Vincent with Jervis and though only a Commodore he was already a folk hero. He fought the Frenchie with a single minded determinatio to win. His exploits earned him a reputation that is almost unique and which inspired and defined the ethos of the British Navy for generations.

A full history of the Hall and its occupants can be found here.