Monday, 13 June 2011

John Weston - A Father's Day Tribute: Sentimental Sunday

Sunday is Father's Day in the UK and I am proud to write this tribute to my father,  John Weston who was born on 15th April 1912 - the date the fateful Titanic sank.


Ironbridge over the River Severn

Dad grew up in the small village  of Brosely, near Ironbridge, Shropshire, known as the birthplace of the industrial revolution with the building in 1779  of the first ever iron bridge over the River Severn. His father worked at the power house at Coalbrookdale, which meant a 35 minute walk each way each day

I persuaded Dad to write down an account of his early life and later his war time experiences and was pleased to have these, as I have very few photographs prior to his meeting my mother.  Sadly, photographs and memorabilia (including Dad's church choir and football team photographs)  were thrown out by the widow of his oldest brother, without any thought for other family members.

Dad  had a trial for  the schoolboys footballt eam, at Birmingham Football Club with his teacher driving him to  the city.   He was offered a place but his parents refused to let him take it and,  as he said,  "I sulked for a month".  However there was a bit of glory when, as vice-captain  his school team entered a cup competition and won - the first ever trophy  brought to Brosely.  One of the supporters took a pigeon to the match and set it loose at the end to let Brosely residents know the result!

Dad's first job was as an errand boy, delivering orders by horse and cart.  Somehow I cannot picture this, as he never showed the slightest interest in horses.

This is the earliest picture (below) I have of my father - with his youngest brother Charles c. mid 1930's.

Dad became a commercial traveller and got instructions to pick up a car and drive 90 miles north  to a new position in Blackpool.

""I had never driven a car before.  On Boxing Day, I went to the British School of Motoring and said I wanted some urgent lessons.  When I told the instructor I was driving to Blackpool the next day, he nearly had a fit.  I collected my car - a four door Morris saloon which I was expected to buy on hire  purchase at 18shillings per week.  It was a traumatic journey with me being  a complete novice, having had no proper tuition.  There was no heating, no radio of course to help pass the time, and the windscreen wipers kept seizing up.  I had also been told that the tyres were awful for punctures.  Still I made it, as darkness fell - just as well, as I wasn't too sure how the lights worked!"


Mum and Dad - wartime  c.1940.
In Blackpool he met my mother first at the Winter Gardens Ballroom and then a week later at the Tower Ballroom and they married at St. Chad's Church, Poulton-le-Fylde in 1938.  

Dad's often talked about his war time experiences and I must admit it did often provoke the reaction  “Not the war again, Dad”.  It was only later that we came to realise what a life-defining period it was, and I persuaded him to write an account for his granddaughter, then studying World War Two at school. 

He served in the RAF Codes & Ciphers Branch (so plenty of jokes about being in Intelligence)  and was  seconded to General Bradley’s US 12th Army Group HQ. The story of his landing at Omaha Beach in 1944, his advance through France and Belgium into Germany form the basis of other blog postings.  

 
A proud husband and father c..1951





  
After the war, we moved around with my father's work to York and then Edinburgh,  with he and Mum retiring back to St. Anne's, Lancashire. Wherever  he went,  Dad threw himself into the local community - he was a people person, a "joiner" and  an organiser of fetes and festivities in the church and village.  

Dad  always fancied journalism and was a regular contributor to the local paper, whether it was press releases on events he was involved in or letters to the editor, and he was not afraid to put an unpopular point of view.

He would have loved to have lived in the age of blogging.

He died at the age of 91 in 2003.




Sentimental Sunday  is a daily prompt from http://www.geneabloggers.com/, used by many  bloggers to help them tell stories of their ancestors.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

My Childhood Clothes 52 Weeks of Personal Genealaogy


This is the 24th challenge in in a weekly series from GeneaBloggers called 52 weeks of personal genealogy and  history, suggested  by Amy Coffin,  that invite genealogists to record memories and insights about their own lives for future descendants.    Week 24 Clothes


My brother and I  in 1948
See the Peter Pan collars, smocking on his baby top and the cross stitching on my blouse.
 
This is a great topic for me.  My mother, Kathleen Weston, nee Danson  was a dressmaker, apprenticed to a tailor at the age of 14, so most of my clothes as a child  were home made. My Sunday coats  always had velvet collars, embroidered with flowers and a matching bonnet, and my "best" dresses usually had smocking.  Skirts for little girls always had straps (braces)  and I was about 13 before I "graduated" to a grown up skirt.

 A Liberty bodice, skirt with short socks (short trousers for my brother), home knitted jumpers and pixie hood,  wellington boots, gloves kept safe on string through my sleeves,  plus a long scarf criss crossed over my chest and tied at the back - this was the ritual dress for going out in winter in my early 1950's childhood.   I hated Liberty bodices - the rubber buttons were difficult to do and undo, and if the day got warmer you ended up all sticky inside them.    I grew up in north-west England where winters were relatively mild, but  this was the days before tights and girls then did not wear trousers   I have no winter photographs of my childhood - cameras must have  been reserved for summer.

Both my mother and aunt kept me in hand knitted jumpers and cardigans, though I remember being less than pleased around the age of 8 to open a Christmas present and realise it was a jumper - not a toy. A winter occupation was to help my mother unravel old knitwear and wind up  the balls of wool for re-knitting.

Summer c.1950


Mum always made me a new sundress for holidays, with a matching little bolero jacket.  The one in the picture (right) was green and white - she was very fond of putting me in green.  Dresses were often gingham, with white Peter Pan collars and the standard footwear was a pair of brown Clark's sandals with the cut-out flower.


There was not a strict uniform at my primary school, but I was desperate to wear a gymslip.  My mother did not like them, but eventually I got one handed down from my cousin and wore  the school tie and the red girdle round my waist, feeling I had stepped out of one of the school stories I loved to read.

When I started secondary school, in Blackpool,  the uniform had just had its first major change for years.   For the first two years, though,  we wore short pleated navy "Windsor Woolie" skirts, with braces - still very "little girlish".  Unlike the pudding basin hats of other schools, we felt very smart and modern  in a  pillbox style hat  - navy with a narrow sky blue band  round it. a fringe at the side and a metal school badge.   I was so proud of that hat!  My mother said she got seasick sewing the school summer dress - it was sky blue again,  highly patterned with with lots of white sea motifs.  We moved across country and my next school uniform seemed extremely dowdy in comparison  - long navy pleated skirts, and a shapeless navy beret which sat like a pancake on my head and you were expected to wear at all times to and from school. 

In my teens in the late 1950's, the big fashion statement was to have a "puffy out skirt" - the more petticoats and the more puffed out the better, to wear with a waspie black belt. It was a disaster when the petticoats went all floppy after too many washes.  I also recollect  a lilac and white gingham dress trimmed with broderie anglais - made popular by a young Bridget Bardot.


1970 fashion statement
 When I started university, the first thing I bought from my grant was a duffel coat to dress the part of a 1960's student.  Then mini skirts came in and I joined in the fun.   










Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Hawick Common Riding - These Places Thursday



The Cornet carrying "The Banner Blue" leads Hawick Common Riding
Photograph by Lesley Fraser, www.ilfimaging.co.uk
 
Horse Statue, Hawick
Photograph by Lesley Fraser
I live in Hawick in the  Scottish Borders and June is the focal point of the local calendar, with the major event Hawick Common Riding.   It is both a symbolic riding of the town's boundaries, made in the past to safeguard burgh rights and also a commemoration of the callants, young lads of Hawick, who in 1514, raided a body of English troops  and captured their flag - the "banner blue".  This skirmish followed the  the ill-fated Battle of Flodden in 1513,  when  King James IV and much of the "Flower of Scotland" were killed.  The 1514 Monument (right), unveiled in June 1914 and known locally as "The Horse",  commemorates this victory.

All of the main towns in the Borders have a 'common riding' - or something similar,
but each one has its own unique spirit and specific traditions. Typically, a "Cornet"  or other named representative, i.e. Standard Bearer, Braw Lad, Callant, Reiver  etc. is selected from the young men of the town, and becomes an honoured figure. He leads a procession of mounted and foot followers through the town. He proudly carries the town flag,  creating a marvellous spectacle. He then leads his cavalcade of riders out of the town into the hills and around the town's ancient boundaries re-enacting the age old ritual of 'riding the marches.'


Hawick's Cornet with the "Banner Blue".
Photograph by Lesley Fraser

With thanks to Lesley Fraser
for allowing me to feature her
three photographs of the Horse Statue and the Hawick Cornet
http://www.ilfimaging.co.uk/



It is a time for local pride and passion when exiles return to their home town to renew friendships and join in the celebrations - in ceremonies and processions, picnics and horse-racing, and  in songs, ballads  and music, such as one of my favourites below:

"Where Slitrig dances doon the dell
To join the Teviot Water
There dwells auld Hawick's honest men
and Hawick's bright-eyed daughters."


Hawick  where the River Teviot (here) meets the smaller Slitrig River ,
as depicted in the town song above.


Hawick among the hills
Those Places Thursday  is a daily prompt from http://www.geneabloggers.com/,
used by many bloggers to help them tell stories of their ancestors.


Thursday, 2 June 2011

My Father's Normandy Story & Paris Welcome - 1944: Military Monday

The following is taken from notes that my father John Weston of Blackpool, Lancashire  made on his war experiences.  He often talked about them and I am afraid it did provoke the reaction at times of  “Not the war again, Dad”.  It was only later that we came to realise what a life-defining period it was, and I persuaded him to write an account for his granddaughter, then studying World War Two at school. This is his story.
*****

I served in the RAF Codes & Ciphers Branch and was  seconded to General Bradley’s US 12th Army Group HQ.

Just after D-Day we moved to Southampton.  There were eight of us, like many more we were in a camp and not allowed outside or to make any phone calls.


We made our way to a little village near a copse – Laval.  It had rained heavily and became very humid.  In a clearing the GIs had set up trestle tables to hand out meals.  We had portioned trays, but the Americans just had billycans to hold the meal of chicken and peaches.  There were millions of wasps committing suicide in the fruit juice. 

That first night I slept in a PUP tent (one man), but during the night it poured down and around 2a.m. My tent was flooded and my sleeping bag was in two inches of water.  There was a lot of thunder and some animals around went berserk.  I managed to sort myself out and was on duty the next day at 8a.m.to get our equipment organised.    I had a brief time off and went into the village.  I saw some small bottles of brandy in a shop – and not much else, so I bought the lot (16 bottles) – they cost around 1/8 (under 10p.) a bottle! 

At this time I was getting 200 Chesterfield cigarettes a week, although I did not smoke.  With the GIs in khaki and ourselves in blue, we were very conspicuous – more so as we were so few.  We also got a jeep and as I was the only one who could drive, apart from the official driver, I used to go into Paris and park by the Eiffel Tower.  Hundreds of Frenchmen gathered there trying to buy cigarettes.


Another time I got a lift into Paris to hear General de Gaulle make a speech at the Place de la Concorde.  I was stopped by a Frenchman who said in English “RAF Sir?  My name is Joseph Calmy.   I was the Shell agent here before the war”.  I offered him cigarettes and he then invited me to a building and gave me a bag full of Chanel perfume, toiletries, powder and cream – it lasted Mum for years.  I flew back with it when I got some leave in March ‘45.

I needed to get back to Versailles for duty so I went to a gendarme and asked him to stop any car gong that way.  He stopped a car that was burning charcoal and we made our way to Versailles, turning down a side street and pulling into a courtyard.  I was motioned inside a large house and met the man’s daughter who spoke very good English.  She said “My papa wants you to stop and have dinner with us”.  We ended up in a café and went through some rush curtains into a back room.   In a few minutes a man and a woman came in carrying a bag, which they unloaded to reveal eggs, butter, meat, grapes and champagne.  I had a meal of steak with a large bunch of grapes.
When we came to leave it was as if I was walking on air – I floated out of the café!"  

To follow - Advance into Germany

******

Military Monday is a daily prompt from http://www.geneabloggers.com/, used by many bloggers to help them tell stories of their ancestors.

Copyright © 2011 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved

Remembering in June

This is the third  in a new series recording events by month in the lives of my Danson and Rawcliffe ancestors of the Fylde, Lancashire.

1 June 1847
Anne Rawcliffe was born, first of eight daugters of Robert Rawcliffe & Jane Carr, named after her paternal grandmother and sister to my great grandmother Maria.  Anne married  gamekkeeper Robert Roskell and named one of her three daughters Maria.  She ws buried in St. Anne's Church, Singleton near Poulton-le-Fylde, Lacnashire.
 

4 June 1926
Jane Riley, nee Rawcliffe died.  She was the second daughter of Robert and Jane Rawcliffe (above) and sister to Anne and Maria (above) .  This photograph came from an internet contact descendant.

Jane Riley, nee Rawcliffe with her son George (left)
grandson (Jack) and Jack's baby son George Robert who did not survive infancy.

Uncle Harry's Return from Dunkirk, June 1940: Military Monday




Harry Rawcliffe Danson  was my uncle on my mother's side of the family from Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire. In these photograph I think there is an Errol Flynn look about him! 


He was one of the many saved by the small ships at Dunkirk in June 1940, as British troops were evacuated from France, following the German invasion. He arrived back back home  in teh north of England many days later in the uniform in which he entered the sea to be rescued. 

Unlike my father, he never talked about his wartime experiences, but seeing commemoration services or documentaries on TV could bring tears to his eyes, so the memories remained very strong.

Harry later served in North Africa.

He lived to the age of 89 remaining active to the end of his life - a keen gardener and ballroom dancer - and he retained his good looks!


Military Monday is a daily prompt from http://www.geneabloggers.com/, used by many bloggers to help them tell stories of their ancestors.

Copyright © 2011 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved