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Thursday, 14 December 2017

Snowy Pleasures - Sepia Saturday

This week’s Sepia Saturday photographic prompt show a children’s playground, with the swings, roundabout and seats empty but for coverings of snow.

Linking the snow and the playground - snowy pleasures is my theme and people enjoying themselves.  I have no childhood photographs in the snow - my family only seemed to bring the camera out in summer.  


Below is the oldest snow picture in my collection and brings back memories of my father.  This photograph was taken in the wartime winter of 1944 in Luxembourg.  Dad served in the RAF working in codes and cyphers and  at this time was attached to the US 12th Army Group commanded by  General Bradley.  Whilst stationed in Luxembourg, Dad became friendly wth a local  family.   Here he is (on the left)  with Mr. Batten out for a walk with his little daughter.  Dad remained in contact with the Batten family for many years and I think he enjoyed this brief taste of a family life amidst the harshness of war. 

 Onto my own family - my daughter was born in January and it often seemed to be snowing on her birthday  and it could play havoc with party plans.

 1976 - out for a walk in the park in Hawick in the  Scottish Borders. 

Fast forward  some 20 years and daughter is enjoying the pleasures of taking our dog a  walk in winter on the hill above our home.

Below:   Summer snow in July 1997  - husband and I are on the Stubai Glacier, near Innsbruck. 

Onto where we live now in Earlston in the Scottish Borders,  with some pictures from the collection of my local heritage group - Auld Earlston.

                          Members of Earlston Curling Club enjoying a game, 1995.

Regarded as one of the worst winters in living memory - 1947.  Here children are playing on the road - but in fine weather this is the main A68 road through the central Borders, linking Newcastle and Edinburgh. 

 2009 and my granddaughter exploring this new world of snow for the first time

 But summer fun cannot be far behind - and she was soon back enjoying the swings.

Sepia Saturday gives an opportunity for genealogy bloggers  
to share their family history and memories through photographs. 


Click  HERE  to find further snowtime tales from Sepia Saturday bloggers.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Women on the Home Front 3: Galvanising a Community into Action

In the final part  of this month's series "Women on the Home Front",   the focus here is on Mrs Ellen Mary  Wilson, a schoolmaster’s wife in the Scottish Borders,  who, in the First World War,  galvanised her  Parish of Robertson into active support of its  fighting menfolk.   I am grateful  to my guest contributor,  Gordon Macdonald. local historian and volunteer researcher at Hawick Museum.   Gordon writes: 
Most of the focus on the Great War is usually on men.   Back home their mothers, wives, and loved ones still endured the daily grind. They had families to bring-up: bills to be paid, households to run on their own and uncharted waters lay ahead. Although these women were hundreds of miles from the war zone, nevertheless, regardless of their age, their circumstances, or their status in life they were at war, and mostly  without help.  


In 2012 a Dr.  Wilson from Canada donated his Uncle Lieut Tom Wilson’s WW1 archive to Hawick Museum. it was only while researching “Women at War” we discovered the contribution of Lieut. Tom’s Wilson’s step-mother - Ellen Mary Wilson.

Roberton. near Hawick in the Scottish Borders  is a scattered rural parish rather than a village with around 300 souls. Thomas Wilson was the long serving schoolmaster at Roberton. In 1875,  he  married Mary Grieve, and had three sons and two daughters.   Mary Wilson died in 1898 aged 49 years.  Eleven years later in
1909, Thomas Wilson married a school teacher, Ellen Mary Douglas, who now found herself step-mother to a grown-up family.

As the war progressed Mr Wilson witnessed the steady trickle of his former scholars enlisting in the War. His youngest son George enlisted as a doctor with the Army Medical Corps, and his other son Tom, a civil engineer in Singapore returned home in June 1915 and enlisted in the Kings African Rifles initially based in Nairobi. I

In a letter to his father in February 1916,  he wrote: “I hear from the Colonel that I have to be awarded a Military Cross”   In December 1916 he jokingly asks his stepmother  “Have you had any Zeppelins the length of Roberton?”

But In July 1917,  a telegram arrived at Roberton Schoolhouse with the news everyone dreaded -   Lieut Tom Wilson had been killed in German East Africa on 29th June 1917 aged 37. His Chaplain Archdeacon Chadwick sent his father a letter detailing his son’s death: “The Germans left a note on his body apologising for not burying him as they had no time. Despite the carnage,  it is reassuring to realise there was compassion in war. 

 Lieut. Tom Wilson

When the First World War broke out in 1914 , whither by choice or acclamation, Mrs Wilson found herself galvanising Roberton Parish into action by persuading women and men to knit items, and collect money on behalf of The Sailors and Soldiers Comfort Fund.  

Knowledge of Mrs Wilson's contribution to the war effort only came about by chance, when  at the Museum we came across a report in the Hawick Express in December 1919 commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Mr Wilson as Roberton schoolmaste. The local minister said

 “…Many had looked on Mr Wilson as having given them a start in life…but, so far as Roberton was concerned, the war had been won by Mrs Wilson…...She sometimes risked her life in stormy weather undertaking long journeys to carry out her various schemes.” 
What had Ellen Mary Wilson done to  earn this accolade? 
From the few local newspaper reports,  we gain an appreciation of her character and contribution.

The bulk of the money for the Soldiers and Sailors Comfort was raised with regular concerts and whist drives, and.  as there was no village hall in Roberton at the time, these  were always held in the Schoolhouse; a huge commitment on Mrs Wilson’s part. 

By 1915 Roberton, had produced 500 articles. From a concert in March 1918 they raised £63.12.6 - equivalent to £2.800 today,  On  that occasion, Mrs Wilson announced that since 1914,  the local community had made a grand total of 442 pairs of socks, 181 hospital bags, 139 mitts, 83 shirts and 71 mufflers. From a scatteredfarming parish, this was a remarkable achievement.   

In 1919 Mrs Wilson said, she was glad she had been of service, and thanked her band of loyal workers who had produced no fewer than 4337 articles of comfort for the soldiers and sailors during the war. 

A a press report of  late 1918 noted that Mrs Wilson’s work on behalf of the Soldiers and Sailors Comfort Fund had been “…characterised by an earnestness and enthusiasm worthy of the highest praise.”   Mrs Wilson died in 1945 aged 85.
Mr Wilson retired as schoolmaster in 1920 and in April the following year  he and Mrs Wilson made an emotional return to Roberton for the unveiling of Roberton War Memorial and Roll of Honour. During the memorial service Mr Wilson read out the names of 68 of his former pupils who had served, in the Great War including twelve who were killed - the final name was his own son - Lieut Thomas Wilson, M.C.

Roberton School, c.1905. 
Ten years later, how  many of these boys fought but did not return to their homes?

Although Armistice Day was declared on the 11th November 1918, the effects of war continued for these three women who featured in my series "Women on the Home Front".
  • Mrs Elizabeth Abbey was widowed only three years after her marriage, and like thousands of other women, never remarried.   Yet her story continued, through the decades, with her niece and her great nephew. 
  • Mrs Maggie  Laidlaw laid aside her personal sorrows and devoted the war years for the good of her community and carried the death of her two-son-in-laws and the death of her great grandson in World Ware Two for  the rest of her life.
  • Mrs Ellen Wilson worked tireless on behalf of The Sailors and Soldiers Comfort Fund, and supported her husband as he bore the death of his son, his former pupils and those who returned, some broken in body and spirit.
These women from three different backgrounds all shared the common bond of devotion to their family, and all are  linked with the loss of loved ones. Their experiences were far from exceptional, but they highlight that,  for them,   there was no official recognition, no war medals, and no victory parades for them; their daily war continued - unabated. 



Saturday, 25 November 2017

My New Blog - Journal Jottings

Recently I took up a Blog challenge to write about “Seven Days in My Life”, with a view to creating a family journal. 

After all,  we write about our ancestors, and memories of our own childhood,  but what are we doing to note down  our life today to leave as a  record for our descendants?  

I had an encouraging response with constructive comments, particularly on my Facebook-Family History Fun page - so much so, I decided to start a separate blog


A Bit of Background Information - I live with my husband  in the village of Earlston in the Scottish Borders, a rural area of small towns, rolling hills and flowing rivers.  

 I am retired, but involved in my community and with my daughter and family who live close by.  

I will be writing about where I live,  my day to day life and my activities, plus thoughts on the world around me - TV, News Items etc.,   but not my innermost thoughts on family and friends - they remain my innermost thoughts!  

DO READ ON and do get in touch with your comments, 
as they mean a lot to me.  


Friday, 24 November 2017

The Gift of a Family Bible: November Blog Party Challenge

Elizabeth O'Neil  of My Descendants' Ancestors  hosts the Genealogy Blog Party and this month invites us to share  what genealogy source we are thankful for this year. 

Thanks to my blog, I have been gifted a  family bible  - belonging to my paternal great grandfather, John Matthews of Wolverhampton, Staffordshire.

The bible is a very weighty tome, more suited to a church lectern than a volume for the home.   The elaborate first title page proclaims it as:
"The Illustrate National Family Bible. with the commentaries of Scott & Henry, containing many thousand critical and explanatory notes , edited by the Rev. John   Eadie,  Professor of Bible Literature to the United Presbyterian Church."

Published by Cassell  & Company, a small  insert announces that the edition has been especially prepared for  subscribers and is not available through general  booksellers.  

The 11 page  preface, written by the Rev. John Eadie of Glasgow,  is dated July 1851 

My father's side of the family (Weston and Matthews) has always remained rather shadowy.  They lived some distance from where we lived and we only met them once or twice  a year, plus the fact that so few photographs have survived of the two families.    They have not featured much in my research beyond the basic facts of names and dates, and an occasional article on my blog. 

So I was amazed to receive, via my blog,  an e-mail from a Matthews connection through marriage;  moreover with  the wish to give family treasures to a direct descendantWe corresponded, met  and spent a happy afternoon chatting about our family history research.  
I always knew from my father that his maternal grandfather John Matthews was a prominent member of the Methodist Church,  but had not delved into research to find out more. 

John Matthews ( 1843-1918)my paternal great grandfather

Matilda Matthews, nee Simpson ( 1849-1929),  my paternal great grandmother

Illustrated pages in the Bible gave space to record family events,  headed by John, born 21st July 1843 at Cookley, Worcestershire, died 17th September 1918, aged 75 at Lanesfield  Parish in Sedgley, buried in the family grave at Sedgley.

John married  Matilda  (no maiden name given) at St. Andrew Church, Wolverhampton 29th May 1871.  Matilda was born in Birmingham 19th January 1849 and died at Lanesfield  in 1929. 

The birth of their ten children,  and also their marriages, is recorded. 

  • Alice Maud, born 1872
  • John Percy, born 1874 - my father's Christian names.
  • Mary Barbara, born 1876 - my grandmother 
  • Fanny Elizabeth, born 1878
  • Arthur William , born 1880
  • Annie, born 1882 
  • Samuel Albert, 1884
  • Harry, born 1886
  • Charles, born 1888
  • James Alfred, born 1892   
    John and Matilda suffered the early loss of four of their children:
    • Charles did not survive infancy, dying in 1889.
    • Fanny Elizabeth died aged 33 in 1909
    • John Percy died aged 36 in 1910 - his namesake, my father,  was born in 1912. 
    • Arthur William, aged 35, killed in action at Gallipoli - remembered on the Helles Memorial  in Turkey. leaving a widow and two young children. 

    My grandmother Mary Barbara Matthews

    The gift of the family bible has given me a great incentive to find out more about my father's family  - and bring them out of the shadows.  


    • I obtained the marriage certificate of John and Matilda to establish that her maiden name was Simpson. 
    • I googled "A Scott & Henry Bible" to find numerous entries on EBay and Amazon.
      Mine is not for sale!  

    Genealogy Blog Party

    Click on the link above  to see  other bloggers at this November Blog Party. 


    Thursday, 23 November 2017

    Women on the Home Front 2: Service in the Face of Sorrow

    In part two of my series "Women on the Home Front", the focus is on  Mrs Maggie  Laidlaw of Hawick in the Scottish Borders.    Born into wealth and privilege, she  took-up the  challenge of the times  and applied her natural talent for organisation to the local war effort.  With thanks for this article  to my guest contributor,  Gordon Macdonald. local historian and volunteer researcher at Hawick Museum.   Gordon writes:
    I have always been interested in Mrs  Laidlaw and out of the blue last year  Hawick Museum, received an email from an auctioneer in Gloucester, asking if we were interested in an unknown portrait of a WW1 officer  and an illuminated address to a Mrs Laidlaw.  These  were duly donated  to the museum. 

    Maggie Sheil Laidlaw, nee Thomson was born into wealth and privilege.  Her grandfather, James Scott,  a cattle dealer died in 1860 and left his vast fortune to his only daughter Janet.  The following year Janet married the Rev John Thomson minister of St Mary’s Church, Hawick.  Twenty years later  their  daughter, Maggie Sheil Thomson married Robert Grierson Laidlaw, aged 23, son of William Laidlaw who owned two of the largest tweed mill’s in Hawick. This prestigious marriage was  wealth marrying wealth and their married home was the newly built Victorian mansion - Hazlehurst.

    In 1897 Mrs Laidlaw was instrumental in establishing the Queen's Jubilee Nursing Association of which she was secretary.  So when war broke out in 1914, she already had experience in public service, and,  with Margaret, the youngest of her three  daughters,     took up, at the age of 51  the new challenge of war on the home front.

    In August 1914,  when Belgium was invaded by Germany. a  refugee crisis arose.  It prompted Mrs Laidlaw, along with others, to establish the Hawick Belgian Relief Fund. In January 1915  50 Belgium refugees were welcomed to Hawick, to live in a Laidlaw former family home, Sillerbithall - an act of supreme generosity! 

    The Belgium Refugees, safe in Hawick.
    Mrs Laidlaw  also gave her support  to  the Scottish Women’s Hospital,  founded by Dr Elsie Inglis to provide medical assistance to the Serbian nation. 

    If this was not enough, Mrs Laidlaw was also the driving force behind the Hawick Prisoners of War Committee which provided fortnightly parcels of cigarettes, tobacco, books, soap and woolly items and a friendly word from home, to the Hawick prisoners of war scattered in the various prison of war camps. 

    "The Hawick Express and Advertiser" printed messages of thanks from prisoners:

    March 1917
    "Many thanks for all the very  good parcels you havesent me.  I receive them every week in splendid condition.  The last one I rceived contained carpet slippers  which were very nice and very acceptable.  We are having very wet weather  here just now, but I am keeping well."

    "I received your parcel  and don't know how to thank  the people at home for their kindness  they are showing towards me as a prisoner of war."

    September 1917
    "I am very pleased to inform you that I have just received a splendid parcel of cigarettes  though your committee.  I can tell you I am right for a smoke now.  They are very good cigarettes for which I thank you very much indeed."
     But  Mrs Laidlaw’s self-sacrifice was not rewarded with immunity from the tragedies  of war

    In January 1917 Mrs Laidlaw’s recently married daughter Gladys Lumgair gave birth to a daughter in Hawthornbank, Selkirk, where the Lumgair family had a mill. In April 1917 her husband  Captain Robert Lumgair was killed in Palestine aged 26; he never saw his four-month-old daughter, Margaret Daphne.  The unknown portrait received from the auctioneer turned out to be that of Captain Robert Lumgair! 

    More tragic news followed the following month.  when Mrs.Laidlaw''s other son-in-law Second Lieutenant Charles W. Brown was wounded on the Western Front and transferred to Bristol, where he died a few days later aged 36,  leaving a widow and three children. 

    During January 1919 the returned Prisoners of War organised a “Grand Re-union” in Hawick Town Hall to thank the local  Prisoners of War Committee  for their unwavering support. During this event Mrs Laidlaw was presented with an illuminated address. 

    Hawick's Returning Prisoners of War, gathered outside Hawick Museum.
    The illuminated address presented to Mrs Laidlaw in 1919, 
                      later returned to Hawick Museum  by the Gloucester auctioneer. 

    TWenty four years on in  March 1943,  Mrs Laidlaw's  28 year-old grand-daughter, Margaret Dauphine Lumgair married Captain Blair Black, in St Cuthbert’s Church, Hawick.  In a savage twist of fate he was killed the following year in Italy aged 26.  Margaret had lost both her father and husband in conflict.

    Two wars, three deaths - this must have been hard for Mrs Laidlaw to bear. She  died in 1959 aged 83.

    When conflicts such as “The Great War” arise,  they always produce women, who in an act of self-sacrifice lay aside their own sorrows for the good of the community - 

    Mrs Laidlaw was such a women.   

    Wilton Cemetery, Hawick with the gravestone of Mrs Laidlaw, with its fallen cross sadly damaged.

    Thursday, 16 November 2017

    Cards of Love Sent from the Trenches - Sepia Saturday

    My I  knew  immediately which photographs I would use to match  this week's prompt picture of a pretty girl in an elegant Edwardian dress, holding a basket of flowers.  

    For towards the end of the First World War, my grandfather,  William Danson,  sent from Flanders to his wife and daughters back home in Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire, a number of similar postcards.

    "Dear Alice,  received your letter alright.  I have landed back at the Batt and am in the pink.  I have had a letter from Jennie [sister]  and am glad they have heard from Tom [brother].  Your loving husband Billy xxx"

    Written in pencil with the writing now faded, and the censor's stamp unhelpfully across the message, the card was sent from the Field Post Office 7th February 1918 to Mrs W. Danson, 20 Bull Street, Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire, Blighty, 

    The "In the pink" phrase seemed to be a favourite term that William used in other messages as well.

    "Batt" I take it to mean the battalion.

    "Blighty" in the address was used as   a nickname for Britain, or often specifically England.  It was first used by soldiers in the Indian army in the 19th century and popularised in the First World War.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word derives from "bilayati", a regional variant of the Urdu word " meaning "foreign", "British", "English" or "European." or "Anglo-Indian".

    A "blighty wound" was a wound serious enough to  require recuperation away from the trenches, but not serious enough to kill or maim the victim - it was hoped for by many, and sometimes self-inflicted.


    Grandad (William Danson) was a labourer, a taciturn country man.  He never spoke about the war and would never have put into words the sentiments expressed (sometimes in French) in the cards he sent to his wife Alice.  

     "Dear Alice, Just a line to let you know I am in the pink and hope all at home are the same.  There is nothing that I want.  I will write again shortly.   Your loving Billy xxx".   Sent 29th April 1918.
    Alice Danson, nee English  - my grandmother

                                                My aunt Edith and my mother Kathleen Danson.

     A postcard to my mother, Kathleen.    The postmark is 2nd September 2nd 1917, and her 9th birthday would be on September 8th.  Written in feint pencil, the message is  now rather  difficult to decipher.  

    "Dear Kathleen, I got your card, all right and am in the pink and hope you  like this card.   I have had a letter from Jennie [sister] and she says all's well at home.  No more this time.  From her Dad   xxx."    Sent 29th April 1918.  

    "Dear Edith. I am all right and hope all at home are well.  I will try and send you  a nice card for your birthday and will send it in a day or two.  From Your Dad. xxx"
    Sent 3rd September 1917.  Two months earlier, William had been fighting in the mud bath that was the Battle of Passchendaele.  


    On 9th April 1918 William was awarded the Military Medal for "conspicuous gallantry and determined devotion to duty  in action"


    William  served in the King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment.  and I wrote to the regimental museum at Lancaster Castle for more information   I  was sent a copy of an extract from the Regimental War Diary.   The full citation (a poor typed copy) reads:

    "For conspicuous gallantry in action at GIVENCHY on 9th April 1918, this N.C.O commanded a Lewis Gun section...He did good work with his gun during the attack inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy. When the other N.C.O. in command of the other Lewis Gun was wounded, he took over the gun and controlled the line of fire.  
     9th April was five  days after Granddad's 33rd birthday.


    Amongst the horrors  of that war,  these cards, kept for nigh on 100 years 
     stand out as a symbol of  beauty and love for Grandad's family back home. 


    Sepia Saturday gives an opportunity for genealogy bloggers  to share their family history and memories through photographs.


    Click HERE to find images  from other Sepia Saturday bloggers.