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Thursday, 16 November 2017

Cards of Love Sent from the Trenches - Sepia Saturday

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  besuty 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.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Women on the Home Front 1: Elizabeth Abbey's Locket

Long term readers of my blog will know how much I like in November  to adopt the theme of "War and Remembrance"  in honour of all the men and women who have suffered in war. 

I am delighted to feature here a contribution from my guest writer Gordon Macdonald, local historian  and volunteer researcher  at the museum in Hawick, a  mill town in the Scottish Borders. 

In  the first of three article on "Women on the Home Front", Gordon tells the poignant tale of Elizabeth Abbey, nee Scott - a recently married hosiery worker whose husband John went off to war in 1916. 

The locket with photographs of Elizabeth and her hsuband John

In March 2015 a small gold monogrammed locket and a Ceramic Remembrance Poppy were donated to Hawick Museum by Mr Gormley from Dorset.  They had originally belonged to his great aunt Mrs Elizabeth Abbey. From these two items emerged a story of short-lived happiness and long-endured sadness.

Elizabeth Scott was born in  8 March 1882,  the daughter of Isabella and Richard Scott a chaise driver. Her future husband John Gibson Abbey was born on the 28 August 1885 in Perth, the son of Margaret and Andrew Abbey. He left his native city and was employed in Hawick  as a foreman with Messrs Turnbull's Limited, cleaners & dyers,

John and Elizabeth were married In Hawick Parish Church Manse on 1 August 1913. John Gibson Abbey enlisted on the 30th May 1916 with the 6th Battalion Black Watch. Perhaps on his first home leave, the couple had their photographs taken which Elizabeth placed in a gold monogrammed locket, and this token of love hung around her neck.

John was in action on the second Battle of the Somme on 21 March 1918, where the Germans drenched the battlefield with poisoned gas. By the end of the first day 21,000 British soldiers had been taken prisoner, (40,000 casualties) and John’s battalion, was almost wiped out. 

It has to be remembered before war broke out in August 1914.  nobody could have  foreseen, the extent, length and carnage this would create. It was a conflict  where communication was limited, rumours exaggerated, and the biased newspaper reports were the only source of information. 

Elizabeth was led to believe that John was either missing, or killed. However, unknown to her,  he had been captured,  not wounded,  near the village of Pronville and transferred to Freidrichsfeld, a German prisoner of war camp. This was confirmed by a report which appeared in the "Hawick Express and Advertiser:"  John “…....has written to his wife informing her that he is a prisoner of war in Germany.” At this time there were around 66 local lads prisoners of war, and six were detained in the same camp as John. 

After the Armistice was declared in November 1918,  Elizabeth Abbey must have rejoiced that her husband John would soon be returning home at last. On his release from the prisoner of war camp,  he made his way home, but during the journey was taken ill, where we suspect he succumbed to the “Spanish Flue” pandemic which was raging at this time.  He was sent to the 3rd Canadian General Hospital, near Boulogne - an area of numerous hospitals and other medical establishments. Within a few hours after admission, he died on the 28 December 1918 aged just 33. 

The news of his unexpected death was reported in "The Hawick Advertiser & Express:" “Mrs Abbey was daily expecting news of his return home, when the sad information of his death reached her. Private Abbey had many friends in town, amongst whom he was a general favourite...”.   

John Gibson Abbey was interred in the Terlingthun British Cemetery  on the outskirts of Boulogne.  It now contains 4,378 Commonwealth burials of the First World War. John was also remembered in the Hawick Roll of Honour, held at Hawick Museum, beside the War Memorial,  and on the Scott  memorial stone of his wife's family  in Wellogate Cemetery on Hawick's hillside. 

 The Scott-Abbey gravestone in Wellogate Cemetery, Hawick

Elizabeth  like thousands of other women, was now a War Widow - she never remarried and wore the gold locket the rest of her life. She died in January 1959. 41 years after the death of hr husband,  and was interned along side her parents in Wellogate Cemetery. 

Her gold locket was left to her niece Mrs Elliot, who in 2014 in memory of her uncle John Gibson Abbey, subscribed to one of the ceramic  Remembrance Poppies, that  surrounded the Tower of London.  Sadly she died in Hawick   before she received the poppy. 

The locket and ceramic poppy are now in the collection at Hawick Museum.  Although they  are only two items, nevertheless, they illustrate the life of Elizabeth Abbey,  and others like her,  who experienced the roller-coaster of emotions: rejoicing when her husband had been saved,  which turned to a life-long sorrow at his untimely death. 

Wellogate Cemetery, overlooking Hawick 

  • Hawick and the Great WAr, published by "The Hawick News"   
  • Hawick Advrtiser and Express  newspaper
  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission website - www.cwgc.org

 To Follow - two more  stories of Hawick Women on the Home Front

  • Mrs Maggie Shiell Laidlaw, nee Thomson,  who, born into wealth and privilege,  took-up the challenge of war time, and applied her natural talent for community organisation.
  • Mrs Ellen Wilson: a  schoolmaster’s wife, who galvanised her village  into action. 


Sunday, 12 November 2017

7 Day Journal Jottings - A Blog Challenge

How many of us would like to find a journal of an ancestor, writing about  her (or his)  everyday life?  

Against that background, two recent online postings have caught my eye.  We often write about our childhood memories, but what are are we doing to note down  our life today to leave a  record for our descendants? 
  • On my Reading List was an entry from Lisa of My Trails into the Past.  She refered to Randy Seaver of Genea-Musing who has started a  meme asking bloggers to record what they have been doing in the past seven days. 
  • Jessica Benjamin on We Are Genealogy Bloggers sparked a discussion, seeking  advice on encouraging bloggers to contribute their journal entries.

    I decided to take up Randy's challenge. 
MY LIFE - NOVEMBER 6th TO 13th 2017

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 quite involved in my community and with my daughter and family who live close by.

Monday 6th November 2017
We were woken in the early hours of the morning i.e. 1am  by the  continuing bleeping of our smoke alarm - a sign that the batteries are running down, aggravated by cold weather.  I switched the heating on, hoping it would cease and tried to bury my head in the downie to drown out the irritating sound.  First phone call of the day must be to the Fire and Rescue Service to come and sort it. Woke up to a bitterly cold morning with heavy frost (the end of my nasturtiums and geraniums in the garden)  plus signs of sun -  but at least the house was nice and warm.  

Leaderfoot Viaduct
Took the bus for the quick 3 mile journey into Melrose to meet a former work colleague for coffee and scones.   As ever we never stopped talking! I never tire of the journey to and from Melrose with the view of the Eildon Hills and the Leaderfoot Viaduct over the Tweed - the Borders at its best. 

Back home to find N. had a homemade vegetable soup on the go  - just the ticket for lunch.  

Spent the afternoon  on the computer, preparing items for an  Auld Earlston meeting   and then finishing some crochet squares for the KAS (Knit a Square) Project, photographed  the squares and posted the images on the KAS Square Circle Forum page for November. 

Tea - salad (because I needed to use up items in the fridge) with home made oven chips, followed by a hot dessert - Eve’s Pudding.  

On TV watched It Takes Two - Strictly Come Dancing and  the quizzes Pointless and University Challenge whre I enjoy testing myself against the questions.  Then read my library book - realised that I  am into "comfort reading" and that a psychological thriller with lots of strange,suspicious happenings, is not conducive  to sleep.

Tuesday 7th November 2017
Our friendly Fire and Rescue team made an impressive arrival on their fire engine (after all they were on call) and they quickly fitted  a new smoke alarm.  A day of computer hassles, writing a post for the Auld Earlson blog featuring WW1 memorabilia from the group's archive collection. Spent far too long on it, so I am also going to feature it my own family history blog as well,  where  I always choose the theme of War and Remembrance  for November postings and have exhausted my own family stories.

Lunch - more of the soup.  Tea - mushroom pasta  and  roast peach halves, filled with biscuit crumble.

Auld Earlston Committee Meeting in the evening where we reviewed our recent very successful exhibition and slide show.  Home in time to catch on TV  the second half of Masterchef the Professionals.

Wednesday 8th November 2017  
Domestics in the morning and a visit to the hairdressers to get my hair trimmed where I had a good chat with M. about local history.  . Wednesday Club meeting  in the afternoon  more good chats with friends and as usual a lovely afternoon tea of goodies.  Posted my WW1 post on my own blog - have various other titles in my draft folder to work on, after a lean month in October.  

Tea  - fish  and fruit salad.

TV - for once a good evening for me - Pointless,  ITT Strictly, Masterchef the Professionals  where we were routing for the chef from the Lake District -  we always go for participnts from the north of  England or from Scotland - would that now be termed racism in these political correct times!   Then The Apprentice - it is compulsive viewing, particularly the final part in the board room, but it is so false!  The contestants were on a cruise ship and had to plan, sell and present a walking tour of Bruges. My 22 years in tourism hackles rose!  How could they lead a tour when they had never visited the place to do a recce, work out timings  and practice their commentary?     The cruise passengers were conned into paying nearly £100 each - stupid them -  but  I have a strong belief the TV production company would pay that. 

Thursday 9th November 2017
Lovely sunny morning and not as cold - joined the Walking Group  when we took cars up to Lauder  and walked  along the old Lauder Light Railway line.  Easy walking with clear blue skies and beautiful open countryside - very invigorating.  Back to Rhymers Cafe for  coffee and scones, plus friendly chat.  

Afternoon spent on (hopefully) finishing off Anne’s Famiy History narrative which I began some time ago and I must finish  before Christmas. 

ASDA groceries delivery  - this is such a boon, especially as we no longer have a car,  20 min. ordering on the IPad,  no 18 mile round trip to Galashiels, loading trolley, unloading trolley, filling bags,  etc.    Tea  mini pizzas (home made) and fresh fruit salad.

Usual TV - ITT Strictly good  and not as silly as it can get - I always like the spot on costumes and a good interview with Susan and Kevin, one of my favourite couples. Plus an absorbing  BBC4 programme  on the four Romanov daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra - I have always been fascinated by this period of Russian history and remember a complex spider's web chart I drew at university for revising the causes of the Russian Revolution. 

Friday 10th November  2017
Woke up early so read  in bed and finished my library book.  Lazy morning with a quick visit  from G and Nh. - In Service Training Day so no school and they were going  to see the new Paddington Bear film. 

 Short bus journey down to Milestone Garden Centre for lunch.  We enjoyed the visit - lovely first impression as we  entered with the colourful Christmas displays - needless to say we did buy some additions for the tree.;  plus some cyclamen and heathers for the tubs in the front garden which I planted this afternoon.  Another sunny day with clear blue skies, but still very cold - definitely hat, scarf and gloves weather - 5C/41F. 

TV  - Pointless, News, Mastermid and Only Connect quizzes.  On my I-pad  writing book reviews on Good Reads.com.  I am dreadful at remembering titles and authors of books I read, so this web site is ideal.  I do it for myself, not to get comments and enjoy reading what others think of the books.

Saturday 11th November 2017. 
Domestics  and on the computer drafting blog posts and cleAring my e-maIils build up.    I have had a great week on my blog.

Tea - usual Saturday winter comfort meal  - eg, poached egg, bacon, hash browns, mushrooms - plus pears for afters.    

TV's Strictly Come Dancing brilliant - even N. is following it, rather than escaping onto the computer.    Followed by the Festival of Remembrance in the Royal Albert Hall - very moving - Britain and BBC at their very best.  

Sunday 12th November 2017 
Sunshine streamed through the house for much of the day.  Watched the Remembrance Ceremony at the Cenotaph - again very stirring and moving.  Britain does this ceremonial so well.   Walked up to the Square afterwards and took photographs of Earlston War Memorial with the poppy wreaths.

Tea - casserole, roast potatoes,  ice-cream and fruit salad,  TV - Songs of Praise, Strictly Dance Off and  new serial  of  E.M Fosters "Howards End".     

I have enjoyed writing this over the last seven  days, which are pretty typical of my lifestyle (more TV than usual and fewer grandparent duties).  I might continue to do something similar on a sporadic basis.   The questions is - would others find it interesting?  Will it convey  an insight into  my life for future generations. What do you think?   


Saturday, 11 November 2017

Lest We Forget: Military Monday

I grew up in a family who always acknowledged Remembrance Day.  We watched on TV the ceremonies at the Royal Albert Hall on the Saturday evening,  attended the local  war memorial service on the  Sunday or watched on television the Queen leading the  national tribute  at  the Cenotaph in London.    

Few families in the country must have escaped the impact of war on their loved ones and my immediate family  was no exception.  

First World War

  • George Danson, the youngest of eight brothers, a stretch bearer,  killed on the Somme in 1916,  a week after his 22nd birthday.

  • John Danson, a young widower aged 38,  the second eldest of the eight Danson brothers,  who in 1917 took his own life whilst in army training,

    The War Memorial plaque in Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire
    recording the names of George and John Danson
They also served:
  • William Danson, my grandfather,  who was awarded the military medal and fought in the mud of Passchendale.
  • Frank Danson, wounded and in hospital in Malta.
  • Tom Danson

Second World War 
  • Harry Danson, a survivor of Dunkirk who later served in Africa and Italy.
  • Billy Danson, who served in the navy.
  • Peggy Danson, who joined the WAAF and  manned a barrage balloon operation in Hull.
  • John Weston, my father, who worked in codes and ciphers, landed on Omaha beach in 1944 and  progressed through France, Luxembourg into Germany and later served in Burma.   He later wrote down his war memories for me - a precious document to  have.
  • Charles Weston - a prisoner of war of the Japanese.


 Below: The war memorial in the village of Earlston in the Scottish Borders where I now live  and the UK's National War Memorial - the Cenotaph  on Whitehall, London.  


Copyright © 2017 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

A Village's War Tribute - Military Monday

As we come to mark Remembrance Sunday and the end of the First World War on 11th November 1918,  memorabilia is featured here from the collection of  my local heritage group - Auld Earlston in the Scottish Borders.

This colourful patriotic certificate was issued to schoolchildren during the First World War, often at Christmas, as here, or a variation of it on Empire Day   

This was the first time that the whole nation had been mobilised to play a part in the war effort, and here young Mary Denham was commended for helping  " to send some comforts and happiness  to the Brave Men who are Fighting to  uphold the Freedom of our Glorious Empire". 

VAD nurses outside the  Manse, Earlston. 

The Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) referred to a voluntary unit providing field nursing services, mainly in hospitals.  It was   founded in 1909 with the help of the Red Cross  and  Order of St. John.  By the summer of 1914 there were over 2,500 Voluntary Aid Detachments in Britain and members eagerly offered their service to the war effort. 

However the Red Cross was reluctant to allow civilian women a role in overseas hospitals and military authorities would not accept VADs at the front line. Most volunteers were of the middle and upper classes and unaccustomed to hardship and traditional hospital discipline, but for many this was an opportunity for freedom from their restricted home environment. 

VADs carried out duties that were less technical, but no less important, than trained nurses. They organised and managed local auxiliary hospitals   throughout Britain, caring for the large number of sick and wounded soldiers. As the war went on, the growing shortage of trained nurses  opened the door for VADs to work overseas.

Well known VAD's included crime writer Agatha Christie, who said  "It was one of the most rewarding professions that anyone can follow”.   Vera Brittain was most famous for writing "Testament of Youth: an autobiographical study of the years 1900–1925".   She became a VAD in 1915 and was posted to France in 1917, writing a  vivid, moving and poignant account of her experiences. 


This little item has perforated edges like a stamp, but no information has been traced on it.  The tiny printing at the bottom says "Society of Poster Art".  From the start of the war, there was a great upsurge in charitable activities,  with many charities founded that exist today.  A National Relief Fund was set up, galvanising local communities into action.  Much of the fund raising was for "Comforts" for the troops - knitting hats, scarves  and gloves, sending books and food parcels abroad etc.  Posters and postcards were also sold  with patriotic messages as here.  


During the First World War, Earlston remembered its serving soldiers at Christmas time, with a series of cards sent over the war years.




In the 1911 census,  Earlston's  population stood at 1749,  with 801 male and 948 females. The First World War saw forty-eight men losing their lives in the conflict  - their names recorded  on the War Memorial, unveiled on Sunday 13th  November 1921.   In a service of dedication in the square, it was unveiled by Mrs Hope, wife of Colonel Hope of Cowdenknowes, who was chairman of the War Memorial Committee,




Auld Earlston blog at : https://auldearlston.blogspot.co.uk

Military Monday is one of many daily prompts  from GeneabloggersTribe encouraging bloggers to write about their family history . 

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Halloween Memories: Sepia Saturday

Sepia Saturday gives an opportunity for genealogy bloggers  to share their family history and memories through photographs.  This week's theme is Halloween.

Halloween was almost a non-event in both my childhood and my daughter’s, as traditions took a long time to reach Britain from across the Atlantic.   

I can remember, though, a popular children's game we played at Guides in autumn  -  "Apple Dookin"  where we had our hands tied behind our back with a scarf,  and had to kneel at a tub of water to try and grab an apple with our mouths without getting wet.  Another version (still with our hands tied)  was to hang apples on a piece of string and again try to get a bite out of them as they swung too and fro.   
Turnips were used to  to create lanterns,   as pumpkins were a rarity here. 

Halloween, Pumpkin, Orange, October 
  Image courtesy of Pixabay

Witches were always a popular theme  at fancy dress parties throughout the year and my daughter  (and now granddaughter) enjoyed reading the "Worst Witch " books.   As for chants - it was  

Double, double toil and trouble;
     Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
(As proclaimed by the witches  in  Shakespeare's "Macbeth").

Halloween, Helloween, Witch'S House
Image courtesy of Pixabay

Shops here eventually discovered the commercial opportunity from Halloween  and have been  full of orange and black wares, since September.   Where I live, houses with young children have luminous skeletons and witch decorations  in their windows and an occasional pumpkin appears at front doors.   The primary school marks the event with a school disco - in fancy dress of course!

"Trick and Treat" has never caught on much in my experience, with reservations about youngsters knocking on the doors of people they don't know.  In the five years we ave lived in our present home, last night was the first time we have had visitors - two very polite little groups (with mothers in the background), who regaled me  with jokes e.g.  What does the Chinese skeleton order in a restaurant?   Answer:  Spare ribs!! 

What I do love about this time of year are "Pumpkins"! My daughter even gave me a pumpkin candle for my birthday in September.  They are such  lovely,  cheery symbols and I could not stop photographing them when I was in the USA

We just had to pull into this huge display, so I could take this photograph! 
 A pumpkin dominating this display at Boston market


Click HERE to find  memories  from other Sepia Saturday bloggers.