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Friday, 31 January 2014

Sepia Saturday - A Wartime Traveller's Tale

Sepia Saturday give bloggers an opportunity to share their family history and memories  through photographs. 

I have few travelers amongst my ancestors.  Alice Mason nee Rawcliffe, with six children under 11 years old plus two pieces of baggage,  emigrated to New York in 1887 and has  featured before on my blog.  My aunt Peggy emigrated to Australia in 1949,  but I know little of her life there.    So here is a traveller's tale from my father.


My father, John P. Weston. served in the RAF Codes & Ciphers Branch Here is a story from his wartime memories that he wrote down for me, though I doubt if luggage played much of a part.   Left  is the only photograph I have of him in tropical kit.

"VE Day I spent at Wiesbaden in Germany.  The following day a signal arrived from London saying I was to go the Cocos Islands in the Indian Ocean, where there was a tracking station.  

I flew back home via Paris, landing at RAF Benrose, Oxford and then by rail home for 10 days leave.   I them received instructions to report to RAF Lyneham, Wiltshire to fly out east.  On the last night there, I made a telephone call home.  I said to the operator "I am off to the Far East, will you give me some extra time" - she did - which I did not have to pay for.  

Then off on a circuitous route because we were not allowed to overfly certain counties.  My travel documents said I was priority three – there were ten degrees, with Generals number one.   We flew to Marseilles, then to Sardinia (refuel), over Malta to El Adam, near Tobruk., along the North African coast past Cairo and onto Palestine for a 36 hour break and went to Bethlehem.  Our base was Lydda right on the coast.  The flies were a major menace!" 

"We flew onto Bahrain in the Gulf and then to Habayra (RAF airfield in Iraq) – temperature 104F when we landed there at 4a.m.  I could hardly breath.  Then onto Pakistan, Bombay, Calcutta, Madras and across to Ceylon.  I went by rail to Mountbatten’s HQ some 8000 feet in a tropical town of  Kandy. 

My stay there was brief, but I remembered the good food.  I was told plans had changed and I was rerouted to Bombay.  

It was take off in Colombo and we had almost reached the point of no return when the plane burst a tyre, which delayed us 24 hours. We took off at 4am on the second occasion. 

"In Burma things were moving to a close.  I was there at the ceremony in Rangoon when the Japanese capitulated.  I was based at the university.  We were always short of tea, which seemed odd in that part of the world, but there was plenty of cocoa.  I also had a ration of one bottle of gin and one of lime juice a month.  I used to drink that under my mosquito net at night watching the mosquitoes  run up and down the wall. 

In November 1945, I was called back for demob.  A driver took me by jeep to the airfield some 20 miles away.  I sat with a rifle (loaded) on my knee since we had to travel through some forests frequented by Dacoits (a terrorist organization in Burma).  The time was 5am. and we made it all right. I flew to Calcutta again and was there for some days.  Calcutta was an awful experience.    Flies crawled over people sitting in the gutters day and night.

We were due to take a train across the desert to Bombay, some 3000 miles.  But there was rioting against the English  in Calcutta and we had to return to camp.  Later we were taken by armoured cars to the station.  On the long journey across India, we stopped at stations to get some food.  We had this on trays, and as we walked along the platform back to the train, hawks dived down and snatched the food.  

I had a short break in Bombay before sailing on the "City of Asia" for home.  I was in charge of a deck of some 200 men.  We eventually arrived at Liverpool on Christmas Day and went to a camp at Birkenhead.  Then I caught a train to Blackpool and arrived home by taxi at 2pm. 

One of the first things I did was to cradle you in my arms – you were shy – no wonder!" 

Head  HERE to discover more travellers' tales from Sepia Saturday bloggers. 

Copyright © 2014 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

52 Ancestors: 5 - The Sad Tale of Mary Jane Bailey

52ancestors Amy at No Story Too Small has come up with a new challenge for 2014 - to write a post  each week on a specific ancestor. 

Mary Jane Bailey (left)  and my grandfather William Danson  were cousins. I haven't had many successes in uncovering  long lost Danson relations, so I was delighted to make contact with  an unknown third cousin Stuart, who had found my blog.

 We both share the same great great grandfather Henry Danson (1806-1881) of Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire.   Henry and his wife Elizabeth Calvert had nine children - the eldest daughter Elizabeth (1831-1885) was Stuart''s great grandmother, whilst the youngest child James (1852-1906) was my great grandfather - both born at Trap Farm, Carleton below.

So Elizabeth was 21 years older than her youngest brother. She married Thomas Bailey, whose family lived on an adjacent farm with the picturesque name of Bready Butts (right- today).  Their eldest son William was born in 1852  a few weeks before his Uncle James Danson.  Five more children followed - the youngest Mary Jane, Stuart's grandmother.   

The story, however, has sad overtones.  Elizabeth died in 1885, followed a year later by her husband Thomas, leaving a young family orphaned with her two youngest children only 12 and 8 years old.  Margaret went to live with her eldest sister Elizabeth, with  Mary Jane joining  the household of her older brother Henry in Blackpool.  

 At the age of 28, Mary Jane married John William Oldham in 1905 at St. John's Church, Blackpool, but she continued to face tragedy in her life, when her youngest daughter Hilda  died aged 6 in 1915.  (Below - family photograph c.1909 with Hilda and older daughter Elsie). 

Seven years later, Mary Ellen was sadly hospitalised and remained there until her death in 1945.    

With thanks to my third cousin Stuart, for the use of the family  photographs. 

 Do take a look at earlier postings in this series

1. Alice English (1884-1945) - A Brick Wall at My Grandmother
2. Edith Danson (1907 -1885) - My Feisty Aunt 
3. John Danson (c.1789-1836) - A Family Black Sheep
4. Florence Adelaide Mason (1898-1965) - An Unknown American Cousin. 


Saturday, 25 January 2014

Joining a WorldWide Genealogy Collaboration

Julia at AnglersRest has come up with  an innovative blog inviting 31 bloggers from all over the world to sign up   to write a post about genealogy, local or family history on a specific  day each month.  I am delighted to say I am part of this new network, with my  posting date the 8th of the month. 

January is seeing the authors introducing  themselves, with a strong Australian presence,and representation from across  the USA,  joined by bloggers from the Netherlands, England, Scotland, Wales and Guernsey in the Channel Islands.  It promises to be a fascinating collection of articles as we share our research and learn from others. 

For a full list of contributors - click HERE

Do take a look at the new site 

Worldwide Genealogy ~ A Genealogical Collaboration

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Sepia Saturday - A Wartime Winter's Tale

Sepia Saturday give bloggers an opportunity to share their family history and memories  through photographs.

I  had to be inventive in responding to this week's prompt, as all my snow photographs date from the 1970's and no-one in my family has ever taken part in winter sports.  

But I had two snowy photographs in my father's collection, recalling his time in Luxembourg in 1944.  So, here is his wartime winter tale, told in his own words.

Dad  served in the RAF Codes & Ciphers Branch and was indoctrinated into the mysteries of Enigma and the One-Time Pad code, with training at Bletchley Park and Whitehall. London.  He then became part of the Special Liaison Unit, a team of analysts formed by  Frederick Winterbotham to scan, digest, and file the messages, with channels established for forwarding key messages to the appropriate field commands. 

After training, Dad   was seconded to General Bradley’s US 12th Army Group HQ. He landed at Omaha beach just after D-Day and advanced via St. Mere Eglise, Avranches, Versailles, Paris, Verdun and Luxembourg through to Wiesbaden in Germany. 
"We arrived in Luxembourg.  General Bradley's Hotel Alpha was opposite the badly damaged railway station.  We had a good hotel at the back and were able to buy some very good cakes in the town. I became friendly  with a former member of the government [Mr Battin]  and was invited to his house. He produced champagne from his cellar and served them with lovely cakes with kirsch in them"

Dad (left) with Mr Battin and his daughter - 1944

 A rare chance to sample some home life in time of war!
Dad on the right with the Mr Battin's daughter.  

A picturesque scene of  Luxembourg, found in Dad's album.
Two more photographs below from the same album  .

Dad maintained contact with the Battin family for a long time after the war, exchanging Christmas cards etc.  In 1961  we moved to York and he named our new house  "Arlon" after  a place  in Luxembourg which obviously held fond memories for him.

His story continues......

A Meal of five Boiled Sweets

"It was now December 1944 and bitterly cold – lots of ice and snow. Out of the blue at 4a.m. on December 16th came a major attack on the American front.  It was pandemonium...... This was the Battle of the Bulge.  We carried thermite bombs in a safe in our operations vehicle to be used to destroy our codebooks and machines. We had rifles fully loaded with us at all times.......Anyone moving around that night not giving the correct password (which was Betty Gable), was shot on the spot......The weather did improve somewhat. We were dropped supplies of food and more important the GIs got further weapons and ammo. supplies. 

At one stage we  were being served up five boiled sweets for one meal!"

This meal of five boiled sweets became an, often repeated,  apocryphal family story.  It was only much later that I came to realize it masked the awful scenes he must have witnessed.  

Copyright © 2014 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved

 Click HERE  to read other snowy tales from Sepia Sepians