Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Woolwich in 1915, a Manchester soldier and a love letter from Chorlton

The Herbert Hospital circa 1900
“Arrived safely today. No settled address at present.  Best wishes George.”

Now at first glance there isn’t anything special about George’s message to his wife Nellie even given that it was sent from Woolwich to 146 Bedford Street, Hulme in Manchester.

Thousands of young men every year leave the family home in search of work and until things are settled will not have a permanent address.

But what makes the card just a little more interesting is the date and time for George sent it on October 25th 1915 just in time for the late evening collection.

From George at Woolwich  to Nellie in Hulme, October 1915
He was in the Royal Artillery and over the course of the next three years was to serve in Ireland and on the Western Front where he was killed in the June of 1918.

I can’t yet establish when he enlisted but Woolwich may have been one of the first posting after he left Manchester.

And just four days after our post card he sent another to Nellie with the request not “to send any letters to Woolwich until further notice.  Expect leaving this weekend for unknown destination.”

During those few days be bought a number of cards depicting Woolwich but never sent them and they now form part of the George Davison collection.

In all there must be a hundred postcards, letters and official documents from 1915 till 1955.  Many are from George to Nellie and after his death there is correspondence from the War Office, the pensions department and his commanding officer.

Woolwich, 1915
There are also his school reports, details of his first job along with the social club he joined and his membership of the Independent Labour Party.

And if that was not enough there is a series of charming letters he wrote to young Nellie before they were married.

The first dates from 1904 when she was just 16 and talks of his recent proposal of marriage and his wish to meet her parents on the following day.

Others follow during the course of the next two years and are the usual love letters sent in the age before the telephone.

But it would be a full four years before they married and another three years before the birth of their son.

This is a wonderful collection of material spanning the last decades of the 19th century and well into the next.

And for me there is a very personal connection which links me to George.

During the years before he was married he lived just a few minute’s walk away at Barway House on Edge Lane here in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, the first marital home was close by in Hulme and we shared a similar political outlook.

Royal Artillery Barracks, Woolwich circa 1900
All of which then just leaves Woolwich.  He was stationed there briefly in 1915 and I grew up close by separated by just forty years which in the great sweep of things is not much.

I suspect that the Woolwich he knew was still the one I was familiar with in the 1960s and which has now pretty much vanished.

I doubt that he would recognise Beresford Square or Wellington Street any more than I can today, and I am sure would be equally hard pressed to make sense of the area around the Arsenal or for that matter the water front.

Odd that two people separated by those four decades should still have more in common than I would have thought.

But then that is sometimes how history pans out, which is less by grand design and more by a series of hiccups.

Location; Woolwich, London

Pictures; from the collection of David Harrop

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