Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Mrs Nellie Davison’s War .......... stories behind the book nu 25

An occasional series on the stories behind the new book on Manchester and the Great War*

Duncan and Mrs Davison, circa 1915/1916
Nellie Davison nee Latchford was born in Hulme in 1889.  She was one of seven children.

Her father was a dyer but briefly had chanced his luck as a coal merchant but either because he was not suited to do the occupation or for other reasons he had reverted back to his old job.

Her older brothers and sisters had been engaged in a variety of occupations.  Two worked in the fabric trade, another was an iron turner and fitter and the eldest had a fish and chip business.

And by 1911 the family were living in a three roomed house on Percy Street which had been one of a succession of houses all in Hulme all bounded by City Road to the north and Stretford Road to the south.

Postcard to Hulme, 1915
During 1907 she had been walking out with Mr George Davison.

He was three years older and had been born in Harpurhey and  belonged to those “middling people.”

His father was a solicitor’s clerk and George while working as a clerk attended night school studying English, Latin, French and Euclid which was hard work but as he wrote to Nellie “your future happiness as well as my own depends largely on the results of my studies during the next few years.”

Those were successful and their marriage in 1908 was followed by the birth of their son and in the autumn of 1914 he along with thousands of others volunteered for the army.
In the course of the next four years he was stationed in Woolwich, Ireland and in the March of 1918 shipped out to the Western Front.

Now I still do not know that much about Nellie, but by picking through the letters George sent home it is possible to piece together something of her life during the war.

146 Bedford Street, 1894
Fairly early on she moved out of her home in Romiley where she had lived since 1908 and back to Hulme.

This was 146 Bedford Street in Hulme and here she stayed with her son Duncan till the end of the war.  It is unclear if this was where her parents lived or a place she rented.

But it made sense to move back to Hulme given that this was where some of her family were still living.

The cottage in Romiley was rented out to sub tenants and she only moved back sometime in late 1918 or early 1919.

George Davison, circa 1915/1916
What I did find interesting was that during the war Nellie and Duncan upped sticks and spent time in both London and Ireland in rented accommodation either close to the barracks where George was staying or
perhaps sharing the accommodation with him.

Now there will be someone much more qualified than me who will be able to explain how common this practice was but I find it fascinating especially given that rail travel became more expensive and difficult as the demands of the war impacted on the railway network reducing the number of trains.

George didn’t survive the war.  He was killed in the June of 1918 and the extensive correspondence with the various Government agencies throws light in the years that followed.

I know that she never remarried and was still in Romiley in 1955 and there is a hint that Duncan only died in the 1990s.

That as they say is for another post and of course appears as a story in the forth coming book.**

Eltham  Church and Well Hall Road in 1915
But there is one last bit of Nellie's story and it is a bit I overlooked when I first read the letters.  Geotge refers to a Mrs Drinkal who Nellie stayed with or met when she was visiting him in Woolwich in 1915 and there is also a W H Drinkall who witnesed his will three years later before he left woolwich.

The spelling is different but there may will be a link given that a W H Drinkal was living at 7a Elmbrook Street which is listed in the electoral roll for Eltham and three years later when George was briefly back in Woolwich he had to collect a parcel from "Well Hall Post office."

And that would put him close to where I grew up.  Now that makes a connection spanning fifty years.

Location; Hulme

Pictures; of Mr and Mrs Davison and Duncan, 1915/1916 and postcard 1915, from the collection of David Harrop, Eltham in 1915 from the collection of Andrew Simpson, and Bedford Street, 1844 from the OS for South Lancashire, 1894, courtesy of Digital Archives Association, http://digitalarchives.co.uk/ 

*A new book on Manchester and the Great War http://chorltonhistory.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/A%20new%20book%20on%20Manchester%20and%20the%20Great%20War

**Manchester and the Great War, https://chorltonhistory.blogspot.co.uk/2016/02/manchester-and-great-war

***Coming Soon ......... an exhibition in Southern Cemetery ........... remembering the Battle of the Somme, https://chorltonhistory.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/coming-soon-exhibition-in-southern.html


So when is tall too tall? ....... down on Owen Street

Now there is no getting away from that rising development on Owen Street.  

From lots of different location it rises from the ground like a giant Beanstalk left to grow by a young Jack.

I didn’t really comprehend the size of the thing when they started breaking the ground, and even when Andy Robertson’s became interested in its progress it still didn’t really push out the other buildings I was interested in.

But now there is no doubting just how it will dominate the sky line.

And there are others close by which will rival its height.

At which point while I am not averse to modern buildings or to tall ones, there is a sense that these giants are out step with what I am comfortable .

Location; Manchester


















Pictures; Manchester, 2017 from the collection of Andy Robertson

Sunday, 29 October 2017

1934 and inside the Independent College in Whalley Range


We are in the grounds of the Independent College in Whalley Range and the year is 1934.

Our picture is a postcard which “R” says “is a new view of the college which I thought you might like to see.  

It gives rather a good view of the grounds I think.”

He was writing to Mr and Mrs Nelson of Garston Old Road in Liverpool and he went on to say that he had “managed a good spot of work,” and was looking forward to “seeing something of a friend of mine who is preaching at Ormskirk on Sunday.”

There is nothing more to help us with the identity of “R” but given that the college had been built “educate young men of decided piety and competent talents for the Christian ministry,”* I think we can be fairly confident he was destined for a religious career.

By the time “R” was doing his spot of work the college had been open for 92 years and had continued “the preparation of young men for the ministry of the Independent church”** carrying on the work of the  Blackburn Independent Academy which had opened in 1816.

Such independent establishments had been necessary by the ban on dissenters from attending universities.  So here along with the study of theology students “will have the opportunity of gaining philosophical and scientific knowledge, in addition to the classics and mathematics.”

There were to be two resident professors and about fifty-two students the cost was to be met by public subscription and the hope was that this would in time be met by endowments.

The original design was for a gothic style building with a tall tower and a principal front 261 feet in length including two professors’ houses at either end with cloisters in between serving as an arcade in which the students can take exercise in wet weather.  There were to be three stories surmounted by battlements about 40 feet high.

“The arrangements in the interior of the College, forming a communication with different suites of rooms, are well designed and exceedingly simple consisting of corridors running the extreme length of the front and of either wing. The lower story of the building which is sufficiently high above the ground to ensure dryness is intended entirely for servants, and the corridor which connects the different offices runs along the main building.

Entering the College by the broad flight of steps in the basement of the tower we come to the entrance hall on the second or main floor which is a lofty room about 36 feet by 32 and open to the roof.”***

And I suppose this description would have been recognised by “R” as well as the countless other students who continued to study there until its closure in 1980.

Later; more stories and pictures of the college.

Pictures; of the college in 1934 from the Lloyd Collection The Assembly Hall and grounds from The Lancashire Independent College, 1843-93

* resolution of the committee held in the vestry of the Mosley Street Chapel, Manchester February 1816, and quoted by Thompson, Joseph,  in The Lancashire Independent College, 1843-93, Manchester 1893 Memorial Volume, p18
** The Manchester Guardian 1842
*** The Manchester Guardian 1842

Saturday, 28 October 2017

“Wally of the Whalley” Says Goodbye ......... stories of the Whalley Hotel

“Wally of the Whalley” Says Goodbye

It is one of those headlines that you just can’t miss.

“Wally of the Whalley” Says Goodbye appeared in the Manchester City News for November 16th 1951 and featured Mr and Mrs Summer who had run the Whalley Hotel for four years.

Mr Wally Summer and his wife Ethel were leaving Manchester for Anglesey, where they were to take over the Anglesey Arms.

“It's going to be a wrench leaving” he told the City News, “we’ve made hundreds of friends since we came to Brooks’ Bar.  I’ve been amazed at the number of people who have come up to wish us luck.”*

The Anglesey Arms is still there just at the edge of the Menai Bridge.

Now in the fullness of time I would like to find out more about Mr and Mrs Summer.

Painting; The Whalley Hotel,  © 2013 Peter Topping, Paintings from Pictures,
Web: www.paintingsfrompictures.co.uk

Facebook:  Paintings from Pictures
*Manchester City News November 16, 1951


More on the ruins of Rome



Down every street another ruin, and around every corner another piazza
















Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Liverpool Road Railway Station, at the cutting edge of techonology


How do you design and build something which has never been done before?

A daunting enough challenge in the 21st century but even more so just thirty years into the 19th century.

And this is the railway story for the day, when an enterprising group of Manchester businessmen set about creating a cheap and quick way of transporting goods from Liverpool to Manchester and back again.  The Liverpool and Manchester Railway did it by both looking back and forwards and in the process made some delightful history.

Who today would float a competition to see which form of traction would be used on the railway and open the contest to everyone from professional engineers to eccentric amateurs?  This was the Rainhill Trials conducted in the October of 1829 with a prize of £500 and the possibility that the winner would make transport history.

And this was a major civil engineering project which called on the knowledge, skills and workforce which had built our canal network and it was the canals which offered a way of storing goods which would be coming in and out of the station complex on a daily basis.

Canal warehouse design had been perfected during the last half of the 18th century.  The main features of the design were a series of loading points called loop holes on each floor and access points for barges to move directly into the building.  Similar loopholes were situated on the roadside of the warehouse.  This enabled goods to be moved from one side to another.  One of the best of these is sited opposite Dukes 92 and has recently been renovated.

The original 1830 warehouse used a combination of loopholes and arches designed to allow wagons to be pushed into the building.  After the great fire in 1866, which destroyed the two newer warehouses, this practice was stopped. It is still possible to see where the lines ran into the building. Turntables existed to turn and push wagons into the warehouse.  Maps of the period show these turntables all over the site. The last one was only torn up in the late 90s.

All along the rail side it is possible to see changes that have been made to the original design.   One of the arches has been enlarged and one of the loopholes adapted.  It is possible to see some of the early winding gear above one of the loopholes, and the different brickwork above other loopholes can see the evidence for where others once were.

And now of course the warehouse along with the station is part of the museum.

Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Friday, 27 October 2017

Lost and forgotten in Chorlton ........ number 1 ..... the telephone exchange

Now I have to say that I never really noticed our old telephone exchange on Keppel Road.

And looking at Andy Robertson’s picture from 2015 you can see why.

It was a no nonsense functional building which didn’t pretend to be anything special and certainly didn’t want much attention.

It was what it was, a brick box for facilitating telephone conversations.

It’s design will have been replicated across the country with variations, and there is a similar but smaller version which was a Post Office on Oxford Road and another on Lapwing Lane which is now a restaurant and lacks the arched windows.

But even given its utilitarian use, the architect still felt it’s appearance could be lifted a little and so included those arched windows at ground floor level.

When Andy took his pictures it had been closed for a while and was in the process of being “developed”.

But all good stories need an odd correction so from Andrew Cooper came "It wasn't the telephone exchange, it was used by British Telecom but the actual exchange is next to Unicorn".
And from Andrew Holland "It was the one of the HQs where all GPO / BT workmen went to be given their jobs for the day etc. 

There was always bright yellow vans with blue writing in & out of there. In fact my good friend Sammy O'Rouke operated from there. He also was the best barman the Feathers ever had".

And that is that.

Location; Chorlton

Picture; the GPO Exchange, Chorlton, 2015 from the collectuion of Andy Robertson.

Scenes from a railway station part 2 Manchester Piccadilly


I could have lapsed into some profound commentary on the juxtaposition of this single figure on the concourse during a busy day at Piccadilly.  

But he seemed to know what he was doing and only needed the destination board to sort out the time and platform.  It took him just a few minutes and then he was gone.

Picture; from the collection of Andrew Simpson

A little bit of religious dissent in Whalley Range .... The Independent Lancashire College


I like this picture of the Independent Lancashire College in Whalley Range.

It had been here since 1843 and even before it was finished it was causing a stir amongst “the Public and more especially by strangers, respecting this beautiful specimen of gothic architecture which is seen to great advantage from the roads leading westward out of Manchester.”

It origins lay in the fact that Dissenters along with the Catholics were still barred from entering the Universities, and lay professions.  They could not marry in their own places of worship and had to rely on Anglican Churches for registering births and deaths.

This had led to the establishment of an independent academy in Blackburn was opened in 1816 to “educate young men of decided piety and competent talents for the Christian ministry.”**

By 1838 the academy was no longer adequate for this purpose and a new “collegiate building affording more extensive domiciliary accommodation,”” was agreed upon which would be sited in Manchester.

A public subscription was launched to meet the cost of what was estimated would be £10,000.  It says much for the strength of dissent in the North West that within two years the sum of £14, 736 was raised which eventually exceeded £25, 000.

And with all such subscriptions the contributions ranged from the modest to the very substantial, so while Mr Joseph Taylor of Ashton handed over £2, George Hadfield from Manchester gave £2,100, Samuel Fletcher £1,300 and our own Samuel Brooks of Whalley House £1, 550.

Brooks however also benefited from selling the seven acre site for its construction for £3,650.

The foundation stone was laid In September 1840 and the college opened in 1843.

Pictures; of the college circa 1910 from the Lloyd Collection and the Blackburn Independent Academy from The Lancashire Independent College, 1843-93

Tomorrow; the building, the teaching and stories from those who were there

*Manchester Guardian 1842
** resolution of the committee held in the vestry of the Mosley Street Chapel, Manchester February 1816, and quoted by Thompson, Joseph,  in The Lancashire Independent College, 1843-93, Manchester 1893 Memorial Volume, p18

Thursday, 26 October 2017

The unremarkable reveals its secrets ...... at Chorlton station in 1911


This is one of those pictures which don’t get included in the collections of Chorlton.

And you can see why of course.  There is nothing here at first glance which anyone would recognise so there is no point in trying to match it with the present.

Nor do we know who any of the four are and given that the photograph is over a hundred years old I doubt that we ever will.

So most of us would pass over the image and if pressed would label it “four men outside a brick hut, possibly industrial, date unknown.”

For me that is pretty much the attraction.  The date is given as circa 1909 and we are down at the Goods Office by Chorlton Station.

And with that small piece of detail the photograph begins to make sense and I think  starts being interesting.

Look closely and to the left there is a carriage no doubt waiting for someone off the train, while directly in front of the hut is the Public Weighing Machine and to the right the offices of the coal merchants.

In 1911 there were five of them working from the yard by the railway line along with J. Duckett & Sons, building merchants, and J. A. Bruce Alexander, nurseryman.

We may even be able to date more accurately when the picture was taken because according to the 1911 directory one of the firms working in the yard was a Frank Tinker and it is his name which appears above and on the office to our immediate right.

And so to the four. I still don’t know who they are, but one  is wearing a railwayman’s cap with the letters CLC, for the Cheshire Lines Committee which will take me down the route of searching out their staffing records.

The two in the doorway judging by their clothes may be clerical staff which I is confirmed by the sheaf of papers held by one of them.

So the brick hut will be connected to the Public Weighing machine, these are employees of the railway and we are down by the station in what is now the car park of the supermarket.

And looking back at the directories for the years before 1911 there is evidence that the number of coal merchants has grown reflecting I suspect how populous Chorlton was becoming and how successful had been the railway in the 20 or so years since it was opened.

And not long after this was posted I got one of those helpful comments from John Anthony Hewitt "Not really a public weighing machine Andrew Simpson, although it could have been used for that purpose as well as railway duties. 

It was most likely used for sale of coal and other materials, by weight, to local merchants. 

They would weigh-in empty wagons, weigh-out the same wagons laden with coal, etc., and calculate the bill. 

The person holding the papers could be one of the merchants judging by the non-railway style of hat being worn. 

He is also looking slightly bemused [at the bill], whereas the railway clerk has a broad smile on his face."

Location; Chorlton

Picture; from the Lloyd collection.

News from that South African War, circa 1901

The Boer War which lasted from 1899 to 1902 has largely been eclipsed by the Great War.

It sits tucked away with all those smaller colonial campaigns the British army fought across the world after the Crimean War and before the two great world wars of the 20th century.

And yet in its time it was a major event, dividing world opinion, raising in particular questions about the treatment of civilians and accounting for around 75,000 deaths of which between 20,000 and 28,000 were Boer civilians.

And the postcard manufactures were not slow about getting involved.

Raphael Tuck & Sons produced a range of cards covering all aspects of the war from photographs of British soldiers, the Boer commanders and a series of humorous ones.

This comes from a collection of six by the artist L Thackery which alternated between jingoism and a more sober reflection on experiences of British servicemen.

And of course there is a direct connection with Manchester.

In St Ann's Square we have the memorial to the men who took part.







Picture, Memorial St Ann's Square, 2014, from the collection of Andrew Simpson, and With the flag to Pretoria, from the series, The Boer War, issued by Tuck & Sons, circa 1901, courtesy of Tuck DB, http://tuckdb.org/

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

West Point on the edge of Chorlton

West point in the 1950s
Well I am back at West Point at the junction of Manchester and Upper Chorlton Roads where they meet Seymour Grove.

Once and it was a long time ago this was commonly known as the Flash and I have to say there wasn’t much there.

In fact before the late 1830s had you wandered north out through Martledge* past Red Gate Farm and Dark Lane up to the Flash there was no Upper Chorlton Road and our route would have taken us up  what is now Seymour Grove but was then called Trafford Lane.

The Flash, 1841-53
Back then Trafford Lane was according to the historian Elwood, “nothing more than an old lane or rough cart road, with deep ditches at each side, overshadowed by trees, and used chiefly by the farmers and foot-passengers of the village.”**

But sometime and it may have been around the time that Samuel Brooks began developing Jackson’s Moss turning it in that desirable southern suburb of Whalley Range, the Flash became West Point.

It might have been helped by the road he cut from Whalley Range into Chorlton at the Flash.  This was Upper Chorlton Road and while it was a toll road may have been a more attractive route into the city than Trafford Lane.

And as such by the late 1850s and early 1860s began to attract those wanting a pleasant place to live.

West Point 1888-93
One of these was Samuel Gratrix who was living on the corner of Upper Chorlton Road where it ran into Manchester Road.

 He was there by 1861.  Opposite was the home of his son which was known as West Point by 1881 and a  name which was adopted as the address for some of the other fine properties nearby.

This raises that tantalizing question of whether the house gave its name to the area or whether West Point had come into common use to describe the point where the three roads converged.

There are plenty of such examples here in Chorlton.  So Chorlton Cross may be the official designation for the junction of Barlow Moor and Wilbraham Roads but people call it the Four Banks, and half a century earlier it was Kemps’ Corner after Harry Chemist’s chemist which stood where the HSBC is today.

Likewise Lane End was historically the name for the junction of Barlow Moor Road, Sandy Lane and High Lane.  And it too had once been known as Brundretts Corner after the grocery shop that dominated the spot back in the mid 19th century.

West Point, in the 1950s
At least two modern historians have written that The Flash became known as West Point at the same time that Samuel Brooks bought Jackson Moss and began developing it as Whalley Range which was 1836.***

Now I can’t verify that, but the name West Point is there in the 1881 census and on the OS map of South Lancashire for 1888-93 and our historian Elwood writing in 1886 more than once makes the point that what once had been known as the Flash was now West Point.

And just twenty years later as the first trams rumbled south from the city their destination boards announced West Point as the end of the route.

West Point circa 1903
By 1908 that famialr row of shops had been built and the small development of houses behind had been laid out which were to become the blue print for Chorltonville.

Commercial photographers never tired of using the junction and snapping the older members of the community sitting on the circualt bench watching as West Point ent about its business.

But like so many popular place names it has fallen a little out of common usage.

That said there are people who still refer to it as West Point and now my new pal David who lives in Firswood has set the ball rolling to get the name re-established with a sign post.  He has already approached a councillor in the Longford ward of Trafford.

Now that I like, and I shall be returning to the story.

*Martledge the northern most community of the township and now the area north of the Four Banks up to the Library which was the site of Red Gates Farm
** Elwood, Thomas, History of Chorlton-cum-Hardy Chapter 6, South Manchester Gazette, December 12 1885
*** John Lloyd, and Cliff Hayes
***8 Enu 16a page 30, Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Lancashire 1881

Pictures; from the Lloyd collection and details from the OS map of Lancashire, 1841-53, and South Lancashire, 1888-93 courtesy of Digital Archives http://www.digitalarchives.co.uk/

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

West Point the place largely forgotten


Now I don’t often feature West Point which is a shame really but there is quite a lot here, ranging from the murder of a policeman, a grand old pub, and a small housing estate which was a prototype for Chorltonville.

So here is the first of an occasional series on West Point which is where Manchester Road, Seymour Grove and Upper Chorlton Road meet.

Until recently the eastern corner was dominated by the Seymour Hotel which had once been a private residence.

It was a barn of a place and past its best by the time I sometimes went in there.  Like so many of these big pubs it no longer attracted enough people and was demolished for a block of flats.

Location; West Point circa 1950s

Picture; from the Lloyd collection

Sapper J Houghton ...... who fought in South Africa and the Great War and was awarded medals by the old Queen and two Kings

Now I don’t know much about Sapper J Houghton, other than he served in the Royal Engineers and participated in both the South African War and the Great War.

I came across him yesterday when my old friend, David Harrop sent me this picture of Sapper Houghton’s medals, which include the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal, Victory Medal and two from the earlier conflict.

David tells me they will be in his special exhibition to be held next year in Central Ref to amrk the end of the Great War.

And for those with an interest in that earlier war, Sapper Houghton’s Queen’s South Africa Medal carries three clasps, for the Transvaal, Orange Free State and the Cape Colony.

I know that during that conflict he was with the Telegraph Battalion of the Royal Engineers and reached the rank of sergeant during the Great War.

There is a hint that he might have been from Bury but so far that is it.

In time there will be more.

Location; South Africa and the Western Front

Picture; the medals of Sapper J Houghton from the collection of David Harrop

Sunday, 22 October 2017

The Canadian Women's Army Corps Part 2 ......... The story of Jessie Wright McKellar

In 2013, as part of its 100th anniversary, Lakeland College, located in Vermilion, Alberta, held a special remembrance celebration for the women of the CWAC.  

During the war, the military took over the college and transformed it into the western Canadian training centre. As part of that celebration, I spoke on behalf of the families of those women who served  in the Corps. It is my pleasure to share those thoughts with you.  It is really the story of my mother, but could also be the story of so many others.

I am the proud daughter of a woman who absolutely loved being a member of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps. Like most of those who volunteered for service, Lieutenant Jessie Wright McKellar was from small town Canada. Located on the Lake of the Woods in northwestern Ontario, Keewatin had a population of no more than 3,000.  A close-knit community, most residents were the first and second generations of Scottish and English immigrants.

When war broke out, Jessie saw her brothers and all of her male cousins and friends sign up. She said she felt left out so she moved to Fort William, Ontario, present day Thunder Bay, and worked as a riveter with the Canada Car Company making Liberator bomber planes.  But, when the Corps began advertising, mom jumped at the chance to do something she thought would be special, adventurous and more meaningful!  She joined the CWAC's at the age of 21 and never once regretted the decision.

Mom quickly became an officer and did her advanced officer`s training in Ste. Anne de Bellevue, Quebec, but was also posted to, or did specialized training, in Perth, Ontario; Medicine Hat, Alberta; Winnipeg, Manitoba; and, Camp Shilo, just outside of Brandon, Manitoba.  Although she was never posted to Vermilion, she met women who did their training there; and, in the early 1990’s, she made contact with two of them. Together, they recalled an experience that only they could share and understand. This meant a lot to mom.

Now, from a very early age, my brother, my two sisters and I knew that we had a mother who was somewhat different from the mothers of our friends!

None of those mothers had a pair of military-issued, clunky heeled, reddish brown shoes that laced up the front; or had a bag in her closet, scattered with moth balls, that contained a khaki uniform complete with matching shirt, tie and cap.

No one else’s mom learned how to parachute by being strapped in a chair on the top of a tower and freefalling to the ground.

Only our mom could tell us about being on parade and leading her platoon down the wrong street, entirely missing the saluting party! Mom did that only once!

And none of those other moms could drive a jeep, change the oil in a car, or knew how to replace that broken fan belt with a brown Lisle cotton stocking.  Well our mom could!

We also thought it was pretty cool that mom could play reveille and taps on the bugle. And, no - that’s not how she woke us in the morning or put us to bed at night! In fact, she read us fairy tales and sang typical children’s songs.  It fell to our dad to teach us war songs. To my dad’s credit, it was only many years later that I learned there were other, more risque versions of those little ditties!

I also remember mom telling us about having her IQ tested.  She said she was pretty naïve about IQ’s, and was quite surprised when the testers came back into the room and said they were going to test her again. “They were pretty excited”, my mom said. “They told me my IQ was 162  and they thought they had a genius on their hands.   But, when they re-tested me, my score was only 142. I wasn't as smart, after all.  Anyway, I guess they thought I was still worth something, so, they sent me off to become an Officer!”

What really excited mom, though, was her aptitude test. It said she would make an excellent plumber!  “This made sense to me”, mom told me.  “I always loved tinkering with things and taking things apart.”  Well, she was certainly right about that!  A few years ago, when we were cleaning out our parents` house, we found all sorts of record players, radios, lamps and small kitchen appliances that she had taken apart…and never  put back together!   And as for that dripping faucet in the bathtub…the current owner says it still drips

Finally, one of my favourite stories was before mom became an officer.  She was working as the secretary for the Major in charge of administration.  Instead of getting my mother’s attention using a bell, like all the other officers used, he would pick up a hammer and bang it against two artillery shells – presumably empty!

What the heck - one last story.  I may as well tell you that mom even got her one and only set of false teeth while she was in the Corps.  These teeth created a story unto themselves.  Mom could chew bubble gum; slice through an apple - skin and all; rip apart plastic; demolish a steak; and cut through embroidery floss –count them- 6 strands of thread! Those teeth were amazing and they lasted over 50 years!  At one time, I thought they would have been an interesting curiosity in the Canadian War Museum. In retrospect, though, it seems clear to me that, whoever made mom’s false teeth all those years ago, had the secret to making the first weapon of mass destruction!

Yes, our mom was quite different from those other moms-and we loved her for it! The four of us always knew there was something special and respectful about having had a mother who served in the War as a member of the CWAC’s.  To this day, I have a picture of mom, in her uniform, in my living room; and my brother posts photos of mom and dad every November on his Facebook page … lest we forget.

 Mom’s memories were vivid throughout her life and she spoke of being in service with pride, fondness and humour. “At a time when many women weren’t even working, I was doing all sorts of things most women never got to do,” she told me.  She also said that women in the Corps did experience life in an exciting and unusual way: she met people from across the country; she got to travel; she learned and did things she would never have known or done otherwise; and she learned, and continued to believe, that women were capable of doing just about anything.  This was but one of the legacies mom passed on to my two sisters and me.

Mom has been gone since 1995; but I am very privileged to be able to honour and express my deepest thanks to her - and to the members of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps - for the service they gave and the paths they opened for their daughters and future generations of women in Canada, within our society, our industries and our police and military presence. They were trailblazers - and they are unique in the history of this country. “Dulcit Amor Patrice.”  In Love of Country, We Serve.

© Susan (Hillman) Brazeau



Photos of Jessie Wright McKellar are from the Author's Family Collection

Saturday, 21 October 2017

How far we have travelled ............ personal reflections on knocking 70

Now I am a “baby boomer” one of those children born in the 1940s and ‘50’s who elements of the media and certain politicians use as a whipping post.

Me at 16
Most of us can truly claim to be the favoured generation, who unlike our parents and grandparents did not experience two world wars, a trade depression and mass unemployment.

And unlike our own children entered adulthood confident that a job could last a life time, that at every level our education would be free and we would move from the cradle to the grave with a plethora of services which secured our health and well being.

But that very set of “good things” is now used against us by forces who try to disguise the failings of the present economic climate and seek to push the blame onto one section of the population and thereby disguise their own failings in delivering a better and fairer way of life for the many.

Our parents and grandparents let down by the failed promises of the early decades of the last century were determined that we should have a better life and this they secured for us.

And we in turn worked hard to build on those gains and provide for our children.

Not that this is to ignore the very real problems faced by those in their 20s and 30s, many of who will never be able to afford to buy a home in Chorlton or Eltham or a whole swathe of districts where house prices have gone through the roof.

They work longer hours in an uncertain environment, and some face those dreaded “zero hour contracts” or the equally pernicious system of intern work and ponder just what pension deals will be available.

Of course for me despite all the glittering prizes I do have to concede there are fewer years ahead than behind which is sobering more because of all the things there are yet to do which brings me to that personal set of reflections on just what so many of my friends are now doing.

Me with our Theresa aged 61
Most have retired, and many are discovering new challenges and opportunities.

My friend Lois like me is a writer, and while she has been writing all her adult life she now has more time to develop her talent, writing novels, leading writing groups and will appear at her local literary festival next year.

Her husband Barri, like Peter is painting away and exhibiting in shows, while I plod on with my own books, blog and research.

Others like Tom are engaged in working in the community and some like Keith have just not stopped doing their day job.

All of which is a long way for most of us from the occupations we set out on and is evidence of how far we have travelled.

But as optimistic as this is it shouldn’t blind us to that other stark fact that the raising of the state pension age has meant that many just a little younger than me will be working for many more years to come at a time when everything is creaking and that is something that the media and those politicians should reflect on when the baby boomers offer easy targets.

Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson

The Canadian Women's Army Corps part 1 .......... an article from Susan (Hillman) Brazeau

I am always pleased when friends offer to contribute to the blog and was particularly happy that Susan who lives in Canada agreed to write two more articles about aspects of Canadian history. 

In the following article she says "this was originally a speech I presented at the 100th anniversary of the college where I taught, which had  also been the Westerrn Training Centre for the CWAC; and, also at the 2013 Remembrance Day Services."

At a time in our history when we are beginning to recognize and honour those who served in peace time and in more recent conflicts, there is one important group of servicewomen from the past whom I want us to remember.

I refer to the Canadian Women’s Army Corps, or, CWAC’s.


When World War II broke out, there was a quiet, but steady movement by women across Canada, to have the right to take an active role in the Canadian Armed Forces.

Not only did they have to convince the government of their worth, they had to persevere against the prejudices towards working women that was prevalent in Canadian society at the time.

In fact, the term “QUACKS”- which has since become a term of endearment - was, in the early days, considered derogatory and an insult by the Corps.

Nevertheless, these women persisted; and, although initially reluctant to have women do anything other than volunteer work, the Canadian government finally saw the advantage of having a female workforce with a fully trained, but non-combatant military presence that could free up more men to go off to war.

Thus, different branches of the military created their own women’s forces.   One of these was the Canadian Women’s Army Corps, and it is this relatively unknown part of Canadian history that is highlighted here.

Established in 1941, the Corps began to recruit the following year and officially disbanded in 1946 - five short years.

Two training centres were established: Kitchener, Ontario for eastern Canada; and the western centre was on the campus of what is now Lakeland College in Vermilion, Alberta.

All the women were tested for aptitude, interests, abilities and IQ.

Here are some of the criteria for a woman to be accepted into the CWAC`s. She had to be:

a British subject, which all Canadians were at the time;
in excellent health and weigh at least 105 pounds (or 47.6 kg);
between 18 and 45 years of age; and,
single, with no dependants, and,
she had to have completed grade 8

     
Although a few of the women were sent to Europe or the United States, most remained in Canada.

They performed a variety of jobs - close to 55 different types by war’s end - including roles that had traditionally been carried out by women, such as clerical work, laundry, cooking and sewing.

They also performed in stage shows for the male troops, before they went overseas.

CWAC’s also served as medical and dental assistants, switchboard operators and cipher clerks.  Others served in some of the more traditional male roles such as radio operators, mechanics and drivers of trucks, transports, jeeps and personnel vehicles.

By the end of the war, almost 22,000 women served in the Corps.

Twenty-five died, while in service.  Most who joined said they were doing it for the excitement, for pride of serving their country, or to do something entirely different from what they were used to doing.

One such woman was the author’s mother, Jessie Wright McKellar.

Her story is told in Part 2.

©  Susan (Hillman) Brazeau

Pictures; courtesy of the Library and Archives Canada

Friday, 20 October 2017

When we sent children across the Atlantic to escape the bombs*

I am of that generation which was born directly after the end of the last world war and so I missed the mass evacuation of children from our cities by less than a decade.

Don't Do it Mother, 1940
But growing up in London in the 1950s was to be constantly reminded of the Blitz.

We played on bomb sites, took for granted the gaps in rows of houses caused by direct hits and thought nothing of the painted signs on the sides of buildings announcing nearby “Shelters” and “Emergency Water Supplies.”

A few of those EWS signs can still be found much faded but vital back in 1940 for the Fire Brigade in the event of bomb damaged water mains.

And a few old Anderson shelters have survived in back gardens.

But that vital few years separate my experiences from those children who lived through the nightly bombing.

For them, there were endless nights in shelters listening to the bombs fall and walking home the following morning through streets littered with shrapnel and broken glass.

Of course not every built up area received an air raid nor did they last the entire war but there were enough to make parents ponder on that simple dilemma of what to do about the children.

Since Guernica in the Spanish Civil War there was that powerful idea that the “bomber would always get through” and so even before the outbreak of war preparations were made for the mass removal of children and expectant mothers out of the danger areas.

Barrage Balloon, Chorlton, 1941
The evacuations began in early September, experienced a lull during the Phoney War when some children returned home and picked up again after the Fall of France and the beginning of the Blitz.

But there were enormous regional variations with cities like Manchester and Liverpool evacuating large numbers of children while other urban areas sent fewer to neighbouring towns and villages.

I cannot begin to think how I might have reacted to waving my three off to an unknown destination for an indefinite length of time.

All of which was difficult enough but pails when I consider the momentous decisions faced by some to send their children half way around the world.

From the outset there were private arrangements being made and the Government was responsible for evacuating 2,664 most of who went to Canada, and smaller numbers to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and some to the USA.

There had been some official displeasure at the idea of sending children out of the country but in the wake of those private schemes in 1940 after Dunkirk and the real possibility of an invasion the Government approved the policy.

The cost was to be met by the Government with parental contributions based on a sliding scale determined by a means test.

It has I suppose echoes of the much bigger migration of children during the late 19th century to Canada and into the mid 20th century to Australia.

Bomb damage Nell Lane Manchester, 1940
And as someone whose own great uncle made that Atlantic crossing as a BHC I have mixed feelings about the programme and wonder what decision I might have taken

As it was the sinking of two ships carrying children and the loss of 77 young people in September 1940 led to the abandonment of the policy although private evacuations continued.

It is a story that only occasionally surfaces and has been eclipsed by the better known accounts of those children who remained in this country.

All of which brings me to that odd term Guest Children which like British Home Children hides so much.

Guests they certainly were compared to those who were migrated by charities and the Guardians of the Poor Law and the nature of their stay and their experiences will have been different as were the circumstances of their migration.

But here in Britain their story has fared no better than that of British Home Children.

I doubt that there will be many detailed accounts of who they were, what happened to them and what they thought of the experience.

Over here I have come cross one account and that is Canadian** all of which leaves some descriptions in a handful of books, reports in Hansard and references in the National Archive.

But then that doesn’t surprise me given that little is really known about the history of British Home
Children and what coverage exists has been mainly about the more recent migrations to Australia.

So perhaps it is time for more to be done on this side of the Atlantic.

Picture; Don’t do it Mother, Ministry of Health, 1940, and was scanned and released by the Imperial War Museum on the IWM Non Commercial Licence and barrage balloon on the Rec from the collection of Alan Brown, detail from bomb damage at Nell Lane, 1940, m09736 courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, http://images.manchester.gov.uk/index.php?session=pass

*first appeared in British Home Children, Advocacy & Research Association, April 2015 Newsletter
http://us9.campaign-archive1.com/?u=cf59015c214b8003aef25b130&id=4892649a2a

**Guests” not “Refugees:” Child Evacuees, to Canada during World War II http://www.cst.ed.ac.uk/Events/Conferences/documents/SmerdonCPaper.pdf








A ghost of things past in Rochdale

Now a little bit of Rochdale came my way today.

It is another ghost sign sent to me by my friend Ron Stubley, who over the years has come across some fascinating ones, along with pictures of missing pubs and a huge collection of comic postcards.

This one is on the corner of Yorkshire Street and Union Street and someone will be able to help us out on what G. L. Adamson traded in.

Well I hope so.

Location; Rochdale

Picture; ghost sign, Yorkshire Street and Union Street, 2017, from the collection of Ron Stubley

Thursday, 19 October 2017

The lost picture of Woolwich that never was and ...... a forgotten picture of the Manchester Arndale

Now I thought this was Woolwich but with the help of Gary and Brian I now know that it is Manchester.

It was posted today across Well Hall and Eltham in the series on the lost pictures of Eltham and Woolwich.

But within minutes Garry Luttman and Brian McDonnell pointed out my mistake.  Gary wrote, “sorry to be pedantic Andrew, but this image could not have been in Powis Street as the police officers are not Met Police. 

The helmet design gives it away and Met sergeants did not carry that type of stick. Looks more like the rig worn by officers in Liverpool”.

And Brian commented, "interestingly enough neither of those 'police officers' are wearing Met helmets. The helmets are of the wrong design”.  Adding, “the helmet is the Cap Comb design. 

The Met use the Rose design. Also the Met have never had a red enamel insert in the helmet plate (badge on the front). GMP helmet plates did. May give you some further pointers as to where it is...”

And of course on closer inspection it is Manchester and the Arndale Centre, which given the alterations to the shopping centre makes this a lost picture of Manchester.

So all  is well, leaving me to ponder on the lesson that you should always catalogue your pictures.

To be fair this one has sat in our cellar for four decades along with ones of Eltham and and others of Manchester.

They were colour slides taken in the 1970s which have been transferred electronically and I guess a few got from the Manchester boxes into the Eltham and Woolwich ones.

The quality of the original lighting and the sharpness is sometimes iffy, but they are a record of a lost Eltham and Woolwich.  Well not in this case.  But it is a favourite of mine just because it is so ordinary.

The couple are moving with some speed, and perhaps with an eye on the "clear out."

And while they make their determined way towards the "End of Season CLEAROUT" the two police officers are deep in conversation.

So thank you Gary and Brian for restoring a lost Manchester picture ..... long may they continue to comment.

And just before I deleted the old story my friend Tricia wrote, "See this is what happens when you have lived your life in several different places" and Don commented it "Looks like Maggie Thatcher is out canvassing where ever it is, unperturbed by the sergeant looking on with the snooker cue.". 

Location; Manchester


Picture; Manchester, circa 1979, from the collection of Andrew Simpson