Author Archives: Marian Bulford

THE DRIVING LESSON

I pace the floor nervously. Where IS he? How much longer do I have to wait? He is already 30 minutes late!

It is 23 January 1979 and I have been in Quebec, Canada for all of three months and today is my first driving lesson – EVER. I have never even sat behind the driving wheel of a car. In England, I walked everywhere pushing the children in my Silver Cross upright pram and later, we caught a bus. In Geneva where we had been living previously, we had a small VW Beetle and my husband drove it. Here, we have what to me is a huge car, and I am supposed to learn how to drive it? I am a nervous wreck. My son Owen, aged 5 has to come with me, as I do not know anyone to care for him, and the thought of Owen in the back seat with ME and my first driving lesson has me really worried.  My appointment was for 10 am. At 10:30 I call the school to ask where he is. They tell me he should be there, and to make alternative arrangements when he arrives.

WHAT? All that worry and a sleepless night to make alternative arrangements?! My fear makes me angry. The driving instructor eventually arrives 40 minutes late, claiming to have been ‘ringing the bell’ and I was not answering. I tell him he is very late and I called the school to ask where he was. Then, HE gets annoyed and informs me he has to go or the other client will be ‘tearing his hair out’ plus, I cannot expect him exactly on time in ‘these conditions’ These conditions being heavy snow, wind and ice which is not ideal  for a first ever driving lesson, but what do I know?

I tell him to leave and I am going to cancel future lessons with this school. I shut the door and cry and cry I feel like a failure. I’ll never learn to drive. Eventually, I mop up and call the school and demand a refund. The director was very kind and said the instructor was wrong trying to justify his lateness.  He would make another appointment. ‘Not with HIM’ I rage. No, another person he soothes. I put the phone down, have another cry. I feel so frustrated, angry nervous and very alone. I wept for most of the day. Two days later, after 2 and half hours of snow clearing another strange ritual, I have my first driving lesson.

The instructor this time is a Welsh man and he is very patient telling me to relax. Ha! relax? No way! The sweat is actually running down my back and I can’t stop trembling. How do I work the window wipers in this snow? Put the heater on? Which side of the road am I supposed to be on? Why is there a ‘Stop’ sign at every corner? I manage to get to the next street and it is covered in thick ice. A water main has burst, and the street is like an ice rink or what I would imagine an ice rink to be, having never seen one. Oh! the anxieties and fears of being a newcomer.

Eventually, I do get my driving license, and today I love to drive but those few fraught months of learning is something I will never forget but the bonus is, that driving in snowy icy weather here in Quebec is a breeze for me now! I have no fear.

 

 

Isn’t The Internet Wonderful?

For quite a few years, I have been doing genealogy, and although I have found many many family names, I had never actually met any family members associated with my research.

However,  a few years ago I was contacted via ‘Friend Reunited’ a now defunct website, by a second cousin on my Dad’s side. Samantha was my cousin Cheryl’s daughter, and she was looking for members of the Bulford family for her parent’s anniversary genealogy gift. Through Sam, I was united with Cheryl, her mother and my first cousin and from there, more first cousins I had never met.

My parents divorced when I was seven, and after that, I never had further contact with my paternal side of the family. This was SO exciting! There was Diane, my Aunt Sylvia’s daughter, Cheryl, Aunt  Florence’s daughter and Joanna, Uncle Roy’s daughter. All familiar names but people I had never met or even thought I would ever meet. We all contacted each other via the internet in great excitement, and exchanged the information we had all collected, and they sent me photos I had never seen, of my Dad’s family.

After numerous emails, we all decided to meet in the UK when I went over for my annual holiday. As this was the paternal side of my family, we met in Cornwall where my father and my cousins’ mothers and fathers were all born. I met, once again after 68 years my Uncle Roy, the last surviving member of the 11 children born to my father’ family.

We all met at the apartment Uncle Roy lived in with his wife, Aunt Evelyn. They had made us all Cornish Pasties, a local treat. Uncle Roy was 94 then, and Auntie Evelyn was 90 (both still alive today!) and my Uncle looked so much like my father, I became quite emotional. Uncle Roy’s sons David and Jonathan were there too with their sister Joanna and suddenly, just like that, I had five cousins! I had brought photos and they had some too, which we all pored over. I learned so much about the family in that short visit, to add to my family tree.

I showed David and Jonathan a photo of me, aged three that was taken on a beach in Newquay, one of the last visits to my Dad’s family before the divorce, and wondered aloud where it could have been taken. David took me by the hand to the balcony of the apartment opened the door and pointed. David said ‘This is Towan Beach where your photo was taken’ and there before me as in my photo, was the beach and the houses on the cliff behind me, still prominent today. Then I did cry.

The next day, we all had a family reunion Sunday lunch with wives and children, in the local pub. We reminisced we took photos and promised to keep in touch, which we have done so every year for the last 6 years. Every year I visit the UK we have our Bulford reunion usually in the West Country at a local pub, and each year I find out more about my Dad’s family. Photos, war records, marriages, deaths, some researched information I had, that my cousins did not know about were all shared via the internet. PLUS a recently found USA Bulford branch too, which is to be the basis for another story.

The internet, isn’t it just amazing and wonderful?

 

Marian circa 1948

Towan Beach Newquay, Cornwall UK

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Details! Details!

Sometimes, being confined to just 500 words for our Genealogy Ensemble blog is hard to do. I love to talk and so, when writing a story I do tend to write as I talk. Fast, detailed and expressive. Well, at least I like to think that is the way I write!

For instance, in a story about my family immigration to Canada I wanted to included my very first driving lesson ever, with as much detail as I could. A little too much detail…..

The weather the ice the roads, my fear. I used them all in that story. I was then 32, and it was my first time behind a wheel, scared and nervous not knowing how to work the windshield wipers, sweat running down my back with my youngest child in the back seat as I could not get a baby sitter – I did not know anyone yet – and the absolute fear of being in control of a car. I still had not included all the stress of that day, such as waiting for the instructor to arrive, he was very late, due to the severe weather conditions and also angry with me, because I had called the school, to ask where he was. A great start to a first lesson.

I was advised that my story whilst interesting, could be edited a lot more. I never thought of doing that! I fear I will lose so much of interest in a story but I was gently reminded that this driving experience within the immigration story, was another story in itself. Well, yes, it was rather long I had to admit, so out it went for another day and another story. Lesson learned.

My Oxford Thesaurus comes in handy. I use it more frequently now, to try and write subtly using maybe one word for descriptions instead of two or three and also try to eliminate redundant words such as “the reason is because” and use instead “because” Now, I find myself listening to young people using ‘like’ before and after every sentence and thinking ‘that could be eliminated from your speech!’

It is hard to remove words, I love all the “details” but if we all have to abide by the 500 words rule for our blog then I too, have to find a way. (I just deleted ‘to do it’ at the end of that sentence, so maybe I am learning).

I have to ask myself, can I cut out all the ‘details’ use fewer words and still be interesting? I am going to try and my new motto will be, ‘If in doubt cut it out, or use fewer words’

PS: I managed to confine this story to 452 words!

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This Place We Now Call Home

The Air Canada plane starts its descent and I look down out of the window. It is a dark November afternoon and I can see nothing except a few pinpricks of light on the ground. After regularly flying around densely populated Europe, this is a shock. Where are the towns? The people? What have we come to?

It is November 17, 1978 and here we are with our two boys, seven and five, landing at Mirabel Airport near Montréal, Quebec, where my husband, John, will start a new job.

We stand in a long line and wait. First there is an interview with a customs official who tells us that we can collect our boxes of “chattels and household effects” in a few days. Then on to the Immigration Officer who asks us about Geneva, where we had been living, and England, where we were born, and then examines our papers. We then talk to a pleasant lady who gives us information on schools and local businesses, and a telephone number to apply for our SIN cards (our what?). Finally, we can collect our luggage and leave. We have been admitted to Canada!

John sets off to find our car hire and when he returns driving a huge Plymouth Volare, the kids are thrilled. Cars of this size are not often seen in Europe. As we start to drive, it seems very dark; there are few lights on the motorway – or highway – as we soon learn to call it.

Our youngest child, Owen, awake since we left Geneva, finally falls asleep in the back seat as we head downtown to our temporary home, an efficiency apartment in a downtown hotel.

The next morning when we switch on the TV, we are confronted with the horrifying story of the Jonestown Massacre¹ a religious cult leader has killed all his followers with poisoned punch. The story is revealed in great detail, and we find the television coverage quite different from the French, Italian and German media we were used to (and could hardly understand) in Switzerland. We feel quite naive.

Finally, we venture outside for breakfast, choosing Ben’s, right across the street from the hotel. The boys are thrilled to see two policeman at the counter, their backs to us, wearing guns.

In that high, carrying voice of the very young, Owen pipes up, ‘Are they real guns Mummy?’ He has never seen a policeman with a gun before. The policemen smile and wave at the children, but we feel nervous after the shocking TV news, and now policemen wearing guns?

Breakfast was, how shall I say it? Different. Bacon with pancakes and maple syrup? We give it a try. It’s not bad, but it’s a strange taste for us. Coffee is served without asking if we want it; we prefer tea. And the food portions are enormous. We stagger out, well fed.

Soon it starts to snow and the children are delighted, but by late afternoon, when it is still snowing, we are staggered. When does it stop? (FYI, in late April the following year.) We tell the hotel concierge we are going to take a walk. He eyes us and says, ‘You will need boots and winter coats. Try Eaton’s, just a block down there.’ We venture out and cannot believe how deep the snow is. I tiptoe down the street in my high heels, feet freezing.

In England, we have just one heavy coat, shoes and one pair of boots for all the seasons. In Switzerland, we only use boots for skiing, so all this new clothing is strange. We buy hats, scarves and warm gloves too, and we soon appreciate how important it is to be warmly dressed in winter!

Eventually, we move into our house and the time comes to register the boys for school. We decide to send them to a French school since they studied in French in Geneva. The elementary school principal is amazed, as we are obviously English, but in our fractured French, we insist.

Owen, who will be six years old in February of the coming year, is outraged that he is deemed ‘too young’ to start school full time. He can only attend half a day until the following September. He has been in school since he was three!

I had never learned to drive, and now I had to learn quickly if I wanted to go anywhere. So, in February, 1979, I took my first driving lesson on the frozen streets of the West Island. Slipping and sliding down the streets I go, with the sweat running down my back! I am very, very nervous. I do not even know how to work the wipers, plus, my youngest son is in the back seat – no safety belts then – since I don’t know anyone who could babysit while I have my lesson. Stress after stress for the first few years. Typical of most immigrants, I should think.

The politics too were a bit of a surprise, as it seemed everyone was fleeing down the 401 to Toronto. A few days of reading the newspapers told us why. Apparently a law called “Bill 101”² had been passed the previous August and the ‘Anglos,’ as we soon learned to call ourselves, were leaving Quebec. It appeared we had arrived in a province in turmoil.

The noises in our house were also unfamiliar. At first when we heard the furnace starting up in the basement, we were all startled, but we quickly got used to it. Another puzzler was having to buy a brush for the car and a shovel for the driveway. Why? We soon found out that if we did not copy our neighbours and clean the car of snow and shovel the drive, we simply couldn’t get out!

One night, we heard the city snow blower and trucks clearing the snow very late at night, and we all leapt out of bed to check what the noise was. It was scary; all small things, but so different from living in England and Europe.

We experienced many ups and downs as we got used to life here. Perhaps the hardest thing was to adapt to the extreme cold winter weather, and then to the hot, humid summers (yet again, we needed to buy more appropriate clothing), but despite all that, we like it here. Almost 40 years later, our sons are fully bilingual and attended college and university. I have to say that Quebec has been very good to our family as we continue to build our own little dynasty, in this place we now call ‘home.’

Notes

¹ http://history1900s.about.com/od/1970s/p/jonestown.htm

² https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charter_of_the_French_LanguageThe Charter of the French Language (French: La charte de la langue française), also known as Bill 101 (Law 101 or French: Loi 101), is a law in the province of Quebec in Canada defining French, the language of the majority of the population, as the official language of Quebec.

Bomb Sites, School and Rebuilding A City

My first memory as a child born at the end of WW2, was of playing mainly in our streets and neighbouring streets.  I was still very small, but I do remember the barrage balloons still flying high in the sky, floating gently on the breeze, and we would lie on the ground and watch them. It was many years before I realised what they actually were, which was a large balloon anchored to the ground by cables and often with netting suspended from it, serving as an obstacle to low-flying enemy aircraft.

We would play among bricks wood rubble, stones large slate roof tiles and broken water pipes, in a site at the end of our street. The reason for all the rubbish was because it was a bombed site. A house, like the ones in our street had once stood there but no more. We had adventures in those bomb sites especially with the broken water pipes. What young child can resist playing with water? Especially if you can make dams and ponds with all the available stones bricks and wood. It was a sad day when the water was eventually turned off.

We also knew not to play in a bomb site with tape around it, as that likely contained an unexploded bomb. There were parks in Plymouth, but because of the massive damage caused by bombs dropping on this Royal Naval city, these had still not been cleared of the debris and were dangerous.

When I started school, at three years of age that same rubble was negotiated as we walked over it to get to the school building and again, when I was 11 and starting at the ‘big school’ – the same one my mum had gone too – there were still signs of war damage.

Shortages of everything was acute. Years later we had no books in our school. The teacher had one for each subject, which he or she would read aloud to us and then pass it around. We had paper pen and ink, but no copy books to write on, only a sheet of paper. Later, copy books were issued when I was about 14.

School was OK, but all the teachers were old and not very interested in anything new and certainly they did not catch my interest  but I did love History, Geography and reading. English comprehension writing and spelling were favourites too. Sums were completely beyond me, and nobody cared to go over it again if I got lost, or to take the time to explain anything. There were about 45 children in each class so on reflection, there must not have been much time to explain everything again, but just to get the lesson over with.

Re-building our country was a long time coming It was the early 1950’s before the clearing of bomb sites even began, and I grew up in the 60’s watching our city being completely razed and then rebuilt.

Years later as English social history became an interest, I was to learn about the Anglo-American Loan that helped the rebuilding of our country. ¹ ²

¹https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-American_loan

“The Anglo-American Loan Agreement was a post World War II loan made to the United Kingdom by the United States on 15 July 1946. The loan was for $3.75 billion (US$57 billion in 2015) at a low 2% interest rate; Canada loaned an additional US$1.19 billion”

By the way, these loans were eventually paid off in full, in 2006!”

²BBC NEWS | UK | UK settles WWII debts to allies

“It is hard from a modern viewpoint to appreciate the astronomical costs and economic damage caused by this conflict. In 1945, Britain badly needed money to pay for reconstruction and also to import food for a nation worn down after years of rationing.  “In a nutshell, everything we got from America in World War II was free,” says economic historian Professor Mark Harrison, of Warwick University. “The loan was really to help Britain through the consequences of post-war adjustment, rather than the war itself. This position was different from World War I, where money was lent for the war effort itself”

Below are newspaper cuttings that my Gramps saved during the war and gave to me for a project I had to write for school about our ancient city. They show Plymouth before and after the blitz, and were the kind of bombed sites I played in as a child.

These two photos show Plymouth City Centre before, in 1939 and after an enemy raid in 1942. I find the captions very interesting.

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Below, St. Georges Baptist Church a before and after view 1942

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Plymouth Shops before and after the Blitz

plymouth-shops-before-and-after-raids

Credit given for photos from ‘The Plymouth Evening Herald’ Plymouth, Devon UK.

Samuel William OBray, Mormon, Pioneer Polygamist

Panting with the effort the young man hurried through the night. Under one arm he carried his bundle of belongings and in his other arm, his three year old son Thomas. Samuel OBray  had left Bootle, Liverpool in great haste and was headed to the Liverpool Docks with his precious bundles to board the Ellen Maria (1) sailing soon for New Orleans USA for a new life in America.

Samuel was a shipwright. He joined the Church of Latter Day Saints (or Mormons) on the 6th February, 1846, before his first marriage to Margret Harris in November 1846 in Pembroke Dock, Wales. Samuel and Margret had two sons, Thomas and John. Margret had never agreed with his religious beliefs so unbeknownst to her, Samuel had booked passage for himself and his eldest son, Thomas to New Orleans Louisiana later, to join the rest of the ‘Mormon Saints’ in Utah or Zion as they called it. Samuel left behind him, his wife Margret and their youngest son John.

The ship was due to leave port on 29th January 1851 but had been anchored in the River Mersey for two days due to storms until it was deemed safe enough to set sail. Whilst on board, Samuel had befriended other Mormon Saints on the ship, particularly a family named Bainbridge. They were a family of six. Three sons and three daughters. Eleanor was the second daughter and she and Samuel struck up a friendship.

According to the ‘Biography of Samuel William OBray and Eleanor Bainbridge OBray’ (2) there are two versions of what happened  when Margret realised what Samuel had done.

In the first family legend, she reported it to the authorities who headed to the Docks and searched the ship but could not discover Thomas. During the search of the ship Samuel had persuaded the Bainbridge family to claim Thomas as their own. Whilst the authorities were looking for a small boy Thomas had been dressed as a little girl and integrated into the Bainbridge family.

In the second version Samuel was able to steal the oldest boy from his mother and took him on board the ship Ellen Maria just prior to its departure. The boy had red hair and Samuel was able to place him with a family of red-headed children so that when the police came aboard they could not find him. The boys name was Thomas William, age three.

Poor Margret never did find her son. Was she on the dock when the ship sailed from Liverpool on the 2nd February 1851? If so, how must she have felt as she watched the ship sail away? It can only be imagined.

Upon arrival in New Orleans, The OBray and Bainbridge families were not able financially to continue their journey to Utah so they stayed and worked until they were able to continue. Whilst in New Orleans Samuel and Eleanor married and their first child, Ellen Jane was born. (3) They went on to have eight more children and Samuel took a third plural wife, but there were no children from this union. However, according to his obituary  (4) as it appeared in “The Journal” 11 June 1910:

 His descendants number about 176, as follows: 10 children 87 grandchildren 75 great-grandchildren and four great-great grandchildren”

Samuel William OBray was my second great grand uncle.

The ship Ellen Maria prepares to sail from Liverpool, England, for America on February 1, 1851. At the time, over 50,000 Latter-day Saints lived in the British Isles. Emigration was possible as the result of the Perpetual Emigrating Fund, which loaned money to impoverished Latter-day Saints on the promise they would repay the loan so others could emigrate. Thousands of converts emigrated to join the Saints in America.

The ship Ellen Maria prepares to sail from Liverpool, England, for America on February 1, 1851. At the time, over 50,000 Latter-day Saints lived in the British Isles. Emigration was possible as the result of the Perpetual Emigrating Fund, which loaned money to impoverished Latter-day Saints on the promise they would repay the loan so others could emigrate. Thousands of converts emigrated to join the Saints in America.

samuel William O'Bray and Eleanor Bainbridge

Samuel OBray and Eleanor Bainbridge OBray

Sources

1 https://mormonmigration.lib.byu.edu/mii/passenger/44709

2 http://welshmormon.byu.edu/Resource_Info.aspx?id=2592

3  ‘The New World having Become Attractive To Thomas Sharratt, he came to America and Settled” Andrew Jenson, LDS Biographical Encyclopedia Vol. 3 p 514

4 http://welshmormon.byu.edu/Resource_Info.aspx?id=789

http://www.lagunaniguelfhc.org/embarkation-of-the-saints-liverpool-1851/

Racism on a dance floor

In my last story¹ I recounted my teen years in Plymouth. Our gang of young Royal Navy Apprentices and us girls always went dancing on Saturdays at the NAAFI (Navy Army Air Force Institute) Club in Plymouth, Devon.

This particular Saturday the NATO Fleet (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) including the USS Wasp was in town, the largest Aircraft Carrier our city had ever seen.

As we entered the NAAFI imagine our surprise when we saw our very first black men in the flesh (not at the picture house) AND they were doing the twist, the dance craze at the time.

We had never seen black people before, there were none that I had ever seen at that time, in our part of England. In the post-war period in 1950 it is estimated there were no more than 20,000 non-white residents in Britain and almost all born overseas.²

Most migrants who came to Britain after the war, found employment in the textile industries of Lancashire, Yorkshire Manchester and Bradford, cars and engineering factories in the West Midlands and Birmingham and the growing light industrial estates in places like Luton and Slough, near London.

In the South West where Plymouth is located, our economy was based on tourism, agriculture fishing and the Royal Navy Dockyard Devonport, so migration to our part of the country was limited to almost none.

On this particular night, we could not wait to copy these exotic black sailors doing the twist. They started to invite us to dance. One of them asked me onto the dance floor and showed me the ‘moves’ I had such fun and he was a wonderful dancer. The dance ended, and we started to chat.

Suddenly, a large white muscular US sailor inserted himself between me and this boy. ‘You don’t want to be dancing with this n*****’  he said. I was completely shocked, not only by his utter rudeness but his language. I had never heard that derogatory term before. The white sailor then tried to take my hand to dance with me, but I was having none of it, and dodged around him and continued my chat with the black sailor, much to the open disgust of this white sailor. Why was he so disgusted?

The black sailor suggested that perhaps I should not dance with him again, I asked why not? He did not answer but he did become very awkward. We finished our dance but he did not invite me onto the dance floor again.

We girls continued to have fun that night, but we could not understand why the white sailors were on one side of the room glowering at us, and the black ones on the other, and they never mixed or talked to each other.

That night was my first ever experience of racism and segregation and I did not even realise it. We were completely unaware of it, never seen it, and could not understand it. In the rest of the city, the black sailors were treated exactly as any other sailor and apparently, nobody else I knew had any idea of the racism or the segregation they were subjected to, except by their ‘own’ countrymen. I like to think that they at least enjoyed their visit to our city.

Several years later in 1965, after news of racism riots in Watts, Los Angles, my naiveté and innocence was shattered as I suddenly realised what that night out in the NAAFI in my home town had really meant. I had the sudden insight that not all people were equal after all, and racism and segregation had entered my world where it has stayed. A sad commentary on the 21st Century.

¹https://genealogyensemble.com/2016/03/04/my-home-town/

²https://en.wikipedia.org./wiki/Arrival_of_black_immigrants_in_London

 

Plymouth Navy Days

by Marian Bulford

Our group or ‘gang’ never went out with the local lads. Every Saturday night we went dancing at the NAAFI and met up with the young sailors from all over the British Isles who were stationed in Devonport. The NAAFI was a huge social club ….
It was always with the young sailors stationed in Devonport, from all over the British Isles that we met every Saturday night when we all went dancing at the NAAFI – the Navy Army Air Force Institute – a social club for all the services and service families situated in the centre of Plymouth and covered a whole city block. At one end, it was a hotel for service families and the other end was a restaurant three bars and a huge dance floor.

I was an excited 16 year old, with the whole world in front of me. Plymouth Devon, in the UK was my home town.

It was a naval port and had been for centuries. Who has not heard of Sir Frances Drake, the celebrated Tudor seafarer, famous for circumnavigating the world on the Golden Hind and fighting the Spanish Armada? Or the Mayflower, the tiny ship that transported the first English Separatists, known today as the Pilgrims, from Plymouth to the New World in 1620? [1]

Most of my family on both mother and father’s side, were Royal or Merchant Navy and had lived in or around the areas for centuries the same places I lived as a teenager.

Ships of all sizes were always in and out of Devonport, the area I lived in and when a ship arrived ‘home’ there was much celebration in the local pubs and dance halls. This was my town and I loved it.

It was also a very popular summer holiday area with lovely hotels and guest houses. This area of Devon was described as the ‘Riviera of the South’ we even had our own palm trees.

This poster shows ‘Plymouth Sound’ and ‘Drake’s Island ‘ in the background, the beautiful Tinside Art Deco Lido Pool and of course, the sailors. I could have been one of those girls in the poster……

Holiday Poster

Over the last year, my 16 year old school friends and I had built up a close group of boy sailors, ‘Matelot’s’ as we called them, the young 15 to 16 year old Navy boys learning their trades as apprentices on board various ships at the Devonport Dockyard, where many of my ancestors had worked over the centuries.

NAAAFI Building, Plymouth Devon c. 1961

The Plymouth NAAFI Club

We were all very excited in 1961 because the NATO [2] fleet arrived in Plymouth!
About 15 foreign ships would be arriving and the population would swell. The local population was pleased as money would be made and our group noticed a lot of ‘strangers’ in town when the fleet arrived. Lots of ‘ladies’ from London arrived, or ‘unfortunates’ as my Gran called them, and they stood out because of their accents.

Many foreign languages were also heard in the streets of Plymouth, some I was only hearing for the first time, and we tried to communicate with some of the sailors with lots of miming laughing and hand waving.

The biggest ship in town was a United States Aircraft carrier, USS Wasp, which caused great excitement: it was as big as a small town.

But imagine our reaction on the following Saturday, when we went to our usual dance at the NAAFI and saw our very first black men in the flesh AND they were doing the twist, the dance craze at the time!

We had never seen black people before, there were none in our part of England, and especially not ones doing the twist! Boy, they were ever good! Not a patch on us or the local sailors and we could not wait to copy them. But that is another story….

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mayflower

[2] NATO Fleet: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the
Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In 1952,
Greece and Turkey became members of the Alliance, joined later by West Germany.

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My Brothers’ Keeper

I am quite small, hiding under the table in a kitchen filled with big people all talking but not loudly, a hushed kind of murmuring. They are drinking tea and eating. The room is warm.

Scottie, my Gran’s Highland Terrier is with me under the table, he is a black dog which seems appropriate seeing as everyone in the room seems to be wearing black too. The radio plays quietly in the background. Scottie and I are happy to be left alone underneath the table, but I am soon to be called and told to come out from under the table. I don’t want to come out, I was comfortable there. I am helped up onto a chair to peer into a small white box.

The first thing to catch my eye, is the white satin, lining the box. Then I notice the small doll wrapped in a silken shroud, from neck to foot. I am handed a red rose, and told to put it on his chest. Someone says, ‘Now kiss your brother goodbye’ so I lean in, and kiss his cold forehead then scramble down from the table to crawl underneath again to play with Scottie.

I recall that all the curtains in the house were drawn, night and day, a big black wreath was on the front door and all the mirrors were covered, and everyone in the house wearing black arm bands. Hushed conversations which abruptly end when I come into the room.

I am three years old, soon to be four on 20th of November 1948 and this is the occasion of the death of my baby brother born on 18th October 1948 and dying on 21 October, 1948.

Years later I learn that he died whilst nursing in my mothers’ arms on his third day of life. Christopher’s birth, as was the custom in those days, was at home, whilst I stayed with my grandparents, who lived 5 doors away in the same street and many years later I learn that my mother, whilst she was in her ‘confinement’ watched my ‘blond bubble-curled head bob past her window every day’ and still years later, tearfully telling me how one minute Christopher was nursing then he stiffened, and started to turn blue then went limp. She also said that in layman terms “He was born with only half a heart”. Seeing the certificates, brought back the memories and some more tears.

Now in middle age I think of him often. How he would have turned out, what kind of student he would have been, would we have been close friends? Indeed would my parents have ever divorced if he had lived, as death either makes or breaks a family.

For the past 30 years I have been doing family genealogy so recently I sent off for his birth and death certificates, as his birth and death was something I wanted to know about in more detail.

As soon as the birth and death certificates arrive, hands trembling I open them and try to read the certificates, but memories flood back of the day of his funeral, with such clarity I am dizzy for a second.

I have no photos of Christopher but then, handling the certificates, I remember that day of his funeral with vivid clarity, and how black his hair was – our fathers’ Cornish heritage – but those memories are so vivid only because I now have his birth and death certificates in my hands.

I start to read the two documents, His birth first, but then tears make me stop. Now a mother of two boys myself, I cannot imagine what my mother went through on those three days. I pull my self together, and try again.

I read the official account of his too short life and the reason for his death: ”Congenitally abnormal heart. Heart consisted of two chambers a common auricle and a common ventricle” and then the memory of my mother, telling me he was born with ‘half a heart’ and realising that it was surprisingly accurate.

I hurry to write down what I remember of his death and the memories flow. Of his birth, I have no memory.

I would like my future descendant’s to know a little about my brother and to remember him as I did on the day his Birth and Death Certificates arrived for me to read, and the memories I had of his funeral, events still so clear over 67 years ago and once again, I am reminded of how handling documents, photos and memorabilia of family is so important in our lives, especially when we are documenting our family histories.

I wonder how our future descendant’s will manage now most information is digitized?
I believe like most of my genealogical friends, that we will keep our memorabilia in paper form to bring back memories like mine, which were so vivid and clear.

The Family Secret

By Marian Bulford

My Gran told me that her mother Lilian, did not like her very much and was not very nice to her, and consequentially for some peculiar reason Lilian did not like my mother or me, either.

I remember Lilian as a very stern presence so I steered clear of her. She did live with my Gran for a time, but by the time I was a teen, she had moved to another daughter’s house to live, so I never had much contact with her.

A photo below shows the four generations myself, Gran Mum and Lilian and I do not look very happy to be in this photo!

When my mother found out she was pregnant with me, 2 years after being married, she told me that Lilian said “Well, you made your bed now you have to sleep in it” Not a very nice thing to say about becoming a Great Grandmother! I never did understand why she did not like us and what she meant by that remark but years later, I was to find out.

For a while, I lived with my Grandparents from 11 years to 14 years. They were very strict but loving and Gran and I went everywhere together, to church the church fétes and shopping trips. Gran taught me to cook and bake.

One day, Gran wanted to go and see her mother who was living in Okehampton, Devon, a train ride away from us in Plymouth.

A train ride, what a treat! I was about 14 and we lived a very quiet life. Off we went, sandwiches and tea packed for the two-hour train journey to visit great-grandmother Lilian.

After my  Gran’s meeting with her mother lunch with the cousins and visiting, it was time to go. We had the train carriage to ourselves.

‘That was a lovely day, wasn’t it Gran?’ In answer, Gran burst into tears I was astounded, my Gran crying? She never cried.

I put my arm around her and asked her ‘Gran! What is the matter are you sick?” she cried some more, blew her nose and then said “I am a bastard”

Well! You could have knocked me down with a feather. Gran NEVER swore let alone say THAT word.

Eventually, she calmed down and I asked her what she was talking about. She must have been very very upset to divulge her mother’s secret to her young grand-daughter.

Apparently, Gran wanted to be baptized in the Church of England, and needed her birth certificate and to eventually claim her Old Age Pension, she also needed this document. That was the purpose of our visit.

When Lilian heard that Gran wanted her Birth Certificate SHE burst into tears and said that she hoped she would be dead by the time her secret came out.

Then, she had to reveal the reasons why she was so upset. Lilian was by then in her late 80’s and told Gran that she had given birth to her in the Leicestershire work house, because she was an unmarried mother. When she received Gran’s birth certificate it had stamped across it, in very large letters the word ‘ILLEGITIMATE’  Lilian had ripped it up and threw it away.

Lilian had, like many before and since, become pregnant at 17. The father Thomas was a Royal Navy Cooper a master carpenter. They met and she became pregnant. My Gran told me years later, that Lilian told her that she ‘fell off the style (or kissing gate) and never got up’ When Thomas did eventually come home from sea, they married. Gran was then three years old so yes, she WAS illegitimate for a while, but the parents had married, just a little late!

This seemed to be the reason Lilian did not like my Gran very much and Lilian did show a great deal of resentment towards Gran, my mother and me.

 

The four generations

IMG_0002

Standing, left Gran. Standing right my mother Front: Marian and Great Grandmother Lilian, 1948

This article is a continuation of a previous story, called “Illegitimate”

https://genealogyensemble.com/2015/07/13/illegitimate-2/

 

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