England, Genealogy, Huguenot

The Huguenot of England, Part 2

French Persecution of the French Huguenots

At the end of the 17th century, 60,000 to 80,000 Huguenots settled in the South West of England and were known as Britain’s first refugees.

The ‘Currant Examiner’ of September 1681, contains this quote that resonates today:

Plymouth Septem. 6. This day came in hither a small bark from Rochel, (La Rochell) with thirty nine poor Protestants, who are fled for their Religion: They report that five or six Boats more full of these poor distressed Creatures parted from those parts at the same time; and we hear that one of them is already put into Dartmouth. [1]

As I read the piece it appeared that the refugees were, in fact, heading towards Plymouth, where for centuries, the Devon ports were very familiar just as the Devon mariners were familiar with the Channel Islands and the continental seaboard.

This article continues my story of the Huguenot of England and in particular, South West Devon. https://genealogyensemble.com/2018/04/25/the-huguenot-of-england-part-1/

Bristol, Stonehouse, Plymouth, Thorpe-le-Soken Parish Registers of the English Huguenots

What prompted my interest in Huguenots? Well, I was searching online for places to visit on my next trip ‘home’ when I came across a reference to the Artist Dennis Severs’ house. The website told me: “Dated from approximately 1724, Dennis Severs had purchased a house at 18, Folgate Street, next to Spitalfields in East London and there, he created a time capsule of a Huguenot silk weaver family from 1724”. [₂]

I had no idea what a ‘Huguenot’ was so I decided to find out. I took a trip around the internet and discovered some interesting tidbits.

For instance, the Huguenot Society of Great Britain and Ireland (Yes! we have a society!) tells us that the Huguenots were known as Britain’s first refugees and goes on to say “there are many inhabitants of these islands who have Huguenot blood in their veins, whether or not they still bear one of the hundreds of French names of those who took refuge here – thus bringing the word ‘refugee’ into the English language” Who knew? [3]

They were actually welcomed to England by King William III in a Declaration.

Dr William A. Pettigrew, Reader, School of History, University of Kent wrote:

As King William III’s Declaration above makes clear, a distinguishing feature of this migration was the explicit state support it received. Six months after William of Orange had landed to take the throne of England The Declaration was printed in London in April 1689. William had long supported the plight of the Huguenots. His support was not altruistic because he understood the assistance this powerful group of refugees could offer him in his war with the French King who had persecuted the Huguenots – Louis XIV. The Declaration offers the historian a useful insight into the official government approach to the Huguenot arrival.

The Declaration clearly shows how William expected the English to welcome Huguenot refugees because of a presumed empathy with them born of the shadow of state persecution extended by William’s predecessor, James II”

Here’s one Huguenot refugee’s success story from the Independent newspaper.

For 270 years after 1724, a Hampshire paper firm, Portal had – literally – a license to print money. In 1685, Henri de Portal and his brother, Pierre Guillaume were terrified refugee children, smuggled out of France in wine casks and sent on a perilous sea journey. It took the young Portals from Bordeaux to Southampton. Henri opened his mill in Whitechurch in 1712. Within a decade he had found his fortune through a banknote paper contract”. [4]

Although I was born and raised in Plymouth, England, I was very surprised to learn that the Huguenot and Walloons settled in my hometown and Stonehouse.

Kathy Chater in her book “Tracing your Huguenot Ancestors” states: “One of the major problems researching Huguenots in Devon is the impact of the bombing of the Exeter record office during the Second World War when many documents were destroyed. All the wills, for example, have been lost, although a project to reconstruct them is underway. However, it seems that even before this the records of the two Exeter Huguenot churches had disappeared”[5]

This could be one reason that I had no idea that Huguenots lived and worked in my part of the country. I wonder, is there a possibility of Huguenot ancestors in my family? Another avenue to explore!

Our ‘Mother Church’ in Plymouth is called St. Andrews and is designated a minster which is “A church that was established during Anglo-Saxon times as a missionary teaching church, or a church attached to a monastery”. [6]

An interesting note concerning St. Andrews Church is this:

Plymouth and East Stonehouse: A nonconformist congregation formed in Plymouth 1681, and closed c1762, the remaining members joining the Batter Street Presbyterians. Some records of their children are listed as ‘births of dissenters’ in the Plymouth St Andrews and the East Stonehouse Anglican registers. A conformist congregation was formed in 1681 in Plymouth, from which an East Stonehouse congregation split off in 1691. These congregations used St Andrews Church and first its Chapelry at East Stonehouse and then a Church (with separate registers) there. The Plymouth and East Stonehouse congregations merged in 1785 and were dissolved in 1810. For details of the extant pre-1840 registers see under Church Records in the respective parish pages. [7]

Some churches allowed Huguenot worship outside of normal C of E services. (C of E means Church of England) and St Andrew was one of the main parishes in Plymouth that has registers where the Huguenots recorded baptisms starting at the back of the register.

This has been a very interesting journey and learning experience about a group of people who lived worked and died in my part of the World and of whom I knew nothing – until now.

SOURCES

http://www.huguenotsofspitalfields.org/the-huguenots-of-dartmouth.html [1]

https://www.dennissevershouse.co.uk/ [2]

https://www.huguenotsociety.org.uk/history.html [3]

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/refugee-week-the-huguenots-count-among-the-most-successful-of-britains-immigrants-10330066.html [4]

Book “Tracing your Huguenot Ancestors” by Kathy Chater Page 38“ [5]

virtuallinguist.typepad.com/the…/the difference-between-a-minster-and-a-cathedral.html [6]

http://www.genuki.org.uk/big/eng/DEV/ChurchHistory/Huguenot [7]

NOTES

These books on the Huguenot of South West England are of interest.

Bracken, C.W. The Huguenot churches of Plymouth and Stonehouse. Trans. Devon. Assoc. 66, (1934) pp.163-179.

Currer-Briggs, Noel and Gambier, Royston. Huguenot Ancestry, Phillimore & Co. (2001) 160 pp. [ISBN: 1860771734]

Lart, Charles E. The Huguenot Settlements and Churches in the West of England, Proceedings of the Huguenot Society of London, vol. 8, (1901-4) pp.286-298.

Lart, Charles Edmund. (ed.) Registers of the French Churches of Bristol, Stonehouse, and Plymouth. Huguenot Society of London pubs. vol. 20. Spottiswoode and Co. (1912) [Includes Plymouth baptisms 1733-1807; marriages 1734-1740; burials 1733-1734.]

Peskett, Hugh. Guide to the Parish and Non-Parochial Registers of Devon and Cornwall, 1538-1837, Torquay, Devon and Cornwall Record Society; extra ser., v (Printed for the Society by The Devonshire Press) (1979).

Pickard, Ransom. The Huguenots in Exeter. Trans. Devon. Assoc. 68, (1936) pp.261-297; 76, (1944) pp.129-131.

Rogers, Inkerman. The Huguenots of Devonshire, Bideford, Gazette Printing Service? (1942). [BL DSC L70/1555]

Smiles, Samuel. The Huguenots: Their Settlements, Churches, and Industries in England and Ireland, (1972) 448 pp. [ISBN: 0806304979]2    

 

 

England, Genealogy

The Bulford Kiwi

Not many families have a big bird named after them.

Well, we do! It is a New Zealand Kiwi bird and it is carved into the chalk hills in Wiltshire, England. It has been there since 1919, so close to famous, ancient Stonehenge, yet virtually unknown.

During my genealogy searching online for family members, like many researchers, I ‘Googled’ my surname, Bulford, but I would always get sent to ‘Bulford Camp’ in Salisbury, Wiltshire, in the UK, which is a large Army camp that was established in 1897.

The Bulford Army Base is still in use today alongside Bulford Village and the Church. Many times, over the years, family members would go to Bulford to get our photos taken with the Village sign.

My Uncle Roy Bulford Circa 1960’s
Marian, Bulford Camp sign. 1993. No longer a country road!  

Bulford Village grew up on the gravels beside the river Avon. The meaning of Bulford is difficult but the most likely explanation is ‘the ford where the ragged robins grow’ or ‘ragged robin island’.  Bulut is Saxon for ‘ragged robin’ and in the 12th century the name was Bultesford. ¹

The Bulford Kiwi is carved on Beacon Hill above the military village of Bulford on Salisbury Plain. Hill figures, or geoglyphs, ² are designed to be seen from afar rather than above and are a phenomenon especially seen in England. The letters “N.Z.” are 65 feet (20 m) high.

This one was carved after the First World War by the Kiwis (as the New Zealanders were called), eager to get back home. Apparently, no troop ships were immediately available and the troops had a few riots in protest, so officers decided that they should be kept busy by carving a Kiwi into the chalk hills!

In 1919, the Canterbury and Otago Engineer Battalions started their work. The design was drawn by Sergeant-Major Percy Cecil Blenkarne, a drawing instructor in the Education Staff, from a sketch of a stuffed kiwi specimen in the British Museum.

In real life, Kiwis are a nocturnal, flightless bird about the size of a chicken with long legs and beak. The kiwi’s muscular legs make up around a third of its total body weight and can outrun a man. The chalk Kiwi’s body covers 1.5 acres (6,100 m2).

Kiwi Bird found only in New Zealand

The site was surveyed and the design put on to the site by Sergeant-Major V.T. Low of the education staff. From the Kiwi’s feet to the top of its back is 420 feet (130 m) and the beak is 150 feet (46 m) long.

In the years after the Kiwi’s creation, the Kiwi Polish Company – the very polish used to shine our forces’ issued marching boots – maintained the Kiwi through their offices in London, employing local villagers to do the work. Although it had “little if any advertising value [for the company]”, they explained their interest in its upkeep as its being a memorial to the New Zealand troops.³

The chalk Bulford Kiwi

 

SOURCES

Bulford parish itself is rectangular, extending eastwards from the banks of the river and the boundaries have remained unchanged for more than a thousand years. In the Middle Ages, there was a settlement called Hindurrington, to the north of Bulford church, that was also on the river gravels. The name may have originated because the settlement was at the back of Durrington, which was on the other side of the river.[1]

http://bulfordparishcouncil.org/history-bulford-village.html [1]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hill_figure Info about the chalk figures in the UK [2]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bulford_Kiwi shoe polish [3]

FOOTNOTES

Hill figures are cut in the grass to reveal the chalk and include the Cerne Abbas Giant the Uffington White Horse, the Long Man of Wilmington as well as the ‘lost’ carvings at Cambridge, Oxford and Plymouth Hoe.

For further photos of the chalk Kiwi follow this link:

https://www.google.ca/search?q=Bulford+Kiwi+photos&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-b&gfe_rd=cr&dcr=0&ei=M88tWo3VE8XL8AfXvqzIBQ

England, Genealogy, RCAF Bombers WW II

Dear Uncle Bill

Dear Uncle Bill,

While rummaging through the Dusty Old Boxes containing family memorabilia, I came upon letters written by you to your only brother, my father, Tom.  There were also letters written to your sweetheart during WWII while you were stationed in England serving with the RCAF. So I thought the best way to remember you would be in the form of a letter.

Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Lucy and I am one of your nieces.

Our paths never crossed.  I was only born in 1957 and you died in 1943. Your brother had seven children.  I was his fourth.  His eldest son, born in 1949, was named after you – William Sherron Anglin II.

While staying with my family in England in 2016, I visited you in person at your last known address:  Runnymede Memorial[1], Panel 179, Surrey, UK.  My grandchildren, who always enjoy a challenge, accompanied me in my search to find you. It didn’t take them long to find your panel and you – or your name, that is – inscribed on one of several stone walls, along with 20,000 other airmen,  at this dedicated memorial building on Cooper’s Hill overlooking the Thames River.

Your name was too high up for the children to touch but I brushed my fingers lovingly over your name and told you we were there. I am quite sure you knew it. You had an interest in mental telepathy, as did your grandfather, and his story was documented in the family boxes as well.  (Surgeon and Mentalist)

Throughout your letters to Tom, along with childhood memories, you shared and referred to an interest in The Rosicrucian Order which “is a community of mystics who study and practice the metaphysical laws governing the universe”.[2]

You maintained the belief in an ability to “project” yourself and to send mental messages. I can only guess that a feeling of closeness to your brother by any means must have consoled you greatly while away at war in England.

In your letters to your sweetheart, you described England in general (with the usual complaints about the rainy weather), your life with the RCAF, weekend leaves to Scotland and dances in the mess hall “wishing you were there”.  Although I don’t have her letters in response, I am sure you took great comfort in hearing from her.

You were sent on a training course at the end of May 1943 and, while away, your crew went on a mission without you – never to return. In the last letter to your girl, you confided that you were feeling “depressed” at their loss.  On the very next mission, you went missing as well.

Last picture of Uncle William
Last picture of Uncle Bill (far left) – 1943

Not long afterwards, your sweetheart sent a bundle of your cherished letters, wrapped in a bow, to your mother and wrote “I know I want to forget as soon as I am able, everything – and so I am sending you the few letters I had saved from those Bill sent me from England.  I hope that you would rather have them, than not … perhaps they will make you glad to have something more – to know something else of Bill’s life in England … rather than rake up memories you are trying to forget. For while I want to forget, I feel so sure that you will want to remember.”

Your mother never gave up hope that you would return one day.

Wendling & Josephine Anglin and sons Bill and Tom (1940)

Bill, Wendling  (the stock broker), Josephine, Tom and family dog (1940).

The abundant number of photos found with the letters in these boxes show your 27 years filled with family times – gatherings, annual trips, formal portraits, a few pets and a full life.

You will not be forgotten.

Lovingly,

Your niece Lucy

Note:

http://www.aircrewremembered.com/richmond-bruce.html

William Sherron Anglin was an Air/Gunner and Warrants Officer II with the 429 Squadron flying in a Wellington X bomber, Serial no. HZ471.

Reason for Loss:

Took off from R.A.F. East Moor, North Yorkshire at 22.36 hrs joining 719 aircraft attacking the town of Wuppertal, the home of the Goldchmitt firm which produced Tego-Film, a wood adhesive used in the production of the HE162 and TA154 (aircraft).  Around 1000 acres was destroyed in the firestorm that followed – 211 industrial buildings and nearly 4,000 houses were totally destroyed. A figure of 3,400 fatalities on the ground has been recorded. Bomber command did not escape lightly on this operation losing some 36 aircraft.

It is thought “probable” that HZ471 was shot down by Lt. Rolf Bussmann, flying out of Venlo airfield, and attacking this Wellington at 3,700 meters with the aircraft falling into the sea off Vlissingen.

429 Squadron possible loss area

[1] https://wiki2.org/en/Runnymede as at November 19, 2017

[2] https://www.rosicrucian.org/ as at November 19, 2017.

England, Genealogy, Social history

Floods!! Then And Now

‘Here it comes’  Dad yells out and we all rush to the front door with our brooms. Sweeping frantically we try to stop the flood water creeping into the house but to no avail.

With all the news about the Harvey Irma and Jose hurricanes and the resulting floods and damage, I was reminded of our house when I was about 9 years old in 1954. We lived in Watts Cottages, St. Levan’s Road Plymouth in Devon England. There were four cottages situated in a small park, in a pretty grassy ‘dip’. and St Levan’s Road outside the park’s elegant metal railings was the main road for cars and buses. Upon opening our garden gate it led directly to the grass and the park. It was idyllic,  except for one thing…..It flooded when it rained heavily. Plymouth is a very hilly area and our cottages were situated in that dip.

Shortly after my father bought the house, our neighbours could not wait to tell Dad that the four cottages flooded when rain was particularly heavy. Of course, nowadays a sale like that would never happen but this was only 9 years after WW2 and housing in our Naval city were in crisis. Thousands of people lived in prefabs – prefabricated homes built quickly after the war, intending to last for 10 years –  and many families lived together, due to the bomb damage and shortages of homes, so for my Dad to find this pretty cottage, next to a recreation field and a main bus route was wonderful.

Side view of the Cottages in the park from the recreation ground, Our cottage was the third from the left.

We had lived in our home for about a year before it flooded. It had rained heavily all day and suddenly, the garden had a few inches of water in it, which rapidly became two feet. It crept towards the front door. When Dad had heard about the flooding from the neighbours, he had built a waist-high cement wall and a wooden door to slot in place when it rained. He was hopeful that this would keep the water out of the house – it didn’t.

After our frantic efforts to sweep the water out, it was obviously a useless exercise so my Dad made Mum me and my baby sister all go upstairs, whilst he waded out the front door to try and clear the sewer drain, which was outside our gate in the park area. He was over 6 feet tall, but soon, the water had reached his chest. We all watched the drama unfold from our bedroom window. He managed to get the drain cover off, and a huge fountain of water shot up into the air! It kept going for ages and we waited for the flood waters to recede but it did not happen and I must admit that at nine years old, it was kind of exciting to see! All the neighbours across the street were watching too. Buses stopped on the main road to watch the huge fountain of water cascading over the park. Such drama! What excitement!

The aftermath the next day was not so much fun though. No kind of help from anyone in those days. We just waited for the flood waters to subside, and then started the usual clean up. No Fire Engines to help pump out the water, no help from the local city officials, no shelters no home insurance just us, Dad Mum and me sweeping out all the stinking mud and trying to dry everything out.

None of the surrounding homes (pictured below) suffered flooding as those four cottages did, and always afterwards, the place smelled of mould and damp. No wonder I was always sick with bronchitis. It took many years – 18 actually – before those cottages were officially condemned and boarded up.

Long before then the residents including us had just moved out and left behind their dreams and investment. It took another 7 years before they were bulldozed and grassed over. The local council did then, once officially condemned, pay residents a nominal fee but nothing like the money put into our homes.

Front view of the site today, after the demolition of the Cottages, still a pretty site. The bare green area was where the cottages were situated. You can see how the area slopes downwards.

I have to admit that when I went back to England one year and visited the park, it was a shock to see the houses gone and an empty spot grassed over. It did make me sad and although the victims of the recent Hurricanes had a far, far worse time of it than we ever did, I do know exactly what they went through afterwards…..

 

 

England, Genealogy, Social history

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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England, Genealogy, Quebec, Scotland

The Cipher

By Sandra McHugh

When I say that my grandfather, Thomas McHugh, worked as a cipher, Bletchley Park, MI5, and Russian spies immediately come to mind. He was neither a Russian spy nor did he work as a cipher during the war. His employer was the Bank of Montreal and it was his first job when he came to Canada in 1912.

The decision to immigrate to Canada was not easy for Thomas. He was in his mid-30s and already had seven children, between the ages of one and fifteen. For over 40 years, the jute manufacturers of Dundee, Scotland had been providing employment for his parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, wife, and for him. However, by the early 1900s, he was facing a precarious future for his children.

By the early 1900s, Dundee had suffered a serious decline in the textile industry and more significantly, the jute industry.  Jute was imported from India, however, the mill owners realized that it would significantly lower the cost of production to open mills in India to prepare the jute and import the finished product to Scotland. Once mills were established in India, the jute production in the mills in Dundee decreased substantially.1

So when Thomas arrived in Canada, a little ahead of his wife and his children, he was eager and prepared to do any job so that he could. The Bank of Montreal had its headquarters in Montreal, Quebec. In the early 1900s, the bank had significant dealings with Great Britain and there were correspondence and banking instructions back and forth between Canada and Great Britain daily. These instructions were mainly sent by telegraph overnight. There were two reasons for this. Some of these instructions were confidential and it was preferred that they remain so. Overnight instructions reduced the number of people who would have access to them. Another reason was the time difference between Montreal and the United Kingdom. The banks in London and Edinburgh were open for business while Montreal was still asleep.

Even in those days, the banks were concerned about security, privacy, and confidentiality. The banking instructions and transactions were submitted by telegraph and were encrypted. It was the job of the cipher clerk to decipher them so that the bank staff could then ensure that the instructions were carried out as required.

To be a cipher clerk, one had to be reliable, meticulous, and honest, and ensure the confidentiality of the bank’s business. The cipher clerk used a cipher handbook to decipher the information. Also, the cipher clerk worked overnight, so it was a difficult job for a man with a family.

So while my grandfather, the cipher, did not work in espionage, I still think that his first job in Canada was rather interesting.2

1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Dundee

2 As related by my father, Edward McHugh

England, Genealogy

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.

England, Genealogy, Quebec, Social history

A Beautiful (Terrible) Life

royal-selangor-club

The Royal Selangor Club and padang today in Kuala Lumpur.  Photo taken by my son.

It is a truth universal for genealogists: If at first you don’t succeed – finding info on an ancestor on the Internet – try and try again.

About ten years ago, surfing the Library of Congress online archive, I discovered that there existed a 1953 March of Time video about the Malayan Communist Emergency.  Even better, the blurb on said website claimed said this particular episode of the iconic newsreel contained a bit about my grandmother and namesake, Dorothy Nixon.

I soon found out that the video was long out of production. I couldn’t even find an old copy on eBay. Then, about two or three years later, a former Malayan colonial posted the video in its entirety on YouTube, Playing Cricket whilst Fighting Goes On. It’s still up there. 

Today, all I have to do is point and click and there she is: my small snowy-haired grandmother, about  55 years old, seated beside a man in a tall turban while scoring a cricket match at the much-storied Royal Selangor Club, on the pedang, or green, in Kuala Lumpur.

My grandmother’s segment is at the end of the piece describing  the decade long jungle conflict, at about the 6 minute mark.  “Mrs. Nixon,” says the announcer, “is a fixture at the Royal Selangor Club” which has just opened up to non-Europeans. It isn’t mentioned, but I know for a fact that, at the time, Dorothy was the only woman who had ever been allowed into the men’s section of the club.*

Before WWII, the green or padang was surrounded by government buildings.  That is why, on Boxing Day, 1941, two weeks after Pearl Harbour, the green was bombed by the Japanese.  My grandmother was at the Kuala Lumpur Book Club, a library nearby, when the bombs hit. According to her family memoir, she hid under a desk until the barrage ended and then got up to help dig out dead bodies from the rubble.

Here’s a post-war picture of Dorothy with the Selangor Cricket team from the 1947 sent to me by a former Colonial.

dorothy-club-big

 

The picture suggests my grandmother enjoyed being one of a few women among a large group of men. And, it’s true, almost everything I have learned about her seems to underscore this point.

A few days after the bombing, when Kuala Lumpur was overrun from the North by Japanese soldiers riding on bicycles, all rubber planters’ wives were told by telephone  to leave the city.  My grandmother removed herself only reluctantly, taking a dark and noisy night train to “safety” in Singapore.  When, a few days after that, and much to everyone’s surprise, Singapore fell, Dorothy simply refused to get on a boat to Batavia like most other British women, so she was interned at Changi Prison.

For a 6 month period in 1943, Granny, as we kids called her, was elected Women’s Commandant, where she had repeated run-ins with the mostly hands-off Japanese Commandant. Soon after she relinquished her leadership post, she was arrested by the Japanese Kempetai for allegedly spying (and colluding with the Men’s Camp) in an infamous ‘radio’ incident called the Double Tenth.  

dorothycell

Dorothy: Self-portrait. The relative luxury of her Changi cell. At first, the Japanese Commandant was hands-off and even helpful, but that changed over time with a new man put in the position.  The women’s camp population grew large, to over 300, over the span of the war and soon there were three women to a cell. 

Dorothy spent a month in a tiny windowless room in the bug-infested basement of the Singapore YMCA with 17 desperate male suspects who were taken out nightly to be tortured. Their screams and a bright light kept her from sleeping.  Then she was put in solitary confinement for five long months and starved to an inch of her life on two cans of condensed milk a day.  Apparently, she much preferred the buggy room.*

double-tenth-diary

(A page from her ‘memoir’..Double Tenth is 10th of October)

My father, a classic “Child of the Raj” hardly knew his own  British ‘mater’, so much of what I knew about my grandmother before my recent Internet forays was mere family myth.

Using Ancestry.co.uk, I recently discovered that my Granny travelled by boat from Yorkshire (well, Liverpool) to Malaya in December, 1921 to meet up with her new husband, Robert, also from the North of England, who was working on a rubber plantation near the beautiful Batu Caves.

(She had been a Land Girl in WWI, in forestry, leading the giant Clydesdales that pulled the logs through the woods.)

She gave birth to my father, Peter, but ten  months later, and this despite the fact my grandfather refused to give up his Asian girlfriend. Anglo rubber companies forced their employees to marry British wives, which provoked a lot of resentment against these interloping women, who were considered too high maintenance and parvenus of a sort.

Still, colonial life wasn’t all terrible. In the twenties, Dorothy attended polo matches with sultans and hosted formal dinners for British dignitaries, some of these men living legends, at her airy bungalow on her husband’s rubber estate.

“We had fun in those days,’ she told a journalist in the 1970’s, who put it in a book about Colonial Malaya. The journalist described my grandmother, in her dotage, as very weak and ‘somewhat vague.’

It was later, in the 1930s that Dorothy became Head Librarian at the Kuala Lumpur Book Club, a turn-of-the-century institution that also provided a mail-order book box service for Brits isolated in the remote jungle.  I don’t know if she took on this job out of sheer boredom (since her children had been sent to England early on, and she had the usual quota of servants) or because the Depression forced her to.

Then came WWII and her near-death experience at the hands of the Japanese.  Eventually, in the fifties and sixties, she was anointed the “Grand Dame of Cricket” in Malaya.  For a while they were giving out a Dorothy Nixon Trophy.

My grandmother died in 1972 at age 77, shortly after that interview, in her rooms at the Majestic Hotel in KL surrounded by her precious personal collection of books which were later donated to the Malaysian National Library, but not before meeting her name-sake granddaughter.

Upon her retirement from the KL Book Club, in the summer of 1967, she flew in to visit us for six months in the Snowdon area of Montreal.

Dorothy Senior was not impressed, I can tell you, with our bilingual island city, our ‘exotic’ World’s Fair, or her pimply, pubescent string-bean of a granddaughter.

And all I saw in her was a bad-tempered old crone, always pacing the narrow halls of our cramped upper duplex apartment with a Rothman’s cigarette in one hand a tall tumbler of gin in the other, criticizing almost everything, including my mother’s decadent pound-of-butter, six egg French Chocolate Pie.

So closely confined and besieged by a band of unruly Canadian grandkids, she must have felt as if she were back at Changi!

grannylll

Granny, in picture, visited us for Expo67.

She did, indeed, tell my mother about her WWII experience and my mother did mention it to me. “Try to be nice to your grandmother,” I recall Mummy saying. “ During the war she had to sit cross-legged for days in a room with many men.”  But, that plea made no impression on me.

My grandmother and I hardly spoke,that sweet Expo summer, even though I gave her breakfast in bed every morning, one hard-boiled egg and a tiny container of a strange food called ‘yogurt’, and we both preferred it that way.

After all, the  very first week of her visit she had told me I could never visit her in Malaysia, as she would ‘lose face’ in front of her Chinese friends.

Oh, well. I’m making it up to her now.

===========================================

*The Royal Selangor Club, founded in 1884 by British colonials, has a long history reaching back to Victorian times. The story goes the club was knick-named the Spotted Dog because, from the beginning, people of all races were allowed to join, although this March of Time piece suggests that happened only in the 50’s. Still, no question, Malaya  in the 1920’s and 30’s was a bustling multi-cultural society – but with a distinct pecking order.

*Luckily, she wasn’t horribly tortured like the men or a  certain young Chinese  woman, who suffered all kinds of indignities including electric shock and, yes, even, waterboarding.*(IF you have seen the brilliant BBC series Tenko, you’ll know all about her Changi experience. That fictional mini-series was bang on from what I can see. )

England, Genealogy, Social history

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