Category Archives: Great Britain

Border Raiding Ruffians

Border Raider and Reivers Public Domain

  Border Reivers: They were often romanticized in art.*

 

Growing up in Montreal in the late 1960’s and early 70’s, I was often asked, “Are you related to HIM?”  They were referring to Richard Nixon, President of the United States from 1969 to 1974, also a Vice-President from 1953 to ’61.  To this I would reply an emphatic “No! I’m English.  He’s Irish.” I always wanted to add, “Do you ask everyone named Johnson if they are related to Lyndon?”

My father was the one who insisted we were not related to Richard Nixon. Dick was an Irish Nixon, Daddy said. Our Nixons were English. My father also told me, with a sly self-effacing wink, that our Nixons were sheep stealers.  It all sounded a bit cockeyed to me.

Today, 50 years on, I am engaged in working out my genealogy. I’ve had my DNA tested at Ancestry and I’m growing a tree. It seems that my dad was right on two points, about the sheep and, possibly, about Richard Nixon’s Irishness, but not about our family’s relationship to the late American President.

We probably do come from the same ancient stock.

I’ve just learned the Nixons of Northern England are descended from Border Reivers, families from the lawless, burnt out Scottish/English border regions of the British Isles  (Cumberland and Northumberland) who raided other people’s livestock for a living. If you are a Nixon, Forster, Graham, Armstrong, Bell, Eliot, Armstrong, Robson, Crozier, Kerr, and yes, Johnson, you might be descended from these 13th to 17th century outlaws.  Apparently, the Nixon Administration was full of them.

As it happens, I am both a Nixon and a Forster.  An alleged ancestor of mine, illustrious Border Reiver Sir John Forster of Northumberland, was knighted for his service to Queen Elizabeth I in 1557. Sir John was lucky to be on the winning side of two key battles. His castle was in a strategic location on the “middle march” section of the border, so, apparently, he enriched himself with his share of the spoils from all local cattle raids, in England and Scotland.

The Nixon Clan has an even sketchier reputation. According to some accounts, they were “rude borderers” from Carlisle, Cumberland, who held no allegiances (except to the Armstrong Clan) and felt at home on either side of the border.  They were real baddies who were exiled to Ireland and, then, kicked right back to England. Many in the clan were hanged for their transgressions at Carlisle Castle.

That is likely where my father got the idea that Richard Nixon was an Irish Nixon.  I suspect my great grandfather, Robert Nixon ( 1863-1937), a sawmill worker in Helmsley, Yorkshire in the 1920’s, filled his young grandson’s head with many a grand, romantic tale of their burly, bearded ancestors, skilled light horsemen on  fleet-footed stallions, engaging in strategic, daring cattle raids on the Scottish border.

It appears that these Border Reiver families can be described as reckless ruffians on horseback and/or heroic defenders of the monarchy; scoundrels or heroes; charming rascals or organized crime. It’s only point of view.

Just don’t blame these people for their wild way of life.  In the 13th to 17th centuries, the area around the English/Scottish border was ravaged by warfare and not suitable for farming. Raiding sheep and cattle was just a way to earn a living. Also, the exact location of the border was disputed.

The BBC paid homage to these Border Reiver families with a TV show in 1968 called “The Borderers,” featuring a young and handsome Michael Gambon. The adventure series never came to North America, but I have found it on YouTube. If the BBC series had come to Canada back in 1968, when I was 13, I doubt it would have appealed to me any more than any other small screen horse opera.

But my father would have been mightily impressed.

* Illustration at top from book  Border Raids and Reivers, Robert Borland. Available on Archive.org and in the public domain.

 

Here’s  Sir John Forster’s Wikipedia page.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Forster_(soldier)

You can read more about the Border Reivers on the Historic UK website, where I got some of my info.

http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofScotland/The-Border-Reivers/

Read about their connection with the Nixon Adminstration here.

http://articles.latimes.com/1996-02-11/news/mn-34692_1_border-reivers

John Hunter, the Sapper

By Sandra McHugh

As we all know, genealogical research is never-ending.  Facts need to be checked and re-checked.  Leads must be followed. New research beckons. Research on-line can also quickly add up to quite a lot of money.  So whenever a site offers free access, I try to take advantage of it as much as possible.

Last year, I found out that my great-grandfather, John Hunter, enlisted in World War I In November 1914 when he was in his late forties. I was actually looking for him as potentially serving in the Boer War because I could not find him in the 1901 census of Scotland. So it was quite a surprise to learn that he had enlisted in World War I.  I also learned that he was honourably discharged in March 1915 as he was then unfit for service. It would appear that he was injured.1 This year, when Find My Past offered free access to military records during the Remembrance Day weekend, another surprise was in store.  John Hunter reappeared in the military records in 1917. He had another service number, but it was cross-referenced to his old number.

This is a long introduction to explain why I find my great-grandfather’s service record so interesting.  It is because he was a Sapper. He came from a long line of miners in Scotland that can be traced back to the 1600s.  In World War I, he was part of the Royal Engineers. Their military history is long and honourable. Royal Engineers can claim over 900 years of service to the Crown, dating back to the era of William the Conqueror.2 As a Sapper in the Royal Engineers, his duties would have included “bridge-building, laying or clearing minefields, demolitions, field defences and general construction, as well as road and airfield construction and repair.”3 In civilian life, he was a coal miner, so it is a safe assumption that he was a tunneller. “Royal Engineer tunnelling companies were specialist units of the Corps of Royal Engineers within the British Army, formed to dig attacking tunnels under enemy lines during the First World War.”4 Mining and tunnelling were so important to the British offensive positions that they enlisted experienced coal miners, even those who would not normally have been recruited.  “The desperate need for skilled men saw notices requesting volunteer tunnellers posted in collieries, mineral mines and quarries across … Scotland.”5 This policy explains why John Hunter, working in a coal mine in Scotland, and already in his late forties, would have volunteered.

When John Hunter returned to active service in 1917, he was part of the newly formed 326th Quarrying Company.6 As part of this Quarrying Company, he would have received his training at Buxton and then sent to France, to work in the quarries around Marquise, near Calais.7

 

Sources:

1 John Hunter: Enlistment, Medal Card, Attestation for Short Service, Dependents, Territorial Force for Pension

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

3 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sapper

4 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tunnelling_companies_of_the_Royal_Engineers#Request_and_proposal

5 Idem.

6 John Hunter: British Army Service Records 1914-1920 Transcription

7 http://mountsorrelarchive.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Mountsorrel-Quarrymen-and-Qu arry-Companies-RE.pdf

 

For Their Health

Donald and Isabella had not been well over the winter and of all the things they could do to improve their health, felt an ocean voyage would be the cure. Hopefully the salt air and a good long rest would improve their appetites.

In 1900, Donald Sutherland, my great grandfather, his sister Isabella Sutherland Rae and sister-in-law Jessie Johnston Sutherland traveled to New York from Toronto and sailed from there to Scotland aboard the Laurentian, a steamship of the Allen Line.

Food was not available twenty-four hours a day, as on a cruise ship today, but was plentiful and varied. Breakfast was porridge with fresh milk or maple syrup, Loch Fyne herring, or beefsteak and onions. Lunch, the main meal was roast veal with lemon sauce or roast goose with apple sauce along with potatoes, parsnips and sweets for dessert. Supper was lighter, with cold meats, preserved salmon, finnan haddie, not our family favourite, breads, cheese and jam.1 Donald wrote, “We had a fine sail for about four days and the rest of the voyage was not very fine but for the pitching and rolling and heaving we had yet none of us three were sea sick long enough to miss our meals.”2  I love this quote as it captures some of the essence of his character. I can just see them struggling up the stairs, not wanting to miss a meal they had paid for and hoped would improve their health.

Donald and Isabella were born in Canada to William Sutherland and Elizabeth Mowat. Jessie Johnston was born in Scotland and came to Canada as a child. She was married to William, Donald and Isabella’s older brother. They arrived in Glasgow and then went on to Edinburgh where Jessie was born. They had a wonderful time touring the area and Jessie remembered many landmarks from her childhood, including of course the castle.

img_0417

Isabella Sutherland Rae about 1920

The Sutherland’s father William, was from Tongue, in the very north of Scotland. He had left for Canada in 1845 and never went back. Isabella’s mother-in-law Hughina Sutherland Rae, who was also her father William’s sister, was still living in Tongue at the time, but they didn’t visit. I always thought this strange because as far as I know they had never even met. Here they were so close in distance, but when they had the choice of a trip north to Tongue or down to London, London won out! They couldn’t do both without more expense and time than they had available.

Donald had a book store in Toronto, Sutherland’s Dominion Book Store and was very interested in visiting the London book sellers. He wanted to spend time among the books. That city impressed them all and they would have loved to stay longer to see more.

img_8647

Donald Sutherland about 1895

On arriving back in Canada they figured the trip was a great success as they were all in good health and had gained weight. “However I got the benefit of the trip as I expected and I feel a great deal better now than I have been for a long time. I have gained over 9 lbs. after I got home and am still gaining.”3

They had great tales to tell of their trip and the funniest thing that happened in Dublin, but unfortunately these stories were to be told in person and were not put to paper.

1Allen Line Daily Menu Card second class June 9, 1906. www.gjenvick.com/vintage menus

2Letter from Donald Sutherland to his McIntosh Cousins. Dec 17, 1900. Original donated by Carol McIntosh Small to the Bruce County Historical Society.

3Same Letter

Lusitania Legacy

The crowd of 600 invited guests and thousands of spectators cheered as the great ship slid into the waters of the Clyde on June 7th, 1906. She had been commissioned by Cunard, built at the John Brown and Company shipyards, and christened the Lusitania. For a brief time she was the largest ship on the seas. 1.

 

One man in the crowd may not have been cheering: my grandfather James Rankin Angus. He knew the employment he had so recently secured as a joiner would soon be over. On September 7th, 1907, her outfitting completed, the Lusitania would make her maiden voyage to New York. 2.

 

In November of the same year, my grandfather set sail on the Sicilian for Quebec City.3. What led him to immigrate? It is unlikely that he could not have found work at John Brown or any other shipyard. Ship-building on the Clyde was at its height and no doubt James had acquired significant skills working on the luxurious Lusitania. Had his time in the Royal Marines developed a wander-lust? Two of his eight years in the navy were spent in “service afloat”. 4. Or was it the example of his older brothers, one who immigrated to Australia and another to Malaysia? 5.

 

James was born on October 17th, 1878 in Patrick where the Kelvin River enters the Clyde .He was one of ten children born to David Angus, a shoemaker, and his wife Anne Rankin.6.  Originally the village had been a milling centre but the growth of the Clyde-side ship building industry in the 1800’s led to Patrick’s rapid expansion. Hundreds of multi-story tenement buildings were erected to house the flood of workers. When my grandfather left Patrick it was rough, dirty and crowded, far from the trendy area of Glasgow it is today. 7. He would miss only his family.

 

There is no record of James’ early years in Quebec City. He came to Canada a Presbyterian and a Freemason 8.  so one can only assume he found employment contacts and a social life through his church and his Masonic Lodge. In 1912 he opened the Angus Book and Stationary Store 9. , a business that thrived until 1935 when the Depression led to its demise. 10. James ended his career working for the provincial government. He never owned a car but walked to and from work with his head held high and his back ram-rod straight. A proud man. 11.

 

James married Jean Jamison Brodie, the daughter of a wealthy Quebec City flour merchant, in 1911 12.  and fathered three sons. All three enlisted when World War II broke out and served their country overseas. His first born died in the skies over Germany in 1943. 13. The remaining two returned to marry and give him the grandchildren he so dearly loved.

 

For eight years the Lusitania sailed the Atlantic until she was sunk by a German U-Boat on May 7th, 1915 off the coast of Ireland with the loss of more than a thousand lives.14. James gave his wife a tin box of sweets with a commemorative photo of the ship on the lid, the ship that had ultimately led him to her and a life in Canada. The cherished tin remained on her desk for as long as they lived in their home.15. My grandparents’ marriage spanned fifty-three years.16. Today their descendants number thirty-four, an enduring legacy.

 

 

 

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lusitania
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lusitania
  3. com, UK, Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960
  4. Certificate of the Service of James Rankin Angus (#9151), Royal Marines, 1906 – on file with writer
  5. Family letters – on file with writer
  6. Birth certificate James Rankin Angus; census records 1871, 1881, 1891 – on file with writer
  7. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Partick
  8. Masonic Records – on file with writer
  9. City Directory, Quebec City 1912 – first listing of bookstore
  10. City Directory, Quebec City, 1935 – final listing of bookstore
  11. Personal memory and observation
  12. Quebec Chronicle Telegraph clipping June, 1911 – on file with writer
  13. RCAF Service Records of Colin Brodie Angus and Bomber Command Service Bar (awarded 2013) – on file with writer
  14. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lusitania
  15. Personal memory and observation
  16. Death certificate James Rankin Angus – on file with writer

Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day

Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.  We all love to be Irish for a day on March 17.  In my case, I treasure my Irish roots.  Today, I will raise a pint of Guinness and toast my ancestors.

Although my grandparents were Scottish, my great-great-grandparents, John McHugh and Mary Garret, were Irish.  They were both born around 1820 in Ireland.  They would have been young adults when the Great Famine, also known as the Great Hunger and the Irish Potato Famine happened between 1845 and 1852, when potato blight ravaged potato crops throughout Europe.  Ireland was significantly affected and, as a result, one million Irish immigrated to other countries. We commonly hear about the Irish that moved to North America and Australia but a significant number of them immigrated to Scotland.1 John and Mary McHugh were among those who decided to go to Scotland.

At the beginning of the 19th century, it was already common for Irish agricultural workers to move to Scotland temporarily to work during the harvesting season.  By the 1840s, the number of these workers had increased from a few thousand per year to 25,000.  By 1851, the Irish-born population in Scotland had risen to 7.2% of the total population.2

The economic difficulties in Ireland, combined with the industrialization of Scotland that included the expansion of coal and iron ore mining, and the building of shipyards and railways, as well as the significant expansion of the textile industry in Scotland, made Scotland an attractive destination for the Irish.3

The Irish were ideally qualified to work in Scotland’s textile industry as many of them already had knowledge and experience in the textile and jute industry.  Linen and yarn production was already established in Ireland.4The economic conditions in the 1840s in both Ireland and Scotland provided John and Mary McHugh with the impetus to move to Scotland to work in the textile factories in Dundee. Not only John, but Mary also, would have been assured of a regular wage, as many of the textile workers were women. 5

While Scotland would have been a choice destination for John and Mary, it would have been a difficult adjustment.  Sadly, this is because of their religion.  They left communities in which everyone was Roman Catholic to go and live in Protestant Scotland. The Irish Roman Catholics did not have an easy time of it in Scotland. “Anti-Catholic Scots were active in the Scottish Reformation Society and sometimes caused riots.”6 These anti-Catholic sentiments probably encouraged the Irish Catholics to remain in their distinct communities and delayed their integration into Scottish communities.

The following quote illustrates that the Irish were victims of discrimination.

“As late as 1923, the Church of Scotland could still publish a pamphlet entitled ‘The Menace of the Irish Race to our Scottish Nationality’. The Irish were seen as drunken, idle, uncivilised and undermining the moral fibre of Scottish society. They were also seen as carriers of disease. Typhus, for example, was known as ‘Irish fever’.”8

Unlike the above quote, we know the Irish to be hard working, disciplined and adaptable.  I am proud to have Irish roots.

So, despite what would have been great adversity, John and Mary settled in Scotland, lived in a Roman Catholic community and had children and grandchildren who worked in the textile industry. The generations of McHughs working in the textile industry in Dundee came to an end when their grandson, my grandfather, Thomas McHugh, could no longer find regular work in the textile industry in Dundee and decided in 1912 to move to Canada.

A toast to the Irish!  I wish you all a very happy St. Patrick’s Day.

 

1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Famine_(Ireland)

2 http://www.irish-genealogy-toolkit.com/Irish-immigration-to-Scotland.html

3 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Industrial_Revolution_in_Scotland

4 http://www.irish-genealogy-toolkit.com/Irish-immigration-to-Scotland.html

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

6 http://www.irish-genealogy-toolkit.com/Irish-immigration-to-Scotland.html

7 Idem.

8http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/higherscottishhistory/migrationandempire/experienceofimmigrants/irish.asp

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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Hogmanay

By Sandra McHugh

The Scots call the New Year’s Eve celebration Hogmanay.1 Hogmanay is part of my family’s history.

My grandfather, Thomas McHugh, came to Canada from Scotland with his family in 1912.  The family maintained the Scottish traditions and they celebrated Hogmanay.  My father, Edward McHugh, was usually the “first-footer.” This means that he was the first one to step across the threshold after midnight, bearing gifts.  Traditionally, to ensure good luck, the first-footer is a tall and dark haired male.  Fair haired first-footers were not welcome, as it is believed that fair-haired first-footers were associated with the Viking invasions.2 My father brought gifts of coal and a herring, but some of the other traditional gifts include shortbread, a black bun, and whiskey to toast the new year.3

There are a few theories about the origin of the word Hogmanay.  The Scandinavian word for the feast preceding Yule was Hoggonott. The Flemish words hoog min dag mean great love day. Some believe that the origin of the word Hogmanay can be traced back to the Anglo-Saxon Haleg monath or Holy Month or the Gaelic words for new morning, oge maidne. Many believe that the source is French, homme est né for man is born. In France, the last day of the year when gifts were exchanged, was called aguillaneuf and in Normandy, this was called hoguignetes.4

Hogmanay is an important celebration in Scotland.  It is believed that this festival was first brought to Scotland by the Vikings for whom the passing of the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice, was an event to be celebrated.5 The importance of Hogmanay took on an even greater significance because Christmas was banned in Scotland for about 400 years.  A 1640 Act of the Parliament of Scotland abolished the “Yule vacation and observation thereof in time coming.”6 This Act of Parliament reflected the changing attitudes towards the Christmas Feast Days during the Reformation. Christmas Day only became a public holiday in 1958 and Boxing Day in 1974 .7

The partying and hospitality that goes on at Hogmanay is a way of wishing family, friends, and strangers a Guid New Year.  The old is swept out, sometimes literally by giving the home a good cleaning, and by clearing up any debts before the bells ring at midnight.8

I wish you all a very Guid New Year.

Sources

1 http://www.scotland.org/features/hogmanay-top-facts

2 Idem

3 Idem

4 http://www.rampantscotland.com/know/blknow12.htm

5 Idem

6 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_in_Scotland

7 Idem

8 Idem

The Wyndies of Arbroath

My grandmother, Elspeth Mill Boggie Orrock was born in 1875 at 32 East Mill Wynd in Arbroath, Scotland.  She was born in the “Wyndies” of Arbroath, specifically built by the spinning mills and factories to house the handloom weavers that flocked to Arbroath from the surrounding rural parishes. “By 1875, there were 134 spinning mills and factories, factories operating 1,400 power looms and producing 450,000 yards of cloth annually.”1 Flax, jute and sail cloth were woven in these mills. Almost 5,000 people were employed in the textile industry in Arbroath at that time and about a third of them were women. 2 Sure enough, between 1851 and 1911, all of the censuses list members of my family as mill workers, jute weavers, flax dressers and doffers, and yarn bleachers.

Marcol, a member of The Shoppie, a forum for life in Arbroath, posted this picture of the Wyndies on June 8, 2014.3

Marcol Wyndies

The work days in the mills would have been long, starting at 6:00 a.m. and ending at 7:30 p.m., with a half hour break for breakfast and a half hour break for dinner.  They worked six days a week and Sunday was their day of rest. The mills were kept clean and were well ventilated.  In addition, it was not unusual for the owner of the mill to provide free evening school for children working in the mills.4

By the early 1900s, Arbroath and neighbouring 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.5 Once mills were established in India, the production of the mills in Arbroath and Dundee declined significantly.

The growth of the textile industry in Arbroath in the 1800s provided an impetus for my grandmother’s family to move into the city so that they could find steady work in the mills and provide for their family.  The decline of steady work in the textile industry in the early 1900s was the reason why my grandmother, with her husband, who had always worked in the mills, and their seven children, decided to move to Canada in 1912.

 1 http://archive.angus.gov.uk/history/features/2004-08-oldarbroath.htm

2 http://www.scottish-places.info/towns/townhistory385.html

3 http://www.theshoppie.com/arbroath/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=4108&whichpage=4

4 Factories Inquiry Commission submitted to Parliament, 1833, pages 21 to 23

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

RCAF Iroquois Squadron 431

By Sandra McHugh

In World War II, RCAF Iroquois Squadron 431 executed 2,584 sorties, dropped 14,004 tons of bombs, lost 72 aircraft, and suffered 490 aircrew causalities, including 313 deaths, and 14 operational personnel deaths.1 My father, Edward McHugh, was part of the ground crew of this squadron.  He was an electrician by trade and when he enlisted during the summer of 1940, it was determined that the RCAF needed aircraft electricians. He began his training in Canada as part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Program (BCATP). Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King had agreed that Canada would manage the BCATP at 231 facilities across Canada, mainly at air bases.2

Great Britain’s Royal Air Force’s Bomber Command was formed on July 14, 1936 and became part of the air defence of the country.  It was made up of groups and the Canadians were included in these groups. Group 6 was established on January 1, 1943 and was entirely made up of Canadian squadrons. At its peak, there were 14 squadrons belonging to group 6, including Iroquois Squadron 431.3

Squadron 431 operated Wellington X, Halifax V, and Lancaster X aircraft.  The Halifax and Lancaster aircraft had higher speed and greater bomb loads than earlier aircraft.4 The Canadian squadrons were stationed in Burn, Tholthorpe, and Croft, Yorkshire, allowing them to make sorties out across the English Channel, out into the North Sea, and into mainland Europe. Their targets included military targets, U boats, industrial centres, and Nazi occupied territories. The battle honours of Squadron 431 include the English Channel and North Sea, the Baltic, Fortress Europe (areas occupied by Nazi Germany), France and Germany (1944-45), ports in the Bay of Biscay, the Ruhr valley, Berlin, German Ports, Normandy, and the Rhine.5

My father almost never spoke about the war.  Despite the camaraderie and deep friendships he forged during his time of service, it was a dark period of his life and he wanted to forget about it. The few times he spoke of it, he mentioned the busy work leading up to a mission, whereby the ground crew would be working intensely to ensure that everything was the best it could be.  Each person was acutely aware that a small detail could mean the difference between life and death.  Each team of the ground crew was assigned to one bomber and they would wait for their bomber to come back after the mission.  Sometimes the bay remained empty and the bomber never came back.  My father never got over the pain of waiting for a bomber that would not return.

Sources

A special thanks to W.E. Huron for his publication about Squadron 431: The History of 431 R.C.A.F. Squadron and more, 1942-1945: Burn, Tholthorpe, Croft

1 Heron, W.E., A Yorkshire Squadron, the History of 431 R.C.A.F. Squadron and more, 1942–1945: Burn, Tholthorpe, Croft, General Store Publishing House, 2009, p. 8

2http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_British_Commonwealth_Air_Training_Plan_facilities_in_Canada

3 Heron, W.E., A Yorkshire Squadron, the History of 431 R.C.A.F. Squadron and more, 1942–1945: Burn, Tholthorpe, Croft, General Store Publishing House, 2009, pages 3 and 4

4 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RAF_Bomber_Command

5 Heron, W.E., A Yorkshire Squadron, the History of 431 R.C.A.F. Squadron and more, 1942–1945: Burn, Tholthorpe, Croft, General Store Publishing House, 2009, p. 8

Ground crew. Edward McHugh, wearing overalls, is in the front.

Ground crew. Edward McHugh, wearing overalls, is in the front.

Ground crew.

Ground crew.

Bomber

Bomber

The Harvester Scheme and the Empire Settlement Act

By Sandra McHugh

Who would have thought that finding the immigration records of my grandparents would have led to me to learn about two British government initiatives designed to promote immigration in the 1920s?  I was looking in the Library and Archives Canada web site and found digitized records of Form 30 that recorded the entry of every immigrant between July 1921 and December 1924.1  I was thrilled to find the form that my grandfather, George Thomas Deakin, signed in August 1923, and the one that my grandmother, Grace Graham Hunter, signed in February 1924.

My grandfather’s form indicated that he came to Canada as part of the Harvester Scheme.  In 1923, Canada had a bumper wheat crop and North America could not provide the labour needed to harvest the crop.  Under the Harvester Scheme, the two major Canadian railway companies entered into an agreement with the British government to transport 12,000 workers out west where they would earn $4.00 per day plus board.  This was considered a successful scheme as 11,871 migrants went out west to work, the harvest was successfully completed, and 80% of the harvesters stayed and were considered “successfully assimilated.”2

My grandmother’s passage was paid by the Empire Settlement Act.  This Act was passed by the British Parliament in 1922 and its purpose was to provide an incentive for migrants to settle in the colonies.  Canada badly needed farm labourers and domestic workers.  At that time, the Canadian government favoured immigrants from Great Britain as a means of ensuring the predominance of British values.  In the early 1920s, it was difficult for Canada to attract immigrants from Great Britain as Britain was enjoying a period of prosperity right after World War I.  Another reason was the prohibitive cost of transatlantic transportation.  Even passage in third class would have been expensive for a farm labourer or a domestic worker.3

My grandmother came to Canada to enter into domestic service as a cook and her destination in Montreal was the government hostel.  Hostels were located in major urban areas across Canada.  These hostels were partially funded by the provinces and immigrants from Great Britain were allowed free dormitory accommodation for 24 hours after their arrival.  Young ladies were looked after by the Superintendent of the hostel and referred to a church worker.  They were also referred to Employment Services of Canada who would find them employment.4

Sources

1 Library and Archives Canada:  http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca

2 Foster, John Elgin, 1983, The Developing West:  Essays on Canadian History in Honor of Lewis H. Thomas, University of Alberta

http://www.pier21.ca/research/immigration-history/empire-settlement-act-1922

4 Crawford, Ruth, 1924, “Canada’s Program for Assimilation”, The Rotarian, May 1924, p. 16

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