Archives for posts with tag: World War One

After reading the post about Norah, my uncle Martin who has researched the family tree sent me an interesting email with more information about Norah which also corrects dates and facts especially that she left for Canada not America and it was before World War One. It reassured me that Betty went to family, just not blood relations. But it also raised questions about a mysterious Joyce who no one had spoken about. Norah had another daughter who was older than Betty. Was she not spoken about because she was born out-of-wedlock? Was her father Fred Newman (Norah’s husband) or someone else? What happened to Joyce – had she died as a child or did she remain in Canada? Martin doesn’t know what happened to Joyce as his mother (my granny) never mentioned her at all, and Norah’s sister (my great-granny) was very secretive about certain things.

Ethel Norah Ellery was born in 1891. Her name is on a school register near Milton Keynes. He mother died in February 1898 and in April she was bundled off from Dorset to this location. In the 1901 census she and her siblings are shown to be staying with the woman who was to become their step-mother while their father was working in the South Wales coalfields.

According to the 1911 census she was working as a kitchen maid for a doctor and his family who lived in Dinton, Wiltshire (about 5 miles SW of Stonehenge). Her age was given as 20. According to the 1921 Canadian census, she was married to Frederick Alfred Newman and had a daughter aged 6 called Joyce. Her age (and her husband’s age) was given as 32. The census also gave the year of her arrival in Canada as 1911. Fred Newman’s age was also given as 32 and he too arrived in Canada 1911. The Quebec marriage registers show that they were married in 1917 with Fred’s occupation given as ‘Private in Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry’.

I understand from Granny Mom that Fred was gassed during WWI so when Betty came over, he was not a well man. I believe that Betty was born in 1922, the same year as Granny Mom. I have not found Joyce’s birth certificate, nor have I found the birth certificate of Betty nor have I have found death certificates for anybody, either in British, Canadian or Australian records. Granny Mom’s cousin Betty married a Thomas Cousins in 1944. They emigrated to Australia where, in about 1962, she died of cancer, aged 40, leaving a husband and five children. According to Granny Mom, the ‘family friend’ was great-grandad’s brother and sister-in-law (Granny Mom’s Uncle Harry) who had five sons and who always wanted a daughter. (Norah was great-granny’s niece by blood, not great-grandad’s niece).

Somehow Norah aged 12 years between 1911 and 1921! It is well-known that some women ‘forget’  birthdays, but gaining two is pretty rare. I suspect that when she ran away to Canada, she lied about her age, adding two years so that she did not need parental consent. Great-Granny always told me that Norah was born in 1889, keeping up the pretence.

Author: Martin Vlietstra

Norah GMom's auntlr


Betty gmom's cousin

Norah’s daughter, Betty

Looking at old photos reminds me of Norah’s story that my grandmother told me. Norah was also affected by World War One and her story is a sad one where you see the ripple effects of the war down the generations.

My grandmother’s aunt was Norah Ellery and she is the eldest child in the photo on the previous post. Norah ran away to America after World War One and left a letter saying that by the time it was being read, she would be on a ship to America. She met her husband-to-be on the ship – was it a ship romance? They married and had a daughter called Betty and Norah worked as a housekeeper or a cook in America. Eight years later, Norah returned to England to visit with Betty who was seven years old. Norah caught a cold and pneumonia most likely on the ship and died ten days after arriving in England in 1926 and was buried in Bridport aged 37. My grandmother was a little girl of about 3 or 4 and remembered her aunt being unwell and asking her for a glass of water.

The problem was what to do with Betty, a girl of seven in a ‘foreign’ country. These days the obvious solution would have been to send her back to her father in America. However a policeman said although he couldn’t advise them what to do, he know what he would do… implying it would be best for the child to remain in England. My grandmother’s mother couldn’t keep her niece as she already had three children and was expecting her fourth. However, a family friend who had five sons said that she would be delighted to take Betty as a ‘ready made daughter’.

I was quite shocked that Betty didn’t go back to her father in America who had now lost his wife and daughter in one foul swoop. But America would have seemed very far away and I understood that the father had suffered from shell-shock and was in and out of hospital. The marriage was also perhaps not that strong. I wonder if Norah ever planned to return herself…

Norah, John and Elizabeth Ellery lrJohn EllerylrEllery_J lrellery cards2lr
When I mentioned my great great-uncle, John Ellery, in the previous post I got up from my desk to check his date of death. I found a school project that my son had done about his ancestors and a letter that he and I had written to my great-aunt Lyla four years ago. Lyla had taken much trouble to reply to Nicholas about her uncle John although she had never known him herself. I found it moving to reread her letter and to think about that young man who died so long ago. Below are extracts from Lyla’s letter.

22 November 2010
“Dear Nicholas,
Thank you for your letter and I will try to help you with a few of my memories passed on to me by my father and mother. They were both living in Bridport during the war (WW1) but were married after the war ended. My father was not conscripted into the army as he wasn’t fit enough. My mother was living with her father and her step-mother. Her brother Jack (John) was in the army serving as a regular soldier and joined the army when he was 15 or 16 in about 1911. His regiment was the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards. Jack was in France in 1915 and sent his father a postcard from Rouen. Jack was a part of the fighting force in France and sadly he was killed in battle in 1916 at the age of 22.

When I was growing up I didn’t hear my parents talk about the war. I know my mother was very sad when she talked about her brother Jack. I realised many years later, after the 1939/45 war, how terrible it must have been for my mother to have lost her only brother.

With love, and I hope your project is successful.
Aunty Lyla”
(Lyla was my grandmother’s sister and died in January 2012)

The photos that Lyla included with her letter where very poignant especially the one of the 3 little children. This is of John, Norah and the youngest girl, Elizabeth (my great-grandmother) which was taken on the day of their mother’s funeral!

signage6 signage3 signage5signage2As a graphic designer, signage and writing always catches my eye. One of the things I love about travelling is seeing unfamiliar signs and beautiful lettering as well as a few quirky additions to road signs which make me smile. I think that my mum’s friend Brody may have had a hand in the beautiful calligraphic signage found in Bruges. The stone carving at the Tyne Cot Cemetery is sombre and powerful and it was overwhelming to see the thousands of names carved on the Menin Gate. It is hard for us to even imagine the awfulness of The Great War: the mud, the pain, the unrelenting agony and the sheer number of those dead. We must not forget.signage7signage4