Monthly Archives: August 2015

And Edith

I have no letters or documented proof in my possession for an important personal event in Harold and Walter’s trip to England – only family stories and all that went after. At some stage on their journey, the young men went to Herrington in County Durham and visited the Allen family.

Miner's Welfare Hall and Tivoli, New Herrington

The Allen’s were second and third generation coal miners at the Herrington Colliery. Simpson Allen was the head of the house and had been working in the mines since before the age of twelve. In 1911, (at the age of 55 years) he was still working as a Hewer (at the coalface) according to the census.

Written on verso: 'Taken in Herrington Woods'. Joe Allen is seated front row, left. Jim Allen is back row, right.

Written on verso: ‘Taken in Herrington Woods’. Joe Allen is seated front row, left. Jim Allen is back row, right.

There were ten children in the Allen family – five sons, five daughters. James and Joe were of similar age to Harold, the youngest two, Bob and Kitty (twins) were 6 or 7 years old at the time and Edith, the seventh child in the family was nearly sixteen.

 

 

 

My mum’s cousin wrote of Edith in her family history —

Edith younger - cropt from portrait with Jane I think

A young Edith, date unknown.

Edith was a bonny lass and very popular. She enjoyed the social activities at St Aidan’s church where most of the young people in the area gathered for tennis, dancing etc. She met her future husband Harold Gillespie, early in 1914, prior to the War. He had traveled to England with Mr Cripps who was serving as Anglican priest in Harold’s home town. Mr Cripps was originally from Durham, and he introduced Harold to the Allen family.

Of course we now know several details about Walter are not accurate; he was from Brighton and was a layman/student when he travelled to Canada (he would eventually be ordained there in 1920). So how he came to know the Allen’s and their town in County Durham is something of a mystery, but he did know them well enough to visit and, he introduced Harold to the family.

There is no consistent version in the family stories so we don’t know if romance blossomed immediately or if it happened when Harold returned as a soldier. Either way, I can’t help but think this first meeting must have had some weight on decisions that were to come.

LaurenticOn July 4th, Harold and Walter sailed back to Canada on  the S S Laurentic from Liverpool. They docked in Quebec and disembarked on July 12th. According to Harold’s postcard, Walter had to get straight back to his calling in Lethbridge.

Three weeks later Britain declared the country was at war with Germany.

 

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The Battle Ships are Fine

Portsmouth Harbour from the Ramparts

Postcard #4 – Portsmouth Harbour – dated Croydon June 28th, 1914

Dear Ray,
I’ve been in the dockyards. It is a very nice place to go to see some nights. The battle ships (sic) are fine. Well I guess you will have my letter by this time I have many to write, Solong (sic) with love, H

One small sentence written on the last postcard from Harold’s trip abroad is probably the most interesting of all. He wrote the postcard the same day Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg were assassinated in Sarajevo, an event we now view as the catalyst for the start of the war. I wondered how things were seen at the time, whether Harold and Walter might have had any inkling of what was so close on the horizon.

Manchester Evening News – Monday 29 June 1914 Image © Trinity Mirror. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.

Manchester Evening News – Monday 29 June 1914
Image © Trinity Mirror. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.

Many of Britain’s historic papers are locked behind paywalls but the Daily Telegraph has digitised and released its WWI archival papers. Its June 29th, 1914 edition has a whole series of articles detailing the Archduke’s assassination (see pp 11-16).

I also found an article from the Manchester Evening News available on the British Library’s newspapers site. Both reports fail to grasp the ramifications of  the Duke’s death.

Back in Canada the assassination was also in papers such as The Globe.  There was no interpretation of the events there either, only details.

Media coverage of the Archduke’s death continued for most of the week, but looking through the papers is is obvious that there were plenty of other things happening, other events that might be as just as interesting and relevant to two young men abroad.

The suffragette movement was gaining media attention for their increasingly radical actions, the Irish Home Rule Bill was back in the House of Lords,  Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition received a generous donation from Sir James Caird (see p. 13). On the same day as the assassination, there was also news of a commercial liner, the SS California running aground off the coast of Ireland on its way from New York to Liverpool. There was even mention of a heatwave (p.11) during the last week of their time abroad.

It seems the average man (like Harold and Walter) may not have been aware of what was to come. But as I continue to dig through the digitised papers and news of the time, I notice there is a constant atmosphere of military/naval activity. Portsmouth (the Royal Navy’s main harbour) in particular seems abuzz. Some of the details that grab my attention are:

And what about the battleships Harold wrote home about?

They may have seen some battleships in the dockyards being outfitted or repaired. It is just as likely they saw ships from the Grand Fleet arriving in harbour. The King had called for an assembly of the Grand Fleet at Portsmouth (see p. 11).  Over 200 ships assembled at Spithead for review from July 16th – 20th, just a fortnight after Harold and Walter sailed for home.

Grand Fleet for the King's Review July 18th 1914. Available public domain

Grand Fleet for the King’s Review July 18th 1914. Available public domain

The fleet would remain in near Portsmouth until late July when they would be ordered North in readiness for war.

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The days leading up to the declaration of war against Germany were interesting times and it is possible to get a clear idea of the news, the emotion and atmosphere from sites online. BBC Radio has a series of podcasts: 1914: Day by Day and there are many newspapers now digitised and online such as the Daily Telegraph. The papers are especially useful for zeroing in on local areas, to see how the news was reported to small towns, rural areas and big cities.

Reading papers from 100 years ago can be a frustrating experience. Front page news hadn’t taken off as a concept in many publications (altho’ Canada’s Globe seemed to grasp the concept) so you may have to wade through a dozen pages of advertising first to get to the news.

 

 

 

 

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