Tag Archives: history

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.

*****

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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All Aboard the RMS Cedric

The closing of Altorado appears to have been providential. Without a ministry to tend to, the spring of 1914 becomes a chance for Walter to return to England to visit family and friends and an opportunity for Harold to travel with him.

The years between 1910 and 1914 are filled with significant events for Harold’s family; his parents take several trips, his older sister Edna marries (in 1912) and the following year, she and her husband have a baby (the first of the next generation). In April of 1914, Harold turns eighteen.

Harold, photo taken in 1914.

Harold, photo taken in 1914. Back stamped ‘US Postcard’

Perhaps the trip was in celebration of his coming of age. Whatever the motivation, his parents could not have asked for a better travelling companion for him – Walter is a minister, he is someone older and more experienced in travel and he has respectable connections on the other side of the ocean.

There’s no trace of the letters that must have criss-crossed the prairie in 1913, but plans were made and tickets were purchased. In late April 1914, the young men travel to New York City where they board the RMS Cedric and sail third class to England. They land in Liverpool on May 1st, 1914.

RMS Cedric passenger list 1914

RMS Cedric passenger list 1914

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There is a postcard of the R.M.S. Cedric in Harold’s collection and it is possible to gain some basic details from the ship’s manifest so I couldn’t resist straying a little to find out more about this White Star ocean liner and the voyage. After all, it is only two years since the Titanic disaster and Harold and Walter are recorded as travelling Third Class (isn’t that the same as steerage?) I wondered how much had changed for transatlantic travellers in the two years since and how much had not.

RMS Cedric postcard 1914

RMS Cedric postcard 1914. Note the old style sailing ship being pushed out of the picture.

R.M.S. Cedric was the second of the White Star Line’s ‘Big 4 ships built by Harland  and Wolff (the same company that built Titanic). New York – Liverpool was her regular run until the war broke out then she, like so many others, was refitted for carrying troops. It could carry just under 3000 passengers, 2300 of whom would travel in Third Class accommodation. The voyage took five days.

One of the first things I found online is a site with brochures depicting the interiors of the Big Four. The interior of Third Class on the Cedric doesn’t look too bad (you’ll need to scroll down to the photos in the linked site).

Thankfully there were also changes in Maritime  regulations and practices including:

  • provision of enough life boats for everyone on board
  • trained staff and designated roles for emergency situations
  • improved reporting procedures and protocols
  • improved communication equipment
  • improved hull construction and testing regulations
  • a binding agreement  (between participating countries) for Ships’ Masters to respond to distress signals

The first International Conference for the Safety of Life at Sea met and signed the agreement bring about these changes in January 1914.

Less formally, but perhaps more importantly was the change in the competitive culture of the commercial lines in making the crossing. Transatlantic crossing times increased slightly after the Titanic disaster.

Harold and Walter arrive safely and in style.

 

 

 

I Don’t Know if We Can Call Them Settlers

 Image from Antoine of Oregon by James Otis from Internet Archive

Antoine of Oregon by James Otis

In school we learned  about brave pioneering folk who travelled west, put down their roots and their crops, built cabins then prairie dynasties and their families owned the land for generations. They made it sound like once settlers secured a Land Grant no one went much farther than the local church or possibly the next town ever again.

But that was generic Pioneer history taught from textbooks. We have postcards — lots of them — that tell our family’s version and it’s quite different from the ‘settled settler’ one.

While the urge to farm on their land and succeed drove them hard, there was also the urge to explore even farther when there was the chance. Walter wasn’t the only person Harold knew who adventured West and wrote back about it. In the summer of 1910 (the year before the family met Walter) Harold’s parents left the boys in charge of the farm and travelled across the mountains to visit family on the West Coast. They spent July and August there, enjoying many of the local sites.

Landing North Vancouver, sent  July 10, 1910

Landing North Vancouver, sent July 10, 1910

The following year (the same summer Walter travelled to Cardston) Harold’s mother made a second trip on her own to the West Coast. She was in her mid-forties by then, yet the backs of her post cards are filled with lively adventures.

She visited her sister Isabella and family living in Bellingham, Washington, a timber boomtown due to the reconstruction work in San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake. While visiting, Harold’s mum sent several postcards to Harold including one telling of their wonderful time spent on Lake Whatcom.

"Bellingham 1909" by Sandison, J. Wilbur (James Wilbur), 1873-1962 - Library Of Congress CALL NUMBER: PAN US GEOG - Washington no. 48 (E size) [P&P] http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pan.6a12756. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bellingham_1909.jpg#/media/File:Bellingham_1909.jpg

“Bellingham 1909” by Sandison, J. Wilbur, 1873-1962 – Library Of Congress  Licensed Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bellingham_1909.jpg

Once back over the border, Catherine stopped in Aldergrove to visit her sister-in-law and family then tram-hopped her way back to Vancouver. The Ringling Circus came to town that week and Catherine, and her sister-in-law took the children to watch the parade.

Even before his parents travelled to the coast, Aunt Isabell, as she spelled herself, sent Harold at least one postcard (in 1908). It showed a giant felled cedar tree on the trunk. The radius of the trunk is twice the height of the man proudly leaning against it. His auntie promised to send him more in the future, and hoped he would come to visit someday.

To Harold, From Aunt Isabell, jan 10, 1908

To Harold, From Aunt Isabell, jan 10, 1908

So many places to go and extraordinary sights to see.

*****

From: An Entangled Object by Bjarne Rogan in   Cultural Analysis 4 (2005)

From: An Entangled Object by Bjarne Rogan in Cultural Analysis 4 (2005)

For years I thought my grandfather was a deltiologist (although I didn’t know the term then); I have more than a hundred post cards from his younger life. But as I’ve become a better historian, I have learned to ask better questions. Instead of wondering — Was Harold a collector of postcards?, I set out to answer — Why are there so many postcards? After reading about the history of picture post cards — the short answer is that post cards were the emails and Instagrams of their time. They became popular after the World Fairs and Exhibitions in Paris, London and Chicago used them to commemorate their events. Soon every town and city was selling them as a way of promoting their local sights and civic accomplishments to tourists. People were collecting and sending hundreds of millions of them around the world each year. Post cards were perfect in so many ways: they had just enough space to dash off three or four lines, were cheap to post, and captured a place if you didn’t own a new-fangled Kodak camera.

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Sent to Harold from Papa, July 04, 1910

Sent to Harold from Papa, July 04, 1910

Receiving postcards always make me restless, even if they are the kitschy ones flaunting fluffy native animals or photo-shopped sunsets. Postcards rub my nose in the fact that I’m in a small, comfortable corner of Australia – bogged down in routine — no sign of adventure in sight. I know that’s only the view from where I sit; many people would trade places with me in a shot, but postcards are a reminder that someone is out there living large while I are not. I become restless because I’ve never seen that beach, that animal, that city. Maybe I don’t even want to; it’s just a reminder of being stuck. I’m stuck and they are not.

I can’t help but think that maybe it was the same for Harold. Perhaps it’s no wonder he was able to talk his parents into letting him head overseas.

His Stories, My Stories

for perserveranceAfter finding the Christmas gift and the book dedication, I start rummaging through the rest of the old books from home, wondering who originally owned them. Every one of them has either a bookplate or an inscription inside — good fortune for me and an indication of the value they had for the owner and the giver.

One of the novels was presented to Harold by a teacher as a prize for ‘perseverance’. Perseverance can mean many things, but maybe it meant that he valued learning and was able and willing to keep attending school when surrender to family duty and hard work on the land was a more common choice.

Home boy Barnardos 1900 Russell Man Collections Canada

Home boy Barnardos 1900 Russell Man Collections Canada. Public domain – available from Wikimedia Commons.

I find more books with Harold’s name in the front — presents from his brothers, presents from  his friend, Walter. I’m surprised to find that even Rilla of Ingleside has Harold’s name on it — the year1919, is written underneath. I leaf through L.M. Montgomery’s story of the the home front during the Great War. When I was young, I hadn’t recognized the historical accuracy of it; back then it was just the romantic end to the Anne series.

I open up my copies of Ishmael and Self-Raised by Mrs. E.D.E.N. Southworth, Great Heart by Ethel M. Dell , John Halifax, Gentleman and Lazarre by Mrs. Craik; Harold’s name is in nearly every old book that’s been passed on to me.book dedication - Lazarre

His stories were my stories.

These books are the old romantic stories I read, loved and reread when I was a teen, but skimming through them now, I see they are not merely romantic novels.  They all have protagonists with shining moral standards who maintain their integrity throughout their trials because of their strong Christian values.

I begin to wonder – was that what Victorian/Edwardian novels were like or were they just the type of book Harold preferred to read? 

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To find out what people were reading at the time, I used two sources.

First, I found two databases of American Best-sellers of the 20th Century. One was compiled as a joint project involving students from several American universities. The other from Publisher’s Weekly (made available on Wikipedia). The lists cross-checked and two of the books from the lists, The Virginian by Owen Wister (1902 #1 best-seller, 1903 #5 best-seller) and The Rosary by Florence Barclay (1910 #1 best-seller, 1911 #9 best-seller) are in my collection of grandfather’s books. (I didn’t looked into Canadian publishing only because none of his books were published in Canada. They were from Britain and America).

The second source was the good old Methodist survey of the Swan River Valley. It provided a local focus. The surveyors not only recorded the reading habits of the people, they recorded the most borrowed titles from the Bowman Public Library that year. They were:

Bowman Library loans 1914

Popular books at that time turned out to be a range of melodramatic romance, action/adventure, mystery and biographical stories. But what was popular is only part of the answer. I also have to consider, what might have been available to Harold?  I don’t know what else Grandfather may have owned or had access to. And I don’t know how hard it may have been to even acquire books.

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Religion seems to play a significant part in the Gillespie’s lives even influencing Harold’s choice of literature. But I wonder what the norm was back then, perhaps my family was just very religious. I want to better understand what part religion played in the history of this time for these people.  I have a couple of solid clues I want to follow — one is the Methodist survey and the other has to do with Harold’s friend, Walter.