Category Archives: Ancestry

Gatecrashing A Lads Trip To Auld Reekie!

Edinburgh Airport Giant Thistle, Rocking Dog

Edinburgh Airport Giant Thistle

I took the early morning flight yesterday to Auld Reekie with Andyman and the boy, what a gatecrasher I am! Auld Reekie is of course an affectionate name for the beautiful city of Edinburgh. Thankfully, with the Clean Air Act the city no longer really deserves the Auld Reekie title. It literally means “Old Smokey” and harks back to a time when the population of Edinburgh were tightly crammed into a dense area lining the Royal Mile. Fires for heating and cooking would create a choking smog. The Reekie could also pertain to the habit of buckets of human excrement/dirty water being thrown out of windows and doors. The foul effluent would run down the street and into N’or Loch (North Lake). On a warm day the pungent fumes would rise up and add to the smokey smog. This open sewer would in addition sometimes be used for the practice of witch dunking. In the 16th & 17th century suspected witches would be tried by dunking them in water. If innocent they would sink and if guilty, float!

Anyway enough of this unpleasantness! I had a wonderful time in Edinburgh and the weather was by all accounts much more affable than Tuesday in Bristol. The boys travelled north for a final fitting of kilt jackets and waistcoats for the wedding. Very smart. Scottish dress allows so much choice that it ends up feeling like a very bloated Chinese restaurant menu! Tartans, sock colour, tie colour, sporran type, etc… etc… So many brain boggling decisions to make.

After an hour or two of talking tartan and ties I decided to go off piste and let the boys try and figure things out. I headed for my favourite haunt “Ragamuffin”. Lovely clothes, wools, and accessories. The colours and textures are almost edible. I came out with a bag containing a dress which could be a wedding contender. I better get on and make my coat… time is rattling away.

I then headed to Victoria Street, where my Great Grandfather, Robert Cresser had a brush shop. Now very much a boys toys emporium, it still has some of the original fittings which graced the shop when it was established in 1873. My dad used to go and watch the brushes being made upstairs in the shop. I feel so nostalgic about my Scottish heritage and this beautiful historic street.

From No 40, Victoria Street I headed off to reacquaint myself with Greyfriars Bobby, but that’s a story for another day! I had a great stroll around the Greyfriars Kirkyard close by. Truly amazing tombs and inscriptions. I certainly wouldn’t like to be there when darkness falls, i’m sure it would be incredibly eerie.

I did a little browsing in Princes Street and parallel roads before meeting the boys. The sparkly new and efficient tram took us to the airport. It was time to say goodbye to this glorious city, sometimes known as the Athens of the North.

If you haven’t ever been to Edinburgh here in a nutshell is some of it’s great credentials. It has the trams to take you directly from the airport to the centre of town in 1/2 an hour (£8 return). If travelling by train, Waverley station is located literally on Princes Street. It is a city of amazing buildings, statues, galleries, eateries and shops. There is also the famous castle and of course in August the city hosts its amazing Tattoo and Festival. And….contrary to common belief it doesn’t always rain in Scotland!

I enjoyed gatecrashing, but so wish the gatecrashing had lasted longer.

Favourite Haunt!, Rocking Dog

Favourite Haunt!

Linens & Silks, Rocking Dog

Linens & Silks

Embellished Wall, Rocking Dog

Embellished Wall

The Fair City, Rocking Dog

The Fair City

Gt Grandfather's Footsteps, Rocking Dog

Gt Grandfather’s Footsteps

Gt Grandfather Cresser, Rocking Dog

Gt Grandfather Cresser

Curiosity Cabinet, Rocking Dog

Curiosity Cabinet

Then......, Rocking Dog

Then…….

& Now, Rocking Dog

& Now

Hold On- Burn Your Food But Not Your Recipes!

Sausage Spaghetti Anyone?, Rocking Dog

Sausage Spaghetti Anyone?

It would be great if you didn’t burn your food either.. but hang onto your recipes! My plea follows a conversation with my octogenarian neighbour who happened to mention that she put all her recipes on a bonfire a long time ago. Now she truly regrets her pyrotechnic moment of madness. She realises that gone are the recipes of her Kent childhood, recipes that made food stretch that little bit further during the years of rationing and recipes that she used to feed her own three strapping lads.

Teaching Food Technology in a secondary school was an eye opener for me to find that books and magazines weren’t trawled for recipes. The internet was the place of choice to retrieve inspiration, You Tube instruction and ingredient shopping lists. It was all rather Sci-Fi to me, old dinosaur that I am! I remember thinking how sad it was that in years to come there would be no paper trail. So no food splattered magazine cuttings, no scribbled recipes on used envelopes, no ancestoral handwriting, in short no written culinary legacy.

Anyone who has been a long suffering reader of my blog will know that one of my ongoing projects is the task of deciphering a recipe book, beautifully handwritten in 1846. It is one of those things i’d want to save in a fire. It is not a piece of my own families social history, indeed it was a lucky find in a charity shop. It gives the reader a wonderful glimpse of recipes cooked up in early Victorian England. There are many secrets that I feel are yet to be unlocked as I transcribe the 141 pages. This is a cook in a well to do household whilst it is poignant to ponder on the fact that the Great Irish Famine and Highland Potato Famine were happening. The lucky would escape starvation and start new lives in America whilst many of those left behind would face a life of abject poverty, disease and death.

My 1846 recipe scriber wrote neatly in ink, whilst another recipe book I more recently acquired (£3 at a church sale in Bridport) is much less legible. Written quite erratically in pencil, the writer obviously had a sweet tooth. Daily Pudding, Caramel Walnuts, Almond Rock and Marzipan all feature. I have no idea how old this little black book is, but there may be clue. The writer obviously wanted to buy a book, and the title is scribbled in her best scribble! A Little Book Of Sweetmeat Making For Pleasure And Profit by Dora Luck which was published in 1907. Perhaps I have a confectioners recipe book, can’t you just visualise the glass jars filled with sugary toffee teacakes, humbugs, bon-bons and wrapped caramels! Paper poke bags, crisp white aproned shop staff, polished counter and brass cash register complete the scene.

Lastly I have “borrowed” my Mother in Law’s recipe collection. Tucked into a Lofty Peak Flour recipe book there are type written recipes for Cherry & Ginger Loaf, Banana Bread and Fruit Cake. Alas, there is not much reverence shown to these poor recipes for there are handwritten scribbles for letters to be written, bills to be paid and phone numbers to ring. There are hand written recipes for scones, mince beef loaf and a rather bizarre recipe for Chinese Salad.

This Chinese Salad involves putting some chopped onions and cooking apples in a casserole dish. Then comes a sprinkling of sugar. A layer of tomatoes (tinned or fresh I do not know) sausage meat, cheese and finally breadcrumbs. Bake at 300 degrees for 30-45 minutes. Yum! I have no idea what the Chinese connection is, and while we are about it there’s nothing salady about it either, maybe i’m missing something! Interestingly the same writer (not my mother in law’s writing I must add) also writes a delicious (!) Sausage Spaghetti recipe. Sausages, tinned spaghetti and tomatoes are put in a casserole dish before beaten egg is poured on top to give an omlette’y layer! Worryingly there are two recipes for this sausage spaghetti. Perhaps mother in law mislaid first recipe and asked for a replacement from the culinary genius friend!

This week I have given my recipe file a good cull and sort. It’s not pretty like the 1846 book, but is functional and I am very pleased to say there are absolutely no recipes for Sausage Spaghetti!

Remember to ask elderly relatives for their recipes before they bin them. As ready meals, meals on wheels, Wiltshire Farm Foods and the like beckon they may not feel the need to hold onto recipes or ancient recipe books. A bit of family social history lost forever.

Wishing you a lovely weekend and I hope your stove will be busy cooking up something warming and delicious.

PS Kids, Granny doesn’t know I have borrowed her recipe trove. Shhh! Mum’s the word!

Culled & Sorted, Rocking Dog

Culled & Sorted

Ongoing 1846 Deciphering!, Rocking Dog

Ongoing 1846 Deciphering!

Culinary Hieroglyphics, Rocking Dog

Culinary Hieroglyphics

On The Highway To The Attic.

Gathered & Ready To Pack, Rocking Dog

Gathered & Ready To Pack

Yes, the Rocking Dog Christmas stash is on the highway to the attic! It has been the weekend where I have said I need to do a more minimalist Christmas in 11 and a half months time! However, I am all too realistic in knowing that I will be there unpacking box after box of vintage baubles, Christmas 2016. I will enjoy rediscovering and loving all my decorations all over again. I think I will be coming back to this planet as a Jackdaw, for they notoriously like shiny pretty things!

I have been very restrained this Christmas with buying any additions to my collection. I could not resist a box of kitsch 1960’s bells at Green Park Station Vintage Market and some glass baubles found in a local charity shop for 5p each ( I willingly paid much more). I also received Christmas decorations as presents, so those are entirely guilt free!

So, the time has come to box up a trove of bisque cake decorations, childhood tree ornaments, French nativity santons and the like.

There are also my much loved and VERY fragile glass beaded Chinese lanterns. Bought about ten years ago for £20 ish the ten or so paper lanterns sometimes make a welcome Christmas appearance. I wonder whether similar lanterns graced a party in the early 1900’s, described in a book about Amherst, USA. An ancestor emigrated from Scotland to Williamsville in 1872 to establish a gelatine factory. The 25th wedding anniversary of James and Helen Chalmers sounded wonderful… “The house and grounds were elegantly decorated with palms, evergreens, and flowers. After receiving their guests in a spacious reception room, the Chalmers were joined for supper by their eight children and 125 guests in a tent erected on the front lawn and decorated with Chinese lanterns”

Yes, the house looks bare, but in all honesty it’s lovely to get some space and calm back!

Wishing you a good week ahead.

Bye Bye Snow Baby!, Rocking Dog

Bye Bye Snow Baby!

Old & New, Rocking Dog

Old & New

No Kissing In The Attic!, Rocking Dog

No Kissing In The Attic!

Beautiful Baubles, Rocking Dog

Beautiful Baubles

I Ho, To The Attic We Will Go!, Rocking Dog

I Ho, To The Attic We Will Go!

Lovely Lanterns, Rocking Dog

Lovely Lanterns

Just Gone To See A Man About A Dog/Goat!

Nosy Nanny!, Rocking Dog

Nosy Nanny!

As a child, whenever my mum didn’t want us to know where dad was, or simply didn’t have the energy to tell us where dad was, she’d say “He’s gone to see a man about a dog”. On one occasion he really had gone to see a man about a dog, and we ended up with a Golden Labrador that we named Bracken. Another time dad went out and saw a parrot. However, that time he thought better of all the squawking, talking and mayhem, and came home empty handed. I remember that phrase ‘He’s gone to see a man about a dog’ with great affection. I’m sure most of the time dad had gone for a quiet pint, or sought solace in the cellar or garage, where there were the ilicit chocolate stashes.

Yesterday, whilst walking Real Live Rocking Dog I came to the field with a herd of goats, and met their owner. We had a great goat husbandry chat. In half an hour I learnt what they ate, gestation period (6 months), size of litter, common ailments, popularity of goat meat in UK, life expectancy (roughly 30 years), sociability (quite) etc.. I think the large Billy rather thought that RLR Dog was an escaped kid for they made nose to nose contact through the fence. Mmmmm, let me see now, I think I may have found my doggy day care solution! It was all rather endearing, and these local goats are not for a tasty goat stew or milked to produce delicious cheeses. All thirteen of them are one mans beloved pets (together with hens, thirty ducks, two dogs and goodness knows what else). I expect his wife will be known to say “He’s gone to see a man about a goat”!

Not far from the thirteen billy goats gruff exists a field that I only fairly recently discovered. As soon as I set eyes on the brook in the middle of the field I had a real sense of de ja vu. This was the little bit of water that I paddled in, fishing net in hand in the 1960’s as a young child together with my siblings. I remember picnics, other children, sun, strung jam jars and I can even visualise one of the outfits I wore. It was a two piece floral playsuit in psychadelic orange, and I loved it. We had our own name for the brook which sadly has been lost in time, but it was something like sunny brook or buttercup brook. I am so pleased to have rediscovered this pastureland, full of warm summer minnow catching memories.

Autumn really is gathering pace, with leaves falling and flowers in their final ebbing summer crescendo. It is such a wonderful time to be walking, especially with interesting and slightly eccentric conversations with the local goatherd.

Must leave this now, i’ve got to go and see a man about a dog!

13 Billy Goats Gruff!, Rocking Dog

13 Billy Goats Gruff!

Eye Eye!, Rocking Dog

Eye Eye!

Man About A Dog, Rocking Dog

Man About A Dog

Childhood Memories, Rocking Dog

Childhood Memories

Cow Parsley, Rocking Dog

Cow Parsley

Downstream, Rocking Dog

Downstream

Cheap Jewels Old & New!

Vintage Baubles!, Rocking Dog

Vintage Baubles!

I was on a mission to buy gifts but found myself drawn to venturing into “Top Shop” for a reccy . I know that the young ones think it’s a haunt solely for them, and true I would not look good in play-suits, hot pants, or a pleather mini ….but I love Top Shop! I have bought a great dog tooth linen coat and a fab’ textured jacket there (sshh! don’t tell my niece, she’s got the same one and it’s not exactly cool that her middle aged aunt has one too!). I never pay full price, patiently waiting for coveted items to hopefully appear on clearance rails.

This time I found jewels. You know my motto, more is more, so I layered a number of necklaces together until enough was enough! All were reduced and came to a grand total of £10. Result! They will look great on my perennial winter black “uniform” or indeed against the summer white linen (which will soon be destined for winter storage). Well chosen accessories, be it jewellery or scarf can really make the difference to an outfit, adding colour, personality and pazazz.

Other cheap jewels in my hoard are older. I am a real coward and I cannot bear the prospect of having my ears re-pierced, so, I have a collection of clip-on earrings. My girls find it quite incredulous that I will not rise to the challenge of the piercing gun when i’ve endured operations, donated my bone marrow (twice) and gone white water rafting! I love my clumpy clip-ons and particularly love my beaded knitted ? 60’s ones that I bought in Leeds. It was the same day that I was in a vintage shop with Ricky Wilson… swoon!

In the course of my recent redecorating escapade I re-found a dress which had been my Mum’s. I’m sure this psychedelic number would have been adorned with strings of 60’s plastic beads and clumpy earrings. I vividly remember my mum making this dress, originally it was ankle length with side slits and she wore it with plaited gold sling back sandals. The amazing fabric I rather think came from a shop in City Road, Bristol. We nicknamed the retail establishment the cat pee shop, it indeed did have a very overpowering characteristic odour! This was a dress for going to a 60’s party in. Think Cheese Footballs, Twiglets and Cinzano!

Holidays as a child were quite often taken in static caravans and my Mum would sometimes take her Singer sewing machine with her. She’d run up clothes, curtains and bridesmaid dresses. She must have cursed the fact that my sister and I were bridesmaids three times. Each wedding required an intricate lined dress in varying 60’s/70’s styles and hues.

Back to jewels, I am a girl of simple tastes and pleasures!

Top Shop Treasure, Rocking Dog

Top Shop Treasure

Mish-Mash Bling!, Rocking Dog

Mish-Mash Bling!

Top Shop Pearls, Rocking Dog

Top Shop Pearls

Beaded Tat!, Rocking Dog

Beaded Tat!

Now..What Jewels .., Rocking Dog

Now..What Jewels ..

French Camping 1970's, Rocking Dog

French Camping 1970’s

Heavenly Diamond Anniversary.

Newly Wed, Rocking Dog

Newly Wed

Today would have been my parents Diamond Wedding Anniversary. Alas, they barely made their 30th wedding anniversary on earth, but nevertheless I am thinking of them today.

I’d like to think that they are in orbit somewhere enjoying a Dubonnet and a neat Scotch together. Mum will be entertaining other heavenly friends and relatives. Athenian Mince, Beef Stroganoff or a home made Chicken Pie could feature on the menu together with a sweet trolley laden with Apple pie, Black Forest Gateaux, Scandinavian Peasant Girl with Veil and a Cheese board (naturally featuring Cambazola). Dad will take charge of the drinks, but woe betide anyone wanting anything non alcoholic, soft drinks really do not enter Dad’s vocabulary! I expect Mum will have insisted on a no gift invitation- not for her any crystal paperweights, cut glass champagne flutes etc…There will undoubtedly be the usual arguments about my Dad’s mismatched garments and the cross firing of whether something is beige or grey, clean or grubby! Reluctantly he will climb heaven’s staircase to change into a further something greige! There will be an eclectic musical background “fuzz” on a pretty awful record deck. Dad in musical meistro control will select Mantovani or Glenn Miller, and my Mum A-ha (Take on me), Dawn (Tie a yellow Ribbon), Charles Aznavour (She) and The Manhattan Transfer (Chanson D’amour). Though she loved Leonard Cohen even she will draw the line at playing any of his tracks for an upbeat party. Mum was a great host and Dad very convivial and cheery whilst serving extra large measures of everything. So, I expect this heavenly party will be no different. I’m also certain that Mum will want to get the dishes and glasses washed before retiring to bed!

Their wedding day is assigned to a large brown paper envelope and their honeymoon snaps stuck into a thick sugar paper album. A newspaper article beautifully describes Bab’s and Doug’s wedding day and gives a real flavour of a 1950’s wedding.The description of the dress tells us that it was made of nylon tulle over taffeta, with lace flower and bolero detail. The article also describes the going away outfit, flowers, bridesmaids gifts, and hymns sung during the service. I know that my mum later dyed her wedding dress and wore it as an evening dress. I love the fact that my oldest girl, Sorrel was delighted to don her grandmother’s wedding ring when she got married in 2011.

As for the honeymoon they went to Austria and it was the first time my mum had ever flown. I remember her talking about her wedding trousseau (French- meaning bundle), pretty full skirted cotton sundresses and the like. After the honeymoon there were several years of hard graft and penury doing up a house before we little lot (me and two siblings) came along. They loved Seefeld and returned a few years before my Mum died in 1985. I wonder if my Mum smoked a pipe on that holiday and whether dad packed his kilt!

I wish we were celebrating this anniversary on earth with them. Instead we’ll raise a glass to them and hope that their heavenly celebration is simply raucous!

Wedding Day, Rocking Dog

Wedding Day

Pipe Smoking Mama!, Rocking Dog

Pipe Smoking Mama!

Kilt & Cows, Rocking Dog

Kilt & Cows

After The Honeymoon!, Rocking Dog

After The Honeymoon!

Rocking Dog’s Best Ebay Buys

Wedding Stuff, Rocking Dog

Wedding Stuff

Rocking Dog’s best Ebay buys are catalogued here. It doesn’t include the cars we’ve bought (and indeed sold) on this global auction site. Of course along the way there have been bad buys ( I wince at some rather dodgy watches that Andyman purchased in Ebay’s early days) and items we were outbid on (an Airstream caravan sorely comes to mind!) However over the years we have bought some great things and Andyman always enjoys the thrill of the chase!

A few years ago we bought some lovely items for Sorrel and Pete’s wedding. The list included a long string of fairground style lights, seed labels (for place names), Alexander McQueen green satin shoes (£50) and 1950’s American tropical fruit shoe clips. We also bought a large batch of Babycham glasses, though that didn’t turn out to be the bargain it should have been. Unbeknown to each other Andy and I were bidding against each other! Doh!

One summer with no holiday booked we found a last minute weeks B&B staying on a rustic fishing boat in Barcelona’s marina. It was great to eat breakfast out on the sunny deck and be so close to Las Ramblas. It was a really memorable holiday.

Purchases for our house have included a bargainous bed and base, already painted in a subtle Farrow and Ball paint. It arrived so well wrapped that it took a morning to undo the cardboard, tape, bubble wrap and string. We also bought our lovely French wood-burning stove on Ebay at a third of it’s original cost, despite only having been used a couple of times. I also spotted some unused fabric produced by Laura Ashley from 1986. It had found it’s way to Arizona and I brought it home! I remember it came packaged in local newspapers, I therefore enjoyed reading the obituaries, gossip columns and news reports of a small Arizona town.

More sentimental items have included a Chalmers Gelatine packet, complete with its sachets dating from about 1940. This Gelatine factory was set up by some ancestors close to Niagara Falls.I wanted to own a piece of nostalgic memorabilia and so again this item “crossed the pond”. One day whilst having a little Ebay trawl I experimentally typed in the Yorkshire village where many of my maternal ancestors lived and worked. Somewhat magically there was a brown envelope containing the typed account of a woman who described living in the village in the early 1900’s. I was really hoping there may have been a mention of my farming relatives, but alas not. Nevertheless it gives a brilliant snapshot of rural life in Darrington. On a separate occasion I found some transcribed parish records which detailed births, marriages and deaths of relatives living in Knottingley.

Other purchases have included vintage Christmas baubles, clothing, shoes, a painting and my beloved Bernina sewing machine.

How I love a good bargain. Happy Hunting!

Alexander McQueen, Rocking Dog

Alexander McQueen

Bargain Bed, Rocking Dog

Bargain Bed

Beloved Bernina!, Rocking Dog

Beloved Bernina!

Boat B&B, Rocking Dog

Boat B&B

Fabric Of Life, Rocking Dog

Fabric Of Life

Christmas Stash, Rocking Dog

Christmas Stash

Winter Warmer, Rocking Dog

Winter Warmer

Ancestry Trove, Rocking Dog

Ancestry Trove

Jellied History, Rocking Dog

Jellied History

Unlocking A Gladstone Bag’s Secrets.

Unlocking History, Rocking Dog

Unlocking History

At Redland Fair despite having a stall I managed to escape for a little while! In a cardboard box looking very forlorn I discovered a somewhat desiccated Gladstone bag. I was a little doubtful as to whether it could be revived, but thought i’d take a chance on it.

For a few days the bag sat sadly and patiently on the kitchen table, waiting for me to come up with a cunning renovation plan. In the end I settled on Kiwi Suede & Nubuck Foam Cleaner together with some Kiwi brown shoe polish. My Army spit and polish days came in useful and the results have been startling.

Then came the lovely brass catch, and with Brasso doing it’s magic I noticed the engraved inscription. I Googled the name and address not really expecting anything-but the little bags history literally unfolded!

This bag was almost certainly owned by Christopher Sewell, a jeweller with a shop in Berkeley Square, London. I returned to the newly polished bag to check for any stray diamonds, but alas no! During my initial search I found a fascinating news snippet from a Tasmanian newspaper reporting a London jewellery robbery at Sewell’s shop in 1913. £4,000 worth of items were taken (1,000 pieces) and the value of this hoard today would equate to more than £408,000.

Following on from this I put Christopher’s name into my Ancestry.co.uk account. With the help of public members trees (also researching a Sewell connection) I was able to gain a snapshot of his life. He was born in Uppingham, Rutland in circa 1836, the son of a farmer with 90 cows.

How he rose to live and work in one of London’s most exclusive addresses is something of a mystery. In the 1871 census he is shown to be living in Westbourne Grove and his occupation is Jeweller manager. Also living at the address is his wife and three year old son, a servant, two employees, a visitor and aunt. By the 1881 census Christopher is now widowed and living at Davies Street (the address on the brass clasp). Christopher’s son does not appear in the census but a three year old daughter does. There are two general servants together with an apprentice jeweller. An unmarried niece is listed too, and at twenty three perhaps she has the responsibility of looking after Christopher’s daughter. In 1991 Christopher is now 54 and has remarried. His daughter (Elizabeth Mabel) is now 13 and there is one servant.

Christopher Sewell died in London on 1st March 1898 at the age of 62. His widow Margaret is shown in the 1901 census to be head of the household and classed as a working jeweller. Perhaps she was was in the building in 1913 when the robbery occurred. Christopher Sewell. Ltd, Jewellers of 4 Davies Street appears in the phone book even in 1961 (Mayfair 0226). A four bedroomed flat in Davies Street recently sold for £10 million.

Eventually by 2am I had decided that I needed to stop delving into a family tree that does not belong to me! Nevertheless it has been fascinating to give a little bit of love and history back to the bag. I would love to know one more thing though, how did it end up in a tatty cardboard box at Redland Fair?

Happy Birthday Sorrel! I hope you enjoy this little bags provenance, and keep on going with a bit more spit and Kiwi! Furthermore, i’m sure you’ll love it more than any Gucci, Chanel or Prada bag. Do our menfolk realise just how low maintenance we are?!!

The gorgeous little vintage fabric purse is by the lovely Ellie Goodridge of Jelly Jam. Love it! But as they say the best presents are the ones you want to keep yourself!

Gladstone Bagged, Rocking Dog

Gladstone Bagged

Leather Graffiti, Rocking Dog

Leather Graffiti

Foxy Purse, Rocking Dog

Foxy Purse

Nellie’s Diary Entry. Remembering VE Day.

The Ages Of Nellie, Rocking Dog

The Ages Of Nellie

I have been thinking about the 70th anniversary of VE Day. I have also remembered my Grandmother Nellie’s diary entry for 8th May 1945. It simply read “War Over. Blackened fireplace.” I love the statement, you’d somehow expect something a little more euphoric after five and a half years of war. It is difficult to fathom her apparent lack of elation considering the family lived on the Essex coast. My Mum recalled witnessing the red glow of London ablaze, terrifying Doodlebugs and the constant drone of aircraft. There were frequent air raids and Mum hated the smell of the rubber gas masks. I remember her telling me that she felt particularly sorry for babies encased in the specially designed Mickey Mouse masks. I don’t think we can appreciate just how simply terrifying it all must have been. Together with the impact of rationing, worrying about loved ones, sleep deprivation, housing and transport difficulties life must have been fraught for the nation.

So…. my Grandmother felt the compelling need to blacken the fireplace on VE day. Nellie’s diary unfortunately was not one of those diaries worthy of inclusion in a museum to demonstrate the plight of those on the home front. Indeed entries were sparse but there were monthly “Red Letter Day” entries. Nellie’s husband Newsome was employed in a reserved occupation and thus at home. Pregnancy could have been a definite and inconvenient wartime possibility.

Wartime rationing left Nellie with a compelling need to hoard food and when she died in 1975 there was much to deal with! I remember numerous jars of Heinz Sandwich Spread, Marmite and Shipphams paste. There were tinned peas, packets of Typhoo tea and bags and bags of sugar. Most disturbingly there was a large bucket of eggs which had been preserved in Isinglass. Isinglass is a substance obtained from the dried air bladders of fish, and it was used to preserve eggs during WW2. The Isinglass would be dissolved in a bucket of water and then the eggs would be submerged in the solution. It would preserve the eggs for between 6 months and a year. We take eggs so much for granted today but during the war the standard weekly ration for a person was 1 egg or a packet of dried egg which equated to twelve eggs. Vegetarians were allocated two eggs. My late Dad recalled loving omelettes made from dried eggs.

Nellie’s 1975 eggs had a grey furry appearance and looked decidedly unappetising, especially in the eyes of three squeamish teenagers! As my mother had also grown up with a wartime “waste not” mentality the eggs in their bucket lurked for a month or two in our house. Eventually, even Mum realised she couldn’t quite bring herself to use the egg hoard.

I include photo’s of family, especially of my Dad who loved his time at sea during WW2. War for Doug strangely provided a wonderful opportunity to see the world, and he sent numerous letters detailing his travels. A stash of letters sent to his aunt and uncle survive and describe in detail stops in Malta, Egypt, the Far East and Australasia. I find it fascinating that my Dad could write, whilst serving in the QARANC in Germany my Mum was always the one who wrote. Very occasionally Dad would add his name and a kiss, and I appreciated that.

Doug’s Certificate of Service has helped me pinpoint where he was in the world at particular points in the war. Indeed I discovered that his ship HMS Belfast, took part in the Scharnhorst Action in the Arctic Circle. The German Battleship “Scharnhorst” was destroyed with the loss of 1,932 men (36 survivors) on 26th December 1943. A few years ago whilst on a cruise up to The North Cape I found it very poignant that I was sailing in the same waters that my Dad was sending and receiving coded messages deep in the bowels of The Belfast. Furthermore, I thought of all those from both sides who had perished at sea, and I shed a tear for them.

I am grateful that my Dad’s letters have miraculously survived, together with a touching archive of naval photo’s, documents and medals.

We as a generation have witnessed the passing of the last veterans of WW1 and now are likely to witness the sad demise of the last veterans of WW2. I feel it is vital to try and gain first hand accounts of war and the home front whilst we still can.

My Dad Could Write!, Rocking Dog

My Dad Could Write!

From A Boy To A Man. WW2, Rocking Dog

From A Boy To A Man. WW2

Fading Family Photo's, Rocking Dog

Fading Family Photo’s

Does Anyone Else Have One Of These ?!

Boy Scout Drawer, Rocking Dog

Boy Scout Drawer

This is known as my Boy Scouts Drawer. It’s a Be Prepared drawer and is an accumulation of household crud which may come in useful one day! So there’s string, pegs, screwdrivers, a tape measure, gold leaf, ribbon, appliance instructions… and the list goes on! I really wonder whether anyone else has a drawer that’s evolved into a Boy Scout Drawer.

Finishing off this post are some lovely photo’s of relatives on my paternal side featuring scouts (and sweet brownies and guides). They certainly look as if they were going to be prepared with those knot skills.

Be Prepared!, Rocking Dog

Be Prepared!

Boy Scout Wedding, Rocking Dog

Boy Scout Wedding

Scouts Love Knots!, Rocking Dog

Scouts Love Knots!