llywela: (greatwards-arthurclara)
[personal profile] llywela
So my parents have finally started sorting through all the cupboards full of stuff they left behind when they moved out of the house I'm currently living in, and one of the things they've unearthed is my Mum's old postcard collection that she's had ever since she was a girl. A lot of the cards she collected are just random cards from the 1950s-60s, blank, given to her by folk who knew she collected them – but there are also older cards, sent among the family and then kept, some dating back almost to the turn of the 20th century and a large stack dating from the First World War! Now, I always knew we had old family postcards, but they'd been tucked away in a biscuit tin in the attic for years, so it's only now I've really been able to look through them properly for the first time – which means of course, being me, that I've also scanned them and had a go at transcribing the text.

The oldest is this card with a picture of Lord Nelson on the front.
It dates to 1905 and was presented to my great-grandfather, Arthur, for 'punctual and regular attendance' at school. He'd have been about five-and-a-half years old…and I suspect this was probably the high point of his academic career! There's a story attached to Arthur and that little primary school in Melton Constable, Norfolk. The story goes that they had some hard winters at around about that time, so it was a tough old walk for little Arthur, 5 miles back and fore to school each day. One day, he was trudging his way along through the deep snow when he suddenly fell into a snowdrift, from one step to another – it turned out that he'd been walking along on the top of a hedge without knowing it! The hedge had bent around a corner, so when Arthur carried on walking straight, he stepped off the end of it into a five-foot drift of snow!

This picture of Arthur would have been taken at about the same time as that card – 1905/6
1904 - Arthur Ward
But this is how I remember him – this is the great-grampy I knew as a little girl. I'd have been just 9 when he died at the age of 86.
1976 - Arthur Ward, Deb Browning1984 - Arthur Ward with Toby

Arthur's mother Georgina came from the north of England, and a couple of the postcards were sent to her by a niece named Mary who lived in Peterborough – one is a simple birthday greeting dating to 1909, but the other is a chatty little note dated August 1913 that gives an insight into how people communicated about minor details back in the days when very few people had telephones but the mail was much faster and more efficient than it is today! The note from Mary to Georgina discusses which train to catch to Peterborough and adds, 'tell Uncle G and the others not to come from Norwich any sooner as we can manage…'

This is a picture of Georgina taken in 1926 with her oldest grandchild, George
1926 - George, Georgina Ward

There is another postcard in a similar vein from another branch of the family – a note sent to Arthur's future mother-in-law Laura from her oldest daughter Rose in August 1912: 'Dear Mother, Father and Laura [one of the sisters], just these few lines to let you know that we arrived quite safe, all was well, hope it was the same at home with love from all to all yours Rose Hampton'
Interestingly, the man Rose calls 'father' here was actually her stepfather; Rose was in fact illegitimate and had been sent off into service at the tender age of 10 when her mother married him (she got off relatively lightly, though – the other illegitimate child, Sidney, was sent on an orphan ship to America when he was only five years old!). She remained close to the family all her life, though, in spite of this tough start. In 1912 when she wrote that note, Rose would have been 25 years old and already married – years later, my grandparents spent their honeymoon with her family and later again one of her sons offered to adopt my Mum after her mother died (her dad said no, of course!) Here she is (in the middle) in 1950 with her two sisters, Laura (on the right) and my great-grandmother Clara (left, the one who married Arthur).
1950 - Clara, Rose, Laura

Back to Arthur's side of the family, one of the notes from Mary to Georgina was sent to their address in Melton Constable, Norfolk in August 1913 – but by the time the Senghennydd Pit Disaster happened in October 1913 the family had moved to South Wales and were living in just the next valley. Arthur, who'd have only been 14 at the time, ran over the mountain with his dad George to see if there was anything they could do to help – and he also bought postcards of the event, because that was how people commemorated such disasters back then, when they didn't have social media to turn to in order to express their horror but felt they needed some way of recording the event. And horror is definitely what is being expressed in the stark little message he wrote on the back of one of those postcards, which simply reads: '13/10/13, 1,400 lives lost'. A century later, you can still feel his shock at having been so close to such a tragedy. What a welcome to their new home.

The bulk of the postcards, however, date to the latter half of the First World War, and were sent by George to my lovely great-grampy Arthur, who was his beloved only child. I think I've talked about George before. We know quite a lot about him – we have his birth certificate and his marriage certificate, the will he made when he went into the army, and quite a number of photographs, as well as these postcards. He was born in very humble circumstances in Norfolk in 1876 to a 16-year old girl named Clara. Family legend has it that Clara had been in service to the family of a Jewish boot-maker and became pregnant to the son of the house; her child was never acknowledged by the family, of course, but every year she took him into their shoe shop, plonked him on the counter and demanded – and was given – a pair of new boots for him, the only form of maintenance he ever received from his father. I don't know if it's true or not, but it's a good story anyway! What is definitely true is that Clara was very lucky, because although her parents had 7 younger children at home, they took her back, baby and all, and she lived with them until she met and married a man willing to take on George as well. It may not sound like much in the way of luck, but by comparison with another of my 3xgreat-grandmothers who was also dismissed from service for falling pregnant but had no family to return to and gave birth in a workhouse, Clara certainly had no complaints! Clara and her husband Tom had another 11 children, so George grew up at the head of a very long family! Here he is with five generations of the family in 1924, pictured on the front right with his son Arthur, grandson George, mother Clara (born 1859) and grandfather William (born in 1837, my 4xgreat-grandfather and the most distant ancestor I have photographs of).
1924 - Clara Mash, William, Arthur and two George Wards

This is George in his uniform during the war, at about the time he would have been sending those postcards home to his 'dear boy' Arthur, while he was away with the Red Cross manning ambulances for the duration of the war.

There is a note scribbled on the edge of George's army will in Arthur's handwriting stating that while George was in Dublin in the army service, a surgeon named Dr Stokes was pleased with his work and asked 'for a borrow of him' to do an operation to remove a large growth from a person! Not bad, for an ill-educated man who was a boiler-maker by trade…

The postcards aren't easy to decipher, almost a century old as they are and mostly written in soft pencil, but it's so touching to be able to read those little notes penned from a homesick father to his beloved only child, which reveal that he couldn't spell and had no concept of punctuation but absolutely adored his son and missed his home and family terribly. Almost every card asks his 'dear boy' to 'rember me [sic] to old mates' and signs off 'your ever loving dad' followed by a flurry of XXXXXXX. Not all the letters are complete – some end mid-sentence, with the second half lost, others pick up mid-sentence, with the first half lost, but there are enough to get a feel for the correspondence.

The earliest of the wartime postcards is dated December 1916 and was sent by George to his wife Georgina as a souvenir.

But thereafter, they are all written to Arthur – and the next couple that are dated suggest that George suffered some kind of illness or injury around about February 1917, as one postcard ends abruptly with '…must excuse letter as I am getting tired of sitting up so I must close with best love from your ever loving Dad G Ward xxxxx', followed only days later by another bearing a single sentence, 'Hope to be better soon' – makes me wonder what was wrong!
Quite a few of the cards bear that little matrices of dates in Arthur's handwriting – the date the card was sent, the date it was received, and the date it was answered!

I think Arthur was making a collection of the cards (that'll be where my Mum got it from!), so George tried to send over as many different images as he could get hold of, probably included with other letters. A few times he says he's pleased to hear his son liked the last card, and he apologises quite a few times for the age of the cards he's sending: 'dear boy please excuse these card as I haven't been anywhere since I came back so I can't buy any as its very difficult to get them now dear boy please rember me to old work mates + etc trust they are all well I wish I was back again with them again now I must close with best love from your ever loving Dad xxxx'

Some of the notes try hard to be cheerful, sending Christmas or New Years greetings, mentioning gifts and money orders sent to the family, and expressing jingoistic fervour for the war effort in hopes of it ending sooner rather than later: 'hope we shall soon furnish the Germans enough to make them ask us for PEACE wonder how they like Haig's specials, God bye [sic] best love from Dad'

Others strike a more despondent note, expressing disappointment that the mail has been held up again and pessimism over the chances of getting home any time soon:
'Trust this wicked war will soon end as only 2 more months I have been away 4 years I do hope it will as one gets fed up keep on thinking every year is the last but our hopes get blighted now please excuse these cards are very old and all I have by me now will try and get some before next week as I have been away for 12 days just got back. Please rember me to all old work mates + etc hope they are all well from your ever loving Dad G Ward xxxx'

In another he remarks that everyone back home in Blighty must be excited over the Armistice, 'but nothing doing here only the usual a few guns barking etc…'

And again, 'Dear boy the war's about won but no excitement until we are softly rolling over the seas again as I hope please God it won't be long before we see each other again but not in 18 I suppose but sometime in 19 I presume as it has been long looked for but it will come please God spears [sic] us'

Another time George mournfully writes, 'Dear Arthur just a card to thank you for letter today received on the new year's morn 1/1/19 was pleased to hear you were well dear boy it left you 15/12/18 how I hope this writing will soon cease so we can talk things over…'

And this one is quite intriguing: 'Dear Arthur just a card to thank you for kind letter which left you 19/5/18 received here 12/6/18 was pleased to hear you were booth [sic] well and that you are still home as I trust that you will be able to stop there and look after dear mother as I must thank you for being such a good boy to her and I was pleased to know that she had chosen to live a better life as it will be much better for you booth [sic] as God knows wether [sic] ever we shall meet again'
I mean, it's touching to read his plaintive admission of doubt over ever making it safely home after being away at war for so long, but I really don't know what he means about his wife choosing 'to live a better life'! Possibly just that she'd started going back to church or something, as George and Arthur were both devout Christians and lay preachers, while Georgina has gone down in family history as 'a bit odd' and supposedly had the second sight, or something. Whatever was going on, George and Georgina remained as happily married as anyone ever is and died within three months of each other in 1950 – I've visited their grave.

That's just a taste of the postcards, but I won't go on - there are too many to post them all!

This is George in 1924 with his first grandchild, also named George, and again in 1928 with George Jr and his sister, my grandmother Betty
1924 - George and George Ward1928 - George, George, Betty Ward

Here we have the real-life grandpa George and grandma Georgina (very Roald Dahl!) in 1933 with their daughter-in-law Clara and their four grandchildren: George Jr, my grandmother Betty, Norman and Grace, who is Mum's stepmother and my Nanna
1933 - George, Georgina, Clara Ward with the children

And finally, George and Georgina in 1949, just a year before they both died, pictured with their grandson George and his baby son David, my Mum's cousin – he lives just around the corner from my parents today and runs the Sunday School in our church, I see him every week! So many generations later, and we're still a close-knit extended family.
1949-05 - George, Georgina, George, David Ward

In Other News, Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus, pawb

Date: 2013-03-01 09:28 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] waltzmatildah.livejournal.com
I'm pretty sure it's official that you do the best/most interesting LJ posts... I mean, seriously? THIS IS AWESOME! Not to mention all the work you've put into getting it all together into a post.


Date: 2013-03-01 09:45 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] llywela13.livejournal.com
Thanks! I wanted to write it all up for myself, to make those scraps of correspondence into a real story about real people, so then I thought I might as well post it!

(this is Arthur and his wife Clara in this icon, btw)

Date: 2013-03-01 02:04 pm (UTC)
lost_spook: (Default)
From: [personal profile] lost_spook
These are really amazing and beautiful things to have - you're v lucky! And well done on getting so much of it sorted and scanned in. And thanks for sharing. ♥

Date: 2013-03-01 05:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] llywela13.livejournal.com
Thanks, it's been a really fun - and touching - little project!

Date: 2013-03-01 05:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] justwolf.livejournal.com
These are lovely--I'm so glad you shared them with us. It's lovely to see such a palpable connection with the past. The cards from the first world war are very moving and give an interesting insight into life. I'm glad you showed us photos of what people looked like too.

The older cars and the birthday card are really nice to see too. It's nice to know what a birthday card from the turn of the century might have looked like!

Date: 2013-03-01 05:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] llywela13.livejournal.com
Thanks Ros, I'm glad you like them. :) I wanted to include the photos because they ground the notes in context, so to speak, give the human face to those scraps of correspondence.

Date: 2013-03-01 06:42 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
My Mum has an album of cards dating mostly from the 1920s, I think. Your cards are lovely and the correspondence so sad, and yet amazing.


Date: 2013-03-01 09:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] llywela13.livejournal.com
It's the little kisses scrawled at the bottom of the notes that really get me - it must have been so hard for families like this to be separated for so long.

Date: 2013-03-01 09:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bagpuss1966.livejournal.com
Amazing. What a fantastic family history - love them. :)

Hapus Dydd Gŵyl Dewi! I made Welsh cakes today! :D x

Date: 2013-03-02 10:30 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] llywela13.livejournal.com
Thanks Janet!

Welsh cakes - yum!


llywela: (Default)

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