Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Family Stories That Make History but not History Books.

Family stories.
I am beginning preparations for a different Christmas this year - it will be the first that I've spend without my daughter since she was born! Last year I celebrated at her new home in Melbourne and I hoped to be there for this year too, but events have transpired to make it otherwise. It's particularly hard as this is my grand-daughter's first Christmas, although at three months old she won't be too worried. I will, however, be able to Skype to see her and her parents and wish them a very happy Christmas and for that I'm very grateful. Not everyone who is separated from family or friends has that luxury.

This time a hundred year ago my grandfather, who served during The Great War in the Army Service Corps, was still in the army and he and his unit were gradually making their way back in their lorries from the Middle East. Unfortunately my siblings and I know very little about his army life, although one sister recently found diaries online written in 1915 by our great-uncle by marriage, Captain Comley Hawkes, who also served in the Army Service Corps which gives us an inkling, although they worked in different locations. One story I recall my mother telling us is that Grandpa and his companions were given the opportunity of spending Christmas 1918 in Bethlehem. Much as he wished too, and I think partly regretted his decision later, he declined because he wanted to get back to England as soon as he could. He had a daughter of two and a half  years old waiting at home who he had yet to meet. I don't know exactly when he reached home but I know it was already 1919. He wouldn't get to spend a Christmas with her until her fourth.

As my sisters and I look more into our family history - we now have the names of  22 of our 32 great, great, great grandparents (made easier by the ancestry tracing websites) the information that we already knew was because of family stories, some passed from generation to generation and the fact that our parents and grandparents kept in touch with friends and family even though they they hadn't the benefit of instant communication as we do now.

Another family story is when my grandmother wrote to her friend, Gwen, who was then in Australia telling her that she had been jilted. The letter and its reply would have taken at least 12 weeks to travel across the world and back. I can message my daughter and receive a reply within as many seconds.

When she first went to Australia in 1913, at Gwen's suggestion, my grandmother worked for Gwen's  second cousins, that branch of the family having emigrated to Australia in 1851 (June 29th to be precise) during the Australian Goldrush. She later became good friends with their daughter Floss, who was a similar age to her, and when she married (Gwen's brother) her daughters were close friends with Floss's. When my grandparents returned to England letters and cards were exchanged between Australia and England. The next generation took over the correspondence which continued for over 80 years. Visits were also made and the connection continues hence I got to meet up again with my fourth cousin once removed on my visit to Australia last Christmas. My Australian born grand-daughter has dozens of distant cousins in Victoria, Australia because two of my mother's aunts also have numerous descendants there, several of whom are still in touch.

Family stories rarely make headlines but they are what makes history real. And I think they're important. I'm now of an age where I see toys that I played with in museums and the country childhood I experienced and wrote about here is now mostly history. I've mentioned previously my mother's notebooks (pictured above) of her jottings about that time and they have been a delight to read. I just wish we had more. Lets get our stories written for future generations, because history books won't tell them the stories that we can.

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