The Wedding Day

It’s always exciting to be able to add another name to the family tree, but usually this is a name of someone long deceased.  However, this week I have the thrill of adding someone who is very much alive – my new son in law!

The much anticipated wedding day of my daughter has come and gone and what a joyous occasion it was!  The sun shone (well, let’s be honest, it has for most of this summer) but with air con at the reception venue it was quite comfortable, even if the Church was a bit on the warm side.  It was fantastic to have so many family members and friends there to celebrate with us and has created many memories to treasure.

One of my lasting memories will be my 88 year old Mum standing up to join in with the final dance of the evening – a Circassian Circle!  Fortunately my brother kept a close eye on her.  It was great to be able to catch up with members of my wider family and to be able to note down the names of a recently-arrived little twiglet to add to the tree.  Lovely, too, to see both sets of families mingling and getting to know each other and discovering things in common.

In these days of family members often living a long way from each other, events such as a wedding are important in strengthening the bonds which would have been more naturally there when families lived in much closer proximity.

I thought I’d check through my family tree software for other August weddings, but it seems that this month has not been particularly popular.  However my own parents married in August as did my Great Great Grandfather William Wakefield in 1857.

I don’t have that many wedding photos for ancestors, but there are some lovely ones of my maternal grandparents’ wedding in September 1924.  This one shows the family group, and apparently my Granny (Emily Mitchell) was a little cross that her mother planted herself in the middle of the photo when she felt that was the place of the bride and groom!

Alf and Emily George Sept 1924

No such problems on Saturday – it was all very organized – and though eventually we shall see the official photos, in the meantime it’s great to have so many sent to us electronically.



The small baby in this one is my grandparents’ niece, Mary.  Her granddaughter has just had a baby of her own.  And so life continues and the tree grows!


The NHS at 70

“Miss Polly had a dolly who was sick, sick, sick.
So she phoned for the doctor to come quick, quick, quick.
The doctor came with his bag and his hat,
And knocked at the door with a rat-a-tat-tat.

He looked at the dolly and shook his head,
And said “Miss Polly put her straight to bed.
He wrote a paper for a pill, pill, pill.
I’ll be back in the morning with my bill, bill, bill.”

Just as a doctor presenting a patient with a bill was an alien concept when we sang this nursery rhyme with our daughters twenty years ago, so, when my parents were children eighty years ago, a free National Health Service would have been an equally mystifying idea.

As I continue to transcribe my Granny’s diaries (currently working on 1939) I realise that my Mum and her sister were frequently ill enough to be kept off school, with colds, coughs and fevers.  A few years before the diaries start, my aunt had been very seriously ill with Scarlet Fever, and had been in hospital for some time.  Family visits were not allowed and Granny had to check lists posted up to see if she was still on the danger list.  This of course was in the days before antibiotics.  There were regular trips to the doctor, but mostly the prescriptions given seem to have been for bottles of ‘tonic’.  In the 1938 diary there are 16 references to visiting the doctor and being prescribed a bottle of tonic!

All this had to be paid for, of course.  I can also see from the diaries that my grandparents made regular payments into a health insurance scheme.  Trips to collect a ‘form’ were no doubt in order to reclaim the money for the medical visits.

Viewing this with 21st century eyes I am quite surprised at the apparent availability of the doctor – visits to the doctor were often made in the early evening and he came out to visit the family when the illness was more serious.  My Mum remembers him as a kindly man.  Nowadays home visits seem to be pretty much a thing of the past.

That the NHS still endures 70 years after its launch by Aneurin Bevan is definitely a cause for celebration, still providing a cradle to grave ‘free at point of delivery’ service.  I may complain about the cost of my prescriptions, but I am hugely thankful that even the infectious diseases of my own childhood such as measles and mumps had been largely dealt with by the time I had my own children due to the progress with immunisation.

In the current British Heart Foundation magazine Professor Jane Dacre, President of the Royal College of Physicians, is quoted as saying “when the NHS first started, people were dying quickly of a single disease:  now they are living longer with multiple diseases”.  It is dealing with the long-term conditions, many associated with ageing, which currently challenges the service.

The NHS will certainly have to evolve in order to survive, but I for one would not wish to see a move to a system where a two-tier treatment service was offered – speedier if you had the money to pay.

My grandparents certainly didn’t have a lot of money, but they obviously made a priority of saving to pay for medical bills.  How they must have celebrated when the NHS was born!

Happy birthday NHS.

Living History

I’ve loved the Weald and Downland Living Museum for as long as I can remember.  I first went there on a school trip from Primary School and was immediately captivated by the place.  The Granary;  the Tudor Winkhurst farmhouse; the 15th century wealden hall-house Bayleaf; 17th century Pendean; and the Tollhouse.  They all captured my imagination.  I assembled cardboard models of some of the buildings and very soon we had family outings there too, exploring the woodland and learning all about charcoal burning.

Open air museums such as this truly bring history alive.  You can feel the buildings, smell the woodsmoke, peer through the darkness of a dimly lit room and wonder how people kept warm with no glass in the windows, managed to sleep on such rough beds and kept children safe round the open fires.

As the years have gone by we enjoyed taking our own children there too, where they had a go at ploughing with heavy horses and made corn dollies.  The museum has been there now for 50 years and new buildings keep arriving.  On my latest visit a couple of weeks ago I was able to see the new bakery and dairy near the mill and the structure of stables being erected near Bayleaf.  But I also took the opportunity to revisit some favourites, among them the early nineteenth century school building from West Wittering.  It is buildings such as these that help me to relate to my more recent family history.  Having looked at Victorian school log books it is great to see the benches with inkwells and slates, the old school bell and the primitive looking stove.

Weald and Downland
Victorian school

I also paid a visit to the Victorian Whittakers Cottages, furnished as they might have been in the late nineteenth century for a labouring family.  Inside, a reenactor was sitting darning socks.  Such volunteers add greatly to the visitors’ experience, and I love the way that they talk to you in character, explaining what life is like for them.  The reality of seven children sleeping in one bedroom is brought home seeing the size of the room.

Victorian cottage

It was the first time I had seen the new visitor entrance, and along with the lovely new café and shop there is a new gallery explaining the background.  I saw that they have used the census to research who lived in some of the houses, and again that makes it all so much more real.

I have visited a number of other such museums, such as the Chiltern Open Air Museum, Beamish and Ironbridge, but I think that the Weald and Downland Museum at Singleton will always be special for me.  What a great place for all ages to learn about their history.

Weald and Downland

I don’t think it will keep on much longer

Writing home on 11 June 1918, just 3 weeks after his first letter, Jack Wakefield is putting on a brave face.  He expresses optimism that the war will soon be over (“I don’t think it will keep on much longer”) and looks forward to getting home (“well Mother, let us hope for the best, then what for a good time in Blighty, it will be grand”).

He repeats some of the information from his first letter, including details of his capture:  “I had the misfortune to be taken prisoner….I had the letter with that paper in it that you said went to Frank and Will on the Tuesday.  I was captured on the Wednesday.  It seemed funny I was the 3rd one”.  Maybe the ‘paper’ was a newspaper cutting – I wonder whether it told of other local lads who had been captured?  That would appear to make sense of the reference to the “3rd one”.  Frank Bookham was soon to be married to Jack’s eldest sister Annie.  He was serving with the 631 Motor Transport Company of the Army Service Corps, and earlier in the war had been out in East Africa.

Having now been a Prisoner of War in Gustrow, Germany, for seven weeks, Grandad is understandably anxious for some provisions from home to supplement what must have been extremely basic provisions in the camp.  “Well dear Mother, do your best to send me a parcel as soon as you can.  The Post Office will let you know what to put in it.  You know, a good big cake, some fags, tobacco, pipe and fag papers.  Send plenty of them for I can make it up with you all when I get back.  See if you can let me have one or two books.”  In order to emphasise the point, at the bottom of the letter Jack adds “send a parcel each week – get Nell to help”.  His next eldest sister Nell was obviously the sister to be relied on – it was she that his brother Will had turned to the previous Christmas when he was short of money.

I recently came across the journal of the Central Prisoners of War Committee of the Red Cross and Order of St John for January 1918.  This edition of the ‘British Prisoner of War’ carries an advert for suitable cigarettes and tobacco to send in parcels.  Whether or not Jack’s family attempted to send any of these we will never know.  The journal also contains useful information on how to send parcels and what could be included.  Unfortunately for my Grandad that did not appear to include “a good big cake”!

Although written on 11 June, the postmark on this letter was a month later – 10 July.  What an anxious time for his family back in Woking.

“Don’t worry about me for I shall look after myself”

One hundred years ago, Grandad had already been a Prisoner of War for 18 days.  He was captured on Wednesday 24th April somewhere near Hondeghem, France.  His regiment (2/2 Royal Fusiliers) had been working with the Royal Engineers excavating trenches a little way back from the front line as the German Spring Offensive pushed steadily westwards.  Quite how he came to be captured I don’t know, but he may have been out on a reconnoitring patrol.

By this stage of the war it was quite common for prisoners to be initially kept quite close to the front line.  Often they were forced to work supplying amunition to the German front and were in frequent danger from Allied shelling.  Living conditions were often squalid, with no shelter, blankets or sanitation.

Whatever happened initially, it would seem that Grandad had, within the month, been taken to the POW camp at Gustrow, about 200 km east of Hamburg.  No doubt he had been given the standard card to send home informing relatives of his capture, but the first of five letters or cards to have survived and kept by the family was written by him on 20th May.

On this card he writes:  “With love these few lines trusting they find you all well and happy as it leaves me.  Well Mum don’t worry about me for I shall look after my-self while here.  I had that letter with the paper in it on the Tuesday and was taken prisoner on the Wed 24/4/18.  Well Mum all I hope is that Will is safe.”

Ironically, that same day his brother Will’s Captain was writing to their mother to confirm his death in Belgium.

The food shortages for civilains in Germany as well as POWs was chronic by this stage of the war.  As I recall, Grandad spoke very little of this period of his life, but one thing that has always stuck in my memory was that he said he ate dandelion leaves.  I was therefore interested to read the following in ‘The Hunger War – Food, Rations and Rationing 1914 – 1918’ by Matthew Richardson: George Scroby of the Cheshire Regiment was held behind the German lines in France and later wrote “we managed to make the food spin out by various additions and substitutes such as gathering Nettles and Dandelions, old cabbage etc which we were able to gather whilst out working..….I used to cook the nettles etc over a fire in the yard to make a bit of a meal” (p 40).

Grandad (Jack Wakefield) goes on to say in his message home “I should like something to eat, you know a good big cake and some tobacco, fags and fag papers.  Send plenty of them.”

Parcels sent from home were a lifeline for the prisoners, but with the reigning chaos as the end of the war drew closer, it is thought that few parcels reached their destination during the latter part of 1918.  “Please send me a parcel regualy (sic) every week you can find out what to put in it at the post office.”

What to send to Germany

Grandad’s card home, though clearly written on 20th May, bears the postmark of 10 July.  All of his communications home seem to have been delayed for quite some time.

“Well Mum I don’t think it will last much longer…. I think this is all so good by, keep smiling.  From your loving son Jack”.  My great grandparents must have received his letter with a mixture of relief that he was still alive but anxiety as to the conditions he was experiencing, despite his plea for them not to worry.

It would be seven long months before his release.

Jack’s card home



“Let those who come after see to it that his name be not forgotten”

“Let those who come after see to it that his name be not forgotten”

Those are the closing words on the scroll which accompanied the famous ‘Dead Man’s Penny’, sent to the families of soldiers killed in WW1.  In some small way I have been trying to do my bit in keeping that memory alive.

We have just returned from our planned trip to France and Belgium and I am happy to say that we were on the Messines Ridge on 12th April, exactly 100 years after my Great Uncle William Neighbour Wakefield was killed there in 1918.

It was a very special day.  To start with I was sad that it was so misty, meaning that the views from the ridge were not great.  But then I thought that this could have been quite typical of the weather 100 years ago.  We headed initially to the British Cemetery and, finding a number of graves of unknown soldiers of the North Staffordshire Regiment, decided to ‘adopt’ one.  I placed a cross there for William, with his details written on it and his photo attached.

We then drove down the road towards Wulverghem and then up towards Kemmel, pretty much parallel with where the front line would have been on 12th April.  Reading the war diary of the 8th Battalion North Staffordshires, the overall picture is one of confusion, with withdrawls being stopped and lines restored and difficulties getting information.  The previous day the Germans had made good progress towards Hill 63 and the Battalion had beenforced to start withdrawing from the ridge, eventually moving back to Kemmel by the 13th.  Heavy losses had been sustained.  Somewhere in all this confusion William lost his life.  A letter from the Regiment to his family states  “He was buried by his friends after the action near the scene of his death”.  Was he one of those soldiers subsequently moved to the British Cemetery at Messines or another local cemetery after the war?  It is possible.

Later that afternoon we arrived at Tyne Cot and for the first time I was able to see William’s name inscribed there.  It was satisfying to know that he is now commemorated in the country where he died.  I placed another cross there for him.

During the course of that day and subsequent days we came across a number of others following a similar personal pilgrimage.  The sheer scale of the slaughter is so hard to comprehend.  Which is why it is so important to remember those who “left all that was dear to them…and finally passed out of the sight of men by the path of duty and self sacrifice, giving up their own lives that others might live in freedom”.

Grave of unknown soldier of the North Staffordshire Regiment
View towards the Messines Ridge
William’s name at Tyne Cot
A cross for William

Doctor at the dolls’ house

A couple of months ago I had no idea of its existence.  When my cousin was making a start on clearing my aunt’s house, my Mum suddenly thought to enquire as to whether the dolls’ house was still upstairs.  If so, she would like to give it a home!

Their father, Alf George, had made the house for them in the early thirties.  He had no shed where they lived in Croydon, but Mum recalls that he would sit in the kitchen with his fret saw making things.  He was obviously quite a creative man – we have other evidence in the form of miniature paintings and poems.

The dolls’ house he made for his daughters was modelled on Steyning Lodge in West Grinstead, Sussex, where his wife (my Granny) had lived prior to their marriage.  He made wooden furniture for the house, too.

Steyning Lodge West Grinstead
Steyning Lodge West Grinstead in the 1920s
Steyning Lodge West Grinstead today






On investigation it turned out that the dolls’ house was indeed still there, on top of a wardrobe, and on a recent visit it was duly retrieved and taken back to Mum’s house, where we have all now had a chance to inspect it.  I’m amazed, really, that a) I had never known of its existence and b) it survived another generation of children playing with it.  It is remarkably intact.  There are still items of wooden furniture, floor and wall coverings and some little curtains which, as Mum said, had “seen better days”.  She promptly set about making some fresh curtains.

On the front of the house Grandad had painted a climbing plant and on the rear of the house, along with a well, is the image of Tubby the cat.  Mum caused us much amusement when she recalled having been told off by her Mum for standing on the house!  She must have been very small at the time.

Tubby the cat

She remembered other items of furniture, some of which I definitely had in my own dolls’s house.  When Mum visited at Easter I dug out a box which I thought could contain dolls’ house furniture.  We didn’t find what we were looking for, but Mum suddenly exclaimed “oh, it’s the Doctor!”.  It turned out that this wasn’t a new-found interest in the Time Lord, but that she had spotted a china doll which she had had as a child and which they called The Doctor, apparently because ‘he’ looked a bit upright and stern!  (This doll has always worn a dress to my knowledge).  She also found a few metal kitchen items which had been part of a kitchen range set.  So these, and the Doctor, went home with Mum and are now inside the dolls’ house.  The hunt will continue for any other original items which could join them.

The dolls’ house


Is there a doctor in the house?
Dolls’ house interior
Tubby the cat sitting underneath a table