Women of World War I – Dorothy Read – Woman of the Future

Women of WWIThis is the last in my series of blog posts about my grandmother and her six sisters.  This one is about the youngest, but perhaps most enterprising of the seven girls.

Like her older sisters Dorothy was born in Harpurhey and was baptised in April 1895. She was christened Dorothy Benson Read, the Benson being after her paternal grandmother, born Mary Ann Benson in Dublin.

As the youngest, Dorothy was only two years old when her father died, and had a rough time of it in her childhood as her mother went to pieces and ended up in the workhouse infirmary. Like my grandmother, she was fostered out, and at first I was not able to find her on the census as her surname was changed to the name of the family who fostered her.

However, once I found her marriage, I discovered her foster name. She is the Dorothy B Read who married Augustine Morgan in 1927 in Manchester North, and luckily the index for this marriage gives an alternative surname of Parks. I therefore looked up Dorothy Parks in the 1901 census and found her with the Parkes family – not far from her own home in Harpurhey. Allan Parkes, her foster father, was an Irish bookkeeper for a cotton mill, and her foster mother, Veronica, was a draper working at home on her own account, also Irish. The residence was also a shop, and there is a clue here to Dorothy’s later life, as we shall see. I think she learned a lot from this family.

In 1911 I found her as Dorothy Parks living in Bradford with her adoptive sister-in-law Veronica, who had married Alfred Henry Gardner, an estate agent’s clerk. Dorothy is described as a machinist in a shirt factory.

I am sure that Dorothy did her bit during the war. Given her character, she may have signed up for the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps, or perhaps worked in a munitions factory. Whilst searching any other records, I found that the Red Cross site now have an online search engine. At the time of writing, only surnames from A to E were available so I was not able to search for Dorothy or the other sisters, but they should shortly have all surnames available, which will be extremely useful: http://www.redcross.org.uk/About-us/Who-we-are/History-and-origin/First-World-War

From here, I have a piece of information about Dorothy that dropped into my hands a few years ago. When our cousin Alice died, we inherited some scrapbooks of hers, and amongst these was a reference to her Aunt Dorothy. This told us that she had worked as a buyer in Lewis’s, and had at one time had to buy and arrange a dinner service for a royal visit to Manchester.

Women of WWIWe have an interesting photograph of Dorothy, with her oldest sister Maude, shown here. Maude (in foreground) is pointing at a photograph. I have looked at this with a magnifying glass, and although it is difficult to see, I believe it is a picture of that dinner service. It may be that Maude had helped her with the task. The two sisters look proud, and it is my theory that they look out at us from their early 20th century viewpoint, and say ‘Look at us. We are women, and see what we can achieve.’

In the 1929 Kelly’s Directory for Manchester and Salford, Augustine is entered as a ‘Manager’, living at 46 Edale Avenue, Moston, Manchester. This is very close to Harpurhey. In the same year, a Mrs Dorothy Read Morgan is listed under Milliners at a different address: 48 Ashton New Road, Beswick, which is further south. According to StreetView, this is a rather shabby looking street, with a few run down shops, many of which are currently boarded up. My guess is that Dorothy had set up her own business here, with her husband perhaps as the manager, and they lived and worked between the two properties.

It is obvious that Dorothy was interested in having a career. So where did the job at Lewis’s fit in? Unfortunately, Dorothy’s left hand is obscured in the photograph, so I cannot see whether she was married by this time. However, judging by the women’s clothes, this definitely looks earlier, even before the 1920s. This looks to me as though it was taken perhaps during or a little after the war. The blouses are still quite Edwardian looking, but while Maude still has an Edwardian looking hairstyle, Dorothy has a more modern bob. My guess is about 1919-20. If anyone can give a more expert opinion on this I would be grateful.

So Dorothy probably was working at Lewis’s before she was married, and later went into business with her husband. Reading between the lines, I think she must have been a very determined and forward thinking young lady. She would have welcomed her enfranchisement and was ready to grasp with both hands the new opportunities that were becoming available for women.

I could find no children for Augustine and Dorothy in the registers, though I do know that they had a son called Austin, because my mother remembers him quite well. She also remembers that they spent some time in Australia.

I have not found a death record for Dorothy in Manchester, and because the name is fairly common, it is not easy to find out what happened to her after these dates. I know that they travelled, and went to Australia. Also, in 1957 I found Augustine on a passenger list returning from a trip to Boston, Massachussets. His permanent address is still the one at 46 Edale Avenue and he is described as ‘retired’. Dorothy does not appear to be with him. I do hope that she did not die young.

Of the seven sisters, Dorothy is the one with her feet most firmly planted in the future, the one who seems to have taken the new opportunities run with them. What she achieved may seem modest by today’s standards, but she was born in a time and place with very little choice for women, and she was determined to get through that small chink in the door that came with enfranchisement and new working opportunities for women. I say, good on her – and I am proud to have her and her sisters in my family tree.

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Women During WWI – My Grandmother – and a Mystery Sweetheart?

Women During WWIIn my series looking at my female ancestors and their experiences of World War I, we have now come to my own maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Reid. Obviously I knew a bit more about her before I began my research. She was born on 28th December 1892 at Harpurhey, like her sisters, and baptized the following February. They were living at 222 Conran Street, a rather bleak looking side-street these days which looks as though most of it has been cut off and re-built so I have no idea what the house might have looked like.

Her father died when she was 5, and on her 8th birthday her mother entered the workhouse infirmary after turning to drink after the early death of her husband. My mother can remember her telling her about being dragged through the streets by her mother with nowhere to go. What a bleak and horrible few years my grandmother must have had in her early years.

After her mother went to the workhouse she was fostered by the Carroll family. In the 1901 census she can be found under her own name with the Carrolls and described as their ‘adopted daughter’. However, she took the name Carroll for some time – several years after her mother left the workhouse. We have postcards written to her as ‘Lizzie Carroll’, and I believe she was known as Lizzie for most of her life. I think she had quite an interesting and happy time with them. They took her on a trip to Australia with them, which must have been quite an adventure at that time.

Now, for the war years we have a bit of a mystery. My mother owns a locket of Nanna’s with a picture of her husband Francis on it (see below). However, on the reverse is a photographic portrait of a young man in soldier’s uniform. The locket came to my mother in an envelope with the following handwritten text on it:

2483 Lennard
Photograph – Tester Bros?
(Nr. Brighton, Sussex)Jack Lennard?

In pencil on the side is written the name ‘Jack’. We think that this gentleman must have been my grandmother’s ‘boyfriend’, perhaps even a fiancee, who was killed during the war.

I have searched and searched for a Jack Lennard in the WWI military records, and for the regimental number of 2483, but found nothing that fits all elements. I have searched the census records for someone living in Manchester, and I also looked up the Tester Brothers and found that they did a lot of portraits for the local training corps in Sussex – so presumably Jack or John, or Mr Lennard/Leonard, was based here for military training. There was a Jack Lennard born in Sussex, whose service records I have seen, and who died after the war in 1923 – but I have no idea how my grandmother would have known someone in Sussex.

Sadly, it may be that his records are part of the many WWI records that were destroyed during WWII bombing.

We tend to think of the mothers, wives and children when we think of those men who died, but what about the sweethearts? Those would never receive a war widow’s pension or have that status of wife of one who served; those who were robbed of the chance to live with their beloved as man and wife. I think my grandmother was one of those women, but it is nice to know that some time after the war she met Francis Manley (see my blog post), who was 30 years her senior and probably a bit of a father-figure whom she would feel would look after her. Francis was a widow with several grown up children and was already retired from his job as a Railway goods clerk.

They married in 1923. My mother Joyce was born in 1924 and two years later my Aunt Dorothy. Soon after Dorothy’s birth they moved to the Isle of Man and my mother had a very different childhood to her mother’s – growing up next to the sea and playing on the beach nearly every day.

Sadly, Francis was to die of a stroke just 12 years after they were married, but according to my mother those 12 years were very happy, but it is sad that once again my grandmother was plunged into financial difficulty, and they had to move from their home to somewhere less pleasant. My mother left school early and had to work to bring in an income.

Women during WWIIn later years my grandmother was more settled. I remember visiting her in her house in Douglas, which always smelt of China tea – something she was particularly fond of. She had a poodle called Chico who was a terror to all who came near him.  I also remember  that she had a constant wheeze (which I now realise was probably from her years in Manchester).  She was a worrier, but could also be quite fun, and I remember sitting next to her at the dinner table at Aunt Dorothy’s and her digging me in the ribs and giggling at some risque joke.  Despite all the difficulties of her life and all her worries, she was always able to laugh and have a bit of fun.  Nanna died in 1980 in a nursing home in Douglas, Isle of Man.

And possibly, it is our ability to laugh and have fun that helps us all survive the bad times. I get the feeling that all those sisters had a sense of humour, which may have helped them get through the war and all the other difficult times.

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Women During World War I – Lottie Read – A Hero’s Wife?

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Enter to win my book

I’m running a giveaway competition over at Goodreads for my family history themed novel.  If there are enough entries I may make more books available!  Winners are encouraged to write a review.  See below for details.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Out of Time by Rosamunde Bott

Out of Time

by Rosamunde Bott

Giveaway ends October 22, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

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New charges for professional genealogy service

Just a short post to let everyone know that I will be putting up my hourly genealogy service charges from £20 per hour to £22 per hour.

The new charges will be in effect from Monday 22nd September.  However, if you are a current client I will not be increasing the charges for any current work.

Also – if you are considering hiring me to do any work, I will still charge £20 if you contact me before Monday – even if the work doesn’t start until after the 22nd.  Just start the conversation with me before Monday and I’ll keep you at the old rate for the first stage of work.

See my full range of services with the new charges here.


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Out of Time – a novel about family history

Out of Time - A Family History NovelAs a writer  who is also a professional genealogist, I find that my work feeds my writing, and the research I do for my novels feeds my family history research.  It is rather a perfect marriage.  I have been writing historical, or historical ‘time slip’ novels for some time now, and I have at last felt confident enough to go ahead and self-publish one.  It is called Out of Time and it has been published on Kindle since March and as a printed book at FeedARead since May.

I am pleased to say that it has been considerably well received by all who have read it, so I feel confident enough to blow my trumpet about it on my blog.  If you are interested in family history and you like a good read, then you can order it online as follows:

Click HERE for Amazon Kindle

Click HERE to order a printed book from FeedARead

Without giving too much away, the story follows Catherine Burns, who meets an enigmatic musician, Will, and discovers that he seems to know more about her family history than she does.  As she finds out about each of her female ancestors in turn, more questions arise about Will, the house she lives in, and how the past is reaching out to influence her present life.  It is a story with a mystery at its heart which I hope will keep you guessing to the end!

Please feel free to leave any comments below if you have read the book and would like to discuss it.  I will be happy to answer any questions too.

I will also shortly be publishing a children’s novel (C. S. Lewis fans would probably enjoy it!) and I am currently working on a historical novel set in Victorian theatre.  Watch this space!


Read an extract below:

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Women during WWI – Florrie Read – Marriage and early death

Women of WWIMy Great Aunt Florrie died young. My mother thought that she had probably never married. That’s about all I knew about her before carrying out my research.

According to her baptism record (published on Ancestry.co.uk), she was born Florrie Read on 12th January 1886, and baptized at St. Oswald, Collyhurst on 9th March 1887, over a year later. Why such a late baptism I do not know, but we do know from the record that they were still living at 13 Forrest Street, so it was not an oversight due to a change of address.

Baptism of Florrie ReadI have been unable to find Florrie on the 1901 census with any variation of her first or second name. It may be that, like my grandmother, she was fostered out while her mother was in the workhouse infirmary and may be listed with a different surname.

I think I have found her in 1911, living in the household of the Fawkes family, her occupation given as a cloth stitcher in what looks like ‘Shiping House’. If anyone can tell me what this means, I would be very grateful.  My guess is that this was one of the shipping warehouses used for the cotton industry where fabric was prepared for overseas sales. The address is 57 Princess Street, Moston, which is in the Failsworth district, not far from where she was born.

From carrying out searches on Google, I have found that Princess Street is now known as Princedom Street, just below Moston Lane. The street seems like a fairly typical Victorian residential street, but No. 57 no longer seems to exist.

There was a mill at Moston – though it’s a few streets away, and it’s equally possible she could have been working at one of the cotton mills in Hapurhey.

Given that we thought that she had not married, I searched the death records, but found no death record with any variation of her name.

I therefore wondered whether we had been wrong about her being married, so I had a look at the marriage records and I found that a Florrie Read married a Richard T Marsh in 1913. To check this out I searched the death records for a Florrie Marsh, and sure enough, I found that she had died a year later. The burial record states that she was buried on 9th June 1914 at Christ Church in Harpurhey aged 27. This all fits, so I am very confident that this is my Great Aunt.

She died two months before the outbreak of World War I. But why did she die so young? Given that this was just over a year after her marriage I wondered whether she possibly died in childbirth. I decided to order her death certificate to find out.

The address of her residence on the burial record was 6 Lindum Street, Rusholme. This address can be clearly seen on StreetView, and is quite a pleasant looking street opposite a small green.

Did they have children? I checked out the birth registrations, and found a Lucy Marsh born in 1913 with the mother’s surname of Reed, but this turned out not to be their child.

The death certificate told me that she died at this address, of ‘mitral stenosis’. This is a narrowing of the mitral valve in the heart – often caused by rheumatic heart disease, which can occur after rheumatic fever. This is not too surprising, even in one so young. Rheumatic fever was once common in the UK in places of poor sanitation and over-crowding, but is now thankfully rare in this country. In the 19th century, Manchester had one of the highest death rates for diseases of the respiratory system (the sisters’ father had died of pneumonia at the age of 35), and while things had improved by the 20th century, it was still an unhealthy place to live, particularly in the poorer areas.

So what happened to Richard? I could not find a military record for him. He was born in Moston the son of John and Sarah, and was a labourer in a tin yard. He died in 1959 aged 76. He may have married again – there is a marriage in 1937 for a Richard T Marsh and a Bertha Barlow.

While my Great Aunt Florrie did not live through the Great War, she is an example of life in Manchester in the time Oxford Road, Manchester, 1910.  Valettethat led up to it, and she serves to remind us that, 100 hundred years on, our urban centres are generally far healthier places to live now than they were then.

Oxford Road, Manchester 1910.  Valette

On a personal note, I now think of my grandmother, who would have been 20 when she lost her older sister. I remember that she was always worried about health and alarmed at each little cold or cough. It’s no wonder, when she lost her father and sister at such early ages to diseases that nowadays are so preventable.


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Women during WWI – Marriage and Motherhood – Agnes Reid

Agnes ReidThis is the third in my series of Women during WWI – focusing on the lives of my grandmother and her sisters.  Before researching Agnes I knew very little about her, except that my mother thought that she had been an actress at one time.

According to her baptism record, she was born on 29th October 1884 and baptized at St. Oswald’s, Collyhurst as Agnes Annie READ.

After this my first search was the1901 census where I found the most likely entry for her as a domestic servant in Rixton with the Herden family. The Head of the household, James Herden was an architectural draughtsman.

It took me a long time to find her in the 1911 census. I did not know whether she was married at all, and no searches for her as Agnes Reid, or any Agnes born in Collyhurst came up with any results.

So I looked at marriages and found several possibilities. I then looked at the 1911 census entries for the respective husbands, and found that one with a spouse that was born in St. Oswald Parish. She had not come up on the census previously because the transcriber had written her name as James Annie. This is a common problem with online indexes – so it is always worth searching with different criteria until you find someone who looks right. Looking at the original record I could see that it was clearly Agnes Annie. The husband’s name was Whitfield Halstead, a paint brush maker. As is often the case for women, there is no occupation recorded for Agnes.

The marriage was in the April to June quarter of 1904 in the district of Prestwich.

Whitfield was born in Hulme in about 1882. By 1911 they had two children, Gladys May, born 13th December 1904, and Robert Whitfield, born 7th June 1906. They were living at 7 Springfield Avenue, Moston. This street still exists, but on Streetmap I found it full of modern houses, so it will look completely different now to how it did then.

Women in WWIA recent article in the Manchester Evening News describes what life was like in Manchester at the beginning of the war – and is worth a read.   It pictures a city still clouded in pollution, noisy, crowded, dirty and unhealthy. The outbreak of war made things even more grim, with the imminent food shortages and young men being shipped off to fight.

From his war service record on Ancestry.co.uk I found Whitfield and Agnes were still at the same address. Whitfield enlisted in 1915 and joined the Bedford Regiment. I also found records for him on FindMyPast showing that he was in the 1st Battalion, 363rd Reserve Employment Company at the Eastern Command Labour Centre. He was also a member of the Welsh Regiment, 12th Battalion in 1916. A service record for 1919 shows the Bedfordshire Regiment again. A further record showed him in the Cheshire Regiment, 21st (Labour) Battalion.

Luckily, he survived the war, but died quite young at the age of 56 in 1940 in Manchester. We don’t know whether he was wounded in the war – but we do know that life expectancy in Manchester was still fairly low, so he may have just been one of those who succumbed to its pollution. Of course, I would be able to find out the cause of death from ordering the death certificate.

I did not find any official war records for Agnes, and presumably she was busy enough looking after two young teenagers while Whitfield was away. With the children old enough to understand what was happening, it must have been a difficult and tense time for them, as well as the difficulties of food rationing. When her sister Alice was widowed in 1916, it must have brought it home to her even more, though I am sure the sisters all pulled together through this time.

Possibly Agnes took on domestic work during the war, or perhaps worked in a munitions factory, while her unmarried and widowed sisters helped to look after the children. Unfortunately, we have few records for women’s work during World War I apart from some nurses’ records, so much of the time we can only guess from what we know from history.

The other possibility was some kind of theatrical career, as my mother seemed to think she had done some acting. I have searched newspaper records, including those accessible online at the Manchester Library, but found no reference to her either with her maiden or married name. It could be that she was part of the recruitment drive for the war – the theatres in the First World War were used for encouraging young men to enlist before conscription and also for fund-raising and as a morale booster.

We do not know whether she was a professional or amateur actress, but if we are right in thinking that she was, she must have been a busy lady!

Agnes married again – to Arthur Perkin in 1942, and died in 1960 aged 76. Both her children married. Gladys May to Herbert Hallewell in 1930 and Robert to Rose Green in 1932. I found that a one-name study has been made of the Halstead family at halstedresearch.org.uk and this tells me that Robert and Rose had a child, Geoffrey R Halstead. A search on PeopleTracer tells me that Geoffrey is still living in Manchester. He is my second cousin.  If we are able to get in touch with him I will post updates!

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Guide to Wills and Probate in the UK – FREE

I am running a promotion on my Guide to Wills at the moment.  My ebook, Guide to Wills and Probate in England is Will endingavailable for FREE to the first 50 people – by going through this Facebook Link.

Finding a will can seem very complicated, especially as they can be held in different places depending on what kind of wealth the testator had.  My step by step guide helps you to break through the complications and find the family history gold that is contained in these wonderful documents.

Find out how and why wills were first written, where they are held,  how to find them and how to read them.  Go to this special Facebook Link to get your FREE copy.

By clicking the link and liking my page, you will then be eligible to receive my newsletter, which will be starting soon.  However, if you do not want to receive this you will be able to unsubscribe at a later date.


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Women during WWI – Widowhood & Emigration – Alice Reid

Women of WWIThis is the second in my series about my grandmother and her six sisters and their lives, focusing on how the First Word War affected them. This article is about the second eldest sister, Alice.

This is what I knew about Alice before carrying out my research. She was born in about 1883, she married before the war, her husband died young (possibly in the war) and she then emigrated to Australia with her children.

Looking at the census I found that in 1901, the year her mother was in the workhouse infirmary, she was working as a domestic servant in Chorlton for a beer and wine seller, the widow Helen E Irwell and her son Robert.  She was 18 and appears to be the only servant in this household.

I also found her in the 1911 census as a general domestic servant, confirming her birthplace as Collyhurst in about 1883. The address is Higher Green Farm, Blackley, Manchester, and her employer was a farmer, Henry Kay, and his wife Ada.  On the census night there were two other servants recorded, a cowman and a milk boy – so I am guessing this was a small dairy farm.  Blackley is a little north of Collyhurst, and was probably open fields then, but the farm no longer exists and Blackley is now a fairly built up area.

Only a few days after the census, on 19th April 1911, Alice married Ernest Henry Parnell at Christ Church, Harpurhey, also very close to her birthplace.  In the 1901 census Ernest was described as a ‘warehouseman’, living with his family.  In 1911 his name was for some reason written down as ‘Hubert’, which made him difficult to find at first, but he is still with his family and is still a ‘warehouseman – Manchester trade’.

They had two children, Alice in 1913, and Henry in 1915.

By now the war had started and Ernest had enlisted and gone to war in France.  Sadly, I found that he was killed in action on 15th July 1916, which led me to think that he died during the notorious Battle of the Somme, one of 420,000 British casualties.  He may never have seen his baby son.

WWI Delville WoodThe record of Ernest’s death records that he was a private in the Manchester Regiment of the 20th Battalion, number 17455.  I was able to find out a bit more about this unit at the very useful and informative site at www.1914-1918.net and also at www.themanchesters.org/20th%20batt.htm.  Another good site for searching for ancestors who died in WWI is www.forces-war-records.co.uk though you need to subscribe to search the records.  Using the information on these sites I was able to work out that Ernest probably died during the Battle of Delville Wood (see artist’s depiction left).  I found more information about this battle at http://www.ww1battlefields.co.uk/somme/delville.html.  There is also a more detailed account of July 15th specifically at http://www.firstworldwar.com/battles/delvillewood.htm .  This battle is mostly associated with the South African Brigade, so if anyone can tell me more information about the involvement of Ernest’s regiment, I would be most grateful.

I found out where he was buried using www.findagrave.com. This took me to the Thiepval Memorial cemetary which Women of WWIalso gave me a plot number.  It is nice to know that the next time I am in France I could visit his grave on behalf of my Great Aunt and her family.


Alice would have received a widow’s pension, but this would have been pretty minimal, and it would have been a struggle to bring up her two children – but I am sure that her six sisters must have helped.  It was calculated that about 160,000 women lost their husbands during WWI

There is a book available online called Discourses Surrounding British Widows of the First World War on Google Books which gives some interesting information about the lives of widows – though as it points out, there has been little research done on this subject.

I knew that Alice emigrated to Australia some time afterwards, so I searched the worldwide emigration records on Ancestry, and I found her on the passenger lists with the two children on board the Moreton Bay embarking at Fremantle in Western Australia.

There were two things that surprised me about this: a) the date was 1928, much later than I had thought, and b), they departed from London rather than Liverpool.  Further searches led me to the outward bound passenger lists which gave her last address as 1 Marine Terrace, Llanfairfechan, North Wales, and she an her daughter are listed as a ‘domestics’.  So, she had moved to Wales and had worked as a domestic servant. As usual, genealogical searches had raised more questions!  Why did she go to Wales?

Llanfairfechan is a lovely seaside town in the district of Conwy, and would have been quite a haven compared to Manchester – but why did Alice leave the comfort of her family to go and work there?  My only guess is that the work as a servant became available through a friend of the family and offered an income for both her and her young daughter.  Perhaps there were too many memories in Manchester.  Whatever the reason, Alice travelled from there to London, and then made the big journey to Western Australia at the age of 44 to start a new life in Brisbane.  She must have had guts.

It is possible that Alice took advantage of assisted immigration.  During the 1920s, two thirds of the 300,000 immigrants to Australia were through assisted passage.  The Great Depression which struck in 1929 brought an end to this, so Alice may have just got in on the tail end.  The following leaflet on pdf gives more information about immigration into Australia during the 20th century: www.immi.gov.au/media/publications/statistics/federation/timeline1.pdf

I found Alice in the Australian electoral registers living at Fortitude Valley, Brisbane.  I also found a record of her death on 19th December 1952.  She had never married again.

As for her children, my mother remembers Henry coming over to England to visit them in the early 50s.  She tells me he was an incredibly handsome man – but he does not seem to have been married, and I cannot find any other IMG_20140516_141747records for him in Australia.  As for young Alice, she married (possibly twice) and emigrated to Hawaii and did a lot of work for voluntary organisations. She visited the UK about 15 years ago and we met her for lunch in Stratford on Avon.  She was a lovely, lively lady, and died a few years ago leaving my mother a small legacy.  She must have been well into her nineties when she died.

In summary, while some women’s lives were improved during the war, in terms of status and work, for many women it left them bereaved, struggling to bring up young children on very little money.  For Alice, it seems that there was nothing left for her in Britain, and I hope hew new life in Australia brought her better happiness.

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