Thursday, 20 November 2014

Sepia Saturday - Families Together

Sepia Saturday give bloggers an opportunity to share their family history through photographs.

Before the days of popular indoor flash photography, no pictures exist of my family celebrating birthdays and Christmas.  So weddings  were the main opportunity for group photographs and each tells a unique story. 

I had aspirations of grandeur - I always wanted to have a formal  family photograph of  three or four generations  as epitomized in royal  photographs.   However it was not to be.  Here is the nearest I come to that ambition - a photograph of my great grandmother's sister, Jane Riley, nee Rawcliffe of Fleetwood, Lancashire  with her son, George, grandson Jack  and great grandson, baby  George. Jane was the second of eight Rawcliffe daughters, though three died in infancy.   She and her sister Jennet married two brothers Thomas  and Richard Riley.  Jane died in 1926. 

Other family photographs in their own way each tell a story.  Below is one of  my  favourites.     Taken in 1916 as my grandfather was going to war,  it shows my grandmother Alice Danson, nee English, with their four children - Edith, Kathleen (my mother), Harry and baby Billy.  Another daughter Peggy was born in 1922.  Did Granddad take this photograph with him to Flanders?  From there he sent  to Alice and his children  many embroidered cards which  remain among my family treasures.

1929 - and the marriage of my Great Aunt Jennie Danson .  Jennie was the baby of the fmaily - the only  daughter born after eight sons, with  the eldest  of her many brothers - Robert giving her away  (on the far left).  The little bridesmaid at the front was my Aunt Peggy and on the right Jennie's eldest niece Annie,  whose mother died of TB when she was a year old, and whose father died in the First World War.

The local  newspaper report gave an  over-the-top account of Jennie's dress:
stylishly gowned in French grey georgette, veiling silk to tone. The bodice which was shaped to the figure was quite plain, with a spray of orange blossoms at the shoulder, while the skirt, which was ankle length, was composed entirely of five picot edged scalloped circular frills, and the long tight sleeves had circular picot edged frilled cuffs in harmony. Her hat was of georgette to tone with uneven pointed dropping brim, having an eye veil of silver lace and floral mount. She carried a bouquet of pink carnations with silver ribbon and horseshoe attached."

I have very few photograph of my father's family and this one is a rarity that only came to me recently through a distant connection of my cousin.  It is 1930 and the wedding   of my  Uncle Fred Weston.  My father (looking very serious) is on the left, holding that large hat with his younger brother brother Charles behind.  I guess that one of the bridesmaids must surely be Madge the only daughter of the family.   My grandmother Weston is in the cloche hat next to Fred, and is that behind  her my grandfather with his face partially hidden?  I just don't know.  

Onto 1938 and  this is the only photograph where I can identify my  paternal grandfather It was taken in the garden of my mother's home,  after my parent's wedding  with Mum's  parents (William and Alice Danson) on the left and my father's parents on the right (Mary and Albert Weston)  - unfortunately again not a particularly good image with grandfather Weston in the sun.

A  happy family group of the Danson family  - Edith, youngest daughter Peggy, my grandparents William and Alice, son Harry   and my mother Kathleen, with youngest son Billy missing. The three sisters enjoyed fashion and made their own clothes on a treadle sewing machine (the house did not have electricity until the mid 1950's! 

This  photograph was a puzzle, as I never asked questions about it when I could have done.  My guess as to the occasion rests on Uncle Harry wearing the carnation  Was this his short-lived wartime wedding?  Through snatches of conversation I picked up as a child, I became aware that he had at some time married and was divorced - all very hush, hush  in those days, swept under the carpet and certainly never openly mentioned. 

It was only after his death, I found the papers confirming a marriage on 11th June 1940 and divorce in 1947.   The marriage date is significant as Uncle Harry was one of the thousands of troops evacuated from Dunkirk on the flotilla of small ships  between 27th May and 4th  June 1940. Yet here  he was married some ten days later. 

Another wartime picture of my grandmother, Alice Danson with her youngest daughter Peggy who served in the  WAAF on a barrage balloon station, her son-in-law my father. serving in the RAF Code & Ciphers Division   and,  with his Italian born wife, youngest son Billy who served in the navy.  

1946 and the families gather for a postwar winter wedding of my uncle Charles Weston.  I am the shivering little bridesmaid holding up my giant posy.  My father and mother (looking very elegant) stand behind me, with my grandmother Weston to her left.  This marked a period of happiness for Charles after years in a  Japanese prisoner of war camp. .  
And finally another memorable family group as this is the only photograph I have of my mother with her three grandchildren together, taken in 1981. 


Copyright © 2014 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Military Monday: Donald Farmer, V.C. in World War One

Donald Dickson Farmer VC.jpg
In A Boer War V.C. I told the story of  Sergeant Donald Farmer  who, at the age of 23,  was awarded the Victoria Cross, Britain's highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy. 
Here I continue Donald's story with his service in the  First World War. 

Returning from South Africa, Donald married Nell Bonnar  and they  made their home in married quarters at Fort George, near Inverness. The only room available to them turned out to be a former barracks room big enough to hold 30 or more men.  Apparently it had been the Ordinance Room used for storing arms and other military equipment. 

Four children followed, born in Fort George, Dublin, and Tidworth Barracks, Salisbury.

By summer 1914 Donald had completed over 22 years of service in the army, witnessing conflicts in the Sudan War and Boer War and was promoted to  the rank of Regimental Sergeant Major.  His name was put forward to be a Colour-Sergeant and he joined the Liverpool Scottish Territorial Army in Liverpool, responsible for recruitment and training.  He and his comrades set sail for France  aboard the SS Maiden.

They marched through Flanders, in mud and rain to the trenches.   The order was 96 hours in the trenches and 96 hours out.  Many men disappeared in the mud and casualties were high. The Liverpool Scottish first saw action at the Battle of Hooge on the Somme and saw heavy casualties, with 21 officers out of 23  killed and 399 other men losing their lives.  In Donald's own words
"Our Medical Officer was the bravest man I knew.  He was missing for 2=3 days after the Hooge Battle and it was found that he had attended all the wounded in No Man's Land and had also dressed the wounds of Huns.  Later on he was badly hit and awarded the Victoria Cross for hi actions.    He refused to vacate the dressing station continuing to attend to the wounded. men, until another shell killed him."
 This man was Captain Noel Chevasse, the son of the Bishop of Liverpool. A biography of Captain Chevasse, by Anne Clayton  described the training of the Liverpool Scottish with a reference to Donald: 
 "Summer camp took place  involving two weeks under canvas.  There was pride and respect for their only VC holder, a veteran of the Boer War,  Sergeant Donald  Dickson Farmer. Still only 36,  Farmer was an uncle figure to the men in the battalion and soon became well known to Noel Chevasse. There was much mutual  like and  respect between the two brave men."
Donald continued to see service at the front   Due to a fault at the War Office,  he was thought to have been a casualty and missing presumed dead. much to the distress of his family until this news was retracted. Promotion followed and he  was then posted to Aldershot as Captain and Adjutant before returning to the trenches.  

In 1918  he took  command of a small Cadre Unit  to train American troops. They were all billeted in a chateau near Boulogne. " Life turned out to be interesting for all concerned" to quote one more of Donald’s comments. 

A 1918 Postcard of Brussels
At the end of the war, Donald and his lads were billeted on the outskirts of Brussels where Donald was then asked to go as 2nd in Command of the 111 Corps Concentration Camps. The accommodation was listed for 150 troops and a group of engineers. In a few days this increased to 800 with more arriving daily. By 1919 Donald was now Company Commandant and he arranged the dispatch of those for demobilization. He received the following message from Brigadier General Livesay, who was the Corps Commander.
 Lt-Col.D.D.Farmer, VC.


Before the 111 Corps Concentration Camp is broken up on the 17th inst. I wish to convey to you and to all ranks under your command, my appreciation of the services rendered to the Corps in the demobilisation of Personnel.

The improvisation of the Camp at short notice with the little labour and materials available, and the continual reception and despatch of 50,000 officers and men required not only very thorough and able organisation but also exceptionally hard work and goodwill from all ranks.

I am satisfied that all the arrangements for demobilization were carried out without a hitch and that everything possible was done to ensure the comfort of all ranks.

I congratulate you and your whole staff on the excellent result.

Signed: R.H.Livesay.

After the war, Donald was delighted to be invited to a special dinner for 400 holders of the Victoria Cross, given by the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII), in the House of Lords, the Prince being the very person who had presented him with his Victoria Cross in 1901.    Someone at the dinner started an autograph hunt, by putting the menu cards around the tables for the signatures of all the guests. Very soon there was a queue on either side of the Prince and it was obvious to Donald that the autograph-hunting could not carry on too long and hold up the proceedings.

Donald recalled later that,
“I was determined to get the Prince’s autograph on my menu card, so I decided to adopt novel tactics which I thought would appeal to the Prince’s sense of humour. I got down on all fours and crawled beneath the tables to where he was sitting. Suddenly I popped up at his side and confronted him with my card poked up in front of his nose from beneath his table. There were howls of laughter and the Prince himself was highly amused. My efforts did the trick, I got his autograph!”
Donald Dickson Farmer, V.C. 1877-1956. 
On the outbreak of World War Two,  Donald  served for a time in the Home Guard. until his retired.

Donald's dearest wish was fulfilled when he took part in the Victoria Cross Centenary Celebrations,   attended by the Queen. in Hyde Park on June 26th 1956.   He died six months later at the age of 79, having served his country in three wars  -  Sudan War, Boer War and First World War.
In a tribute, his granddaughter Rachel said:
"I am very proud to say that Lt. Col. Donald Dickson Farmer VC  was my grandfather and I remember him as being such a lovely man, a gentle man and a gentleman". 

As a postscript, Donald's  great grandson Matthew joined the army in 1992 almost a hundred years to the month that Donald joined the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders.

 With grateful thanks to Rachael for her contributions to this post. 

Military Monday is one of many daily blog prompts from
to encourage writers to record their family history.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Sepia Saturday - Hugs and Cuddles but No Kisses

Sepia Saturday give bloggers an opportunity to share their family history through photographs.

Not quite cuddles, kisses and lifts, as my family proved  to show  a restraining  side in front of the camera.  But still love and affection shine through the hugs and holding hands in these some of my favourite photographs.

The water is not as deep and the rocks not as high as in the prompt image, but here is  the earliest photograph I have of my parents together, taken by the river at Kirby Lonsdale in Cumbria where they got engaged in 1937.  My mother looks very elegant, but how on earth did she negotiate those stepping stones?   

 Much bigger rocks here plus some knee-hugging!   My father and mother (on the left) and I have no idea who the middle girl is. 

I was born during the Second World War and this is the earliest photograph I have of myself -with my father. Was this the first time he saw me? 

Another hug from Daddy in our back garden.  But what would the health pundits today have to say today about that cigarette near a child?  

A big hug from my father in 1965, just before I left to work for a year in the United States. 

Husband and I on honeymoon in the south of England and here at Stonehenge, so plenty of visitors around  to deter anything more than this arm in arm gesture 

Baby daughter having a lovely cuddle from Mummy - besides the river in Hawick in the Scottish Borders

Our young daughter took this photograph whilst we were out on a walk -  the nearest I have to  showing  a proper cuddle.  It was the 1970's as you can tell from the miniskirt and large collar. 

Daughter and granddaughter in one of those "snap of the moment" photographs which turned out to be a delight. 

Still arm in arm - husband and I 40 years on, celebrating out Ruby Wedding Anniversary by the Austrian Lakes.

Where would we be without the unstinting love and affection from our pets, always ready to greet us and cuddle in.

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Copyright © 2014 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved