Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Love, Death, War, and Disillusion

1914 was a bad year for everyone. It was a particularly bad year for my grandfather's family, as his mother died in April, at the age of 37, from too many children, too bad a husband, and too much poverty. The elder children tried to get into the armed forces as soon as war broke out, particularly the Navy, as being from Great Yarmouth in Norfolk and the Isle of Thanet in Kent, they thought of themselves as seafaring folk. Even Great-Uncle Alf tried to enlist, lying about his age, at 12. They turned him away.

But the eldest, Great-Uncle Harry, succeeded in joining the Royal Navy, and served, with intermittent leaves, for the duration of the war. In 1916, he married Dolly Scroggs. Her real name was Jenny, but it was the way in those days for the eldest or only girl in a family to be Dolly or Queenie or Missy. For my grandfather, then aged eight, and two years after his mother had died, this was deep betrayal, but he didn't blame Uncle Harry, he blamed Dolly Scroggs. Their family had fallen apart after their mother died, and for Grandad, his biggest brother was the Great White Hope. The evil stepmother, Emily, had moved in, and was doing her best to move all the children out - by about 1920, she had had her way, eight of the nine children gone, the exception being the baby, Great-Aunt Rose, who was only 6 months old when her mother died. She later ended up on the game.

Uncle Harry must have had more than one leave during his naval service, as he not only married, but followed it up by siring a daughter, Doris May, in 1918. He never saw her. Towards the end of the war, he went with the Navy to Australia, and died there in 1919 from the 'flu' that caused as much grief to the world as the war had, and is buried on Thursday Island, Queensland.

Dolly Scroggs and her daughter now set up home with Uncle Harry's next brother, Arthur, although it wasn't until Doris herself wanted to marry that Dolly entertained the idea of marrying Arthur, because with Doris married, she and her husband would want the room she'd shared all her life with her mother, so she'd have to share with Arthur, and that wouldn't do, unless they were married. Many years later, Arthur died, and the next brother but two, himself also a widower, saw quite a lot of Dolly. After Uncle Bill died, Grandad was convinced she was a pernicious minx, and that he and Uncle Alf, although married, would be next.

I rediscovered Doris, and she made friends with us in Sussex in the mid 1980s, bringing a family album half of whose characters she couldn't identify, and others, like her father, she'd never known. Not long afterwards, she made plans to move to Australia, where her daughter already lived, and looking into it, discovered that her father, before he died, had already signed up her mother and herself as Australian citizens.

Grandad went to his grave convinced his big brother, were it not for the evil Dolly Scroggs, and his early death, would have come back to save the family. The truth is, he was not planning to come back to all. He wanted a new life, on the other side of the world, with his wife and daughter, and none of the rest of them.

Cousin Doris eventually lived that life, and died in Perth, Western Australia, at the age of 93, shortly before Christmas 2011.

Sometimes the heroes are not quite who, or how, you expected them to be.

Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
August 2014

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