Posted in Aviation History, Film, History, Literature, Review, World War One

Featured Author: Kerrie Logan Hollihan – In The Field and The Trenches

Author Kerrie Logan Hollihan. ©Fred Logan
Author Kerrie Logan Hollihan. ©Fred Logan

I was delighted when Ohio-based author, Kerrie Hollihan, contacted me to ask if I would like to review her latest book, In The Fields and the Trenches: The Famous and The Forgotten on The Battlefields of World War One. Published last month by Chicago Review Press, In the Fields and the Trenches is Kerrie’s 6th YA non-fiction work for this excellent publishing house. I have previously reviewed several YA non-fiction books from Chicago Review Press, both by author Kathryn J. Atwood Women Heroes of World War 1 and Code Name Pauline.

Kerrie’s new book is a collection of 18 biographies of young men and women who bravely and selflessly decided, to ‘do their bit’ on the frontline in World War One. Several individuals, featured in In The Fields and the Trenches, went on after the war to become well-known in a variety of occupations from writer to president to film star (J. R. R. Tolkien; Ernest Hemingway; Harry Truman and Buster Keaton). Others were from high-profile families such as The Young Roosevelts or Irène Curie, daughter of Marie and Pierre Curie.

Book Cover

In the Fields and the Trenches is divided into 12 chapters, each short biography is clearly written and very well-researched:

  • The Cowboy: Fred Libby (American);
  • The Daughter: Irène Curie (French);
  • The Wordsmith: J. R. R. Tolkien (South African);
  • The Student: Walter Koessler (German);
  • The Aviatrix: Katherine Stinson (American)*;
  • The Family: The Young Roosevelts (American);
  • The Red Cap: Henry Lincoln Johnson (American);
  • The Pitcher: Christy Mathewson (American);
  • The Showgirl: Elsie Janis (American)*;
  • The Kid: Ernest Hemingway (American);
  • The Captain: Harry Truman (American);
  • The Comedian: Buster Keaton (American).

*Biographies feature later in this article.

Walter Koessler (1891-1966). A German architectural student who was called-up to fight for his country in World War One. Walter served in the German Officer Corps. He brought along his camera to capture many aspects of a soldier’s life on the frontline as well as in the trenches. After the war, he arranged all his photographs in an album ‘Walter Koessler 1914-1918’. This photograph was taken during Walter’s first months as a German Officer. He is pictured here with his motorbike. ©Dean Putney.

Although In The Field and the Trenches is aimed at the YA market, I highly recommend it to anyone interested in reading a fresh perspective on World War One. Hidden histories of extraordinary young people many of whose stories may have been forgotten forever if it wasn’t for writers like Kerrie. The book also includes a very helpful World War One Timeline to contextualize some of the events featured in the biographies.

I notice Kerrie dedicated this book to her grandfather, the inscription reads: ‘Frederick Urban Logan – US Army soldier and bugler in France 1918-19’. World War One is obviously a period in history that has a particularly strong personal connection to Kerrie.

One of Walter Koessler’s photographs. Soldiers washing and doing their laundry in livestock troughs during World War One. ©Dean Putney.

Kerrie writes the mini-bios with skill and clarity, managing to avoid the usual fax-pas of sentimentalizing content. In my view, a common error some authors make when writing historical non-fiction for a YA audience. I have always said, never underestimate the young, they know more than we sometimes give them credit for! Just stick to the facts, young active minds will be able to bring the stories to life for themselves. In her ‘Preface’, Kerrie writes:

Wars are fought by young people, and young people fighting wars make history – in ways great and small…They fought in battles, flew warplanes, killed the enemy, nursed the wounded, and fell in love. One died in combat. The rest came home, their lives forever changed.

Some of them had famous names, but most did not. Some had distinguished themselves in battle and returned as war heroes, while others would reach their prime as writers, businesspeople, scientists, and film stars. One became president of the United States. Another died penniless, estranged from his family.

These men and women lived a century ago. They felt altogether modern, and indeed, for the time they lived, they were. They encountered heroes, cowards, comics, and villains. They learned about human nature – power, greed, death, love, hate, courage, and fear. Like women and men of any age, they came away from a devastating experience with mixed feelings of despair, joy, hatred, loss, and hope. Their stories plainly show how they shared with us the tough journey that we call life.

(In The Field and the Trenches: The Famous and The Forgotten on The Battlefields of World War One by Kerrie Logan Hollihan, Chicago Review Press, 2016.Preface: pp. xv-xvi)

Photograph of the trenches in Winter by Walter Koessler. ©Dean Putney.

I have chosen 2 of my favourite biographies, from In The Field and the Trenches, to share with you here. The Aviatrix – Katherine Stinson and The Showgirl – Elsie Janis.

Katherine Stinson (1891-1977)

In Spring 1912, she became only the 4th American woman to earn a pilot’s license. Early in her flying career she made good money ($1,000 to $2,000 per week) performing acrobatic flying displays using her fabric-winged biplane. An extremely dangerous way for anyone to earn a living let alone a 5ft 5, young woman weighing only 100lbs! She took great pride and care maintaining her own plane and hired only the best mechanicians (known nowadays as mechanics).

When World War One started, she wanted to work as a pilot for the American Expeditionary Force (AEF). She applied twice and was turned-down on both occasions. In 1916, she decided to take her biplane on an ocean liner and sail to Asia performing display shows. In 1918, she went to work for the US Post Office as a pilot. In May, 1918 she flew to raise money to pay for Liberty Bonds to help with the overseas war effort:

The army might have forbidden her to fly in France, but the US government knew that a flying schoolgirl could appeal to Americans’ hearts and open their pocketbooks. Put to work as an airborne publicity stunt, Katherine flew from town to town on a campaign to sell Liberty Bonds to help pay for the war. She also raised $2 million for the American Red Cross, and she ended that fundraising journey by landing on a white cross in front of the Washington Monument.

(Ibid. p.58)

In July, 1918, she piloted the 1st airmail flight in western Canada, from Calgary to Edmonton. However, she still wanted to ‘do her bit’ in France. If she wasn’t allowed to be a pilot, then she would offer her services as an ambulance driver for the Red Cross. She joined the ambulance corps in August, 1918 and was soon sent to France.

After the war, she got permission to work as a pilot and fly mail between Paris and General Pershing’s army headquarters. Unfortunately at that time, the Spanish Flu pandemic was sweeping across Europe and North America. She succumbed to the virus and ended-up in a Paris Hospital. As it turned out, during the war she had, unbeknown to her, also contracted tuberculosis and her health was now ailing. She spent years convalescing.

Whilst in a sanatorium in Santa Fe, New Mexico, she met Miguel Antonio Otero Jr, who had been a pilot in World War One. They married in 1927. She went on to become an architect.

5-2 EA-10-3181-4
Poster celebrating Katherine Stinson’s success in flying the 1st sack of Airmail in Western Canada in 1918. ©City of Edmonton Archives (Alberta, Canada)

Elsie Janis (1889-1956)

She first set foot on stage when at just 2 and 1/2, dancing in church socials. A child star from the get-go, she could sing, dance and act. Her mother, Janice Bierbower, was a typical stage mum who managed her daughter’s career, travelling everywhere with her. A professional stage career took her all the way from Broadway to Europe and back again.

In 1917, aged 28, she was in London with her mother, their maid and her Pekingese, Mousme. Despite not having permission from the US government to visit Europe, she decided to make the journey anyway. Afterall, she was a big star and surely no-one would refuse her entry?

She travelled with her mother to Bordeaux, France, arriving without official approval but helped by the YMCA. She immediately began rehearsing with a pianist and gave concerts to the troops. She became the sweetheart of the AEF. Kerrie writes:

Elsie was a trooper and performed up to nine shows in one day. She entertained on makeshift stages and tabletops, and she felt just as comfortable taking her show into hospital wards. She always opened her act with that same question, “Are we downhearted?” Bold, brash, and talented, she sang, danced, did a few imitations, and cracked jokes for the troops.

(Ibid. p.115)

Not everything went well whilst they were in France. She refused to wear a uniform and one occasion in Provins, on her way to entertain 2,000 US troops at Chaumont, both her and her mother were arrested on suspicion of spying. This incident could have been avoided had she worn military attire. French officials examined the pair’s paperwork and after much fuss, eventually allowed them both to proceed.

Being in France must have been heart-breaking for her. In 1916, her British boyfriend, actor and singer, Basil Hallam Radford (b.1889) had been killed during the Battle of the Somme. He was a member of the Royal Flying Corps.

After World War One, she continued her career on stage and the silver screen, Women in War (1940) was her last film. When her mother died she married Gilbert Wilson, moving to Hollywood in 1936. For her contribution to the motion picture industry, she has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Elsie Janis and 'her boys', dressed as World War One veterans from the US, Britain and France. In 1920, Elsie reprised her wartime experiences in a show. Image courtesy of Kerrie Hollihan. Author's own collection.
Elsie Janis and ‘her boys’, dressed as World War One veterans from the US, Britain and France. In 1920, Elsie reprised her wartime experiences in a show. Image courtesy of Kerrie Hollihan. Author’s own collection.

There are many ways to connect with Kerrie and her writing:

  • Follow Kerrie on Twitter (@Kerriehollihan);
  • Visit Kerrie’s website;
  • Visit ‘Hands on Books’ blog. Kerrie, together with fellow authors Brandon Marie Miller and Mary Kay Carson. Between them, these 3 have over 50 published books to their names. Their blog features the ‘world of nature, and history’s makers and shakers’ and ‘share insights and stories about writing non-fiction for young people’.;

Copies of In The Fields and the Trenches as well as any of Kerrie’s other publications, can be purchased:



Posted in Decorative Arts, History, Maritime History, World War One

Mary Ann Rogers – A True Victorian Heroine: The Stella Memorial, Southampton, Hampshire

  • Short film I made with That’s Solent TV.  The SS Stella Memorial, Southampton. Film by Shan Robins (Twitter: @ShanTwoots ). Uploaded to You Tube 5.2.2016.

A few weeks ago, I made a short film with That’s Solent TV ‘s senior broadcaster, Shan Robins (see above). Shan and I made our film on a day with practically hurricane force winds! The microphone struggled a little bit, but nonetheless, hope you enjoy.

Shan Robins filming at the Stella Memorial, Southampton. ©Come Step Back In Time
Shan Robins filming at the Stella memorial, Southampton. ©Come Step Back In Time

 SS Stella: Stewardess Mary Ann Rogers

The Stella Memorial (previously known as The Rogers Memorial and before that The Stella Stewardess Memorial Fountain) is located on the Western Esplanade in Southampton. The monument has intrigued me for a long time, having passed it numerous times on foot whilst en-route to the city’s heritage quarter. The memorial is dedicated to Southampton stewardess, Mary Ann Rogers (nee Foxwell) (1855-1899), who lived in Southampton and drowned when the SS Stella sank in March 1899.

Mary’s backstory is heart-breaking. Born in Frome, Somerset on 14th February, 1855. She had 6 siblings, 2 of which were born after the family moved to 19 Weston Shore Road, Southampton shortly before 1865. In 1871, aged 17, Mary moved out of home and went to work as a general servant for Charles Trubbett and his family. Mary didn’t go far, the Trubbett family lived next door at 17 Weston Shore Road.

On 20th March, 1876, Mary married Richard Rogers (c.1852-1880) at the Independent chapel, Northam, Southampton. The couple had 2 children, Mary Ellen (b.1878) and Frederick Richard (b.1881). The Rogers’ marital home was located in Chantry Road, Southampton. Richard, a seaman, worked for London and South Western Railway (LSWR). On 21st October, 1880, 4 years into their marriage, Mary 6 months pregnant with their 2nd child,  Richard drowned at sea. He was swept overboard on the SS Honfleur whilst working as a second mate.

His death was in an era long before the Health and Safety Executive, ambulance chasing lawyers and large compensation claims being brought by family members against negligent employers. Instead, in 1899, it was normal practice for railway companies to offer employment to the immediate family of deceased employees. A job would be offered to either the surviving spouse or eldest child in the family. The latter in this instance was, of course, not an option.

This precedent negated the company’s responsibility to have to pay either compensation or provide a livable pension to the family. In other words, pay money out with no return for an indefinite period of time. There was considerable pressure to accept employment. With a toddler already and another baby on the way, Mary had no option but to accept a job with LSWR.

Almost immediately after the birth of her son in January 1881, Mary began work as a stewardess for LSWR. Her earnings were 15 shillings a week plus any tips received from passengers. For a woman in her circumstances, this was a decent, stable income and in modern terms, a job with prospects. It also kept her family out of the workhouse.

Mary’s parents, James (d.1899) and Sophia (d. 1894) Foxwell, looked after their 2 grandchildren in their home at 22 Albert Street, Southampton while Mary spent long periods of time away at sea. The family eventually moved into 45 Clovelly Road, Southampton and named their home Frome Cottage, a nod to their Somerset roots.

At first, Mary suffered from severe seasickness but after 5 years began to find her ‘sea legs’ and did well in the role. She was popular with passengers and known for her cheery and caring disposition.  Dr John Price explains the role of a steamship stewardess:

…. was in essence that of a lady’s maid or nursery nurse and many of the duties were essentially domestic in nature, such as attending to the needs of ladies in their bedrooms or in the female lounge, and washing and tending to the children.

As one contemporary examination of the role of a stewardess reported, ‘by far the most appreciable services they render is in attending upon and administering to the wants of lady passengers during sea sickness and other illnesses on board.’

Now, though, as the Stella pitched and rolled, throwing its passengers around like skittles, the stewardesses were wholly responsible for the lives of the women and children, rather than simply for their domestic requirements.

(Heroes of Postman’s Park: Heroic Self-Sacrifice in Victorian London by Dr John Price, The History Press, 2015, pp.133-34)

The Stella Memorial, Western Esplanade, Southampton, 2015. ©Come Step Back In Time
The Stella memorial, Western Esplanade, Southampton, 2015. ©Come Step Back In Time

The SS Stella

The SS Stella was one of 3 sister ships built for LSWR at a cost of £62,000 (nearly £4 million in today’s money). Completed in October 1890, she had a top speed of 19 knots and was licensed to carry 712 passengers. Fitted-out with all mod-cons, electric lighting and 1st class cabins had en-suite toilets. There was even a Ladies’ Saloon and a Smoking Room for gentlemen. The Stella serviced the popular Southampton to Guernsey and Jersey route.

By 1899, Mary had become a senior stewardess. Accompanying Mary on that fateful Maundy Thursday in 1899, was Ada Preston. It was to be Ada’s 1st day at sea working as an under-stewardess on the Stella.  Ada had known Mary since the early 1890s when she lived at 74 Derby Road, just a few streets away from Mary’s home in Clovelly Road. Ada subsequently moved to 37 Radcliffe Road but they kept in touch. Dr John Price comments:

In fact, it is likely that the two women walked together to the quay in Southampton on the morning of 30 March 1899; the same quay where, the following day, relatives of those on board the Stella gathered anxiously to wait for news of their loved ones.

(Ibid. p.135)

Ada’s father had worked for London South-Western Railway but an accident had recently left him paralysed so, like Mary, she went to work for LSWR in order to support her family. Incidentally, SS Stella’s captain, William Reeks, also lived in the next road to Mary, Oxford Avenue.

The Sinking of the SS Stella

At 11.25am on the 30th March, 1899, the SS Stella left its Southampton berth, 10 minutes late. She was on her first daylight service of the season and a special Easter voyage. There were 174 passengers and 43 crew on board. The liner left Southampton in clear weather but several hours later, at 3pm, she hit a bank of patchy, heavy fog.  (Source: The Wreck of The Stella: Titanic of The Channel Islands)

Captain Reeks continued at high-speed, reportedly refusing to reduce his speed which also resulted in a miscalculation of his ship’s position. This decision would seal the SS Stella’s fate. At 3.30pm, the SS Stella, sounded its fog whistle and Captain Reeks set a look-out in the bows to listen for the Casquets’ foghorn. (Source: The Wreck of The Stella: Titanic of The Channel Islands)

At 4pm, the foghorn sounds and Reeks orders full speed Astern. He spins the wheel hard to Starboard and scrapes the Stella’s port side. Shortly after 4pm, the ship strikes Black Rock, one of the notorious Casquets group, 8 miles west of Alderney. The engines are torn from their mountings and water pours in along half her length. At 4.08pm, she vanishes beneath the surface. (Source: The Wreck of The Stella: Titanic of The Channel Islands)

The Stella was fitted with 2 lifeboats, 2 cutters, a dinghy and 2 Berthon collapsible boats. There were life jackets for 754 people and 36 life buoys. However, the lifeboats could only carry 148 passengers. There was not enough time to lower the 2 Berthon boats.

Five lifeboats were launched at rapid speed. One boat drifted until the Vera found it at 7am on Good Friday. Another boat drifted for 23 hours and was rescued off Cherbourg. The  port side lifeboat capsized after launching, stranding its passengers. It drifted for several hours then was righted by a high wave. The survivors managed to pull themselves in.

Unfortunately, they could not find the boat’s bung and the vessel filled, almost to its top, with seawater. The airtanks were the only reason the lifeboat managed to remain afloat. Survivors had to continually bail out the waist-height water with their hats and shoes. Four people died in this lifeboat, including its only woman survivor. The others were rescued by a French tug, Marsouin, at 3pm on Good Friday. One of the Marsouin’s crew straightaway located the bung on a chain!

The starboard cutter and dinghy, commanded by Second Officer Reynolds, contained mainly female passengers. These boats drifted for 15 hours in dense fog and rough seas until they were found 10 miles west of the Casquets at 7am on Good Friday.  (Source: S.S. Stella Disaster by Jake Simpkin)

Mary is said to have refused a lifeboat and insisted on staying with the ship. She declined a place in one of the lifeboats because she had just witnessed the port side vessel capsize and feared an extra person would determine the fate of the boat she had been invited to join.  Her heroic actions were reported in the Jersey Times (15th April, 1899):

Mrs Rogers, with great presence of mind and calmness, got all the ladies from her cabin to the side of the ship and after placing life belts on as many as were without them, she assisted them into the small boats. Then, turning around, she saw yet another young lady without a belt, whereupon she insisted on placing her own belt upon her and led her to the fast-filling boat. The sailors called out, ‘jump in, Mrs Rogers, jump in’, the water being then but a few inches from the top of the boat. ‘No, no!’ she replied; ‘if I get in I will sink the boat. Good-bye, Good-bye’ and then with uplifted hands she said, ‘Lord, save me’ and immediately the ship sank beneath her feet.’

(Heroes of Postman’s Park: Heroic Self-Sacrifice in Victorian London by Dr John Price, The History Press, 2015, p.136)

Unfortunately, detailed passenger lists are not available, these went down with the Stella. Many of the bodies were never recovered, including that of Mary and Ada. Captain Reeks also went down with his ship. Out of the 217 passengers and crew on board the SS Stella that day, 112 survived and 105 drowned. A total of 86 passengers and 19 crew members perished. Queen Victoria (1819-1901) sent a message of sympathy to the bereaved families via the LSWR offices.

Witnesses observed that the sea surrounding the wreck was littered with life belts, timber, luggage, personal effects and a furniture van. Some of the bodies were located in unusual places because of tidal flows. One was found in the mouth of the River Seine and the final corpse washed-up on a Guernsey beach 9 months after the sinking.  Many of the corpses were found floating still in their life belts leading to the conclusion that death had been caused by exposure rather than drowning.

The Board of Trade enquiry began on 27th April, 1899 at the Guildhall, Westminster. Its conclusion, ‘the SS Stella was not navigated with proper and seamanlike care.’ The wreck of Stella was discovered in June, 1973, by two Channel Islands divers. It lies in 49 metres (161 ft) of water south of the Casquets. The tragedy is sometimes referred to as ‘The Titanic of The Channel Islands’.

Me at the Stella Memorial, Southampton, 2015. ©Come Step Back In Time
Me at the Stella memorial, Southampton, 2015. ©Come Step Back In Time

The Glover Family

Many tragic stories emerged following the sinking of the SS Stella. One of the saddest is the fate of the Glover children.  Seaman Thomas Glover drowned in the tragedy, he left behind a 2nd wife and 5 children from his previous marriage.

Thomas Glover’s 1st wife, Rosina Bella Glover, (nee Rickman) was born in Southampton, 1866. In July 1897, Rosina was run down by a Misselbrooke & Weston horse and cart in Shirley High Street, Southampton. Misselbrooke and Weston were an established local, family-run grocery business which had opened in 1848. The business was eventually sold to Tesco.

Shortly after his wife’s death, Thomas took his family to live in Jersey where he met his 2nd wife (name unknown).  Following Thomas’ death on the Stella, his 2nd wife did not wish to bring-up his 5 children. Consequently, on 10th June, 1899, she deposited them at Southampton Workhouse.  The siblings were split-up never to see each other again. The fate of the Glover children was as follows:

  • Laura Mary Glover (1887-1899). Died of tuberculosis in a Dorset nursing home and is buried with her mother in Southampton’s Old Cemetery;
  • Thomas Richard Glover (b.1889).  Sent to LSWR Servant’s Orphanage, Clapham, London in June, 1899. Thomas returned to Southampton to work in his Uncle George Samuel Payne’s butcher shop (102, 150 and 168 Northam Road as well as 95 Derby Road). He joined the Royal Navy and was sent to a shore base in 1911. Incidentally, George Samuel Payne became one of the 1st directors of Southampton Football & Athletic Company Ltd (8.7.1897) which then became known as Southampton Football Club;
  • William George Glover (b. 1892) remained in the Workhouse until 1901 and then also went to work for his Uncle George before joining the Hampshire Regiment;
  • Frederick Glover (baptised January 1894). Sent to Lady Breadalbane’s Home, also known as The Kenmore Orphanage, in Perthshire, Scotland. This was a small private establishment run by Lady Breadalbane herself. In 1912, a number of orphans created when the SS Titanic sank were also sent there too;
  • Elsie Lilian Glover (b.1896). Fate unknown following her admission to the Workhouse.

SS Stella Memorial

The memorial was unveiled on Southampton’s Western Esplanade by Lady Emma Crichton (daughter of the Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire) during the morning of Saturday 27th July, 1901. Present also at the unveiling were Mary’s sister, son and son-in-law.

The Stella Memorial, Southampton. Once a drinking foundation but it has long since ceased to function as one. ©Come Step Back In Time
The Stella memorial, Southampton. Once a drinking fountain but it has long since ceased to function as one. ©Come Step Back In Time

Artist Herbert Bryan’s original suite of designs, submitted to Southampton Borough Council and Estates Committee, included a drawing of a memorial seat. The Committee rejected the proposed seat in favour of a more appropriate and practical drinking fountain. However, the memorial has long since ceased to function as a drinking fountain and 3 bronze masks (grotesques) from whose mouths water flowed have now been removed. (Source: Southampton Memorials of Care For Man and Beast by A.G. K. Leonard, published by Bitterne Local History Society: Southampton, p.46).

Close-up of stone-carved roses on the Stella Memorial. ©Come Step Back In Time
Close-up of stone-carved roses on the Stella memorial. ©Come Step Back In Time

The memorial is carved in Portland stone topped by a stepped canopy, with a ball finial. There are 6 outer columns and on the cornice blocks beneath the roof, 32 roses were carved in the 13th century fashion, echoing the roses in the Southampton coat of arms.  (Source: Ibid. p.46)

The memorial was paid for by public subscription. The sum of £570  15 shillings 8d (approximately £35,000 in today’s money) was raised from 519 subscribers. Amongst the subscribers were Emily Davies (1830-1921) and Dr Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1836-1917).  Emily was a prominent feminist, educational reformer and suffragist born in Carlton Crescent, Southampton. Elizabeth was an English physician and feminist, the 1st Englishwoman to qualify as a physician and surgeon in Britain.

After the memorial costs had been covered, £50 was paid to Mary’s daughter as a wedding gift. Her son received £200 to be paid at intervals until his shipwright apprenticeship finished. A sum was also allocated to pay for Mary’s father’s funeral costs, he had died shortly after the Stella disaster.

There were 4 key individuals behind the memorial’s creation:

  • Mrs Annie J. Bryans (1857-?). Wealthy lady who resided at Woollet Hall (now Loring Hall), North Cray, Kent. Annie wrote to the Editor of The Times (23.6.1899) to generate support for a memorial to  honour Mary’s heroic actions. She wrote: ‘Her beautiful deed shines out with a lustre which makes it not irreverent to say, “This that this woman hath done shall be told for a memorial of her.”‘ Annie made 4 voyages on the Stella and had been impressed with Mary’s good humour. Apparently, Mary had confided in Annie about her story of widowhood, struggle to be the sole support of her ageing parents and problems raising her 2 young children being away at sea so much. Mary had also told Annie she was intending to leave her seafaring life very soon. At the time of the Stella tragedy, Mary’s daughter, Mary Ellen (20) was to be married. Mary planned to live with her daughter and new husband, at the end of 1899. Annie also wrote a booklet about the Stella disaster, published by John Adams, a Southampton bookseller. Her booklet included the poem ‘The Wreck of the Stella’ written by the Poet Laureate, Alfred Austin (1835-1913). The booklet was handed out to VIPs and general public who attended the unveiling ceremony in 1901;
  • Herbert William Bryans (1856-1925), Annie’s husband and well-respected stained glass artist. Herbert designed the memorial with input from his wife, Frances Cobbe and artist G.F. Watts.

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  • Irish philanthropist and religious writer Frances Power Cobbe. 1860.
  • Miss Frances Power Cobbe (1822-1904). Frances was a well-known Victorian feminist pioneer and religious writer. Active in Bristol as a philanthropist, working in ragged schools, reformatories and workhouses before moving to London where she became a journalist. She focused upon promoting women’s interests and rights in wider contexts. She was one of the first members of the central committee of the National Society of Women’s Suffrage, established in 1871. Frances was a driving force behind the Stella memorial. (Source: Southampton Memorials of Care For Man and Beast by A.G. K. Leonard, published by Bitterne Local History Society: Southampton, p.44). Writing to The Times with G.F. Watts in 1899 (23rd June), she made a plea that a separate fund than that relating to the memorial be set-up for survivors and their families: ‘I have a great desire that our heroine’s death, as well as her life, should practically help others, and that through her, as it were, many sufferers from the Stella disaster may be benefited.’ She also wrote a lengthy tribute to Mary which was engraved on a bronze plaque fixed to the central pillar of the memorial. The tribute reads:

In memory of the heroic death of Mary Ann [e] Rogers Stewardess of the “Stella” who on the night of the 30th March, 1899, amid the terror of shipwreck aided all the women under her charge to quit the vessel in safety giving up her own life-belt to one who was unprotected. Urged by the sailors to makes sure her escape she refused lest she might endanger the heavily-laden boat. Cheering the departing crew with the friendly cry of “Good-bye, good-bye.” She was seen a few moments later as the “Stella” went down lifting her arms upwards with the prayer “Lord have me” then sank in the waters with the sinking ship.

Actions such as these – revealing steadfast performance of duty in the face of death, ready self-sacrifice for the sake of others, reliance on God – constitute the glorious heritage of our English race. They deserve perpetual commemoration, because among the trivial pleasures and sordid strike of the world, they recall to us forever the nobility and love-worthiness of human nature.

Bronze plaque with inscription by Frances Cobbe. Stella Memorial. ©Come Step Back In Time
Bronze plaque with inscription by Frances Cobbe. Stella memorial. ©Come Step Back In Time

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  • Platinum print photograph (1892) by Frederick Hollyer (1837-1933) of British artist George Frederic Watts. Known as ‘England’s Michelangelo’, Watts was one of the most important painters of the late Victorian period.
  • George Frederic Watts RA (1817-1904) advised Annie, Herbert, Frances and their group on the design of the memorial. Local newspapers reported that the designer, Herbert: ‘acted under the advice of Miss Cobbe and G. F. Watts, R.A.’ but it is uncertain how much the latter, then nearing the end of his distinguished artistic career, contributed to the actual design of the memorial.’ (Source: Southampton Memorials of Care For Man and Beast by A.G. K. Leonard, published by Bitterne Local History Society: Southampton, p.46).
Postcard, issued in 1903, showing the Memorial on Western Esplanade, Southampton. Postcards of local views and landmarks of Southampton were popular at the time. This postcard was photographed by Whitfield Cosser of Hanover Buildings, Southampton and was a particular popular one.
Postcard, issued in 1903, showing the memorial on Western Esplanade, Southampton. There were many postcards of local views and landmarks of Southampton in circulation at this time. This postcard was a particularly popular image which was photographed by Whitfield Cosser of Hanover Buildings, Southampton. The cannons shown here, British nine-pounders, were spoils of war from the Crimean campaign (1853-56) and were smelted down during World War Two.



Posted in History, World War One, World War Two

Featured Author: John Broom – Voices Of Faith From The First World War

Author John Broom. ©Dawn Broom
Author John Broom. ©Dawn Broom

I met author and academic, John Broom, in 2014, when our paths crossed in the history blogosphere. John had just launched  Faith In Wartime and we exchanged ideas on getting started with blogging. He is now an established history blogger. Faith In Wartime has gone from strength-to-strength with a fast-growing readership.

John graduated in History from the University of Sheffield in 1991 and has pursued a career in teaching, firstly in History, and latterly as a Specialist Teacher in Autism. In 2006, the inheritance of a collection of papers and memorabilia, written between 1940 and 1946 by his late father who served in the Desert Rats, sparked in John, a passion to discover the links between twentieth-century warfare and religion.

After completing an MA in Local and Regional History with the Open University, John decided to study for a PhD at the University of Durham.  He has also conducted research on behalf of the Bible Society for their First World War website.  John’s PhD research explores connections between the Second World War and Christian culture in Britain. He plans to complete his PhD in 2017.


In 2015, Pen & Sword Military published John’s first book, Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the First World War (ISBN: 9781473854154 – Price: £19.99 / $39.95). When John approached me to ask whether I would like a copy to review, of course I was delighted to accept.

Fight the Good Fight is a fascinating read and very well-written indeed. The book is a detailed study of a usually hidden aspect of wartime social history, the topic of Christian faith.  Fight the Good Fight has been meticulously researched and includes a wealth of previously unpublished material.

There is a forward by Dan Jarvis OBE MP, Labour Spokesman of First World War Commemoration:

I am pleased to commend this book of case studies of Christians from all walk of life, of many different denominations and displaying a wide spectrum of political views. It includes accounts from the Western Front, the home front and from the prisons of Britain that held conscientious objectors and those on the Continent that held prisoners of war and spies.

These stories help us to understand better an aspect of the rationale behind the response of so many to the challenge of global warfare, and further increase our admiration for the depth of belief and of personal character that so many were called to show.

(Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the First World War by John Broom, 2015, pp. x-xi)

Fight the Good Fight demonstrates the variety of ways in which people of different denominations; Anglican, Catholic and Nonconformists, interpreted the war as combatants, civilians, chaplains and conscientious objectors. The book will interest anyone who is fascinated by the social history of World War One, regardless of their religious persuasion.

Whilst a toxic mixture of nationalism and militarism tore Europe and the wider world apart from 1914 to 1919, there was one factor that united millions of people across all nations: that of a Christian faith. People interpreted this faith in many different ways.  Soldiers marched off to war with ringing endorsements from bishops that they were fighting a Godly crusade, others preached in churches and tribunals hearing that war was fundamentally against the teachings of Christ.

Esslemont Adams. Image courtesy of University of Leeds Special Collections.
John Esslemont Adams (1965-1935) was an Army Chaplain who served on the Western Front in World War One.  Image courtesy of University of Leeds Special Collections.

Whether, Church of England or Nonconformist, Catholic or Presbyterian, German Lutheran or the American Church of Christ in Christian Union, men and women across the globe conceptualised their war through the prism of their belief in a Christian God.

Fight The Good Fight brings together individual and family case studies, some of well-known personalities, others whose story has become neglected through the decades. Although divided by nation, social class, political outlook and denomination, they were united in their desire to Fight the Good Fight.

Chavasse Memorial
The Liverpool VC Memorial, depicting Noel Chavasse and a stretcher bearer attending a wounded soldier. The statue was unveiled in 2008 and is now permanently located in Abercomby Square at the University of Liverpool. ©Dawn Broom 2015

Fight The Good Fight is divided into 6 sections containing 21 biographies and 2 case-studies:

  • Christian Britain in 1914 (John Reith, David Jones, J.V. Salisbury, Joseph Garvey, Lewis Valentine and Philip Bryant);
  • Three Chaplains and an Army Scripture Reader (Father Francis Gleeson, John Esslemont Adams, Russell Barry and Harry Wisbey);
  • Women in War (Lilian Hayman, Maude Royden, The Hon. Mrs Edith Lyttleton Gell and Edith Cavell);
  • Christians from Other Nations (Louise Thuliez, Martin Niemöller, Pastor Pieter-Jozef Dergent and Alvin York);
  • Conscientious Objection in the First World War (Francis Meynell, Howard Marten, Laurence Cadbury and Corder Catchpool);
  • Families in War (The Chavasse Family and The Brocklesby Family).

I have selected the biographies of Lilian Hayman and Pastor Pieter-Jozef ‘Jef’ Dergent to share with you in this article. I found their stories particularly interesting, moving and harrowing in equal measure. It also transpired that their stories were interconnected (although Lilian and Jef never met!). Both were united by the strength of their own faith and sense of religious duty, heightened by a backdrop of global conflict.

Lillian Hayman. Image courtesy of Norman Ching.
Lilian Hayman. Image courtesy of Norman Ching.

Lilian Hayman (1865-1944)

Lilian Hayman’s story appears in the ‘Women in War’ section.  Lilian was a Bristol-born surgeon’s wife who ran a boys’ Bible class in Brighton and then from her home in Bournemouth, Dorset (from about1912). In the Imperial War Museum’s Department of Documents there are more than 100 letters written to Lilian by some of her ex-pupils who were now serving in the armed forces.

Lilian wrote regularly to the young men who had attended her Bible study classes and often sent them parcels containing home comforts.  Lilian even sent one pupil (Tony Hewitt) a game of snakes and ladders. Another former pupil, Philip T. Bryant, had a particularly close bond with Lilian. Philip served on HMS Queen Elizabeth and according to John Broom:

His letters to her [Lilian] show a continuing devotion, describing himself as ‘your sincere young friend’. He wrote, ‘Forgive me if I chatter too much but I forgot myself in talking to you as you understand so much.’ He received letters from his mother and Mrs Hayman only, and emphasised the latter’s importance in his life: ‘I will always bless you for the way you have helped me to keep on the very Narrow Path we have to tread.’

(Fight The Good Fight by John Broom, 2015, p.90)

Lilian continued to teach her Bible classes until her death in 1944, aged 80.

Pastor Dergent. John Broom's own collection.
Pastor Pieter-Jozef ‘Jef’ Dergent. John Broom’s own collection.

Pastor Pieter-Jozef ‘Jef’ Dergent (1870-1914)

Pieter-Jozef ‘Jef’ Dergent’s biography appears in the section, ‘Christians From Other Nations’. He was a rural Catholic priest from the Leuven region of Belgium. Born in Geel, 1870 and consecrated as a priest in August 1893. Before the outbreak of World War One, he was working at Gelrode, near the town of Aarschot. John Broom describes this period in Jef’s life:

He was considered by his parishioners as a man of the people, who took care of children and the infirm. He set-up a Gregorian singing choir and was holding harvest time rehearsals in the church.

(Ibid. p.137)

When German troops invaded Aarschot on 19th August, 1914 there followed immediately a series of brutal attacks on local civilians. On the Leuven-Aarschot road, 75 were shot dead and another 29 were killed in the town including the mayor. Gelrode was also occupied on the same day and Jef’s church was used as a prison. John explains:

Priests were considered by the Germans to be dangerous partisans, capable of inspiring resistance from the Belgian people. Four priests hid in a well for 3 days and then left Aarschot in disguise on the night of 23 August. The dean of the town was held prisoner as a partisan.

(Ibid. p.137)

When the Germans searched Jef’s house, old gun cartridges had been found in a storage room. Jef was kept under arrest in a room in his house and then released on 20 August. However, he was now under suspicion of subversion.

(Ibid. p.138)

Following his release, Jef made the courageous decision to take 3 wounded men, by cart, to Aarschot where the Damien Institute, former home to the Fathers of the Sacred Hearts, had been converted into a Red Cross field hospital.  Jef and his driver set-out at 8am on 26th August,  safely depositing their wounded at the hospital later that morning. One of the fathers asked Jef to stay but he refused, wishing to return instead to his parishioners in Gelrode. A decision that would place his life in grave danger.

Whilst crossing the Market Square in Aarschot, Jef and his driver were arrested. Both were imprisoned in City Hall until 5pm the next day.  Afterwards, Jef was kept outside the town’s church where inside, there were 3,000 prisoners. Jef was subjected to violent physical attacks by the Germans as they tried to get him to renounce his faith. He was stoned, beaten, bound and prisoners were encouraged to urinate on him.

Jef was then moved to a nearby house, Blykershuis, 200 yards from the church. Behind the property, he was killed with 2 rifle shots and thrown into the river Denier. His naked body was found two days later by Red Cross volunteers, 5 kilometres from Aarschot. Identification had only been possible because of a watch discovered inside his tunic that was discovered floating near the body.

The British and American press widely reported Jef’s murder. His death and the circumstances that led to it, saw him elevated to the status of martyr. The exact cause of Jef’s death was not confirmed until1948 when his body was exhumed in order to carry-out forensic tests. It was revealed that he had indeed been shot twice, in the head and through his vertebra. Following a special ceremony in Gelrode churchyard on 4th September, 1949, Jef was reinterred.

Lilian Hayman used Jef’s example of self-sacrifice and unwaivering commitment to his faith as a lesson to her boys’ Bible class in Bournemouth on 28th January, 1915. Lilian compared his betrayal with that of Jesus by Judas Iscariot. (Ibid p.140).

  • Fight The Good Fight can be ordered online from the publishers, Pen and Sword. Click here;
  • Fight The Good Fight can also be brought directly from John Broom, personally inscribed and signed. Contact John via e-mail:;
  • John’s 2nd book, Fight The Good Fight: Voices of Faith From The Second World War, will be published by Pen and Sword on 30th April, 2016. Pre-order your copy now. Click here;
  • John blogs regularly at Faith In Wartime. Click here;
  • Read a selection of articles written by John for The Bible Society. Click here;
  • Follow John on Twitter – @johnbroom1970;
  • Listen to John on BBC Radio Solent (October, 2014) discussing the Stratton War Memorial located in Stratton, near Dorchester, Dorset.

Huntriss Memorial Window. ©Dawn Broom 2015
Huntriss Memorial Window. ©Dawn Broom 2015


Posted in Bringing Alive The Past, History of Medicine, Literature, World War One, World War Two

Featured Author (Part 1) – Kathryn J. Atwood: Women Heroes of World War I

Kathryn J. Atwood. Image courtesy of author, copyright with author's husband.
‘The women in my World War One and World War Two collective biographies were compelled into action by powerful conviction and they had the courage to follow their instincts in order to find a way to do what they thought needed to be done.’ ©Kathryn J. Atwood (2015)


A short while ago I was contacted by American writer, Kathryn J. Atwood, enquiring whether I would like a review copy of her latest work of non-fiction, Women Heroes of World War I: 16 Remarkable Resisters, Soldiers, Spies, and Medics (June, 2014) published by Chicago Review Press. Kathryn has also written Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue (2011, Chicago Review Press) and Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent co-authored with Pearl Witherington Cornioley (2013 – hardback, 2015 paperback, Chicago Review Press). I will be reviewing Code Name Pauline in a second article about Kathryn’s work.

Kathryn lives near Chicago, USA but is a self-confessed Anglophile with a particular interest in writing about remarkable women from history. In Women Heroes of World War I, Kathryn writes about the extraordinary feats of courage and selfless acts of heroism shown by daring girls and women from around the world (including the USA, UK, France, Russia, Belgium, Romania and Australia) during World War One.  Biographical profiles featured are brought to life through the use of engaging narrative, dialogue, direct quotes, document and diary excerpts.

Although Women Heroes of World War I is primarily aimed at the young adult market (12+) it will also appeal to the budding adult historian looking for a solid introduction to aspects of this complex period in world history. Parents of young adults will also enjoy reading this book.

The book is divided into four sections, ‘Resisters and Spies’, ‘Medical Personnel’, ‘Soldiers’ and ‘Journalists’. Women featured include: Edith Cavell; Louise Thuliez; Emilienne Moreau; Gabrielle Petit; Marthe Cnockaert; Louise de Bettignies; Elsie Inglies; Olive King; Helena Gleichen; Shirley Millard; Maria Bochkareva; Flora Sandes; Marina Yurlova; Ecaterina Teodoroiu; Mary Roberts Rinehart and Madeleine Zabriskie Doty.

Photograph of Nurse Edith Cavell taken in her garden, Brussels, 2015. Photograph and book in the Mary Evans Picture Library Collection ©Come Step Back In Time 2015
Photograph of Nurse Edith Cavell taken in her garden, Brussels, 2015 together with her beloved dogs. Her dog Jack was taken to the de Croy country estate in Belgium by Princess Mary de Croy after Edith’s death. Photograph and book from the Mary Evans Picture Library Collection ©Come Step Back In Time 2015

On 12th October this year, it will be the 100th anniversary of the death of British nurse Edith Cavell (1893-1916). When war broke-out in 1914, Edith went to Belgium and treated injured soldiers whether they were British, French or German. She even hid nearly 200 British, Belgian and French soldiers from the Germans by keeping them safe at the nursing school and clinic where she lived.

Edith also ran a secret ‘underground’ group that helped Allied soldiers escape capture by the Germans and receive a safe passage to neutral Holland. She hid her private diary by sewing it into a cushion to prevent the secret of the hidden soldiers from getting out. Edith’s activities were eventually uncovered. In Women Heroes of World War I, Kathryn Atwood describes Edith’s arrest:

On the afternoon of August 5, officers from the German secret police – Pinkhoff and Mayer – arrived at the clinic and, after a thorough search, found a letter from Edith’s mother in England that had been transmitted after the occupation of Brussels through the agency of the American Consul. It was not much, but they used it as grounds for arrest. After unleashing a lengthy tirade intended to terrify everyone within hearing, the police took Edith to Saint-Gilles prison, where she was kept in a tiny cell and interrogated on three separate occasions. When she admitted that she had used the clinic to hide healthy Allied soldiers, the Germans realized that Edith was eligible for the death sentence. Under the German penal code, “conducting soldiers to the enemy” was considered treasonous and a capital offense.

(Women Heroes of World War I: 16 Remarkable Resisters, Soldiers, Spies, and Medics by Kathryn Atwood, 2014, published by Chicago Review , pp.30-1)

Ten weeks later, on October 7th, 1915, Edith was tried and sentenced to the death. In the early morning of October 12th, 1915, she was executed at the Belgian national shooting range, Tir National.

Although some of the stories in Women Heroes of World War I are well-known, like Edith Cavell and Gabrielle Petit’s for instance, many are not quite so familiar to us, for example:

  • 17-year-old Frenchwoman Emilienne Moreau (1898-1971) assisted the Allies as a guide and set- up a first-aid post in her home;
  • Russian peasant Maria Bochkareva (1889-1920) who joined the Imperial Russian Army by securing the personal permission of Tsar Nicholas II (1868-1918), was twice wounded in battle and decorated for bravery, and created and led the all-women combat unit the “Women’s Battalion of Death” on the eastern front;
  • American journalist Madeleine Zabriskie Doty (1877-1963) risked her life to travel twice to Germany during the war in order to report back the truth;
  • Surgeon Elsie Inglis (1864-1917) founded the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service and bravely stood up to the invading Germans while caring for sick and wounded in Serbia;
  • Flora Sandes (1876-1956) the only British woman to serve as a soldier in World War One. She enlisted in the Serbian army after working in the ambulance service that was the first volunteer unit to leave Britain. The Serbian army was one of the few in the world to accept women. She became a Corporal and then a Sergeant-Major.
Flora Sandes Collection.
The Flora Sandes Collection. ©Women Heroes of World War I: 16 Remarkable Resisters, Soldiers, Spies, and Medics by Kathryn Atwood, 2014, published by Chicago Review Press.
Flora Sandes, c.. 1916. The Flora Sandes Collection.
Flora Sandes, c.. 1916. The Flora Sandes Collection. ©Women Heroes of World War I: 16 Remarkable Resisters, Soldiers, Spies, and Medics by Kathryn Atwood, 2014, published by Chicago Review Press.

Kathryn’s research is impeccable, the text is written with care, precision and flare, carrying the reader along on an enthralling historical and biographical journey. Drawing upon original sources, for example, documents, personal diaries, photographs and direct quotes, providing a glimpse into the lives of this pioneering group of women, a number of whom had a relatively short lifespan.

Each chapter contains background information panels providing further detail on key historical events referred to within the text (see below). A clever idea to embed this information within each relevant chapter, saves research time whilst you are reading. At end of each chapter is a ‘Learn More’ resources section with useful websites and suggestions for further reading. Readers will also find a useful ‘Glossary’ at the back of the book.

©Kathryn Atwood (
Historical background panels are embedded in most chapters to enrich the reader experience. ©Kathryn Atwood (2014) Women Heroes of World War I published by Chicago Review Press

Interview With Kathryn J. Atwood – April 2015

What first inspired you to write about this incredible group of women?:

Actually, it was my editor at the Chicago Review Press, Lisa Reardon, who first suggested I write a sort of prequel to my first book, Women Heroes of World War II. I initially dragged my heels on the idea because the only heroines of World War One that initially came to my mind were nurses and while I was certain they’d been exceptional human beings, I didn’t want to write an entire book on women who played a single role.

But then one of our sons gave my husband an interesting Christmas gift:  Flyboys, a film about some American pilots who flew for the French during World War One before the U.S. became officially involved.  While it’s not exactly the Saving Private Ryan of World War One films, the excellent period details made me want to more thoroughly understand the war.

Then one night, after I’d initiated my search for women’s stories, I turned on the television to see Matthew Crawley [Downton Abbey] in that amazing replica of the Western Front. It was the first time I’d encountered Downton Abbey and it fuelled my determination to write the book. It also turned me into a Downton fan … although in my opinion that second season has remained by far the most compelling!

©Women Heroes of World War I: 16 Remarkable Resisters, Soldiers, Spies, and Medics by Kathryn Atwood, 2014, published by Chicago Review Press.
©Women Heroes of World War I: 16 Remarkable Resisters, Soldiers, Spies, and Medics by Kathryn Atwood, 2014, published by Chicago Review Press. Gabrielle Petit (1893-1916), a Belgium who spied for the British in World War One. She used the alias “Miss Legrand” but was captured by the Germans, imprisoned, stood trial and subsequently executed on 1st April, 1916 at the Tir National shooting range.

Whose story did you first discover?

I already knew the outline of Edith Cavell’s story but the second woman I decided to include was Gabrielle Petit. I discovered her through a query to the Ypres Great War Museum when one of their knowledgeable volunteers, Freddy Rottey, sent me a packet of English-language articles about Petit.

He admitted that most of it was hagiography, written shortly after the war, but reading between the exaggerated lines, I could tell there was a great story there. So I purchased more recently written French-language biographical materials and handed them to my Francophile husband for translation.

Why do you think so many of these stories have remained untold for so long?

Women’s history is like an iceberg: when a particular era has passed into history, all that’s showing above water, so to speak, are the roles that men played. Studying women’s roles lets one see what’s underwater, the entire mountain of ice, the entire time period.

And if the heroines of World War Two are hardly remembered, those of the first have been completely snowed under. World War Two is generally considered a more compelling study because of its element of good vs. evil. However, the World War One was fought and supported by young people of such noble aspirations and calibre, it’s not only shameful that their lives were  destroyed in such devastating numbers but that their stories are not more widely known. I hope my book might help remedy that situation!

Which individual’s story has touched/inspired you the most and why?

Gabrielle Petit. Her early life was so chaotic and difficult she tried to end it. But while working for British Intelligence during the war, her passionate nature found a focus which resulted in a patriotism, so winning it resonated for decades afterwards.

She was beloved and mourned by Belgians of various ethnicities who generally couldn’t agree on much else. She also directly inspired Belgian resistance during World War Two: so many flowers appeared at the foot of her statue in Brussels that the Germans posted a sentry there! And Brussels native Andree de Jongh, having grown up on stories of both Petit and Cavell, created an escape network that rescued hundreds of Allied airmen during World War Two.

What would you say are the key character qualities that all of the women you have written about have in common?

The women in my World War One and World War Two collective biographies were compelled into action by powerful conviction and they had the courage to follow their instincts in order to find a way to do what they thought needed to be done.

If you could invite 5 of the women you have written in Women Heroes of World War I to a dinner party, hosted by your good self, who would you choose and why?

For elegant conversation, initially reserved, perhaps, but eventually taking a fascinating turn, I would invite Edith Cavell, Louise de Bettignies, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Helena Gleichen, and Madeleine Zabriskie-Doty.  For a more animated, visceral conversation I’d choose Gabrielle Petit, Maria Bochkareva, Louise Thuliez, Elsie Inglis, and Olive King. I might decide to sit between the latter two as Olive King left the Scottish Women’s Hospitals, founded by Elsie Inglis, because she felt inhibited by the many regulations!

If all these women were alive now, what life lessons do you think they would impart to their female counterparts in 2015?

I find it quite astonishing that they enthusiastically supported the wartime causes of nations who were at that moment denying them equal rights and accepting their services simply because there was no one else to do the job! Perhaps they would have a collective message about seizing windows of opportunity and following one’s conscience.

What does history mean to you and why is it so important, do you think,  to keep the past alive for future generations, particularly young adults, to discover?

While technology and societal norms change, human nature doesn’t. That’s why “those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” A positive variation of that thought, and what I try to accomplish with my books is this: those who admire the heroes of the past just might become heroes themselves.

History is full of stories of people who made courageous choices in the midst of difficulty, who gave their time and effort – and sometimes their lives — for something higher than themselves. That’s inspiring no matter what one’s age but it’s particularly important for young people in search of something that matters.

Further Resources

©Women Heroes of World War I: 16 Remarkable Resisters, Soldiers, Spies, and Medics by Kathryn Atwood, 2014, published by Chicago Review Press.
Back cover of Women Heroes of World War I: 16 Remarkable Resisters, Soldiers, Spies, and Medics featuring a selection of review comments.
Posted in Event, Exhibition, Film, History, Maritime History, Museum, Vintage, World War One, World War Two

Celebrating Cunard’s 175th Anniversary: Memories Of Glamour On The High Seas

©Come Step Back In Time
Queen Mary 2, Sunday 3rd May, 2015, Southampton before sailing out into Southampton Water with her sister ships, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth. Queen Mary 2 has 2,000 bathrooms, 3,000 telephones, 280,000 square yards of fitted carpets and 5,000 stairs. ©Come Step Back In Time
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  • Poster produced for Southern Railways (SR) to advertise the first sailing of Queen Mary, and tickets to the event from London train stations. The Queen Mary could accommodate 776 first-class, 784 tourist and 579 third-class passengers, together with 1101 officers and crew. She also won the Blue Riband of the Atlantic in 1936 and 1938, and served as a troop ship in World War Two. Artwork by Leslie Carr, who painted marine subjects and architectural and river scenes and designed posters for the SR, London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) and British Railways (BR). Dimensions: 1016 mm x 1270 mm. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)

Sunday 3rd May, 2015 – Sailing of The ‘3 Queens’ From Southampton, Hampshire

In 2015, one of the most famous names in shipping, Cunard, celebrates its 175th anniversary.  On Sunday, 3rd May, I joined the crowds of onlookers at Mayflower Park and Town Quay, Southampton (yes, I did have to make a dash between both locations to get the best images!), to witness the historic spectacle of Cunard’s ‘3 Queens’ sailing out into the Solent.

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  •  A view of a restaurant aboard Queen Mary 2. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)
©Come Step Back In Time
Queen Mary 2, Sunday 3rd May, 2015, Southampton.©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time

Queen Mary 2 (2003) led her sister ships, Queen Victoria (2007) and Queen Elizabeth (2010), on a ‘thank-you’ procession down Southampton Water and into the Solent. Queen Elizabeth was heading for Hamburg, Queen Victoria to Guernsey and Queen Mary 2 to New York.

©Come Step Back In Time
Queen Mary 2, Sunday 3rd May, 2015, Southampton. ©Come Step Back In Time
Queen Elizabeth, Sunday 3rd May, 2015, Southampton. ©Come Step Back In Time
Queen Elizabeth, Sunday 3rd May, 2015, Southampton. ©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
Queen Victoria, Sunday 3rd May, 2015, sailing past Mayflower Park, Southampton to join Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria. ©Come Step Back In Time
Queen Victoria, Sunday 3rd May, 2015, sailing past Mayflower Park, Southampton to join Queen Mary 2 and Queen Elizabeth. ©Come Step Back In Time
Queen Mary 2 setting sail on Sunday 3rd May, 2015. ©Come Step Back In Time
Queen Mary 2 setting sail on Sunday 3rd May, 2015. ©Come Step Back In Time
Queen Mary 2 and Queen Elizabeth set sail, Sunday 3rd May, 2015. ©Come Step Back In Time
Queen Mary 2 and Queen Elizabeth set sail, Sunday 3rd May, 2015. ©Come Step Back In Time
The '3 Queens' sail off into Southampton Water on their respective voyages, Sunday 3rd May, 2015. ©Come Step Back In Time
Cunard’s distinctive red funnels belonging to the ‘3 Queens’ can be seen sailing off into Southampton Water on their respective voyages, Sunday 3rd May, 2015. ©Come Step Back In Time

Cunard’s Early History

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  • Sir Samuel Cunard, founder of Cunard Line in 1839.

Cunard Line was formed in 1839 by Canadian born, Sir Samuel Cunard (1787-1865), who had answered an advertisement placed by the British Admiralty for bidders to operate a timetabled steamship service to carry the Royal Mail between Britain and the North American colonies. Sir Samuel was the son of a master carpenter and timber merchant who had fled the American Revolution (1765-1783) and settled in Halifax, Canada.

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  • PS Britannia, 1840. Model (scale 1:48). She was built for the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Co, which became the Cunard Steamship Co Ltd. Her 3 sister-ships, the Acadia, the Caledonia, and the Columbia were also built on the Clyde at the same time.  There was accommodation for a 150 passengers. Charles Dickens (1812-1870) crossed on the Britannia in 1842, which he recorded in his ‘American Notes’. (Photo by Science & Society Picture Library/SSPL/Getty Images)

Despite the considerable risks involved in tendering for this contract (no ship, no maritime experience, huge financial risks, stiff penalties for late delivery of mail etc.), Sir Samuel uprooted his family and moved to Britain. On July 4th, 1940, steamship Britannia left Liverpool, arriving in Halifax, Nova Scotia, 12 days and 10 hours later, averaging a speed of 8.5 knots. Three more ships joined the fleet and by the end of 1840, Cunard offered a scheduled weekly service across the Atlantic.

  • ‘175 Years. Forever Cunard – A Voyage Through History’ by Cunard. Uploaded to You Tube 12.1.15.

A Celebration of 175 Years of Cunard – Exhibition Southampton City Art Gallery

From 1st May until 5th September 2015, there is an exhibition of rarely seen images from the Cunard archive on display at Southampton City Art Gallery. Also featured will be iconic a portrait of the QE2 that was presented to the city by Cunard in 2008 following the ship’s last day in Southampton, her home port.

The exhibition also includes popular posters from the eras which were used by travel agents to sell ocean travel in the most attractive light. A dedicated ‘wall of fame’ will take visitors back to one of the most glamorous eras as they discover which Hollywood stars graced Cunard’s decks.

Southampton City Art Gallery is open Monday to Friday, 10am-3pm and on Saturdays 10am-5pm. Admission to the Gallery and this special exhibition is free. For further information, click here.

A list of free Cunard talks taking place at the Gallery over the coming months can be found here.

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  • 4th September 1947, Southampton, actress Elizabeth Taylor is pictured on board Queen Mary with her two French Poodle dogs, ready to return to America after a short stay in London (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)

Notable Cunard Liners

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  • 15th April, 1912: Carpathia arrives to pick up survivors in lifeboats from the Titanic. Original Publication: The Graphic – pub. 1912 (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
  • CarpathiaLaunched 1902, maiden voyage 5th May, 1903, rescued 705 survivors from doomed liner Titanic, torpedoed southeast of Ireland and west of the Isles of Scilly by German submarine U-55, 17th July, 1918;

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  • Passengers drinking in one of the bars on board the Mauretania as it draws into Fishguard, Pembroke. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

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  • The Dining Saloon of the Mauretania c.1900. (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)
  • Mauretania – Launched 1906, maiden voyage 17th November, 1907, Blue Riband, out of service 1934 and scrapped 1935;

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  • Interior of the Grill Room aboard the Aquitania, c.1920. (Photo by Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Getty Images)
  • Aquitania – Launched 1913, maiden voyage 30th May, 1914, last surviving four-funnelled ocean liner, Blue Riband, served in both World Wars, scrapped in 1950;

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  • c.1920: A line of women waving goodbye to the vessel Laconia as she leaves Liverpool. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
  • Laconia – Launched in 1921, maiden voyage 25th May, 1922, sunk by torpedo from German U-boat U-156 on 12th September, 1942. Aboard were 2,732,  crew, British and Polish soldiers, civilian passengers and Italian POWs.  The final survivor count varies, different sources estimate that there were somewhere between 1,104 and 1,500. Captain of the German U-boat, Werner Hartenstein (1908-1943), ordered his submarine to surface and go back for survivors, this extraordinary turn of events led to what is known as ‘The Laconia Incident.’

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  • The luxurious wood-finished 1st class smoking saloon of the Laconia. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

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  • The 2nd class saloon of the Laconia, with a painted ceiling and pillared colonnade. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

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  • The observation saloon of the Queen Mary serves as the sleeping quarters for American soldiers, while the vessel carries out her duties as a troopship during World War Two. Original Publication: Picture Post – 1825 – Queen Mary troopship – unpub. (Photo by Haywood Magee/Getty Images)

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  • The luxury dining room of the Queen Mary serves as a mess for American soldiers, while the vessel carries out her duties as a troopship during World War Two. Original Publication: Picture Post – 1825 – Queen Mary  troopship – unpub. (Photo by Haywood Magee/Getty Images)
  • Queen Mary – Launched 1934, maiden voyage 27th May, 1936, Blue Riband, served as a troopship in World War Two and after the war G.I. Brides were transported on her back to America, retired from service 9th December, 1967, now a hotel ship, restaurant and museum in Long Beach Harbour, California;

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  • 10th July, 1947: The Queen Mary at Southampton after her refitting at the end of World War Two during which she was used as a troopship. (Photo by J. A. Hampton/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

  • ‘Queen Mary Crew Members’, interviews with crew members who served on the Queen Mary in her heyday. Uploaded to You Tube 22.9.14.

  • ‘Queen Mary War Brides’, former war bride, June Allen, recalls the thrill of coming to America on the Queen Mary. Uploaded to You Tube 22.9.14.
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  • The cocktail bar and observation lounge of the Cunard White Star liner Queen Mary. The bar is made of Macassar ebony with a mural by Alfred R. Thomson behind. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
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  • Dining-room aboard Queen Elizabeth in 1946. (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)
  • Queen Elizabeth – Launched 1938, pre-war maiden voyage 3rd March, 1940, in World War Two she served as a troopship and after the war G.I. Brides were transported on her back to America, her service career as a passenger liner began officially on her post-war maiden voyage, 16th October, 1946, she was retired in 1968, destroyed by fire in 1972;

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  • Smoking room aboard the Queen Elizabeth, 1950. In this shot, some of the chairs have ropes securing them to the floor, presumably to stop them sliding about in rough seas. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)

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Hollywood Glamour Aboard Cunard’s Luxury Liners

In 1997, I worked as a research assistant on Romancing Hollywood, a conference and exhibition at Millais Gallery, Southampton. The exhibition celebrated the glamour of Hollywood as it was perceived from the 1930s until the 1950s in Britain. Focussing mainly on Southampton, Romancing Hollywood, explored the ways in which glamour was not only received by local people via Hollywood but also created.

During the 1930s Southampton, as a gateway to the rest of the world, became a mecca for stars of stage and screen travelling on Cunard’s popular transatlantic route to New York. The exhibition concentrated on Cunard’s Queen Mary whose maiden voyage departed from Southampton on 27th May, 1936 and the Queen Elizabeth, launched in 1938.

I had the privilege of interviewing crew members who had worked on the original ‘Queens’, amongst other luxury transatlantic liners, during the golden-age of pre and post-war ocean travel. Here are a few extracts from those interviews that were published in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition (Romancing Hollywood by A. Massey, E. Stoffer, A. Forsyth and J. Bushnell,1997, ISBN 1 874011 62 1).  All interviewees described what life was like for the ordinary Cunard employee aboard these glamourous and luxurious ‘floating hotels’.

Jack Barker was born in 1919 and worked in a London Hotel as a Page Boy before going to work for Cunard in 1937 (Andania). After World War Two, Jack worked on the Queen Elizabeth (1938) for 16 years, rising to position of Head Waiter: ‘You would start the morning at half past six. Before the restaurant opened at eight o’clock for breakfast, you would have a scrub out to do, and you had to get into your uniform, which you had to buy yourself, and then breakfast went on till ten, and then after that you had to get your station ready for lunch, and you had to be in the restaurant by  half past twelve, you didn’t get any time off. You got used to it. I must have met hundreds of stars. Alfred Hitchcock, he just took a liking to me as a waiter.’

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  • Crew members working in the engine room of the liner Queen Mary during a transatlantic crossing, 12th August, 1939. Original Publication : Picture Post – 198 – Atlantic Crossing – pub. 1939 (Photo by Kurt Hutton/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Ralph Clarke was born in 1929 and worked on the railway boats at Southampton Docks for 6 months prior to starting work as a Trimmer on board the Queen Mary (1936) in April 1948. He worked on board the Queen Elizabeth (1938) in the late 1940s for 3 trips after an accident on board the Queen Mary, to which he returned: ‘Everything was SO BIG, extraordinarily big for the first month I was virtually lost on the Queen Mary. It was a massive, great big, beautiful ship. Danny Kaye and his wife and two children came down and he would say ‘Hello everybody,’ and he gave a song, one or two chaps in the crew used to be able to play the piano. We had Bing Crosby, we then had Paul Robeson and Jack Dempsey the boxer and he used to come down and say, ‘If anyone feels like a spar with me you are welcome to do it? They used to mix, no matter how big a star, they used to talk to us as if we were human beings and they used to be great friends.’

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  • 1948, Bellboys from the Queen Mary  being inspected by the chief steward prior to leaving Southampton for New York (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)

John Dempsey was born in 1920 and first went to sea in 1934 on the Mauretania (1907) as a Bell Boy at the age of fourteen. While working on the Berengaria (formerly the SS Imperator but after being brought by Cunard, sailed under the name Berengaria), he volunteered to assist the masseur, Arthur Mason in the Turkish Bath. When he moved to the Queen Mary (1936), Arthur Mason requested that John rejoin him, which he did until the until the outbreak of war. John joined the Queen Elizabeth (1938) for its post-war maiden voyage and worked in the Turkish Bath as a masseur until 1960: ‘The majority of first class passengers, mostly the Jewish community, loved their Turkish bath and massage. The hours of the gentlemen were 7am to 10am and from 2pm to 7.30pm. These people were running around upstairs and in the smoking lounges and the observation bars and had to behave themselves to a certain extent. What they wanted was to take their clothes off and be normal. So they came to the Turkish bath, off with their clothes and, ‘Hey John, go and get me a pint of beer’. They used to tell stories and do drinks. They were letting their hair down, for about the one and half hours that they were there. These were film stars, all lovely people, great people. I had a Christmas party in the Turkish bath with Noel Coward. It was a Christmas trip and he said to us ‘Have you got any parties?’ Well all the ship had parties, a fellow called Tommy MacDonald and the ship’s dispenser. We were drinking and telling stories, and that was our party. Coward sent me a Christmas card another year.

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  • Swimming Pool on-board the 2nd class of the Queen Mary. March the 3rd, 1936 (Photo by Imagno/Getty Images) [Swimming Pool der zweiten Klasse auf der ‘Queen Mary’, Southampton, England, Photographie, 3,3,1936]
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  • Passengers on the Queen Mary eating dinner in the luxurious cabin class restaurant during her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York, May 1936. The radiating light on the map by Macdonald Gill at the far end of the room constantly pinpoints the vessel’s location. (Photo by Hudson/Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Terry Hargroves was born in 1928, after demob from the Air Force he worked on the Queen Mary. Terry started by washing dishes, working his way up over 14 years to a Bedroom Steward in first class: ‘I had a set of rooms, which usually depended on something called a section, which was a set of about 5, 6, or 10 rooms. You were responsible for keeping them clean, making of all the beds, and attending to the passengers that used them. You took the passengers on, took their luggage and sorted that out. You fetched and carried for them and you tried to look after them the best you could until they got off the other end. The passengers lived in the middle of the ship and crew lived at either end. Either end of the boat there was part of the boat tied up. On the back end of the boat there was an area where the ropes came in to tie the ship up and for the cargo. That big area was designated as the crews’ ‘Pig and Whistle’. They had a little bar, that was the crews’ pub. You found an empty beer barrel or you sat on the bollards or an empty beer crate. Every now and again Bob Hope or Tommy Cooper came down there. Quite a few people were persuaded to come down. The crew would decorate it with a few flags and couple of spotlights. I think Bob Hope said that he’d played in many theatres but he rarely played in a sewer.’

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  • 12th August 1939: Staff on the Queen Mary pass the time during a transatlantic crossing in one  the ‘Pig And Whistle’. Original Publication: Picture Post – 198 – Atlantic Crossing – pub. 1939 (Photo by Kurt Hutton/Picture Post/Getty Images)
  • Bob Hope and Loretta Young were among a number of American film actors and actresses who arrived at Southampton on the Queen Mary for the Royal Command Film Performance in London on November, 1947. (Photo by Planet News Archive/SSPL/Getty Images)
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  • A steward unpacking a passenger’s luggage while a stewardess arranges a vase of flowers on the Queen Mary, 1948. (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)
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  • Cabin class passengers enjoy a tea in the middle of the Atlantic on the promenade deck of the Queen Mary c.1939. Original Publication: Picture Post – 198 – Atlantic Crossing – pub. 1939 (Photo by Kurt Hutton/Getty Images)

Frank Makinson was born in 1925, he joined the Queen Mary (1936) in 1944 while serving as a troopship and stayed with her until 1967 for her last voyage to Long Beach. Frank continued to work in the pantry of both the Queen Elizabeth and QE2 until 1970: ‘We always supplied the in-between meals, sometimes we also had a night pantry which I was in for quite a while. When there was music and dancing going on, on the ships, we had to supply sandwiches and various things to these rooms where they had these sessions. I remember getting an order for cold meat from Victor Mature, and he stressed that he wanted a whole turkey sliced up. It was just about the time his Samson and Delilah [1950] picture was about, so I think he wanted to let everyone know that he was a big eater. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were on the Queen Elizabeth towards the end, that was when they had recently got back together, and she had a great big fancy ring. I didn’t see them, but I had dealings with regards to the stewardess, she used to want Stilton cheese for them. One of them liked a lot of the blue of the Stilton, and one liked a lot of the white. Just who was what, I don’t know.’

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  • Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton on the QE2; c.1960; New York. (Photo by Art Zelin/Getty Images)
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  • Cabin verandah grill on the Queen Mary – postcard from 1930s. (Photo by Apic/Getty Images)

John Minto was born in 1927, he joined Cunard in 1949 as a cabin steward aboard the Queen Mary (1936). He worked his way up to first-class waiter and ultimately became the Captain’s Tiger (waiter). John left the Queen Mary in 1955 and became Mayor of Southampton in 1978/9: People like the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and Winston Churchill used to go in the Verandah Grill, they used to go incognito and the cost of going in there for a meal was ten shillings which was fifty pence. In the Veranda Grill, everything was on tap. If you wanted oysters, you got oysters, if you wanted caviar, you got caviar. Each kitchen, each galley was divided into specific areas. You had the pastry, the soup and the grills. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor never came down to the main restaurant, they always went to the Verandah Grill. The thing that always struck me about them was the amount of luggage they had.’

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  • Cabin bedroom on Queen Mary – postcard is from 1930s (Photo by Apic/Getty Images)
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  • A bootblack cleans the passengers’ shoes on the Queen Elizabeth (1938), as she makes her way from Southampton to New York, May 1964. (Photo by Bert Hardy Advertising Archive/Getty Images)
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  • 20th October 1964, American actress Carroll Baker, born 1931, on board the Queen Mary on her way to London for the premiere of her film ‘The Carpetbaggers’ (Photo by Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Getty Images
Posted in Event, Fashion History, Film, Historical Hair and Make-up, History, Maritime History, TV Programme, Vintage, World War One, World War Two

V.E. Day 70th Anniversary – Memories From My Family’s Photo Album (Kent & Netherlands)

V. E. Day commemorative silk scarf. Private collection. ©Come Step Back In Time
V. E. Day commemorative silk scarf from 1945. Private collection. ©Come Step Back In Time


Germany surrendered on 7th May, 1945, and the next day was declared V.E. (Victory in Europe) Day, ending World War Two in Europe. However, for many servicemen and their families, May 1945 was not their war’s end. The Allies were still at war with Japan but on the 6th and 9th August, 1945, the United States dropped atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan surrendered, World War Two was officially at an end.

V.E. Day commemorative pins, 1945. Private collection. ©Come Step Back In Time
V.E. Day commemorative pins, 1945. Private collection. ©Come Step Back In Time

In 2015, Britain will be marking the 70th anniversary of V.E. Day Victory in Europe and from Friday 8th May 2015 there will be a three-day weekend of commemorative events across the country. At 3pm on 8th May, national two-minute silence will mark the moment Winston Churchill (1874-1965) broadcast to the nation the news that war was officially over. (Follow UK events on Twitter: @DefenceHQ – hashtag VEDAY70)

Private collection. ©Come Step Back In Time
Souvenir V.E. Day brochure, 1945. Private collection. ©Come Step Back In Time
Victory souvenir postcard, 1945. Private collections. ©Come Step Back In Time
Victory souvenir postcard, 1945. Private collection. ©Come Step Back In Time

One of the most poignant of these V.E. Day 70th events will be the lighting of a hundred beacons at various locations around Britain from Newcastle to Cornwall. In the skies above London, there will be an aerial display of Spitfire and Lancaster bomber planes, and cathedral bells will also ring-out across the country.

VE day party May 8th 1945. Cuckoo farm , Boxted , Colchester.  Victory in Europe day 8th May 1945. A celebration party at Cuckoo Farm near Colchester Essex England. party was held for the local community by the Joy family who owned the land . Mum in the middle of the picture would be waiting till August for VJ day and the end of the second world war. Colchester's new football stadium is at this location today. Image courtesy of Glenn Pattinson (Glenn's Flickr account is full of lovely heritage images, click here).
V.E. day party, May 8th 1945. Cuckoo farm , Boxted , Colchester, Essex. This celebration party was held at Cuckoo Farm (near Colchester Essex England).  The party was for the local community hosted by the Joy family who owned the land. Glenn Pattinson’s mother is in the middle of the picture, however, she would be waiting until August for V.J. day. However, for various reasons, her husband didn’t return home until February 1946. A lot of service people were kept in India after August 1945 because of the country’s internal religious and political problems.  The British Raj was coming to an end and there were increased social tensions. Colchester’s new football stadium is at this location today. Image courtesy of Glenn Pattinson (Glenn’s Flickr account is full of lovely heritage images, click here).

People are also being encouraged to organise street parties within their local community, similar to those organised 70 years ago. Although I am sure trestle and picnic tables will be employed in 2015 rather than dismantled Morrison shelters which were used in May, 1945! To help inspire you, I have curated a selection of ‘rationbook recipes’ from my own collection of 1940s cookery books. (Click here) I have also collated a Pinterest board packed full of inspiration to help you create a 1940s style look, for both men and women. (Click Here)

Souvenir invitation for a children's V.J. party, 1945. Private collection. ©Come Step Back In Time
Souvenir invitation for a children’s V.J. party, 1945. Private collection. ©Come Step Back In Time
My late grandmother with her sister on the beach at Hythe, Kent, in the late 1930s. ©Come Step Back In Time
My late grandmother with her sister enjoying a fun-filled Summer on the beach at Hythe, Kent, late 1930s. ©Come Step Back In Time
My late grandfather (left) with a friend at Hythe beach, Kent before World War Two. ©Come Step Back In Time
My late grandfather (left) with a friend at Hythe beach, Kent before World War Two. ©Come Step Back In Time


Family holiday, bungalow, opposite Hythe seafront, Kent. Photograph taken after World War Two. ©Come Step Back In Time
Grandmother in the porch at the bungalow in Hythe, Summer 1956. ©Come Step Back In Time
Grandmother in the porch at the bungalow in Hythe, Summer 1956. ©Come Step Back In Time

Before war was declared in 1939, my grandparents enjoyed carefree summers in Hythe, Kent at the family’s holiday home, a bungalow located on Dymchurch Road, directly opposite the seafront. The bungalow still exists today, with its original name, but is no longer in our family.

The lady standing-up is my great, great, grandmother.  Photograph is dated c.1911.
The lady standing-up is my great, great grandmother Verena Chads (Nee Jennings) who brought the Hythe bungalow in 1929. Photograph is dated c.1911. ©Come Step Back In Time

My great, great grandmother (pictured above, standing) Verena Jennings (b.1864) cut a formidable figure. She was an educated lady of independent means with a portfolio of properties across London. She married into the Chads dynasty, an illustrious naval family but later divorced her husband, an unusual step for a woman in Victorian England. Her ex-husband later took his own life for reasons which I feel it entirely inappropriate to discuss on a public forum such as this. However, she did receive a substantial divorce settlement and lived out the rest of her days enjoying a comfortable standard of living.

Verena Chads (Nee Jennings) a successful businesswoman, my great, great grandmother. ©Come Step Back In Time
Verena Chads (Nee Jennings) a successful businesswoman, my great, great grandmother. ©Come Step Back In Time

My great, great grandmother did not enjoy living in London during the Summer months and decided to purchase a holiday home on the Kent coast which she could live in from Easter until September.  She had always enjoyed trips to the seaside during her childhood. In 1929, now in her 65th year, she purchased a new bungalow that had just been built on a plot of land not far from Hythe Ranges, on the Dymchurch Road. The bungalow was the first to be built on that plot and was sold by local Hythe estate agents C. R. Child & Partners , the firm still exist today.  Incidentally, it was one of the first sales that this estate agent made in 1929, their inaugural year.

My late grandmother in 1930s (Verena Chads' granddaughter) in the garden of the Hythe bungalow. ©Come Step Back In Time
My late grandmother (centre) with her sister and friend enjoying Hythe beach in the 1930s. ©Come Step Back In Time

Great, great grandmother named the bungalow ‘Multum-in-parvo’ which is Latin for ‘much in little’. The bungalow remained in the family until the early 1970s. Every Easter she would come down to her Hythe seaside retreat. Compared to her usual standard of living in a large, smart central London townhouse with servants, conditions at the bungalow were primitive and servantless.

My late grandmother in 1930s (Verena Chads' granddaughter) in the garden of the Hythe bungalow. ©Come Step Back In Time
Verena Chads’ granddaughter, my grandmother (1930s) in the garden of the bungalow at Hythe. ©Come Step Back In Time

In 1929, the bungalow had a large garden, no sanitation, an outdoor toilet, no electricity or running water (rain water was collected in a vast metal container and boiled for daily use). Perishables were stored in a meat safe, which was corrugated with a grill on the front, as there was no refrigeration nor suitable marble-lined larder at the property. My mother tells me that apparently it became a family tradition, started by great, great grandmother, to take oysters and a pint of Guinness, most days at 11am.

  • Guinness advert. A print from the Illustrated London News, 12th December 1936. (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)
My grandmother with her best friend in the garden at the Hythe bungalow. ©Come Step Back In Time
My grandmother with her best friend in the garden at the Hythe bungalow before World War Two. ©Come Step Back In Time

It was necessary to shop on a regular basis in order to eat fresh produce. A local farm in Palmarsh, close by the bungalow, provided the family with dairy products and the milkman called at the bungalow most days. A kitchen range was fitted after World War Two and in 1955, gas was connected to the property and finally in 1958, water and electricity. By the 1960s, basic mod cons had been installed.

1916 Swift motorcar similar to the one great, great grandmother brought for use whilst she was in Hythe. Image from my own private collection. ©Come Step Back In Time
1916 Swift motorcar similar to the one great, great grandmother brought for use whilst she was in Hythe. Image from my own private collection. ©Come Step Back In Time

The fishmonger and butcher also made home visits. Great, great grandmother grew quite friendly with the fishmonger which resulted in her hiring him as a chauffeur during the Summer months. She then brought a World War One Swift motorcar, although she didn’t drive herself, the fishmonger drove her around when she was at the bungalow. In exchange, she allowed him to drive the car for his own use from October until March. When she died, the fishmonger brought the Swift and continued to use it.

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  • 4th June 1938: A little girl at London Waterloo Station makes enquiries for trains to the seaside during the Whitsun Holidays. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

Before World War Two, great, great grandmother used to journey down to Hythe from London Victoria on the East Kent Coach. She travelled with many of her possessions, including her beloved parrot. She would alight at Red Lion Square, Hythe and continued the rest of her short journey to the bungalow by train, alighting at Botolph’s Bridge, an unmanned halt close by. This halt opened in 1927 and closed just before World War Two in 1939, it didn’t re-open after the war. For a couple of years she travelled by train to Sandgate until it closed in 1931. The family also often made good use of Romney Hythe and Dymchurch light railway line (RH&DR) when visiting the bungalow.

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  • August 1922: A family paddling in the sea at Dymchurch, 9 miles up the Kent coast from Hythe. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
My late grandmother on Hythe beach in the 1930s.
My late grandmother on Hythe beach in the 1930s. ©Come Step Back In Time

RH&DR opened for public use on 16th July, 1927, when the inaugural train travelled from Hythe to New Romney. The 8 miles between Hythe and New Romney was covered in double tracks. In 1927, St. Mary’s Bay had its own RH&DR station known as ‘Holiday Camp’ due to its location near to several holiday and boys camps, popular in the area at that time. St. Mary’s Bay was known (and still is!) for its lovely beaches, perfect for bathing.  In 1928, the RH&DR line was extended to Dungeness via Greatstone, creating a main line ride of 13.5 miles.

My great, great grandmother's copy of Hythe, Sandgate, Folkestone, Dymchurch, New Romney Guidebook, from 1927-8. Private collection. ©Come Step Back In Time
My great, great grandmother’s copy of Hythe, Sandgate, Folkestone, Dymchurch, New Romney Guidebook, from 1927-8. Private collection. ©Come Step Back In Time

Another reason that attracted my great, great grandmother to Hythe in 1929 was its obvious potential as a popular, smart, seaside resort. During the 1920s Hythe had begun to invest in its tourist infrastructure and in May, 1924, the ‘Bathing Establishment’ had been converted into a restaurant and tea room, The Pavillion. It was then leased by Mrs Farmer and a music and dancing licence was granted.

Hythe has had a long history as seaside resort, emerging first in the Georgian period. In the Hythe, Sandgate and Folkestone Guide (1816) it was stated:

In the immediate neighbourhood of Hythe there is a pleasant walk called Marine Grove, leading to the sea-side, and another denominated Sir William’s Wall, where both visitors and the inhabitants frequently form agreeable promenades (especially in the summer evenings), and to which the refreshing coolness of the sea-breezes are extremely inviting…..

(Hythe: A History by Martin Easdown & Linda Sage, 2004, p.69)

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  • High Street, Hythe, Kent, 1890-1910. The High Street in Hythe contains the Smugglers Retreat (on the right) which was demolished in 1907. Popular belief has it that a light was lit in the projecting upper storey window to signal to smugglers off the coast that it was safe to land. (Photo by English Heritage/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

The arrival of Hythe as a respectable watering place really began in 1854, when the Corporation opened the Bathing Establishment behind the sea front in South Road at a cost of £2,000…They [the baths], catered for the craze amongst the wealthy that the bathing in, and drinking of, seawater could cure all their ills. Indoor baths had grown in popularity as a more comfortable alternative to sea bathing whilst, unsurprisingly, the drinking of seawater was in decline in 1860. However, the recommended daily does for any partakers was 1/2 pint of seawater mixed with milk, beef tea or port wine….The [bathing] machines were hauled to and from the sea over Hythe’s steeply shelving shingle beach either by horses or by using a winch.

(Ibid. pp.69-70)

Views of Hythe from My great, great grandmother's copy of Hythe, Sandgate, Folkestone, Dymchurch, New Romney Guidebook, from 1927-8. Family collection. ©Come Step Back In Time
Views of Hythe from My great, great grandmother’s copy of Hythe, Sandgate, Folkestone, Dymchurch, New Romney Guidebook, from 1927-8. Top: Military Canal, Middle: Esplanade, Bottom: Ladies’ Walk. Family collection. ©Come Step Back In Time

In 1938, Stade Court Hotel and Four Winds Restaurant opened on West Parade, Hythe. The buildings were designed in the fashionable 1930s Art Deco minimalist style popular at the time. Leisure facilities began to increase in town and on 26th May, 1930 the Grove Cinema showed the first talking picture. The cinema was nicknamed ‘The Shack’ on account of its appearance but closed on 1st March, 1958.

On 12th June, 1937 the Ritz Cinema opened on the corner of Prospect Road and East Street. Another Art deco modernist-style building which could hold 858 patrons. Canal Hall in Hythe was another popular tourist destination, this time for dancing, opening its doors also in the 1930s.

Hythe’s spectacular, Venetian Fête, was one of the highlights in the Summer season calendar (and still is!). The event takes place on Hythe’s Royal Military Canal. The first Venetian Fête took place on 27th August, 1890 on the suggestion of Hythe reporter Edward Palmer who thought a parade of illuminated boats on the Canal would be an excellent tourist attraction and a showcase for local trades.

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  • 5th September 1935: The ancient pageantry of the Cinque Ports, Councillor E C Smith, mayor of Hythe, sets out in his barge to welcome visiting mayors during the Hythe Venetian Fête at the Royal Military Canal in Kent. (Photo by Horace Abrahams/Keystone/Getty Images)

The event continued every year until World War One when it stopped and restarted again in 1927. Unfortunately, in 1927, there were complaints from locals who were unhappy about the 8 hour closure of the canal banks during the procession. The event did not take place again for 3 years but in 1934 there was a big revival and the annual procession drew large local and national crowds. The last one before the outbreak of World War Two was on 30th August 1939.

My late grandmother and her niece on Hythe beach in the 1930s, before war broke-out in 1939. ©Come Step Back In Time
My late grandmother and her sister on Hythe beach in the 1930s, before war broke-out in 1939. ©Come Step Back In Time
  • British Pathe film showcasing women’s swimming costumes from 1939. Uploaded to You Tube, 13.4.14.
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  • 22nd October 1938: Young Muriel Richards, just one of the children sent to Dymchurch in Kent in anticipation of the start of World War Two. The storm clouds are gathering in Europe and the Summer of 1939 was to be the last time my family holidayed in Hythe until 1946. The evacuee in this image wears a label round her neck for identification. Original Publication: Picture Post – Album Of A Teacher In The Crisis – pub. 1938 (Photo by Merlyn Severn/Picture Post/Getty Images)
My late grandmother in World War Two, with some splendid victory roll curls! ©Come Step Back In Time
My late grandmother in World War Two, with some splendid victory roll curls! ©Come Step Back In Time
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  • 8th April 1940: Despite the war, painters brighten up the sea front at Folkestone in hope that there might be an influx of tourists during Summer season. Sadly, this frontline town struggled to attract the tourists as the war progressed. It wasn’t long before it became a militarised zone. (Photo by Arthur Tanner/Fox Photos/Getty Images)


On 3rd September, 1939, World War Two was declared. At the time 1,000 children were staying at St. Mary’s Bay Holiday Camp, near Dymchuch and had to be immediately evacuated. The Sands Motel in ‘The Bay’ had two large naval guns mounted on the front of it, pointing out to sea. The guns were disguised to appear like two adjoining houses having false roofs and wooden chimney pots. The defences along the sea wall were reinforced as iron scaffolding was erected and mines fixed to it. Both The Sands Motel and the children’s holiday camp took direct hits from enemy bombs.

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  • 1940, Kent. With the threat of German invasion imminent, a Coastal Guards detachment on the cliffs between Dover and Folkestone, are given a demonstration in the use of petrol bombs (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)

During World War Two, Britain’s coastline was vulnerable to enemy invasion, particularly in the south or east. As soon as war was declared, beaches were planted with mines, barbed wire and other obstacles. Access to front-line coastal towns like Dover and Folkestone were heavily restricted.

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  • 1940, barbed wire defences on the coast of Folkestone and Dover (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)

Due to the location of my family’s bungalow, directly opposite the seafront on Dymchurch Road and close to the Hythe Ranges, this meant that visiting the property during the war was very much restricted. Definitely no holidays (the beach was out of bounds anyway!), local people and property owners had to obtain a resident’s pass to both visit as well as travel back and forth to their homes. My mother recalls that some of these visits made by her grandmother to inspect the bungalow meant that she had to be accompanied by military personnel to do so.

The Hythe Ranges have been used for live firing for nearly 200 years, they are one of the oldest ranges in Britain and are still used by the military today. There are two Martello Towers on the site as well as a “Grand Redoubt” fortification at Dymchurch which was built in 1800 as a defence structure in case of an invasion by Napoleon (1769-1821). During World War Two, the Martello Towers in Hythe resumed their role as a defence structure. They were used as look-out posts and armed with anti-aircraft guns and searchlights.

The Hythe School of Musketry, founded in March 1853, now known as the Small Arms School Corps (SASC). In 1939, the SASC took over responsibility for defences in the area:

A sea mine and boom defence system was installed in Hythe Bay and a minefield land on the seaward side of Hythe Gasworks. The beach was defended with a gantry of scaffold poles with attached mines and six-inch gun emplacements were located on the Promenade. Ladies Walk Bridge was demolished as a defensive measure, and others were disabled. The Royal Military Canal was enmeshed in barbed wire.

  • ‘Toy Train Goes To War’ (1944). Short film featuring the RHDR before World War Two carrying holiday crowds and then refitted for its important role in wartime when, according to my mother, one of the cargoes it transported was ack-ack guns. Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.2014

One of the RHDR engines, Hercules, was converted into an armoured train using guns salvaged from crashed aircraft. As the threat of invasion loomed, the Small Arms School was largely exiled to Bisley. Hythe became a prohibited zone and could be entered only with a valid resident’s pass: The district south of the Royal Military Canal was cleared and declared strictly out of bounds.

(Hythe: A History by Martin Easdown & Linda Sage, 2004, p.115)

  • Troops stationed in the Hythe area have been provided with a novel leave train. Troops of the command travel to visit the cinema and join main line trains for home leave. (On the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Light Railway – Probably at New Romney, Kent) (Photo by Planet News Archive/SSPL/Getty Images)

Unsurprisingly, due to its frontline coastal position, Hythe suffered at the hands of the Luftwaffe. During World War Two, in total, there were 19 air raids; 2 bouts of shelling; 11 fallen doodlebugs; 20 civilians killed (3 by a bomb that fell on and completely destroyed the Arcade in the High Street, 4th October, 1940).  On 10th May, 1942, 2 people died when a bomb fell at the back of Trice’s refreshment rooms and on 21st August, 3 others perished when a bomb exploded in the air above Prospect Road and Bank Street. (Source: Ibid p. 115)

One of the worse instances of civilian fatalities took place on 15th August, 1944 when a doodlebug flattened numbers 1-5 Earlsfied Road, claiming 5 lives. In 1941, on the Hythe Ranges, close to our family’s holiday bungalow, 3 soldiers were killed by a bomb whilst practicing there. In April, 1944, all civilians (except those who lived there) were banned from sea by virtue of a 10 mile radius, this was enforced right along the coast of southern England. By the end of 1944, Hythe was a husk of its former self, battle scarred but nevertheless ready to rise again from the ashes and re-establish itself as a popular seaside resort once more.  During the war, many of its residents had boarded-up their homes and moved in land which created a ghost town in their wake.

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  • Evacuee Barrie Peacop enjoys an ice cream as he sits on a mine washed up on the beach at Deal in Kent towards the end of World War Two. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)
In the Summer of 1946, my family were finally allowed to return to their holiday bungalow in Hythe. My mother was a toddler at the time and this was her first experience of the seaside. Top left she is pictured giving her favourite teddy bear a bath. Notice behind the garden boundary is covered in barbed wire, left over from wartime. The other 3 photographs show my mother on Hythe beach enjoying a splash around in the sea. ©Come Step Back In Time
In the Summer of 1946, my family were finally allowed to return to their holiday bungalow in Hythe. My mother was a toddler at the time and this was her first experience of the seaside. Top left she is pictured giving her favourite teddy bear a bath in the garden at the bungalow. Notice behind, the garden boundary is still covered in wartime barbed wire. The other 3 photographs show my mother on Hythe beach enjoying her first sea encounter. ©Come Step Back In Time


Hythe, like the rest of the country, celebrated V.E. Day on 8th May, 1945. A Victory Party was held for local children at the Old Jesson Club, St. Mary’s Bay. Hythe Town Band played as part of the area-wide celebrations, having been disbanded at the start of World War Two following call-up orders.

My family were not allowed to return to their holiday bungalow in Hythe until the Summer of 1946. When they did, it was quite a celebration by all accounts from the photographs I have seen in our archives. Summer 1945, my grandfather was still serving in Holland (more about him in a moment), therefore the Summer of 1946 was the first time all the family was able to come together and celebrate the end of the war. My mother recalls that everyone travelled down to Hythe in April 1946, this month also happened to my mother’s 2nd birthday!

Summer 1946, my grandparents are reunited and enjoyed a wonderful Summer at the bungalow in Hythe, celebrating the end of the war and all the family surviving safe and sound. ©Come Step Back In Time
Summer 1946, my grandparents are reunited and enjoyed a wonderful Summer at the bungalow in Hythe, celebrating the end of the war and all the family surviving safe and sound. ©Come Step Back In Time

The above photographs show my mother’s first experiences of the seaside and playing in the sand. However, she informs me that she was less than happy with her first ‘dip in the sea’. Apparently, a soldier and his friend were walking along Hythe beach and saw my mother and asked if they could take her into the sea for a splash. My grandmother agreed, my mother was scooped-up and as they splashed around a large wave engulfed them all. Mother was really upset, bawled her eyes and the shocked soldiers hastily placed her down on the sandy shore. She is still terrified of water today and has never liked swimming since, only learning to do so when she was in 60th decade!

My grandparents and my mother. All safely reunited after World War Two and having fun on the beach at Hythe. ©Come Step Back In Time
My grandparents and my mother. All safely reunited after World War Two and having fun on the beach at Hythe. ©Come Step Back In Time
In the garden at the bungalow, Summer 1946. My grandfather is in the centre.  ©Come Step Back In Time
In the garden at the bungalow, Summer 1946. My grandfather is in the centre. ©Come Step Back In Time

My mother recalls that despite being allowed back on the beach in Hythe after the war, there were still many dangers present in doing so. Unexploded ordnance, debris such as rusty barbed wire and lots of fire bombs were common sights. Civilians were not allowed to walk on the Hythe Ranges for quite some time after the war and for obvious reasons until the sight was made safe to the public.

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  • 24th December 1945: A bomb disposal officer gently pulling a mine from the sea in Hythe, Kent. (Photo by Hamlin/Express/Getty Images)

In fact there was still barbed wire on parts of Hythe beach and by the bungalow well into the 1960s! Until 1971, just off the coast near Hythe, there was even a large piece of Mulberry Harbour wreckage that had broken-off in 1944. My mother tells me that this large piece of concrete and steel was the size of a small house.

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  • 24th December 1945: A bomb disposal officer with a mine washed up on the beach at Hythe. (Photo by Hamlin/Express/Getty Images)

Mother remembers that as she and her siblings grew-up throughout the 1940s and 1950s, discarded fire bombs and gun cartridges on the beach at Hythe were still a hazard. My grandfather insisted that everyone remained vigilant when playing on the shingle and sand. The more popular resorts in Kent, such as at St. Mary’s Bay and a little further along in Folkestone and Ramsgate, were first to have their beaches cleared of these hazards. It took a while longer for Hythe to be made safe.

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  • 13th November 1944: Authorised by the Town Council, the destruction of concrete tank barriers on the seafront at Ramsgate, Kent, finally begins. They are no longer necessary, and would only impede the return of the tourist trade. (Photo by Harry Todd/Fox Photos/Getty Images)
  • British Pathe film from 1964 featuring the bomb disposal unit operating along the Kent coastline, including Lydd, twelve miles along the coast from Hythe. They are clearing ordinance from World War Two.

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  • 3rd August 1946: The Marquis Trio performing on the sands near Dymchurch, Kent. Original Publication: Picture Post – 4152 – A Girl Drops Out Of The Blue – pub. 1946 (Photo by Merlyn Severn/Picture Post/Getty Images)

My mother remembers that holidays at the bungalow after the war until the 1960s were no-frills affairs compared to today’s beach holiday. Buckets and spades, ice-cream and swimming in the sea were the main activities. For the first decade after the war, people were still suffering the effects of rationing, money was tight and it wasn’t until the latter half of the 1950s when people’s disposable income began to rise. But these early years after the war were a time of carefree Summers, freedom to explore.

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  • August 1955: Holiday-makers on the beach at Dymchurch, Kent. (Photo by D. Peacock/Fox Photos/Getty Images)
My aunt and uncle standing in front of their dad's Ford Zephyr. Galleywood Common. 1955.
My aunt and uncle standing in front of their dad’s Ford Zephyr. Galleywood Common. 1955. ©Come Step Back In Time

In the mid 1950s my grandfather purchased a new, grey, Ford Consul 204E (MKII – 1956) which meant that getting to and from the bungalow at Hythe was now much easier. In addition, photographs in our albums from this point forward, show that Summer holidays based in Hythe now included day trips further afield to places such as Pevensey and Polegate in Sussex.

Family outing to Wannock Tea Gardens, Polegate, Sussex. 1955.
Family outing to Wannock Tea Gardens, Polegate, Sussex. 1955. ©Come Step Back In Time
My family at Pevensey Castle, East Sussex. 1955.  ©Come Step Back In Time
My grandmother, mother and great grandmother (Back, L-R) and my aunt and uncle (front) at Pevensey Castle, East Sussex. 1955. ©Come Step Back In Time

My mother describes this post-war period as a time of simple pleasures, children saving their pocket money and spending it on ice-cream and souvenirs. Her favourite purchase was a doll with a crinoline dress made out of sea shells. Afternoon teas were a treat, fish and chip suppers were the norm and if they wanted candy floss then a trip to Folkestone was necessary. In the 1950s and 1960s, seaside shows at either Hythe Summer Theatre in the Institute or Leas Cliff Hall Folkestone were also included as part of the treats enjoyed by my family.

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  •  A scene from the film version of Dry Rot  showing L-R: John Chapman, Diana Calderwood, Brian Rix, John Slater, and Charles Coleman (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)

One of my mother’s favourite theatre trips was to see the play Dry Rot by John R. Chapman (1927-2001). This popular 1954 comedy, about dishonest bookmakers, was part of the repertory theatre in residence which ran over eight weeks at Hythe Summer Theatre in the Institute.

Grandmother (right) with her friend Rita in the garden at the bungalow in Hythe. Summer 1955. ©Come Step Back In Time
Grandmother (right) with her friend in the garden at the bungalow in Hythe. Summer 1955. ©Come Step Back In Time
Daughter of family friend with Inky the poodle in the garden at the Hythe bungalow, Summer 1955. ©Come Step Back In Time
Daughter of family friend with Inky the poodle in the garden at the Hythe bungalow, Summer 1955. ©Come Step Back In Time

After the war, St. Mary’s Bay became popular again with tourists on account of its long sandy beach and The Sands Motel was often booked-up for the whole season. My mother loved visiting ‘The Bay’ to have an ice-cream and also remembers going to Dungeness sometimes too, she said they put an ice-cream kiosk in there after the war. In the 1950s and 1960s there were a number of holiday camps in ‘The Bay’, including Maddieson’s Golden Sands. A friend of my grandfather ran one of these holiday camps after leaving the army. Kent, particularly seaside towns, enjoyed a tourist boom until the 1960s when the advent of cheap foreign lure families away to foreign shores. Britain can never guarantee a rain-free Summer but the Continent could. Many seaside towns struggled to keep going, became shabby and fell into decline.

My family on Hythe beach, Kent in 1956. The annual holiday to Kent was a favourite of my mum. Even Inkie the poodle (bottom left) came too. I think Uncle Victor might have had a few nips of brandy on the journey down, since he has decided to wear a plastic bucket as a sunhat. ©Come Step Back In Time.
My family on Hythe beach, Kent in 1956. The annual holiday to Kent was a favourite of my mum. Even Inkie the poodle (bottom left) came too. I think Uncle Victor might have had a few nips of brandy on the journey down, since he has decided to wear a plastic bucket as a sunhat. Grandmother (front row, 2nd from left), great grandmother (front row, 3rd from left). Grandfather (back row, right-hand side). ©Come Step Back In Time.
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  • 22nd August 1952: A boy dressed as Peter Pan surrounded by fairies floats down the Canal on a barge, one of the attractions at the Hythe Venetian Fête in Kent. (Photo by Stanley Sherman/Express/Getty Images)

During the war, no Venetian Fêtes took place in Hythe, the event restarted in 1946 but due to a lack of available materials to decorate floats there was no procession in 1947, it then took place annually between 1948 and 1954. My grandparents took my mother to the Venetian Fête in 1946 and each year from then on. The Fête would fall at the same time as my aunt’s birthday in August which made it an ideal family outing. From the latter half of the 1950s, it was then decided that because floats were expensive to decorate, Fêtes would take place bi-annually and this has remained the case ever since.

The Venetian Fête was always one of the highlights of my family’s Summer holiday. Even when the bungalow had been sold in the early 1970s, I remember still being taken to see the procession several times as a child on a day trip from our home in Battle and latterly Hastings. No carnival ever came close to the standard of floats that took part in Hythe’s Venetian Fête. In 2015, the Fête will take place on Wednesday, 19th August, 7pm start.

  • British Pathe film showcasing Hythe’s Venetian Fete (1960). Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.2014.

The RH&DR re-opened in 1946 between Hythe and New Romney and in 1947 the Dungeness section was opened by Laurel and Hardy. The New Romney to Dungeness extension was only a single as opposed to a double track because of the shortage of materials after the war.

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  • Laurel and Hardy drive the inaugural train on the New Romney-Dungeness section of the line which had been closed since the start of the war, during the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway’s 21st birthday celebrations. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
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  • c.1956: The size of the Hythe ticket office of the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Light Railway corresponds with that of the trains themselves. The line boasts the title ‘The World’s Smallest Public Railway’. (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images)
My late grandfather, Sergeant Frederick Langley. I love this photograph because the crease across the middle is where my grandmother folded it in half and kept it on her person during the war. ©Come Step Back In Time (The Langley Family Archive)
My late grandfather, Sergeant Frederick Langley. I love this photograph because the crease across the middle is where my grandmother folded it in half and kept it on her person during the war. ©Come Step Back In Time (The Langley Family Archive)


My late grandfather, Frederick Arthur Langley, was born in 1916. When World War Two broke out in 1939, he joined the 29th (Kent) Searchlight Regiment, a volunteer air defence unit of Britain’s Territorial Army (TA), established in 1935. During World War Two the unit was part of the Royal Engineers.

Grandfather with some of his unit in the early stages of World War Two. Location unknown but likely to be Molash, Kent, c.1941.
My Grandfather (4th from left) with some of his unit in the early stages of World War Two, before he became a Sergeant. Location unknown but likely to be Molash, Kent, c.1941. ©Come Step Back In Time (The Langley Family Archive)

The regiment had its origins in a group of Independent Air Defence Companies of the Royal Engineers formed in the Home counties by the TA during 1924. My grandfather’s regiment was part of the 314th (Kent) Anti-Aircraft Searchlight Company which was based at Southborough and later Tonbridge, Kent.

My grandfather in camp, c.1941. Location possibly Molash, Kent. ©Come Step Back In Time (The Langley Family Archive)
My grandfather in camp, c.1941. Location possibly Molash, Kent. ©Come Step Back In Time (The Langley Family Archive)

My grandfather’s decision to join this particular regiment may have been influenced by his own father’s military service during World War One. My great grandfather, Arthur Langley, had been a Corporal in the Royal Engineers.

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  • 27th March 1942: Anti-aircraft guns ready for action below the cliffs of Dover as warning is given of approaching enemy planes. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

The 29th Kent Anti-Aircraft command played a vital role in the Battle of Britain (10th July – 31st October, 1940) which was waged in the skies, particularly over southern England. The regiment’s searchlight skills also provided an important first-line of defence along the Kent coast during The Blitz (7th September, 1940 – 21st May, 1941).

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  • 1942: Anti-aircraft gun pits in the walls along Dover’s coastline. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)
  • An array of army searchlights illuminate the night sky over London, in the hope of spotting enemy aircraft during World War Two.

In the Winter of 1944, it became evident that the German Luftwaffe was suffering from a severe shortage of pilots, aircraft and fuel meaning that aerial bombardment of Britain could pretty much be discounted. In January 1945, the War Office began to re-organise surplus anti-aircraft and coastal artillery regiments into infantry battalions, primarily for line of communication and occupation duties, thereby releasing trained infantry for frontline service.

In this re-organisation, my grandfather’s regiment became the 631st (Kent) Infantry Regiment, RA. On 22nd January, 1945, the 631st was attached to the 59th AA Bde, which became the 307th Engineer Infantry Brigade. After an initial period of re-training, the 631st was sent to North West Europe in April, 1945 to work under the 21st Army Group and SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) commanded by General Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969).

On my grandparent's wedding day, 23rd March, 1940.  ©Come Step Back In Time (The Langley Family Archive)
On my grandparent’s wedding day, 23rd March, 1940. ©Come Step Back In Time (The Langley Family Archive)
My grandmother's wedding dress, beautiful thick, blue satin, made by her best friend. My mother and I are currently restoring this dress back to its former glory. ©Come Step Back In Time
My grandmother’s wedding dress, beautiful, thick blue satin, made by her best friend. My mother and I are currently restoring this dress back to its former glory. ©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time


Nazi Germany invaded the Netherlands on 10th May, 1940 and the Dutch armed forces (apart from those in Zeeland) surrendered on 15th May. The country’s sovereign, Queen Wilhelmina (1880-1962) resided in Britain during the war and whilst in exile managed the Dutch government, which had also escaped there. It was thought the Netherlands would remain neutral in World War Two like it had done in World War One. Therefore an invasion by Germany and the suffering subsequently endured by many Dutch citizens, shocked everyone.

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  • Foreign Royalty, pic: c.1943, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, (1880-1962) Queen from (1898-1948) making a wartime radio broadcast while in exile during World War Two(Photo by Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Getty Images)

In 1939 there were 140,000 Jewish citizens in the country, 25,000 of whom were German-Jewish refugees who had fled Germany during the 1930s. Two thirds of the Jewish community resided in Amsterdam.  In the Winter of 1940, all Jews had to be registered. On 1st May, 1942 all Jews were required to wear a yellow star. Only 40,00 Dutch Jews survived the war and 75% of the Dutch-Jewish population perished, one of the highest percentages out of all of the occupied countries in Western Europe.

During the war, approximately 400,000 people went into hiding in the Netherlands some of which were Jewish. One of the most famous of these ‘hidees’ was Annelies Marrie “Anne” Frank (1929-1945) a young Jewish girl from Germany. The Frank family moved from Germany to Amsterdam in 1933 when the Nazis gained control over Germany. In July 1942, the Franks went into hiding in some concealed rooms behind a bookcase in the building where Anne’s father worked.

After two years, the group was betrayed and transported to concentration camps. Anne and her sister Margot were eventually transferred to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where they died (probably of typhus) in February, 1945. Anne’s wartime diary, The Diary of a Young Girl, was published posthumously.

Less than 2% of the Dutch population sided with the Nazis. Immediately after occupation, democracy was abolished and parliament dissolved. The NSB party (Nationaal-Socialistische Beweging, the National Socialist Movement) a Dutch fascist and later national socialist political party were the only legal political party in the Netherlands during most of World War Two. Members of the NSB were rewarded for supporting the Nazis and as such kept positions of leadership during the occupation.

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  • A Dutch poster from World War Two, depicting a WA man with the words ‘In dienst van ons volk, en gij? Wordt WA man’ (‘In the service of our people, and you? Become a WA man’), c.1943. The WA or Weerbaarheidsafdeling were the paramilitary wing of the Dutch Nazi party NSB, who worked in collaboration with the Germans to arrest Jews and Resistance members. Poster by Lou Manche. (Photo by Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images)

In 1943, the Dutch Resistance movement was strong whereas previously recruitment had been slow. In May, 1943, following the Nazi’s introduction of Arbeitseinsatz , every Dutch male aged between 18 and 45 was forced to work in German factories, particularly those bombed regularly by western Allies! Consequently, many eligible men went into hiding. Food was heavily rationed in the Netherlands and the resistance movement played a vital role in raiding distribution centres to obtain ration cards for those men in hiding. The LOLKP was the underground resistance movement organised for people in hiding.

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  • Civilians and armed resistance fighters in a recently liberated Dutch city during World War Two force a traitor to walk the streets with a shameful sign around his neck which reads roughly ‘So we do with those who betray people in hiding,’ Breda, Netherlands, 1944. ‘People in hiding’ refers to Jews and Underground fighters trying to avoid the Nazis. (Photo by Horace Abrahams/Keystone Features/Getty Images)

Women were particularly important in the resistance movement, they tended to attract less suspicion. Membership consisted of citizens drawn from a wide range of occupations, religious backgrounds and political beliefs such as butchers, farmers, teachers and housewives.

Radios were confiscated by the Nazis who feared that the English radio broadcasters may give instructions to people of the Netherlands. Only 80% of all radios were ever handed in and many sets disappeared, hidden under floorboards, cupboards, cabinets etc. People became very resourceful and some created simple radio receivers ‘crystal receiver.

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  • 1946  Audrey Hepburn as a teenager with her mother, Dutch Baroness Ella van Heemstra. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Actress Audrey Hepburn’s (1929-1993) experiences in the occupied Netherlands provide a fascinating insight in what life was like at that time. Her mother was a Dutch aristocrat, Baroness Ella van Heemstra (1900-1984) and her grandfather was Baron Aarnoudvan Heemstra, mayor of Arnhem, 1910-20.

Both Audrey’s parents belonged to the British Union of Fascists but her father was a Nazi sympathiser. When their marriage broke down in 1935, he moved to London and Audrey moved with her mother to Kent where she attended a small private school in Elham.

When war broke out Audrey and her mother moved back to the Netherlands to live in Arnhem as they believed, like many others, the country would remain neutral. In 1940, she used the name Edda van Heemstra in order to distance herself from an English sounding name. Her uncle was executed in 1942 in retaliation for an act of sabotage by the resistance movement. Her half-brother was deported to Berlin to work in a German labour camp and her other half-brother went into hiding to avoid the same fate.

Audrey attended the Arnhem Conservatory for the duration of the war but suffered malnutrition, anaemia, respiratory problems and edema, like many of her fellow Dutch citizens lack of available food had serious health implications. She supported the Dutch resistance and gave ballet performances in secret to collect money for the movement. Sometimes, she acted as a courier of messages and parcels for them, an extremely dangerous thing to do, if caught she would have been tortured and executed.

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  • Resistance grafitti in a street in the Netherlands during the Dutch famine of the winter of 1944-45. The slogan reads ‘Eist Meer Brood’ (‘ask for more bread’). (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

During the Winter of 1944-45, famine spread throughout the Netherlands. The famine had been caused by a German blockade cutting-off food and fuel shipments from farm areas. Approximately 4.5 million people were affected and many survived only due to a network of soup kitchens. Food was so scarce that people even ate tulip bulbs and sugarbeets.

In her memoirs, Audrey recalls making flour to bake cakes and biscuits from ground down tulip bulbs. Following liberation in 1945, she became extremely ill after putting too much sugar on her porridge and eating an entire can of condensed milk. It is estimated that between 18,000 and 22,000 people died that Winter.

  • ‘Liberation of Amsterdam’ (1945) (there is no sound) by British Pathe. Allied troops parade the streets, greeted by delighted Dutch citizens after years of Nazi occupation during World War Two. Uploaded to You Tube 22.5.2013.


The liberation of the Netherlands began in September 1944. The Allies crossed the Rhine in March, 1945 and Canadian forces entered the Netherlands from the east, liberating the rest of the Nazi-occupied Dutch towns. The Netherlands was largely liberated by the First Canadian Army which included Canadian Forces, the British 1st Corps, 1st Polish Armoured Division alongside American, Belgian, Dutch and Czechoslovak troops.

The 307th Engineer Infantry Brigade, of which my grandfather’s unit was part of, arrived in Europe on 23rd April, 1945. My mother recalls her father saying that conditions travelling across Europe were extremely tough. Food rations were low and soldiers did not always have the right equipment. At one point, soldiers in my grandfather’s unit were so dehydrated that they had to drink water reserved for train engines. The cold was another difficulty he encountered, he had to chew raw ginger to keep warm.

On 5th May, Canadian General Charles Foulkes (1903-1969) and the German Commander-in-Chief Johannes Blaskowitz (1883-1948) reached an agreement on the capitulation of German forces in the Netherlands in Hotel de Wereld in Wageningen. The following day, the capitulation document was signed in the auditorium of Wageningen University, next door to the Hotel de Wereld.

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  • c.1944: A newly liberated Dutch town. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

A chronological list of liberated Dutch towns:


14th  September: Maastricht, Gulpen, Meerssen

16th  September: Simpelveld liberated by the 803rd tank destroyer battalion

17th  September: Sint-Oedenrode, Veghel

18th  September: Eindhoven

19th  September: Veldhoven

20th  September: Nijmegen, Geldrop, Someren, Terneuzen

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  • September 1944: Allied Sherman tanks crossing the newly-captured bridge at Nijmegen in Holland during their advance as part of ‘Operation Market Garden’. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

21st   September: Schijndel

22nd  September: Weert

24th  September: Deurne

26th  September: Mook

27th  September: Helmond, Oss (The battle of Overloon started on 30 September)

5th  October: Kerkrade

6th  October: Ossendrecht

18th  October: Venray

27th  October: Den Bosch, Tilburg, Bergen op Zoom

29th  October: Breda

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  • Dutch Resistance fighters armed with captured German weapons smoke and talk to each other on the street during liberation, Breda, Netherlands, 1944. (Photo by Keystone Features/Getty Images)

30th  October: Tholen, Goes

1st  November: Vlissingen, Westkapelle

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  • November 1944: Allied assault troops dash through the streets of Flushing (Vlissingen) in the Netherlands to clear out the remaining enemy snipers after the World War Two liberation of the town. (Photo by Worth/Keystone/Getty Images)

2nd  November: Wissenkerke, Zoutelande

6th  November: Middelburg

8th  November: Veere, Koudekerke

3rd  December: Blerick


1st  March: Roermond, Venlo

1st  April: Doetinchem, Borculo, Eibergen, Enschede

3rd  April: Hengelo

5th  April: Almelo

12th  April: Westerbork, Brummen, Deventer

13th  April: Assen, Diepenveen, Olst

14th  April: Arnhem, Zwolle

15th  April: Zutphen, Leeuwarden, Zoutkamp

16th  April: Groningen

17th  April: Apeldoorn

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  • 21st September 1944: Dutch citizens cheering British Sherman tanks in Holland. (Photo by Jack Esten/PNA Rota/Getty Images)


Both Hengelo and Enschede are located in the Overijssel province of the Netherlands. Enschede was one of the first Dutch cities to be captured by the Nazis due to its close proximity to the German border. Enschede had a large Jewish population at the start of the occupation, approximately 1,300, only 500 of whom survived, many went into hiding on local farms with the help of resistance members.

In 1930, Hengelo had a Jewish population of 247 which increased to 360 in 1941 as a result of refugees fleeing from Germany. Jews had lived in Hengelo from the early 1800s onward and their community declared independent in 1830. The community was important in the development of the textile industry in the region.

In August 1941, the Hengelo Synagogue was vandalised by Nazis and members of the NSB. Fortunately, the building’s contents had already been removed and hidden in anticipation of such an attack. In September, 1941, Jews in Hengelo were rounded-up for deportation, this continued until the following summer. In 1951, there were only 86 Jews stilling living in the town.

On April 29th, 1943, workers in Hengelo walked out of their jobs in a protest strike. The Nazis announced that 300,000 Dutch army soldiers, previously captured in 1940 and subsequently released, were now to be recaptured and sent to German labour camps.  Hengelo’s town centre was completely bombed out during an Allied attack on the 6th and 7th October, 1944. The raid killed 200 people. After days of carnage, the strikes resulted in over 180 deaths, 400 casualties, and 900 prisoners of war being sent to concentration camps.

Hengelo Victory Parade 9th May, 1945. One of the photographs in my grandfather's collection, It shows his unit taking part in the event. Eric tells me that: 'The photo was taken in Burgemeester Jansenstraat. The street is there today but it has totally changed so you would not recognise it today.  The church in the far-side of the road was torn down in 1966. During the war civilian administration was located next to the church. Resistance fighters set fire to the administration building [after first being ransacked, then soaked with gasoline]so that the Nazis could not check whether someone had falsified ID cards, which had been issued by the resistance itself. A copy of all issued ID cards was kept at the administration office.'  ©Come Step Back In Time (The Langley Family Archive)
Hengelo Victory Parade 9th May, 1945. One of the photographs in my grandfather’s collection, it shows his unit taking part in the event. Eric tells me that: ‘The photo was taken in Burgemeester Jansenstraat. The street is there today but it has totally changed so you would not recognise it today. The church in the far-side of the road was torn down in 1966. During the war civilian administration was located next to the church. Resistance fighters set fire to the administration building [after first being ransacked, then soaked with gasoline] so that the Nazis could not check whether someone had falsified ID cards, which had been issued by the resistance itself. A copy of all issued ID cards was kept at the administration office.’
©Come Step Back In Time (The Langley Family Archive)


Last year I posted on my Twitter account (@emmahistorian) a selection of photographs from our family archive featuring my late grandfather. In 1945, he had, together with his unit, been part of the Allied liberation of Nazi-occupied Netherlands. He was stationed in Hengelo, a city in the eastern part of the Netherlands, in the province of Overijssel, from April 1945 for approximately six months.

During the liberation of Hengelo, local citizen Mrs. A. Wilmink (centre)enjoying the company of Allied soldiers . Image courtesy of Eric Heijink (
During the liberation of Hengelo, local citizen Mrs. A. Wilmink (centre) enjoying the company of Allied soldiers . Image courtesy of Eric Heijink (

These photographs and associated backstory caught the attention of Dutch historian, Eric Heijink (@ericheijink) ( Twitter: (@operatiemanna). Eric has curated a major exhibition commemorating the liberation of Enschede, 70 years ago this month. The exhibition opens on 1st April at the Centrale Bibliotheek Enschede and continues until 9th May, 2015. There is also a second exhibition at Synagoge Enschede which opens on 1st April and continues until 26th April, 2015.

Poster for new exhibition in Enschede, commemorating 70th Anniversary of liberation from Nazi occupation in the region.
Poster for new exhibition in Enschede, commemorating 70th Anniversary of liberation from Nazi occupation in the region.
Opening of exhibition in Enschede, 1st April, 2015. Image courtesy of Eric Heijink (
Opening of exhibition in Enschede, 1st April, 2015. Image courtesy of Eric Heijink (
Exhibition commemorating 70 years since the liberation of Enschede region, the Netherlands.
Opening of new exhibition commemorating 70 years since the liberation of Enschede region, the Netherlands. Image courtesy of Eric Heijink (
Image courtesy of Eric Heijink (
Part of the new exhibition at Enschede Central Library until 9th May, 2015. Image courtesy of Eric Heijink (

However, the story does not end here! One of the photographs to be included in the exhibition features a local family from Hengelo, the Schuits, who had befriended my grandfather in 1945, following the town’s liberation. Together with some of his fellow soldiers, grandfather visited the family regularly, resulting in the soldiers forming an affectionate bond with the Schuits.

The Schuit family from Hengelo. Dick and Henrik are the two young boys picture standing-up. ©Come Step Back In Time (The Langley Family Archive)
The Schuit family from Hengelo. Dick and Henrik are the two young boys picture standing-up. My grandfather took this photograph. ©Come Step Back In Time (The Langley Family Archive)
Inscription on back of Schuit family photograph taken by my grandfather. ©Come Step Back In Time (The Langley Family Archive)
Inscription on back of Schuit family photograph taken by my grandfather. ©Come Step Back In Time (The Langley Family Archive)

How do I know this? Well, conversations I have had with my family about these photographs and, more specifically, a lovely inscription written by the Schuits on the reverse of one of the photographs which reads:

To our best English friend Fred Langley in remembrance of his stay at Hengelo, Holland. Family H. J. Schuit.

I am extremely grateful to Eric’s detective work which has revealed that not only does the Schuit’s house still exist in Hengelo but both of the young brothers shown in the photograph are still alive! The eldest brother continues to live in the town. Eric made telephone contact with the youngest of the two brothers, Dick Schuit (79), who remembered my grandfather, “the Sergeant”.

My grandfather, Sergeant Frederick Langley. ©Come Step Back In Time (The Langley Family Archive)
My grandfather, Sergeant Frederick Langley. ©Come Step Back In Time (The Langley Family Archive)

Dick recalls that his parents came in contact with grandfather when trucks from his unit stopped outside their house, not long after Hengelo was liberated. The Schuit family invited him in for tea, together with several of his fellow soldiers, this tradition continued for quite a long time whilst the soldiers were stationed there. The Allies remained in Hengelo from the end of April, 1945, for approximately 6 months.

Allied soldiers by their camouflaged tank during Hengelo's liberation. Image courtesy of Eric Heijink (
Allied soldiers by their camouflaged tank during Hengelo’s liberation. Image courtesy of Eric Heijink (

The Schuit brothers, Henrik and Dick, recall another British soldier, Jerry Barnard, a driver with the Royal Engineers, also being one of these regular visitors. On one occasion, another British soldier, ‘Jeremy’, brought with him a pair of miniature toy soldiers which he had been brought in Brussels and he gave them to Henrik and Dick.

The Schuit family lived next door to the Hotel Lansink in Hengelo, this location had its advantages. The Hotel had been commandeered by the SS as a divisional HQ (2nd Class) which meant that during regular raids on local properties, the Schuits were pretty much left alone. This was just as well as they were hiding a cousin from the Dutch town of Zwolle. The cousin had been employed in Germany but he managed to flee and seek refuge with the Schuits.  He lived in hiding with the family for two months and survived the war.

Sherman tanks on the streets of Hengelo following liberation. Image courtesy of Eric Heijink (
Sherman tanks on the streets of Hengelo following liberation. Image courtesy of Eric Heijink (

The Schuit brothers remember the day Hengelo was liberated. British soldiers walking and others driving tanks down the nearby street of Julianalaan. There was one particular incident involving SS officers who were chased down the street by Allied soldiers as the men fled on bicycles. The soldiers caught-up with the officers (at gun point) and they duly surrendered.

Dick Schuit explained that the British soldiers were billeted in a nearby factory, officers were quartered in Hotel Lansink. Unfortunately, his family do not have any more photographs of my grandfather as it was very rare in 1945 for local people to own a camera. A majority of the photographs that exist from that time were taken by Allied soldiers. My mother has written to the Schuit family who are keen to re-established contact and we look forward to corresponding with the brothers, finding out more about my grandfather’s time in Hengelo as well as what life was like for the Schuits under Nazi occupation.

Allied soldiers enjoying the company of the local people of Hengelo following liberation. Image courtesy of Eric Heijink (
Allied soldiers enjoying the company of the local people of Hengelo following liberation. Image courtesy of Eric Heijink (

I was delighted to provide photographs from our family archive as well as background information about my grandfather for inclusion in the exhibition. It means a great deal to both myself and my family that he will be part of this event, a fitting tribute to a wonderful gentleman who served his country in World War Two. Grandfather was one of the lucky ones, he returned home, uninjured, to his family, after the war ended.

My grandfather's story featured in Hengelo's Weekblad newspaper (24.3.2015, p. 15 - Thanks to all the hard work by historian Eric Heijink!
My grandfather’s story featured in Hengelo’s Weekblad newspaper (24.3.2015, p. 15 – Thanks to all the hard detective work by historian Eric Heijink!

The BBC have also announced (17.3.15) an extensive season of programming across television, radio and online, and a major education project honouring Britain’s Greatest Generation. Some of the major television highlights include:

  • VE Day: Remembering Victory (BBC One – 1×90): Some of Britain’s best-loved figures from stage and screen recall the jubilation of that unforgettable day;
  • Britain’s Greatest Generation (BBC Two – 4×60): This major four-part series celebrates the last survivors of the Second World War, now in their nineties and hundreds, and their achievement in helping to win the war;
  • The BBC At War (BBC Two – 2×60): Debates about the BBC’s role were just as volatile in the 1940s as they are today. In this two-part series, Jonathan Dimbleby uncovers the story of how the BBC fought Hitler – and Whitehall – with a unique insight into one of the story’s leading players – his father, Richard Dimbleby;
  • Savage Peace (BBC Two – 1×60): Only at the war’s end was the true scale of human suffering and misery revealed, and so devastating was the scene that Europe was dubbed ‘The New Dark Continent’. This film will re-examine the aftermath of the War to ask if too much stress has been laid on an optimistic view of victory in Europe with celebratory images of VE day;
  • Fighting for King And Empire: Britain’s Caribbean Heroes (BBC Four – 1×60): In this programme, Caribbean veterans tell their extraordinary wartime stories in their own words. They also reveal how they have faced a lifelong struggle as they helped build Britain’s multicultural society – to be treated as equals by the British government and the British people;
  • World War Two: 1945 & The Wheelchair President (BBC Four – 1×90): David Reynolds re-examines the war leadership of American president Franklin Roosevelt. In this intimate new biography set against the epic of World War Two, Reynolds reveals how Roosevelt was burdened by secrets about his failing health and strained marriage that, if exposed, could have destroyed his presidency.
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  • The cover of a Victory Special issue of Picture Post magazine depicting a mother and her two sons celebrating V.E. Day in Britain, at the end of World War Two, 8th May 1945 (published 19th May 1945). (Photo by Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Posted in Film, History, Maritime History, World War One, World War Two

Happy New Year 2015 & Historical Pinboard 1915


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  • Greetings card from 1915. (Photo by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images)

Happy New Year readers, welcome to 2015!  I’ve no idea what this year holds but as with everything in life, best ‘roll with the punches’. I have never been a fan of making New Year’s resolutions but am rather partial to writing endless lists. One such list I have compiled contains historical anniversaries coming-up over the next twelve months, there are quite a few of them, here’s my top selection:

  • January 24th (50th) death of Sir Winston Churchill;
  • April 25th (100th) start of the Gallipoli Campaign in World War One which ended on 9th January, 1916;
  • May 7th (250th) launch of the HMS Victory, (100th) sinking of the RMS Lusitania, (70th) 8th V.E. Day, (75th) 27th-4th June – Dunkirk invasions;
  • June 2nd (175th) birth of Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), 16th (100th) foundation of the British Women’s Institute, 18th (200th) Battle of Waterloo, 15th (800th) Magna Carta issued;
  • July 10th-31st October (75th) Battle of Britain;
  • September 6th (100th) first Women’s Institute meeting held in Llanfairpwllgwyngyll, Wales;
  • October 12th (100th) British nurse Edith Cavell (1865-1915) is executed by a German firing squad for helping Allied soldiers escape from Belgium, 15th (600th) Battle of Agincourt.

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  • Battle of Britain Memorial, unveiled in 1993, situated on the white cliffs near Capel-le-Ferne between Dover and Folkestone, Kent.

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  • Engraving (1873) featuring King John (1166-1216) signing The Magna Carta (1215).

I thought it would be interesting to have a look at some newspaper reports from a hundred years ago:

A New Year is dawning – a year of great possibilities, great responsibilities, and, we believe, great achievements. The year of 1914 has marked an epoch in the history of the world, and as it recedes into the shadows of the past our thoughts go back to its early days, before the German war of aggression darkened the peaceful lands of Europe.

At the beginning of January, 1914, the British public, which dearly loves deeds of adventure, was thrilled by the news that Sir E. Shackleton had decided to lead another expedition to the South Polar regions, and in November tidings were received that the party had reached Sydney on its journey southwards.

Scarcely a year has passed, and Great Britain is engaged in the greatest venture she has ever undertaken – a venture which has stirred the imagination, the sympathy, and the loyalty of Britons all over the world. As the bells welcome in the New Year the sons of the great World Empire are fighting with the Allies in France and Belgium; against the Germans in Africa; and Volunteers are devoting themselves to strenuous exercise in the Dominions and in the training camps of England, preparing  themselves for active service in the early spring. 

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  • August 1915: Posters at Marylebone Station advertising war loans. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

Day by day tales of unflinching courage, resourcefulness, and heroism reach us from the theatre of war. The news of the great air and sea battle of Cuxhaven, which came filtering through on Sunday night, outvied for sheer daring, skill, and ingenuity the most romantic story of adventure penned by novelists of any age. And while Great Britain can produce men like these she is able fearlessly to bring to a successful conclusion tasks, however difficult, with which she may be confronted in the immediate future.

Therefore, with high hopes, unbounded enthusiasm, and never-faltering optimism, she greets the New Year of 1915. British commerce is satisfactory in spite of the depression caused by the war, and British goods are in ever increasing demand all over the world. The great British Fleet is patrolling the seas, and merchant ships pass to and fro to neutral countries carrying their freight to distant parts. German and Austrian goods, which were stocked in quantities by many English shops, have now been largely superseded by British, bearing a label “British Made”. For quality, finish, and general workmanship they cannot be equalled.

(Preston Leader, 13.2.1915)

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  • Soldiers reading the Suffragette newspaper, April 1915. That week’s editorial by Christabel Pankhurst expressed intensely anti-German sentiments typical of the time. The front cover image is a reproduction of a French cartoon of Joan of Arc (St Joan) in full military armour, hovering as an angel above Rheims Cathedral, which had been badly damaged in September 1914. The headline screams: ‘That which the fire and Sword of the Germans Can Never Destroy’. (Photo by Museum of London/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

Votes for women announced at the beginning of 1915. We may claim that our efforts to keep the suffrage flag flying in spite of the war have met with a gratifying and stimulating measure of success. In several instances we have through the columns of the paper and by means of meetings, deputations & etc  been able to draw public attention to serious abuses which have made the lot of women in wartime harder even than in peace; but never for a moment have we lost sight of our single goal; the enfranchisement of women.

The Woman’s Right-To-Serve Demonstration: A Great Procession. The demonstration, on July 17, of thousands of women from all classes-aristocrats, professionals, workers in many forms of art and industry, women who rejoice in demonstrating, and women whom nothing but clear conviction and a strong sense of duty would draw from their quiet homes into the glare of publicity – which was organised to demand as a right that women should be allowed to take their share in munition and other war work, was a success in every detail, except the weather, which was deplorable.

….it was picturesque, enthusiastic and impressive, and drew a concourse of many thousands, some of whom may have “come to scoff”, and when the story of the World War comes to be written, the patriotic part played by women of the Empire, of France, of Belgium, of Italy, of Russia, will be chronicled, and this great demonstration of women craving to work for the war will find honourable place.

(The Illustrated London News, 24.7.1915)

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  • A lithographic comical postcard promoting an anti-suffrage sentiment concerning women’s rights, published in New York City (1915). The husband washes clothes and watches the baby and cat at home. (Photo by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images)

  • Suffragette Rally, Trafalgar Square, London, ‘Suffragettes Help The War Effort’ (1915). British Pathe – Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.2014.

Undoing the Dardanelles blunder: The withdrawal of the British troops from two of the three points held on the Gallipoli Peninsula may be taken as a sign that the Government has at least realized the stupendous blunder is committed in venturing upon this expedition, the earlier phases of which Mr Churchill described as a ‘gamble.’ A gamble it has proved in the lives of the most heroic of our race. The casualties at the Dardanelles numbered up to November 9 no fewer than 106,000 officers and men. In addition, sickness on this front accounted for 90,000 down to October. A loss of nearly 200,000 men was thus incurred without any adequate result.

Not only did the Government despatch to the Dardanelles forces which, judiciously utilized at other points, might have achieved the greatest results; not only did it divert to the Near East munitions at a time when we were perilously short of high-explosive shells. It also deceived the nation as to the position and prospects after its strokes had signally failed through initial mismanagement or the inadequacy of the army employed. The public has not forgotten the optimistic assurances of Mr Churchill, Lord Robert Cecil, and Lord Kitchener.

Mr Lloyd George’s speech last evening really contains the gravest indictment that has as yet been drawn against the Government. Here is a confession that when the Germans were in May making 250,000 high-explosive shells a day the British production was only 2,500. Even now he implies that, despite great efforts, we have not equalled the German output. Shall we ever overtake it? Only if the nation works its hardest. The fatal words of the war, he said, were ‘too late’. These words have dogged the Allies’  every step.

(Daily Mail, 21.12.1915)

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Posted in Bringing Alive The Past, Film, History, Literature, Maritime History, Motoring History, Rural Heritage, TV Programme, Vintage, Vintage Retail, World War One, World War Two

Rye, East Sussex: Hideout For Smugglers & Haven For Writers

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  • Mermaid Street, Rye, East Sussex.
Illustration of Mermaid Street, Rye from Rye and District Holiday Guide (1950).
Illustration of Mermaid Street, Rye from Rye and District Holiday Guide (1950).

Through the ages – sackings and burnings, invader and pirates, smugglers and highwaymen, Kings and Queens, statesmen and reformers, and, in more recent years, threats of invasion, bombs and incendiaries, to say nothing of “doodle bugs.”

And yet through it all Rye seems to stand quite imperturbable and seemingly unconcerned with the passage of time, for we read that in 1263 the Friar of the Sack were allowed “to dwell in peace and quietude… in the Town of Rye,” and we can stand in the same street to-day and feel the same sense of “peace and quietude” and realize that nothing seems to have altered in the last 700 years. The peculiar appeal of Rye is that inasmuch as other towns take you back to the past, Rye brings the past ages right into the present day.

(Handbook and Guide: Rye, Winchelsea & Northiam by L.A. Vidler and W. MacLean Homan, 1950)

I spent my childhood in East Sussex, it is a picturesque county with a fascinating history dating back to the 5th Century AD when South Saxons settled there following the Romans’ departure.  The ancient town of Rye, close to the East Sussex coastline, was once contained in the Manors of Rameslie and Brede. I visited Rye many times with my family and is a town that remains close to my heart.


In my collection of vintage publications there is a 1950 copy of the Rye & District Holiday Guide. It is a joy to dip in and out of this little book, a slice of nostalgia from post-war Britain. For a majority of Britons, 1950 was not a time of prosperity, food rationing was still in place and petrol rationing did not end until 26th May that year. During the early 1950s, many Britons chose to spend their holidays or days out close to home. Guidebooks, such as this one, became an invaluable resource. It was not until the end of the decade that one in three British families owned a car and venturing outside of one’s locality became the norm.

Rye & District Holiday Guide (1950).
Rye & District Holiday Guide (1950).

The guidebook is jam-packed full of advertisements promoting local tourist attractions as well as establishments offering that ever popular British staple, afternoon tea. In the back section there is a comprehensive accommodation list, some of the descriptions given are so charming, I thought it would be nice to share some of my favourites with you:

Illustration from Rye & District Guide (1950).
Illustration from Rye & District  Holiday Guide (1950).

The Mill, Iden-by-Rye. An old Millhouse all on one floor, rooms of good size and comfortably furnished. On Bus route 2 miles from Rye and situated in country surroundings. Our own farm produce. Sandwiches willingly packed. Inclusive terms. 

Illustration from Rye & District Guide (1950).
Illustration from Rye & District Holiday Guide (1950).

Monastery Guest House, High Street, Rye. Principal rooms overlooking secluded garden flanked by the original old Monastery Chapel wall (1379). Spend a restful holiday in a happy atmosphere with comfort, courtesy and consideration.

Illustration from Rye & District Guide (1950).
Illustration from Rye & District Holiday Guide (1950).

Thornton House, Northiam (near Rye). Ideal for country holidays. Good food, a happy atmosphere and every consideration. Bus and London coaches pass the gate. Inclusive terms from 4  1/2 guineas weekly.

Robin Hill is a Guest House unusual – antiquity with fine old oak beams and timbered rooms with cosy chimney corners, yet possessing every modern convenience.

Rye as a touring centre is ideal for walkers, cyclists and motorists. Rolling wooded country North and West of the town, the sea to the South, and the wonderful Romney Marshes to the East. Good roads radiate in all directions with country lanes and paths in profusion.

Advertisement from Rye & District Holiday Guide (1950).
Advertisement from Rye & District Holiday Guide (1950).

Rye together with its surrounding area, has long been a mecca for literary types.  Playwright John Fletcher (1579-1625) was born in Rye in 1579 at the Old Vicarage House and at which his father, the Rev. Richard Fletcher, then resided as minister and preacher during the vicariate of Rev. Richard Connope, an absentee; as he would not resign in Mr Fletcher’s favour, the latter left Rye when his famous son was two years old. John Fletcher’s birthplace was pulled down in 1699 and a new house re-erected in 1701.

Illustration from Rye & District Guide (1950).
Illustration from Rye & District Holiday Guide (1950).

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  • Henry James poses outside Lamb House c.1900. (Photo by Kean Collection/Getty Images).

Lamb House (National Trust), Rye was home to American novelist Henry James (1843-1916) from 1897 until his death. James wrote The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903) and The Golden Bowl (1904) in house’s garden room (destroyed by a bomb in World War Two). Lamb House featured as Mr Longdon’s home in The Awkward Age (1899).

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  • E. (Edward) F. (Frederic) Benson, c.1915. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

E. F. Benson (1867-1940) moved to Rye in 1919 and lived at Lamb House. He wrote six novels and two short stories in the popular ‘Mapp and Lucia’ series. These quintessentially English novels depict life in a 1930s provincial market town. Four novels are set in Tilling, a fictional location based upon Rye. Lamb House became the model for Mapp’s, as well as for a little while, Lucia’s home, ‘Mallards’. Benson was Mayor of the Borough of Rye from 1934 and accorded Honorary Freedom of the Borough on March 22nd, 1938.

The main protagonists of Benson’s Mapp and Lucia books are two sharp-tongued, well-healed ladies, Elizabeth Mapp and Emmeline Lucas (Lucia) who both jostle for pole position in Tilling society. Newcomer to Tilling, Lucia, sets out to topple the town’s resident queen bee, Mapp. There are plenty of jolly japes and cutting remarks along the way too.

A new adaptation of Mapp and Lucia aired on BBC One, Christmas 2014. A three-parter written by Steve Pemberton (who also plays flamboyant Georgie Pillson, Lucia’s sidekick) and directed by Diarmuid Lawrence (Desperate Romantics, Anglo Saxon Attitudes, Little Dorrit).

  • ‘On location with Mapp and Lucia’, behind the scenes with the BBC cast and crew in Rye. Uploaded to You Tube (17.12.14) by National Trust Charity.

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Illustration from Rye & District Guide (1950).
Illustration from Rye & District Holiday Guide (1950).
Illustration from Rye & District Guide (1950).
Illustration from Rye & District Holiday Guide (1950).

In 1773, theologian John Wesley (1703-1791) visited Rye, East Sussex, and wrote in his diary: ‘I found the people willing to hear the good word at Rye but they will not part with the accursed thing, smuggling.’ During the eighteenth century, Rye and nearby Romney Marshes were awash with smuggling activities. Bandits would smuggle goods such as brandy and tobacco in at night by boat from France to avoid high import taxes.

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  • Arthur Russell Thorndike (1885-1972), English actor and novelist, early 20th century. Thorndike was the brother of Dame Sybil Thorndike (1882-1976). (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)

One of the most notorious gangs of smugglers was the Hawkhurst Gang who frequented The Mermaid Inn, Mermaid Street, Rye. Actor and author Arthur Russell Thorndike (1885-1972), born in Rochester, Kent, wrote a series of books, known as the Dr Syn series, based upon eighteenth century smuggling activities on the Romney Marshes. The main protagonist is the swashbuckling Rev. Dr Christopher Syn who leads a rebel band against the King’s press gangs.

Books in the Dr Syn series are:

  • Doctor Syn: A Tale of the Romney Marsh (1915)
  • Doctor Syn on the High Seas (1935)
  • Doctor Syn Returns (1935)
  • Further Adventures of Doctor Syn (1936)
  • Courageous Exploits of Doctor Syn (1938)
  • Amazing Quest of Doctor Syn (1939)
  • Shadow of Doctor Syn (1944)

  • Clip from The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh , a television adaptation of Thorndike’s concluding Dr Syn novel (but written first). This television series aired in three parts in 1963. Uploaded to You Tube 23.4.11.
Illustration from Rye & District Guide (1950).
Illustration from Rye & District History Guide (1950).
Posted in Bringing Alive The Past, History, Literature, Mrs Beeton, TV Programme, Vintage, World War One, World War Two

Forgotten Christmas Foods & Customs: Part 2 – Puddings, Cakes & Mince Pies

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  • A Victorian family gather to stir the Christmas pudding for luck. Christmas card of 1871 or 1872. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Of all the bountiful fare that graces the festive board at Xmas time, surely this pudding of all puddings receives the most enthusiastic welcome. Here comes the plum pudding !! Watch the eager anticipation of every member of the family – and is it not more than justified – could there possibly be anything more richly flavoured than the delectable richness of the cunningly mixed fruits and spices.

(Practical Cookery for All  by Blanche Anding et al, c.1946)

November the twenty-sixth really sees the start of the preparation for Christmas in the New Forest. For that is the traditional date on which the Gypsies are allowed to start picking holly to sell at local markets and to make wreaths. Already they have filled their sacks with moss gathered from the boggy paths on the side of the hill above Abbots Well. This moss is used in foundations of wreaths…..On Christmas Eve the kitchen is very busy place. Although the cake and puddings have been made for several weeks there are still the mince pies to make, the chestnut stuffing to mix, vegetables to prepare, the trifle to make and the cake to decorate.

(A Hampshire Christmas, compiled by Sara Tiller, 1992,  ‘Food Glorious Food’ Chapter by Irene Soper (pp, 20-23))

The countdown to Christmas has begun. For some, that statement will induce feelings of anxiety, for others, pure excitement and joy. For me, it is a mixture of both. However, now is the time to start getting organised in the kitchen, preparing menus, stockpiling your store cupboard, making your Christmas pudding, cake and mincemeat. It is also a good time to keep an eye out for bargains at your local supermarket, come 1st December, prices start to rise.

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  • A Victorian family being served a huge flaming plum pudding at the end of their Christmas dinner.  Illustration from “Eight Happy Holidays” published by E.P. Dutton & Company, New York, 1882.

Stir-up Sunday

In Britain this year, ‘Stir-up Sunday’ took place on the 23rd November and in 2015 it will be 22nd November. Panic not if you forgot to prepare your cake and pudding on the 23rd because you have still about a week to get organised. Don’t leave making these Christmas staples until the last minute, dried fruit needs time to absorb the alcohol which is what gives both cake and pudding that lovely rich taste and moist texture. Your Christmas cake will need to be topped-up with alcohol (known as ‘feeding your cake’) on a weekly basis until the big day.

I was recently approached by Spun Gold tv who make the popular weekly cookery show, Weekend Kitchen With Waitrose, for Channel 4 (Saturdays, 9am). Spun Gold asked me to help them with research for a forthcoming segment they were running on ‘Stir-up Sunday’. It was very good timing, I had been researching forgotten Christmas foods and customs for quite a few months. In addition, I also lent the production team a selection of vintage cookery cookbooks from my collection.

The full episode (Series 2, Show 10, 22.11.14), can be viewed here and more details about the items featured in the segment, including replica silver pudding charms, can be found here. The episode is also be repeated on the UK Good Food Channel, Saturday 29th November, 11am and 4pm, more information here.

I am delighted with the finished segment, the production and presenting team (Lisa Snowdon, Steve Jones and Angellica Bell) did a fabulous job. Frumenty (see below) certainly divided the presenters! A special mention must also go to Weekend Kitchen’s excellent Assistant Producer Claire Paine who coordinated the research with myself. Claire has just started-up the excellent food blog, ‘Claire-en-Croute’ (, do have a look, it is very good.

I have reprinted below a selection of the best Christmas pudding, cake and mince pie recipes taken from my collection of vintage cookbooks. You will find recipes from the Victorian era right through to the 1960s. Hope you find a recipe that catches your eye. Don’t forget to send me images of your retro recreations or Tweet me @emmahistorian.

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  • Vintage engraving from 1868 after the painting by Thomas Webster (1800-1886) a Victorian family sit down for their Christmas Dinner.

The origins of ‘Stir-up Sunday’ date back to the sixteenth century.  In the Book of Common Prayer (1549), the following passage would be read-out to Anglican congregations on the last Sunday before Advent (or the twenty-fifth Sunday after Trinity):

Stir-up, we beseech thee. O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded.

Traditionally, stir-up Sunday is a communal event when family come together to help stir both pudding and cake mixture. Prince Albert (1819-1861) is thought to have encouraged the family element of stir-up Sunday, during the Victorian era. There should be thirteen ingredients in a Christmas pudding, the number represents Christ and his twelve disciples. The mixture should be stirred from east to west in honour of The Three Wise Men. The sprig of holly placed on the top of the pudding represents the crown of thorns on Christ’s head.

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  •  Cast of Love Lies, Gaiety Theatre Making A Christmas Pudding (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

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  • Medieval Christmas feast – illustration by Birket Foster, 1872. (Photo by Culture Club/Getty Images)


History of The Christmas/Plum Pudding

The solid Christmas pudding, that we recognise today, would have once been a liquid porridge made from wheat flour. In Medieval England, frumenty was a classic grain pottage, made with almond milk, boiled beef, mutton, raisins, currants, prunes, spices and wine. Other variations on this recipe include: chopped poultry, pheasant, partridge and rabbit, sugar apples, raisins candied oranges and lemons. The fourteenth century, cookbook Forme of Cury , written c.1390 by chief master cooks of King Richard II, (1367-1400), contains a recipe for frumenty with porpoise (‘furmente with porpays’).

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  • Christmas pudding ceremony at Greenwich Spaman’s Hospital, London, they are aboard a model of a hospital ship, ‘dreadnought’, Lady Stonehaven, Father Christmas and Father Neptune stir the pudding. 1931, 10th December.  (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)

It wasn’t until the sixteenth century that this liquid dish evolved into a pudding thickened with eggs, breadcrumbs, dried fruit and flavoured with ale and spirits. In 1664, Puritans banned this type of pudding, along with mince pies, considering it to be a lewd custom, packed full of far too rich ingredients that could over stimulate the senses. It also contained alcohol, which of course for the puritans was a big ‘no no’. In 1714, King George I (1660-1727) re-introduced the pudding as part of the Christmas festive meal. As the eighteenth century progressed, meat was gradually replaced by all sweet ingredients.

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  • A vintage colour Christmas greeting featuring a couple offering ‘Every Good Wish’, published c.1900. (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)

Christmas pudding is sometimes referred to as ‘plum pudding’. However, before the Victorian era, plum was actually the culinary term for raisins. Until the beginning of the nineteenth century, plum pudding was also called ‘plum porridge’ and was the first course at Christmas dinner. Similar to frumenty, plum porridge was made with boiled beef or mutton and when the meat was half-cooked, the broth was thickened with brown bread. Then currants, raisins, ginger, mace, prunes and cloves were added and the mixture then returned to the boil.

This porridge was sent to the table with the meat and eaten with it. Before the nineteenth century, wealthy families also ate a boar’s head which was in fact the first dish brought in for Christmas dinner. This stunning centrepiece was adorned with garlands, a lemon stuffed in its mouth and had its tusks left on. The boar’s entrance was pure theatre.

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  • British comedians Eric Morecambe (1926 – 1984), left, and Ernie Wise stir up a Christmas pudding with actor Sir Alec Guinness (1914 – 2000) outside a mock-up of the doorway to Number 10 Downing Street, at Thames Television’s Teddington Studios during the making of their Christmas show. Original Publication: People Disc – HK0409 (Photo by Wesley/Getty Images)

Pudding Cloth

The ‘pudding cloth’ or ‘clout’ was first introduced in the seventeenth century. The cloth (usually muslin) contained the wet ingredients in a round bundle securely tied around the top and boiled in the family cauldron (see Ruth Goodman’s demonstration above).  Writer, Sir Kenelm Digby (1603-1665) describes the practice of using a wooden bowl as well as a pudding cloth. This bundle was boiled upside down in the steaming pot:

..put a linen cloth or handkerchiefs over the mouth of the dish [wooden bowl] and reverse the mouth downwards, so that you may tie the napkin close with two knots; by the corners cross or with a strong thread, upon the bottom of the dish then turned upwards all which is, that the matter may not get out, and yet the boiling water get through the line upon it on one side enough to bake the pudding sufficiently. The faster it boils, the better it will be. The dish will turn and rowl up and down in the water, as it gallopeth in boiling. An hour’s boiling is sufficient.

In Scotland, a variation on the Christmas pudding is the ‘clootie dumpling’.  A wet mixture consisting of flour, breadcrumbs, dried fruit, sugar, suet, spice and milk is then wrapped in a floured cloth and boiled in a large saucepan.

I must not forget to tell you, Eloise, that any of the above sort of puddings, no matter what made of, if sweet or savoury, is preferable made in a basin to being put in a cloth, which is often very dirty in appearance; while, if boiled in a basin, the paste receives all the nutriment of the meat, which, if boiled in a cloth, would evaporate in the water, if by neglect it ceases boiling. If you wish to turn it well out, thoroughly grease the inside of your basin when making. On pudding cloths: A pudding cloth, however coarse, ought never to be washed with soap; it should be dried as quickly as possible, and kept dry and free from dust, and in a drawer or cupboard free from smell.

(Soyer’s Shilling Cookery For The People by Alexis Soyer, 1860, p.103)

Christmas Pudding Charms

In the 1850s, particularly in Germany, tiny silver pudding charms were added to the mixture before cooking. There were usually six charms: boot (travel); wishbone (granting of a wish); thimble (bad luck, predicting spinsterhood); horseshoe (good luck); bell and bachelor’s button (lucky for a man). Depending on which charm you found in your pudding portion this would indicate whether you would be ‘lucky’ or ‘unlucky’ the following year.

It is sometimes possible to pick-up Victorian pudding charms in antique markets or on e-bay etc and reproductions are widely available on the internet. All these items come with the usual modern-day health and safety precautions. Old-fashioned replica Christmas pudding charms can be brought from Vivi Celebrations or The Charmworks.

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  • Two Belgian soldiers having a Christmas meal in a dry corner of a flooded trench on the Western Front during World War One, circa December 1915. (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)


Christmas/Plum Pudding

Ingredients: ½ lb each of: beef suet, sultanas, currants, seeded raisins, breadcrumbs (white), ¼ lb each of: flour, chopped candied peel, blanched almonds and brown sugar. Grated rind of 1 lemon, ½ gill of brandy or rum, 6 eggs, ½ a grated nutmeg, 1 teaspoonful mixed spice, ½ teaspoonful salt. Method: Clean and pick the fruit and chop the almonds. Sift the flour, salt, and spices together. Add the finely shredded suet and rub it into the flour. Add the fruit and other ingredients. Mix all well together. Add the brandy. Tie in a greased and floured pudding cloth or basin, and boil for 6 hours. Perfect  Cooking: A Comprehensive Guide to Success in the Kitchen by the Parkinson Stove Co. Ltd (1949) DSCF2939

Ingredients: ½ lb of flour, suet, sultanas, raisins, currants, mixed peel, carrot (raw and grated), brown sugar, peeled raw potato (grated). 1 teaspoonful each of: mixed spice, grated nutmeg and cinnamon, grated rind of lemon. ¼ lb of shelled, coarsely chopped, almonds. 1 large wineglass of rum or brandy or sherry. Method: Mix all ingredients together, put into basins. Steam eight hours, and use as required. Perfect  Cooking: A Comprehensive Guide to Success in the Kitchen by the Parkinson Stove Co. Ltd (1949) An old family recipe about 1713.DSCF2943

Ingredients: 1 lb shredded Atora suet, 2 lb raisins, 1 lb currants, 1 lb sultanas, ½ lb candied peel, ¾ lb sugar, 2 teaspoonfuls baking powder, ¾ lb flour, 2 ozs sweet almonds. Rind and juice of 1 lemon. 6 eggs. 1 lb breadcrumbs. ½ nutmeg. 1 eggspoonful of salt, milk, sufficient to make right consistency. ¼ pint rum. Methods: Clean currants, stone raisins, put all the dry ingredients into a basin, blanch and chop almonds, add eggs, well beaten, grated rind of lemon, and the juice strained. Mix all thoroughly, put into greased pudding basins, cover with greased paper and steam 6 hours. Sufficient mixture for 4 puddings. The Recipe Book of Atora: The Good Beef Suet (1932)


(Plum Pudding) Ingredients: 12 oz flour, 1 lb beef suet, 1lb stoned raisins, 1 lb Tate & Lyle’s caster sugar, ¾ lb breadcrumbs, ½ lb tart apples, ¼ lb almonds, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 lemon, ½ teaspoon ground mace, ¾ pint old ale, 2 tablespoons Lyle’s Golden Syrup, ½ lb picked sultanas, ½ lb cleaned currants, ½ lb minced candied peel, 6 eggs, ½ nutmeg, 1 orange, ½ teaspoon ground ginger, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Method: Prepare the fruit. Put apples, peeled and cored, through a mincer with the peel and raisins. Blanch and chop almonds. Sift flour with spices and salt. Remove gristle and skin from suet and put suet through mincer with 2 or 3 tablespoons of flour to prevent it sticking. Mix all the dry ingredients in a basin. Stir in the grated lemon and orange rind. Make a hollow in centre. Add syrup, well-beaten eggs, and strained fruit juice. Lastly stir in ale, or substitute 1 glass of sherry and a glass of rum for ale. Cover pudding mixture. Stand 24 hours to ripen. Pack into well-buttered pudding basis. Cover with buttered papers and then with a pudding cloth. Plunge into boiling water, coming almost half way up the sides. Steam for 7 or 8 hours, keeping saucepan replenished with boiling water when necessary. To serve pudding, remove from pan, stand for 4 minutes, remove coverings and turn gently on to a hot dish. Sprinkle with sugar. Decorate with a spring or two of holly. Pour over a glass of brandy or rum, and set fire to it. Serve with brandy butter or brandy custard. More Every-Day Dishes Edited by Elizabeth Craig (1930s)

1932 Atora Recipe Book


One dish of crushed whole wheat, sugar, spice, and raisins and skimmed new milk, simmered in a jar in the oven, or at the back of the stove overnight. It can be eaten hot or cold. A Hampshire Christmas, compiled by Sara Tiller, 1992,  ‘Food Glorious Food’ Chapter by Irene Soper (p.23)


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  • Colour lithographic illustration advertising the Centenary of Atmore’s mince meat plum pudding, Philadelphia, PA, 1876. (Photo by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images)

Crusader’s Pie! The mince pie dates from the days of the Crusaders. It used to be called the ‘Christ’s Cradle’ and was oblong in shape instead of round. The Crusaders said the spices put into it represented the gifts of the Wise Men to the Holy Child, and the crust represented the cradle.

Ingredients: 1lb of cooking apples, 1lb of currants, 1lb of sultanas, 1lb of raisins, 1lb of chopped or shredded suet, 1lb of soft brown sugar, 1/4 lb of minced candied peel, 4 ozs of finely minced blanched almonds, 1/4 a level teaspoonful of mixed spice, 1/2 a level teaspoonful of grated nutmeg, 1/2 a lemon, 1 large wineglass full of brandy. A Hampshire Christmas, compiled by Sara Tiller, 1992,  ‘Food Glorious Food’ Chapter by Irene Soper (p.25)

How To Make Mincepies

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  • British magazine advertisement for mincemeat c.1930. (Photo by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images)

Method: When the paste (pastry) has had the necessary number of turns, roll it out to about 1/4 of an inch in thickness, and line some large-sized patty-pans with it. Fill with mincemeat, cover with paste (pastry), brush over lightly with cold water, and dredge with castor sugar. Bake in a moderately hot oven from 25 to 30 minutes, and serve either hot or cold. Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, 1915 Edition.

Method: Make 8 oz flaky pastry, and roll it out to ½ inch in thickness. Cut the required number of rounds to make lids for the patty tins to be used. Fold up the trimmings, roll 1/8 inch thick and cut out rounds to line the tins, making the rounds a size larger than the tins to allow for the depth. Line the tins, fill with mincemeat, damp the edges and put on the pastry lids. Decorate the edges with tiny flutes, make a hole with a skewer in the top of each and glaze with egg white and sugar. Bake in a hot oven (450F, mark 8) for 20-30 minutes.

Ingredients: 1 large apple (minced finely), 2 ozs each sultanas, seeded raisins, currants, and sugar, grated rind and juice of 1 lemon – more if liked. 1 oz candied peel, finely chopped. ½ teaspoonful cinnamon, ¼ teaspoonful mixed spice, 1 teaspoonful melted butter, 1oz chopped nuts, 1 tablespoonful sherry or brandy. Method: Mix all the ingredients well together. NB if brandy is used the mince will keep well. Line patty tins with pastry; fill with mince; brush round edges with water. Cover with pastry. Decorate edges with a fork. Brush over with beaten egg. Bake at No. 6 (gas) for short crust, No. 7 (gas) for rough puff pastry. Perfect  Cooking: A Comprehensive Guide to Success in the Kitchen by the Parkinson Stove Co. Ltd (1949)

A 1940s living-room decorated for Christmas. Exhibit at Milestones Living History Museum, Basingstoke. ©Come Step Back In Time
A 1940s living-room decorated for Christmas. Exhibit at Milestones Living History Museum, Basingstoke. ©Come Step Back In Time

Vintage Advice On The Culinary Countdown To Christmas

Mrs Bickton Cooks’ Book by Margaret Hussey (1947):

  1. Before the end of November make the Christmas cake and puddings.
  2. During the first week in December make mincemeat.
  3. During the second week in December ice and decorate the Christmas cake.
  4. Make some plain good keeping cakes such as Madeira, Parkins or gingerbread, a few dishes with no fruit in are acceptable at Christmas time.
  5. December 22nd and 23rd, make flaky pastry and set aside in a cool place. Make such things as biscuits, sponge cakes, jam rolls and flans, cheese straws buns.
  6. December 24th make mince pies and sausage rolls and other pastries. Make cold supper dishes both sweet and savoury. Boil tongue or ham, make hard sauce for pudding, stew giblets, prepare bread sauce and stuffing. Singe, stuff, and truss the bird and put it in the roasting tin, prick sausages and cook these to be served cold on Boxing Day.
  7. December 25th, put pudding on to boil early. Heat oven and put bird in. Head bread sauce and put under a cosy till wanted. Prepare vegetables, parboil potatoes and put under a cosy or round the bird, cook greens, skim giblet stock, remove the bird ¼ hour before serving and pour off dripping, then boil up the giblet stock in the pan for gravy it will not need any thickening, but strain it into a tureen or jug and keep hot till wanted. Dish up, and serve – carving will be speeded up considerably if it is begun in the kitchen, by cutting several slices from the breast and removing wing, leg and thigh from one side of the bird, the uncut side should be carried “right side out” and if possible kept to make a second dinner on Boxing Day.
From my private collection of vintage cookbooks.
From my private collection of vintage cookbooks.

Good Housekeeping’s Modern Hostess (1959):

  1. The following time-table may be used as a guide is based on preparing a 14 lb turkey for dinner at one o’clock. 8.45am Light oven and set to moderate heat (350F, mark 4). 9am Put in turkey. Allow 15 minutes per 1lb (dressed weight) up to 14 lb; 10 minutes per lb for a heavier bird. Baste every  ½ hour. If aluminium foil is used, remove it ½ hour before the end of the cooking time, in order to brown the bird. An alternative way of roasting a turkey is by the long, slow method. Cook in a very slow (250F mark ½), for the following times: 6-12 lbs 20 mins. Per lb and 1 hour 20 mins. Over 13-20 lbs. 14 mins. Per lb and 2 ¼ hours over.
  2. 10am Put pudding on to steam. 11am Lay table with silver, cutlery, glasses, etc., arrange dessert, prepare wines, set out coffee tray, etc.  11.30am Boil potatoes for 3 minutes, and meanwhile heat some dripping in a tin. Put the drained potatoes in this and place in oven. Put onion to infuse in milk for bread sauce.
  3. 12.15pm Put sausages round bird and turn them occasionally to brown them. Put the plates to warm. 12.30pm Put on water for sprouts and cook them. 12.45pm Dish up bird. Put mince pies in oven to heat up. Make gravy. Prepare coffee. 12.50pm Finish bread sauce, dish up vegetables. 12.55pm Dish pudding and keep with basin over hot water. Turn out oven, dish up mince pies and leave in warm oven. 1pm Serve the dinner.

    A 1940s living-room decorated for Christmas. Exhibit at Milestones Living History Museum, Basingstoke. ©Come Step Back In Time
    A 1940s living-room decorated for Christmas. Exhibit at Milestones Living History Museum, Basingstoke. ©Come Step Back In Time


Christmas Jelly

Perfect  Cooking: A Comprehensive Guide to Success in the Kitchen by the Parkinson Stove Co. Ltd (1949)

Ingredients: 1 ½ pints wine jelly, 2 ozs walnuts, 1 tablespoonful rum, 2 ozs muscatels (seeded), 1 oz dates, 1 oz glace cherries, washed & dried. 3 ozs blanched dry almonds, 1 oz figs. Method: Make jelly, add rum, a few drops of lemon juice, an inch cinnamon stick. Chop roughly most of fruit and nuts. Pour a little jelly into bottom of wetted mould and set some fruit into patterns. When set pour in half-an-inch of jelly and allow to set. Fill in layers of fruit and jelly alternatively till the mould is full. Set in a cool place.

It was once the custom to celebrate the ‘Feast Of The Stars’ by holding a ‘Twelfth Night’ party. A special cake was baked for the occasion very rich and spicy. It was iced with a blue coloured icing to represent the sky and decorated with silver stars and twelve candles.

A Hampshire Christmas, compiled by Sara Tiller, 1992,  ‘Food Glorious Food’ Chapter by Irene Soper (p.27)

Twelfth Night Cake

Ingredients: 8 ozs of flour, 4 eggs, 8 ozs of sugar, 9 ozs of butter, 1 level dessertspoonful of mixed spice, 6 ozs of currants, 8 ozs of sultanas, 2 ozs of candied peel, 2 ozs of glace cherries and a little milk to mix. Method: Grease a cake tin and line with paper. Prepare the dry ingredients. Cream the butter and sugar together, beat in each egg separately, stir in the sieved flour and spice, fruit, etc., alternately with the milk, adding a little of each at a time. Blend all the ingredients together, put into a prepared tin, and bake in a moderate oven of about 350F for two hours. When cold, ice with pale blue icing and decorate as suggested. A Hampshire Christmas, compiled by Sara Tiller, 1992,  ‘Food Glorious Food’ Chapter by Irene Soper (p.27)

Christmas Cake

Ingredients: 8ozs plain flour, 1 level tsp baking powder, 5 ozs butter, 6 ozs soft brown sugar, 4 eggs, ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg, ½ teaspoon mixed spice, 8 ozs raisins, 1lb currants, 8 ozs sultanas, 2 ozs glace cherries (halved), 4 ozs mixed peel (chopped), 2 ozs chopped almonds, 1 tablespoons grated lemon rind,  2 ozs rum or sherry. Method: Prepare the fruit. Sift the flour with the baking powder and spices. Warm the beater and bowl. Cream the butter and sugar on speed 2 for 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Reduce to minimum speed and tip in the sift flour, then the fruit and lemon rind, switch off as soon as ingredients are incorporated. Turn into a greased tin which has been lined with greased paper and back on a low shelf for approximately 3 ½ hours at 300F. Allow to stand in tin on a rack until cool. Turn out and pour rum over the bottom of the cake and when quite cold wrap in greaseproof paper and store in an airtight tin. Kenwood Recipe Book (1967).

Eggless Christmas cake from World War Two. Ingredients: 4 ozs carrot (finely grated), 2 tablespoons golden syrup, 3 ozs sugar, 4 ozs margarine, 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda, vanilla essence, almond essence, 4-6 ozs dried fruit, 12 ozs self-raising flour, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1 small teacup milk (slightly warmed). Method: Cook the grated carrot and syrup over a low heat for a few minutes. Cream the sugar and margarine until light and fluffy. Stir the bicarbonate of soda into the carrot and syrup mixture, then beat it into the sugar and margarine mixture, treating it as if it were an egg. Add a half a teaspoon each of vanilla and almond essence, and stir in with the dried fruit. Fold in the flour and cinnamon, and add the warmed milk to make a moist dough. Put the mixture into a greased cake tin. Smooth the top, and make a deep hole in the centre with a spoon, to stop the cake from rising too much during cooking. Put into a hot oven (gas regulo 7) then turn down to a very low heat (gas regulo 2) and bake for 3 hours.

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  • Christmas Cake preparation, Germany, 1957. (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)
Posted in Bringing Alive The Past, Event, History, Literature, Mrs Beeton, Museum, Rural Heritage, Uncategorized, Vintage, World War One, World War Two

Forgotten Christmas Foods & Customs – Part 1 – The Goose

©Come Step Back in Time
©Come Step Back in Time

Chef Adam Gray cooking breast of goose on the Kadai fire bowls. Chef Gray also used bespoke iron pains made by Netherton Foundry in Shropshire. Beautiful, heritage cooking products.
Chef Adam Gray cooking breast of goose on the Kadai fire bowl ( Chef Gray also used bespoke iron pains made by Netherton Foundry in Shropshire (http:/ Beautiful heritage cooking products. Image courtesy of The Reel Media Deal (


Me with Chefs Adam Gray and Michel Roux Jr. Image courtesy of the Reel Media Deal.
Me with Chefs Adam Gray and Michel Roux Jr. Image courtesy of the Reel Media Deal (
Producer/Director Di Evans filming the fire pit demonstration at Taste of London Winter Festival. Image courtesy of The Reel Deal Media (
Producer/Director Di Evans filming the fire pit demonstration at Taste of London Winter Festival. Image courtesy of The Reel Deal Media (

Goose Revival at Taste of London Winter Food Festival 2014

I recently appeared at Taste of London Winter food Festival 2014, Tobacco Dock alongside Michelin Chef Adam Gray. The theme of this year’s event was ‘Forgotten Foods’. Looking at ingredients, techniques and skills form the past that are not as commonly used today. Remembering what our great grandparents and previous generations cooked. Chefs were encouraged to use wild British ingredients that are often ignored or simply just not readily available in supermarkets today. For more information about this year’s Taste of London Winter food Festival, click here.

Me and Chef Adam Gray with musical Theatre star/Presenter Craig Price. Image courtesy of Craig Price.
Me and Chef Adam Gray with musical Theatre star/Presenter Craig Price. Bespoke iron pans made by Netherton Foundry in historic industrial heartland, Ironbridge, Shropshire. Image courtesy of Craig Price.

Chef Adam Gray cooked breast of goose with caramelised apples and shredded Savoy cabbage. Chef Gray also used bespoke iron pains made by Netherton Foundry in South Shropshire, birthplace of the European Industrial Revolution (http:/ Beautiful, heritage cooking equipment, the level of craftsmanship displayed in these pans is outstanding. Chef Gray found them a joy to cook with.

Although Chef Gray used apple, other fruits that work well with goose are quince, blackberries, gooseberries or any fruit that has a high acid content to help cut through the richness of the meat. Apples have always been a popular accompaniment for goose, I found references to this fact in several of my Victorian cookbooks, including Alexis Soyer (1810-1858) in his Shilling Cookery For The People. Chef Gray also suggests cooking goose over a tray filled with apple juice which helps infuse the meat with a sharp and sweet flavour.

Map showing layout of garden from a house in Walderton as it would have look in the first half of the seventeenth century. Weald and Downland Open Air Museum.
Map showing layout of garden from a house in Walderton as it would have look in the first half of the seventeenth century. Brassicas (including cabbages) were popular vegetables grown by homesteaders in rural communities. Weald and Downland Open Air Museum.

Cabbage was domesticated in Europe before 1000 BCE and revered by Romans and Greeks. Savoy cabbage first appeared in Europe during the sixteenth century.  This humble brassica thrives in Britain’s nutrient rich soils and has always been a peasant dish staple. Brassicas are hardy vegetables but no species of cabbage survives in a wild state.

Victorian farmhouse kitchen. ©Come Step Back in Time
Artefacts from a Victorian farmhouse kitchen. ©Come Step Back in Time

In Medieval Britain, people were nervous about eating cabbage as it was considered to be bad for you, probably due to its gas-inducing qualities! Medieval cooks were encouraged to boil the vegetable well and add oil, marrowbone or egg yolks to soften the texture. Chef Gray continued with the tradition of making cabbage more digestible by shredding it very finely and adding a butter emulsion. I can promise you there was not a hint of school canteen cabbage hanging in the air at Taste of London last week.

Basic kitchen range in a toll house from Beeding, Sussex, 1807. Weald and Downland Open Air Museum.
Basic kitchen range in a toll house from Beeding, Sussex, 1807. Weald and Downland Open Air Museum.

Traditionally, goose would have been cooked over an open fire, probably using a spit, turned by hand. This method continued to be used in poorer households until kitchen ranges/half ranges then cookers became cheaper and more widely available. Cooking meat over an open fire gradually declined in popularity before World War One. If the spit mechanism had a treadmill as opposed to a spit/roast jack (nickname for an odd job man), dogs or even geese were put to work keeping the wheel turning. Geese are hardy creatures and were known to work the treadmill for twelve hours at a time.

Special dogs were bred for the treadmill, vernepator cur, translated as ‘a dog that turns the wheel’. These poor creatures were of small stature with long bodies and short legs. If the dog took a rest, a red hot coal would be tossed into the treadmill to keep the animal moving. There is an example of a Turnspit dog, ‘Whiskey’, preserved in the collection at Abergavenny Museum, he came from a house in Skenfrith. There is a rare example of a working treadmill mechanism at The George Inn, Lacock, Wiltshire.

A fine example of a roasting spit/jack. Complex combination of ropes, weights and pulleys operate to turn the meat over the naked flame in the open hearth. Before these mechanisms, the process was hand-operated usually be a young lad or maid servant. Exhibit from Portsmouth City Museum. ©Come Step Back in Time
A fine example of a Victorian roasting spit/jack. Complex combination of ropes, weights and pulleys operate to turn the meat over a naked flame in an open hearth. Before this mechanism was invented, the meat was turned on the spit by hand, usually by a young lad or maid servant. Exhibit from Portsmouth City Museum. ©Come Step Back in Time.
Close-up of the spit/roast jack mechanism. Exhibit in Portsmouth City Museum. Exhibit from Portsmouth City Museum. ©Come Step Back in Time
Close-up of the spit/roast jack mechanism. Exhibit in Portsmouth City Museum. Exhibit from Portsmouth City Museum. ©Come Step Back in Time

Sadly, goose is now considerably more expensive than turkey and because of this many home cooks shy away from buying it at Christmas. A 7kg goose can cost around £100 and a turkey of the same weight usually costs £65 (retail prices based on free-range birds, Christmas 2014). The meat-to-carcass ratio for goose is lower than turkey and in these cash-strapped times, getting more bang for your buck, so to speak, is in the forefront of most of our minds.

However, I do believe the tide is beginning to turn in favour of goose. Growing interest in reviving British heritage foods is fuelling this trend as well as a realisation that eating goose is more humane, the animals are not intensively reared and are usually free-range. The price of meat, like so many other foods, is dictated by inflation as well as supply and demand. If more people want goose on their Christmas table, as opposed to turkey, prices will drop.

Geese are very cheap to keep, live by grazing and don’t need expensive grain, making them a greener choice for the environmentally conscious cook. Their eggs make spectacular omelets and their feathers can be used for stuffing cushions or for the creative among you, turning into quill pens. We all know that goose fat makes the best roast potatoes.

In my opinion, goose is a far tastier meat than turkey. Goose is not just for Christmas, it can be enjoyed throughout Autumn and Winter. Gressingham, well-known for their duck meat, also sell goose. Their Geese are grown free-range on farms in East Anglia, from early summer until autumn, there they graze on grass as well as eat a mix of wheat and soya with vitamins and minerals. For more information about Gressingham Goose, including recipes, click here.

Gressingham, free range goose from East Anglia. This particular goose has been fed on grass and wheat. ( Image courtesy of Chef Adam Gray.
Gressingham free range goose from East Anglia. This particular goose has been fed on grass and wheat. ( Image courtesy of Chef Adam Gray.

Goose has always been associated with deep Winter feasts and its origin goes back as far as ancient Egypt. According to Greek historian Herodotus (484 BCE – 425 BCE), geese stay with their young in the most imminent danger, at the risk of their own lives. The goose of the Nile was Velpansier and when geese appear on walls of temples they are often painted in bright colours. Egyptian mythology classifies goose under the care of goddess Isis. Along with the ram and bull, goose is also a symbol of the creator-god, Amun/Amen.

Goose comes into season around the Christian feast of Saint Michael the Archangel, or Michaelmas (29th September). This type of goose was often known as ‘green goose’ due to the fact it had been raised on grass (‘green’) and was fairly lean. Eating goose at Michaelmas dates back to Elizabeth I (1533-1603) who is said to have dined on one at the table of an English baronet, when news of the defeat of the Spanish Armada reached her. In commemoration of this event, she commanded goose make its appearance at table on every Michaelmas. Alfred Suzanne, in his book La Cuisine Anglaise, writes of this historic event:

The principal dish that day was roast goose, to which the Queen, it is said, was particularly partial, and in an excited outburst of patriotism and… gourmandism, she decreed that this glorious occasion be commemorated by serving roast goose on the day every year.

The Harvest goose or Martinmas goose comes into season around the time of Saint Martin’s feast, 11th November. This goose is fattened on grain (wheat or barley) and is plumper and meatier as a result. This is the bird traditionally served at Christmas time.


Unlike today, goose was once cheaper and more widely available than turkey which was expensive. The turkey came to Europe from Mexico in about 1541, brought in by Spanish and West African traders. In Victorian England, turkey gradually replaced beef and goose at the Christmas dining table. Ever since Victorian times, the trend for having turkey at Christmas time has remained, thus nudging the poor old goose out of the picture. Victorians liked to stuff their goose with sage and onion.

Evidence of this can be found in A Christmas Carol (1843) by Charles Dickens. Bob Cratchit and his family tuck-in to the traditional Victorian fayre of goose. The Cratchits are poor, so goose is the proud centrepiece of their Christmas dinner. However, following his epiphany, Scrooge wants to lavish gifts upon employee Bob Cratchit and family. One of these luxury items is a prize turkey, only meat that the wealthy could afford in Victorian England:

Then up rose Mrs. Cratchit, Cratchit’s wife, dressed out but poorly in a twice-turned gown, but brave in ribbons, which are cheap and make a goodly show for sixpence; and she laid the cloth, assisted by Belinda Cratchit, second of her daughters, also brave in ribbons; while Master Peter Cratchit plunged a fork into the saucepan of potatoes, and getting the corners of his monstrous shirt collar (Bob’s private property, conferred upon his son and heir in honour of the day) into his mouth, rejoiced to find himself so gallantly attired, and yearned to show his linen in the fashionable Parks. And now two smaller Cratchits, boy and girl, came tearing in, screaming that outside the baker’s they had smelt the goose, and known it for their own; and basking in luxurious thoughts of sage and onion, these young Cratchits danced about the table, and exalted Master Peter Cratchit to the skies, while he (not proud, although his collars nearly choked him) blew the fire, until the slow potatoes bubbling up, knocked loudly at the saucepan-lid to be let out and peeled.

“What has ever got your precious father then?” said Mrs. Cratchit. “And your brother, Tiny Tim! And Martha warn’t as late last Christmas Day by half-an-hour?”

“Here’s Martha, mother!” said a girl, appearing as she spoke.

“Here’s Martha, mother!” cried the two young Cratchits. “Hurrah! There’s such a goose, Martha!”

Such a bustle ensued that you might have thought a goose the rarest of all birds; a feathered phenomenon, to which a black swan was a matter of course—and in truth it was something very like it in that house. Mrs. Cratchit made the gravy (ready beforehand in a little saucepan) hissing hot; Master Peter mashed the potatoes with incredible vigour; Miss Belinda sweetened up the apple-sauce; Martha dusted the hot plates; Bob took Tiny Tim beside him in a tiny corner at the table; the two young Cratchits set chairs for everybody, not forgetting themselves, and mounting guard upon their posts, crammed spoons into their mouths, lest they should shriek for goose before their turn came to be helped. At last the dishes were set on, and grace was said. It was succeeded by a breathless pause, as Mrs. Cratchit, looking slowly all along the carving-knife, prepared to plunge it in the breast; but when she did, and when the long expected gush of stuffing issued forth, one murmur of delight arose all round the board, and even Tiny Tim, excited by the two young Cratchits, beat on the table with the handle of his knife, and feebly cried Hurrah!

There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn’t believe there ever was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavour, size and cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration. Eked out by apple-sauce and mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family; indeed, as Mrs. Cratchit said with great delight (surveying one small atom of a bone upon the dish), they hadn’t ate it all at last! Yet every one had had enough, and the youngest Cratchits in particular, were steeped in sage and onion to the eyebrows! But now, the plates being changed by Miss Belinda, Mrs. Cratchit left the room alone—too nervous to bear witnesses—to take the pudding up and bring it in.

Scrooge buys a turkey for the Cratchits:

“It’s Christmas Day!” said Scrooge to himself. “I haven’t missed it. The Spirits have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like. Of course they can. Of course they can. Hallo, my fine fellow!”

“Hallo!” returned the boy.

“Do you know the Poulterer’s, in the next street but one, at the corner?” Scrooge inquired.

“I should hope I did,” replied the lad.

“An intelligent boy!” said Scrooge. “A remarkable boy! Do you know whether they’ve sold the prize Turkey that was hanging up there?—Not the little prize Turkey: the big one?”

“What, the one as big as me?” returned the boy.

“What a delightful boy!” said Scrooge. “It’s a pleasure to talk to him. Yes, my buck!”

“It’s hanging there now,” replied the boy.

“Is it?” said Scrooge. “Go and buy it

(A Christmas Carol  by Charles Dickens (1812-1870), Staves Three and Four, 1st edition, 1843)


  • The brilliant American chef, Julia Child (1912-2004), shows you how to roast your goose. The French Chef  was a television cooking show created and hosted by Julia Child and produced and broadcast by WGBH, the public television station in Boston, Massachusetts, from February 11, 1963 to 1973. It was one of the first cooking shows on American television. All rights belong to the Cooking Channel. Uploaded to You Tube 8.3.13.
Toulose goose from Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management (1869 edition which belongs to Chef Adam Gray).
Toulouse goose from Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1869 edition which belongs to Chef Adam Gray).

According to Larousse Gastronomique (1961), the Toulouse goose, from the Garonne basin in France can reach a weight of between and 10 and 20 kilos after fattening. This bird carries its body almost perpendicularly; its behind, called ‘artichoke’, drags on the ground even before the fattening process. The skin covering its breast is loose and slack, forming a lappet, or wattle, which constitutes a veritable fat store. This variety of goose is used in the south-west of France for the Confit d’oie and the livers are used for pâtés de foie gras with truffles.

  • Nottingham Goose Fair (1947) by British Pathé. The fair is still held during the first week in October. In 1284, the inaugural fair took place and apart from 1646 (bubonic plague) and throughout the two World Wars, has taken place annually for over seven hundred years. Originally the fair was a celebration that coincided with flocks of geese being driven from Lincolnshire to be sold in Nottinghamshire. Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.14.
©Come Step Back in Time
©Come Step Back in Time

 Fascinating Facts About Goose

  • Italians Goosestep For Hitler (1938) by British Pathé. Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.14.
  • Goosestep is a distinct marching step originating from mid eighteenth century Prussian military drills. This manoeuvre reminded soldiers how geese often stood on one leg, hence the nickname. Many military organisations today, across the world, still use this marching style.
  • Nursery Rhyme ‘Goosey, Goosey Gander’ is from 1784 but its origins can be traced back to the sixteenth century England when Catholics faced persecution and men of the cloth had to hide in ‘Priest Holes’.  ‘Goosey, goosey gander’ also implies something unpleasant may well happen to anyone not saying their prayers:

Goosey, goosey gander,

Whither shall I wander?

Upstairs and downstairs

And in my lady’s chamber;

There I met an old man

Who would not say his prayers;

I took him by the left leg

And threw him down the stairs.

  • Goose bumps, medical term cutisanserina occurs when you experience cold or strong emotions. Goose feathers  grow from stores in the epidermis which resemble human hair follicles. When goose feathers are plucked, the bird’s skin has protrusions where the feathers once were, these resemble the bumps on human skin following cold or strong emotions.
  • Goose bumps , in Elizabethan times, if someone said; ‘I’ve been bitten by the Winchester goose’, this meant that they had contracted syphilis. A ‘goose bump’ was the first tell-tale sign on the skin that you had contracted the pox. The Winchester Geese were prostitutes that plied their trade in South London, Bankside close to The Globe. This land was owned by the Bishops of Winchester. Brothels in Bankside were known as ‘stews’. In the sixteenth century there were eighteen recorded ‘stews’ in the area. These establishments provided the clergy with a regular income stream. Pandarus (a lecherous old man) in Troilus and Cressida (1602) by William Shakespeare: ‘My fear is this/ Some galled goose of Winchester would hiss/ Till then I’ll sweat and seek about for eases/ And at that time, bequeath you my diseases/’.
  • Herd geese in London – If you are a Freeman of London you are allowed to herd a gaggle of geese down Cheapside. This is according to an old book of traditional ceremonies and privileges granted to those who have The Freedom of the City of London. This book dates back to 1237.
©Come Step Back in Time
©Come Step Back in Time

 Historical Recipes For Goose

Georgian Era Recipe for Preparing Goose

Singe a goose, and pour over it a quart of boiling milk. Let it continue in the milk all night, then take it out, and dry it well with a cloth. Cut an onion very small with some sage, put them into the goose, sew it up at the neck and vent, and hang it up by the legs till the next day; then put it into a pot of cold water, cover it close, and let it boil gently for an hour. Serve it up with onion sauce.

To Marinate A Goose

The Experienced English Housekeeper by Elizabeth Raffald (1786)

Cut your goose up the back bone, then take out all the bones, and stuff it with forcemeat and sew up the back again, fry the goose a good brown, then put it into a deep stew-pan with two quarts of good gravy and cover it close, and stew it two hours, then take it out and skim off the fat, add a large spoonful of lemon pickle, one of browning, and one of red wine, one anchovy shred fine, beaten mace, pepper and salt to your palate, thicken it with flour and butter, boil it a little, dish up your goose, and strain your gravy over it. NB. Make your stuffing thus, take ten or twelve sage leaves, two large onions, two or three large sharp apples, shred them very fine, mix them with the crumbs of a penny loaf, four ounces of beef marrow, one glass of red wine, half a nutmeg grated, pepper, salt and a little lemon peel shred small, make a light stuffing with your yolks of four eggs, observe to make it one hour before you want it.

Eighteenth Century Receipt Book – Boiled Goose With Celery Sauce

When your goose has been seasoned with pepper and salt for four or five days, you must boil it about an hour; then serve it hot with turnips, carrots, cabbage or cauliflower; tossed up with butter. The goose would have been hanging in the dairy or game larder with a north aspect for five days or even longer (depending on the outdoor temperature) so that its flesh would have become more tender and developed flavour in that time.

To make celery sauce, take a large bunch of celery, wash it, pare it, very clean, cut it into little thin bits and boil it softly in a little water until it is tender; then add a little beaten mace, some nutmeg, pepper and salt; thickened with a good piece of butter rolled in flour; then boil it up and pour it in your dish. You may make it with cream thus; boil your celery as above and add some mace, nutmeg, and a piece of butter as big as a walnut rolled in flour and 1/2 pint of cream; boil them all together, and you may add if you will a glass of white wine.

Eighteenth Century Receipt Book –  Sauce for Green Goose

Take some melted butter, put in a spoonful of the juice of sorrel, a little sugar, a few coddled gooseberries, pour it into your sauceboats and send it to table.

To Dress a Green Goose

Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management  (1869 edition)

Ingredients: Goose, 3 oz of butter, pepper and salt to taste. Mode [Method]: Geese are called green when they are about four months old, and should not be stuffed. After it has been singed and trussed, put into the body a seasoning of pepper and salt, and the butter to moisten it inside. Roast before a clear fire for about 3/4 hour, froth and brown it nicely, and serve with a brown gravy, and, when liked, gooseberry-sauce. This dish should be garnished with water-cresses [watercress].

Hashed Goose (Cold Meat Cookery)

Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management  (1869 edition)

Ingredients: The remains of cold roast goose, 2 onions, 2 oz of butter, 1 pint of boiling water, 1 dessertspoonful of flour, pepper and salt to taste, 1 tablespoonful of port wine, 2 tablespoonfuls of mushroom ketchup.

Mode [Method]: Cut-up the goose into pieces of the size required; the inferior joints, trimmings, etc, put into a stewpan to make the gravy; slice and fry the onions in the butter of a very pale brown; add these to the trimmings, and pour over about a pint of boiling water; stew these gently for ¾ hour, then skim and strain the liquor. Thicken it with flour, and flavour with port wine; add a seasoning of pepper and salt, and put in the pieces of goose; let these get thoroughly hot through, but do not allow them to boil, and serve with sippets of toasted bread.

Vintage Cooking 2