Ethel, Harry's wife

Ethel was my grandmother. She’s someone in this story that I knew, and can remember.

With sister Anita, I’d spend weekends with her and Harry. They lived a little over a mile (2km) from my family home and, in the carefree days of the 1950s, I was allowed to walk there after school if I was to stay.

I can remember her as slightly stern - not too many smiles - but both Anita and I enjoyed staying there. We could drink lemonade and could listen to “Children’s Favourites” on the radio on Saturday morning. The food was different. Ethel cooked on small coal-fired range in the living room/kitchen. Somehow, the sausages tasted different when cooked in the oven and the mashed potato was whipped to a wonderful creaminess with butter and “top milk”. I’ve never had anything quite like it since.

Ethel had a tough time after the war. Looking after Connie, I’m sure that Kate helped her out financially.  Later in her life, Anita says that she wouldn’t go shopping for clothes for herself. For Anita’s wedding, my mother went to the Co-op clothes shop and took a selection of outfits. Ethel, reluctantly, chose one from the selection. 

The letters to her from Harry haven’t survived. My mother reported that Ethel hated the war and everything to do with it and almost certainly burned the letters that she received. Thankfully, later on, when she inherited the bundle of letters from  Kate and Jack, she hung on to them.

When I was16, I decided to go to the army’s boarding school, Welbeck College, with a view to taking up a military career. Much, much  later, I discovered that Ethel was devastated at the thought of her grandson joining the army. She had such a hatred of the army after Harry’s experiences. Much to my great regret, she passed away while I was at Welbeck, still on course for that military career, which never actually happened.

The earliest reference to Ethel I can find is on the 1901 census. Ethel Watson was born in 1892, making her 5 years younger than Harry. In 1901 she was living with her widowed mother, 5 sisters and brother (maybe step-brother) in 50 Digby Street at the Eastern edge of Ilkeston – just over the river Erewash into Nottinghamshire. There are still a load of old factories in that part of town. Digby Street is a few hundred yards from the Gordon Street home that was the eventual home of Harry and Ethel. Ethel never moved far, always living within a 400 yard radius. Compare that with Harry, who saw the sights of Flanders, Venice and the Dolomite Mountains

At the time of that census Ethel was 9 years old. Two of her elder sisters aged 16 and 17 worked as hosiery (skin) buttoner worker and a hosiery runneron worker. One of the streets off Digby Street is Trumans Street. Harry worked at Trumans  Lace factory. A neighbour of Ethel’s family was a  Mr Truman who’s occupation was a Lace curtain maker. Perhaps we can guess how they met

 I discovered from the census that she had a sister Nelly. My sister Anita and I have discussed where the “Auntie Nelly” we knew as children fitted into the family. Now it makes some sense.

Harry and Ethel married in  March 1914 in a civil ceremony at Basford, Nottingham Registry Office. Their first child Arthur, was born in June 1914. Sadly Arthur died, a few months old, early in 1915.

The following March, 1916, my father William (Willie) was born. By the end of the year, however, Ethel was on her own as Harry had been called up to join the army.

There are lots of indications in the letters that Annie (sister Sarah Ann) teamed up with Ethel during the time that Harry was away. For some of that time it seems clear that Ethel, Willlie and Connie shared a house with Annie. When Annie married, Ethel and the children  returned to the family home in Mill Street.

After Harry’s death in 1961, Ethel lived by herself until she died in 1966, aged 74.

I wish that I could give a more complete account of Ethel’s life but there is little available and, of course, no one left to ask. ( How many  family history researchers have said that?)

Photographs; from the top. (Click to enlarge)
Ethel, on the right, with elder sister Nelly. The two were good friends and spent much time together.
Ethel at the Gordon Street home with "Nipper". I can only guess the date.
Ethel and "Nipper".
Willie's wedding in 1941. Ethel, with Harry behind her. Next to Harry is his sister Annie (wrongly identified in the book.)
Ethel looking very proud, with Kate at Willie's wedding in 1941, when she would be 49.

Next week, Kate


Jobove - Reus said...

explendit blog, congratulations
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Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this account, however brief, of Ethel. I always wondered why none of Harry's letters to Ethel were available.

Thank you.
Serge in Canada.

Fifi Colston said...

Hi Bill, I've just started scanning postcards of love letters sent from my husband's grandfather to his grandmother from 1913-1918 and posting them to a blog for the family and anyone else interested to see. They used a code in parts of their correspondance so I am hoping someone will be able to crack it for me!It's led me to a whople new interest in corrspondance during wartime which led me to your blog. Interesting stuff indeed! cheers Fifi

Pattaya Girls said...

we owe the soldiers of HArry's generationa a great deal.

Gloria Reading said...

I have loved following your blog. The following is not a criticism, but a curiosity. Would not Jack have been born to Henry AND his wife?? :) It's a wonderment. :)

Harry’s brother Jack was born in 1870 to Henry Lamin.