For the last few weeks I have been busy with the McManus168 project – an exciting investigation in to the middling classes of Dundee in the mid-1860s and consequently my blogging has been on the back burner.
However, that doesn’t mean that I have not been thinking about the 52 ancestors in 52 week topics and one name that has been at the forefront of my thoughts is Louisa Jeffery, my husband’s great-grandmother.
She would certainly be near the top of the guest list to invite to dinner and it was through the 1901 census that I began to unravel her story. Not to mention the fact that despite no-one in the family “knowing” her maiden name when I first asked, once it was confirmed as Jeffery, her grandson remarked – of course it is – that’s why I was named Jeff!
Louisa was born on the 1st April 1861 in Lambeth, one of the ten children of Joseph Pratt Jeffery and his wife Sarah Reid. Her father worked as a coach builder and wheelwright and her mother supplemented the household income by taking in sewing. Louisa was brought up in London and on Christmas Day 1880 married William John Palmer at St Mary’s parish church in Staines.
By 1885 William, Louisa and their children William, Flo(rence) and Albert lived at 7 Woodham Place, Staines and next door at number 6 lived William’s brother Alfred who had married Louisa’s sister Ellen. The brothers worked in the local linoleum factory, Barrys in Staines.
My first dinner invitation to Louisa would be in 1900 at the turn of the new century. Her family of eleven surviving children now lived at number 12 George Street, including twins Leonard and Stanley (she had lost a baby, Percy aged just 25 days on the 22nd December 1895). Her married brother Alfred lived at number 6 along with her sister Alice.
I’d ask her what hopes she had for the new century, what her aspirations were for her children’s futures?
Her sister Ellen and two of Ellen’s children had died in March 1899 and her brother-in-law Alfred Palmer and surviving children had moved to Kirkcaldy in Scotland to take charge of the paint and printing department at Barry, Ostlere & Shepherd linoleum factory. I’d like to know what Louisa thought of this radical move and did she and William ever consider following his brother north?
With my wonderful time machine I’d then travel forward to the 30th October 1920 and have dinner with her once more. The intervening years, as for so many families, had been filled with the consequences of war. Louisa saw four of her sons head off to war. The eldest William survived but the consequences of being gassed affected his health for the rest of his life; Walter returned physically uninjured, Charlie returned but his story remains a mystery yet to be untangled and her son Stanley was killed on the 15th September 1916 at the Somme.
Louisa had also lost Stanley’s twin brother Leonard and infants Mabel and Frances to diphtheria and whooping cough in 1901. Another unnamed infant had been born prematurely and died 12 hours later in 1904. Amidst all the challenges of war Louisa also had to nurse her ailing husband who following a colostomy had died from cancer in December 1917.
So why do I want to meet her at the end of October 1920? Louisa would be aged 59 and would have recently received a letter from the Infantry Office addressed to her deceased husband William:
The Late No 2209 Pte S Palmer 1/8th Battn. Middlesex Regt.
I have to inform you that in accordance with the agreement with the French and Belgian Governments to remove all scattered graves, and certain small [??], which were situated in places unsuitable for permanent retention, it has been found necessary to exhume the bodies buried in certain areas, and to re-inter them. The body of your son, the above named soldier, has, therefore, been removed to the Cemetery described below.
COMBLES COMMUNAL CEMETERY EXTENSION
The necessity for removal of the [??] is much regretted but was unavoidable for the reasons given above. The work of re-burial has been carefully and reverently carried out, special arrangements having been made for the appropriate religious services to be held.
I am sir, Your Obedient servant, Major for Colonel i/c Infantry Record Office, Hounslow.”
This letter followed one in 1919 informing her that Stanley’s remains had been exhumed and re-interred in Bois Bouleaux , a mile north-west of Combles.
I would have so many questions to ask her about those intervening twenty years and how she felt about all that happened to her family.
But that’s not why I want to meet her in October 1920. However upset she was by this letter, how sad she might have felt to know that she would never visit his grave I want to reassure her that the message she chose for Stanley’s gravestone at his final resting place on the outskirts of Combles ” He died for us, gone but not forgotten by all who loved him” was honoured.
Stanley’s photo hung on the wall of his brothers home for all of Walter’s life and almost 100 years after Stanley’s death her great-grandson visited the grave in Northern France and remembered him.
We’ll never know what Lousia thought about her life as no written or anecdotal material survives. It is also dangerous to try and second guess from the viewpoint of the twenty-first century. She had lived through a time when every household was affected by infant mortality, overcrowding and losses following the first world war. However at the start of the ‘Roaring Twenties’ I want to believe that Louisa felt hopeful for the future. Her surviving seven children were nearby, married and raising families of their own. Women over 30 had the vote; the world was at peace following the “war to end all wars” and the depression of the mid 20s was still a few years away.