Mum’s Story (part 5)


Like every young woman newly engaged, there was never enough hours in a day.
Wedding preparations, bridal dress, flowers, had all to be arranged.   Unfortunately our wedding would not be the “Dream Wedding”  with a beautiful dress with long white trail, limousine to the church, church bells chiming, everything my sister Elizabeth and her husband, Ian, had. Circumstances had changed dramatically within our family by the time Bob and I got engaged.
When my mother was in her mid-teens she worked in a furriers, cleaning fur capes, coats etc. When she took ill it was discovered she had contracted a heart condition called Mitral stenosis. Throughout her young married life she suffered serious heart attacks which worsened with age.
As I mentioned, during my 21st birthday party my mum had to leave the group and rest. Her life was hard. One day when she and I were talking, she told me her wish in life was to see her two daughters through school , happily married then she would be happy.
Bob and I were aware of my mother’s health and we decided a small wedding would be the best thing.  I was adamant my mum would be at my wedding and so we asked our Minister,  Rev James Currie,  a very good friend of the family, if our wedding vows could take place in my own home.  Knowing of mum’s health condition he heartily agreed.
Now back to my wedding preparations.  My sister, Elizabeth , was thrilled to be my Matron of Honour although she and Ian lived way up north near Tain. This meant wedding attire was a bit awkward as having my wedding held at home there was no way I could have a long white dress with train!  During our enjoyable talks of mum’s younger days, she mentioned the day she and my dad were married.  Money was scarce so she decided on a very pretty pale blue dress with matching accessories, a sensible decision because her dress lasted and was very useful during social evenings.  Being very close to my mum, as many daughters usually are, I decided to do the same.
The following Saturday I went into town to look for my wedding dress.  Having been shown numerous wedding outfits I was getting rather despondent as I was on my own with no-one to ask their advice. Then out of the blue I found my dress. It was a fitted, boned, pale blue dress with tiered skirts down to my ankles, a simple pale blue lace jacket with cap sleeves and stand up collar, fitted over my dress. Luck was with me as placed on top of my head was a very delicate pale blue wedding veil held by crystal and seed pearls. Next came my shoes, a slighter darker blue covered with small encrusted stones, a 3″ heel and sling backs. At last was my dream wedding outfit was complete.
Our wedding was held on Wednesday, 10 October 1956. Everything went like clockwork. Elizabeth, Ian and my two year old niece, Elaine,  who was to be my little flower girl arrived safely from Invershin up north.  Mum had a new dress with a pretty corsage. Both my dress and my Matron of Honour’s blended in beautifully.
Our wedding was to take place in a large room in our house.  The caterers arrived and our front room looked great.  Bob’s friend played the accordion professionally so we were all set for a good time.  My future in-laws arrived and both groom and best man were in place beside our wedding guests and my very special guest, my mum. The bridal party, bride, matron of honour, father of the bride, all waiting to hear the start of the wedding march. Dad was great.  Although he had had a walk down the aisle with Elizabeth, this was different.  This was the day his youngest daughter was to be handed over to a young man who had agreed to take on the responsibility of her future.
Silence.  Music begins and off we go, another memory I will cherish:  the sea of friendly smiling faces, minister in place but the only person I could see was my future husband, all smiles. Our vows were exchanged and a new MR and MRS began a new life together..
Everything went according to plan – my new mother-in-law in tears and confetti thrown from all directions while we made our way to the taxi and to the start of our very short honeymoon.
Mum with her parents, my grandparents
Dad with his parents, my grandparents
Mum’s family (Browns and Chapmans)
Dad’s family (the Smiths)
After the honeymoon period ——story part 6 shortly.

Mum’ Story (part 2)

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Continuing my story into the early teenage years has caused me to smile on thinking back on them!   One evening my sister and I watched our dad making STILTS for both of us. He used four treacle or syrup tins, bored a hole at each side of the tins, slid strong string through the holes then tied a knot at each end. Hey presto!  We had stilts. We had great fun walking around on them.  Another fun time was with our wheel and gird. The gird guided the wheel as we ran alongside of it.  We ran for miles, good exercise.

Elizabeth and Janet 1943

Mum (right) aged 11 with her sister Elizabeth

My best friend, Helen Mills, and I had wonderful times playing near an old railway line where her dad had a plot where he planted vegetables.  There were no gardens at that time so the government rented out plots of land to people interested in growing potatoes etc.   Beside that area there was an old broken down house which we called our Castle. Our imagination went wild. We would pretend we lived in the olden days when ladies wore crinolines and rode in horses and chariots! Great fun.

Like most children, I so wanted a bike but we had no money to buy one.  I knew a lady who was selling one but she was going to charge me £5.  Desperate as I was I decided to earn the money to buy it.  I dog walked, baby sat, went shopping for old ladies, anything to get me £5. When I got the money together I went for the bike.  It was all Black! Sad and happy at the same time, I took it home to let my mum and dad see it.  I am sure they felt sorry for me having worked so hard to buy it that my dad painted the bike a lovely shade of purple, bought white wheel guards and a lovely white basket for my handlebars.  I was thrilled to bits.

This lovely bike of mine had a few stories to tell since coming into my possession.   My Uncle Bill, who had been a polio victim and over the years he had to have a leg removed, was fortunate enough to have a three wheel motorised car to get him around. He had many friends who went on cycle runs at weekends to various places and I got invited along.   My uncle told me to be careful of traffic and not to keep using my new bell which was a novelty.   I promised I would not use it and we merrily went on our ride.  However, a man and woman walked out in front of me and having been told not to use my bell, I did as I was told and BUMP, I drove straight into the woman who was, to say the least a bit upset.  When my uncle eventually stopped apologising to the woman and started on at me, I, in all innocence, said “it wasn’t my fault, you told me not to use my bell!”

Another unfortunate incident happened on a lovely summer day when two of my friends and I were cycling along a road near the park where the Glasgow Empire Building was erected.  I always remember that because I touched a railing and got an electric shock!  Happily cycling along singing the latest songs, we decided to cycle with our arms stretched out on each other’s shoulders.  I, being the one in the middle,  had no hands on my handlebars – not good!  Out of the blue I was thrown off my bike landing on the road in terrible pain. Out of nowhere came a very helpful gentleman who got me to my feet, into his car and into the Victoria Infirmary, result being I had a cracked collar bone.  No cycling for at least two months.  I often wonder if having bought an all-black bike had anything to do with my misfortune?

Many more incidents, with varying results, happened during my young years but, that is for another part of my story.



I think my first real link with Australia was in the 1960s when Dorothy Mitchell came to stay with us in Glasgow.  Dorothy is my mum’s cousin but her family had left Scotland for Australia in 1950 on the Ten Pound Emigration Scheme.  Dorothy was only about six years old at the time. My mother was about 17 and she recalls the day the family left Glasgow.

I remember very clearly as though it was just yesterday, the day we all gathered in the Central Station in Glasgow to see the whole family off on the start of their journey to Australia, a six weeks hazardous sea journey.  It was a very emotional time for all the family.  Uncle Harry played the bag pipes and everyone around us was saying their goodbyes to their families in tears, especially when “Will ye no come back again” was played.  I will never forget that day.

Uncle Harry002

Uncle Harry

Dorothy returned to Scotland for a working holiday when she was about twenty but her parents never saw home or family again.  She stayed with my Great Gran Chapman (who, Dorothy told me recently, used to sing hymns at the top of her voice all day long) and other members of our family.   She spent a couple of nights with us.  My memory of Dorothy then was of a tall, slim, pretty girl with long hair and a funny accent and, although I was probably only about seven years old at the time, I never forgot her.

Dorothy and Gt Gran Chapman

Dorothy with Gt Gran Chapman, while on holiday in Scotland

After Dorothy returned to Australia, the family lost touch.

In 1979, I came to Australia on a working holiday and ended up settling in Sydney then Perth.  I often wondered where Dorothy and her family lived but I never thought to ask my mum.

Last year my son, Kyran, and his partner, Vanessa, moved to Melbourne from Darwin to settle and have their baby (my first grandchild, Tommy).  During a conversation, my mum said to Kyran “look out for any Mitchells in Melbourne because they are family”.  I was confused when he mentioned this to me and I asked my mum about it in an email.  This was her reply –

My mum’s sister, Aunt Nan, married Billy Mitchell who was in the Merchant Navy, a very handsome young man.  They had three children – Billy, Dorothy and David.  You may have been too young to remember Dorothy who came over to Scotland.  She stayed with Uncle Bill and Aunt Mary and worked beside them for a while. Dorothy came to see us and Dad and I were decorating the lounge.  She was fascinated with us putting up wallpaper as they only painted their homes, because of the heat, in Australia.  They were billeted to Gippsland, Victoria, Australia. 

Mum had no idea what happened to the family and did not know Dorothy’s name if she had married.  She was disappointed when I told her there were thousands of Mitchells in Victoria.

Gran & Granpa Brown, Nan and Billy

Aunt Nan (front, left) with Uncle Billy (back, right) with my grandparents and Gt Gran Chapman (front, centre)

Aunt Nan, David

Aunt Nan with David

The Mitchells

The Mitchells

However, it planted a seed.  I was going to visit my new grandson a few weeks later.  How wonderful if I could find Dorothy.  But where to start looking?

I went straight to my family tree.  Ah, so that is where Aunt Nan fits into the picture!  That is who Dorothy is!  A few more pieces of the jigsaw slot into place.

I started at the beginning.  It took a while but I finally found the passenger list for the Mitchells leaving the United Kingdom and arriving in Melbourne in 1950.  From there I was able to find out that Dorothy (Dorothea actually) had married a Phillip Tocknell.  Luck was on my side.  Tocknell is quite an unusual name and I discovered an old newsletter online from a rotary club which mentioned both of them.  I wrote to the secretary of the club of the time, whose email address was on the newsletter, and asked to be put in touch with Dorothy.  A week later, I heard from her.



Dorothy and Phillip visited us at my son’s house.  They live close-by!  Kyran, Vanessa, Tommy and my daughter, Tayler, were also there.  Kyran was thrilled to introduce Dorothy to Tommy, her third cousin!  As soon as she stepped out of the car, I recognised her – even though it was more than 50 years since her trip to Glasgow.

It was a wonderful visit.  We exchanged photos and filled in gaps and it was lovely to be able to update my mum on what had happened to her Aunt, Uncle and cousins over the years.  Sadly Aunt Nan and Uncle Billy died some years ago – within weeks of each other.

Dorothy and Phillip's wedding

Dorothy and Phillip’s wedding with Aunt Nan and Uncle Billy on the right

Dorothy and I keep in touch (and she has been in contact with my mum).  We met up again when I visited Melbourne in January and we spent an afternoon together.  It felt odd to me lunching and shopping with a second cousin.  It was a novelty; I don’t have any family here in Australia to do these things with (other than, of course, my husband and children).

Dorothy and Phillip 2016

Dorothy and Phillip in 2016 when we met

Dorothy and Phillip’s daughter lives in WA and they plan to visit her very soon.  I am hoping to be able to spend some time with them and meet Megan – my third cousin, I believe?

War Time Evacuation


Glasgow was heavily bombed during the Second World War, particularly Clydebank, as that’s where the shipyards and many of the factories were.  Just after war was declared in 1939, thousands of children were evacuated from Glasgow to protect them from the threat of German bombers.  My mother was among them.  She was just six years old when she and her sister, Elizabeth, were sent to Kilhilt Farm near Stranraer in Scotland.  “Operation Pied Piper” relocated three million children over a few days.  This is my mum’s memory of that time (paraphrased) –

Elizabeth and I were very small children when we had to leave our parents – it is a time that will stay in my mind until I die.  We started off with our cases and gas masks, saying cheerio to our mum and dad who, like all the parents, were crying.  Dad and Aunt Cissie (Norma’s mum and my mum’s best friend) took us on a tram car into Glasgow Central Station. There were hundreds of children and parents there.  When we went to get on the train, it was the wrong one. We ran to find the right train, said goodbye to Dad and Aunt Cissie, having no idea why we were being put on a train, and shunted away from everyone.

Being very scared, Elizabeth, Norma and I were taken to a church hall in Stranraer where children were being taken away by strangers to dear knows where. Norma was then taken away.  NO-ONE CAME FOR US.  Finally a very nice lady took us to her house for tea and sandwiches then we were taken back to this empty hall until a man came to collect us and he took us away in a big car.  It was dark.  We were scared and very tired.  After a long run into the country, we stopped at this big house where we spent the next three years.

Mr and Mrs McCaig had three children – John, Sheila and Sam (who was a wee horror).  We went to the school in the village called “The Lochans”. I hated it!  Elizabeth and I were called “The Glasgow Keilies”.  The boys in my class were disgusting and every night I cried.  Poor Elizabeth was only 7 years old when we arrived and she had to be very brave and comfort me.

During our time there, Mum, Dad and Aunt Cissie came on a visit but we were not allowed to stay with them so we only had a few hours a day with them and we could not go home.  That was heart breaking for parents and children.


My Grandpa


This is a short assignment piece submitted for a course I am studying. The focus was on changing place.

My grandfather was 18 when the First World War broke out and he left his life as a farmhand, and his home in a little cottage in Montrose on the East Coast of Scotland, a small farming community set amongst the greenest fields.  He came from a long line of farm servants and cattlemen on his father’s side and domestic servants on his mother’s: a hard-working family that loved the land.

What followed was four years of hell as he fought with the Black Watch on the front line as a machine gunner in hot and unfamiliar places like Mesopotamia.

Grandpa returned to Scotland intact but a broken man all the same.  He rebuilt his life in the city of Glasgow where the work was, renting a house on a busy street, and finding work as an Inspector on the tram cars.  As the years rolled by he continued his work as the trams became buses.

Behind his house, Grandpa created a beautiful garden, his piece of country, his solace, where he grew magnificent roses and sweet peas. I have fond memories of my sisters and me raiding the peapods when we were sent to pick them for dinner.  Yum!  He tended his garden in the type of clothes he always wore – checked shirt, breeches with braces, a tweed jacket, tweed cap and working boots, and with his pocket watch in his waistcoat.

In his heart, Grandpa never left the country, he never left Montrose.

Grandpa Smith’s War Years – Still Lost


I have spent the past few months researching my paternal grandfather’s war years – but to no avail.  I believe only 30% of the First World War records survived a fire and it looks like his may not have.  With no service record, military number, medal, newspaper articles or documents to go on, I don’t think I will ever know that part of his history.

I began in my usual manner, putting what information I knew into various genealogical websites.  I was told if did not have the information, I might as well give up.  It didn’t and I didn’t.

What made things a little harder was that I traced my grandpa through the Census until 1905 in Maryton, Angus but then he disappeared.  He was a teenager then so I tend to think he moved away from the family for work but I don’t know yet if he stayed in the area or moved perhaps to Glasgow.  My gut feeling is that he stayed in Angus maybe with another farming family.  So I am not entirely sure where he enlisted.

I turned to the Great War Forum and put in the details there – William Smith, born Maryton on 23.8.1896, Corporal Machine Gunner in the Black Watch, fought in Mesopotamia.  I had a huge response.  Historians and ex-military personnel (I assume) with an interest in the war, replied giving me what information they could.  Some went to a lot of trouble trying to find him and I was very grateful.  In the end, it was a process of elimination.  There were so many William Smiths in the First World War but we were able to rule some out due to age, place of birth, regiments and so on.

I managed to come up with a list of William Smiths I could not eliminate.  The gentlemen on the Forum were able to help me here.  It seemed the regimental number gave an indication of the soldiers’ battalions and many of these were discounted because their battalions did not go to Mesopotamia.  Apparently the only battalion from the Royal Highlanders’ Black Watch that did serve there was the 2nd so I was able to narrow down the number of William Smiths quite a lot.  However some of the Battalions changed their number when they moved or merged with another regiment and some members of the Black Watch were moved from one regiment to the Machine Gun Corps.  All very confusing for me especially as when this happened, the soldiers were given different numbers.

In an earlier post, I told the story about my grandfather’s Princess Mary Christmas Tin and I mentioned this on the Forum.  Apparently that narrowed it down to either the 1st, 2nd or 5th battalion so the 2nd was still looking hopeful!

In the end, I have one William Smith left that I cannot eliminate.  That is William
Smith, 11863/61734.  I do know that this soldier’s war records did not survive the war but he did.  I think this is my grandfather but I can’t be positive so, for the moment, I am at a dead end.

What I do know is that the soldiers who fought in Mesopotamia had a terrible time with the freezing cold, lack of supplies and being outnumbered by the Turkish army.  Very few survived and I can only be grateful my grandpa did – or I would not be here!

A postscript to this is a very strange coincidence.  One of the members of the Great War Forum told me that he knew the area of Maryton very well as he lived close-by.  My grandfather also lived in Dennistoun, Glasgow for a while and he also knew that area.  After exchanging messages and information over a few weeks, the gentleman wrote to me to tell me that while looking at my grandpa’s details he realised that he had actually lived in the very same house in which my gran and grandpa married!  That gave me such a thrill.  Even though I wasn’t able to confirm that I had found my grandfather, this news gave me a sense of being very close to him.

The only photo I have of my grandfather taken in 1956 in Glasgow

The only photo I have of my grandfather taken in 1956 in Glasgow

James Brown (1866-1915)


My (maternal) great-grandfather James Brown was born in Drygate, Glasgow on 19 March 1866.  He was the son of James Brown (1829) – a Muslin Singer Operator which I believe was a person employed in singing the nap off the muslin,  – and my great, great-grandfather James Brown, a weaver from Glasgow.

James Brown (my g-grandfather that is) did not follow his family into the cloth business but instead was a Blacksmith until the age of 23.  He then volunteered to join the Royal Navy in 1889.  According to his Certificate of Service, James was 5’6″ with brown hair and hazel eyes.  Well, I am around 5’3″ with brown hair and hazel eyes so there must be a definite family resemblance.

James Brown was an Armourer in the Royal Navy and spent time on different ships including “Excellent”, “Pembroke”, “Victory” and many more.  His conduct in the Navy was exemplary and in 1904 he received the “Long Service and Good Conduct Medal”.

Presented to James Brown on 14.8.1904

Long Service and Good Conduct Medal

James Brown married Jessie Freeland on 27 December 1893.  He was based at the Royal Naval Barracks in Portsmouth at the time while Jessie was a thread mill worker living in Glasgow.   They were married at Argyle Hall in Duke Street, Glasgow.

James and Jessie had 3 children – Jane Peden Brown 1897-1917; James Brown 1902 -1961 (my grandfather);  and Jessie Brown 1904 – 1972.

It was while serving on HMS Bayano en route from Glasgow to Liverpool on 11 March 1915 that my great-grandfather died.  He was 48.  I can only imagine he was home on leave before re-joining the Bayano.  His  ship was torpedoed  by a German U-boat (U27) without warning.  It sank very quickly with the loss of 195 officers and ratings.   It seems that, while several attempts have been made to at least identify the shipwreck, HMS Bayano remains unverified at the bottom of the sea.  James Brown’s body and those of his colleagues were never recovered.

HMS Bayano

HMS Bayano

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has recognised my great-grandfather, James Brown, and other seamen who perished during the war at the Portsmouth Naval Memorial.

Portsmouth Naval Memorial

Plaque 8

Plaque 8

Plaque 8

Plaque 8

Portsmouth Naval Memorial

Portsmouth Naval Memorial

I am grateful to the The War Graves Photographic Project for supplying me with these precious photos.

This is a tragic story in my family history and unfortunately there was more tragedy in that family still to come.

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