Saturday, 30 April 2011

Sorting Saturday: One Note, Two Tweets and Three is Maybe Too Many

Back to earth with a bump this week; after two glorious weeks off school, it was back to the daily grind.  The holiday was all too swiftly forgotten as it quickly became apparent at school that our special children hadn't improved from two weeks away from their normal routine.  I was already climbing the walls by lunchtime on Tuesday, wishing myself back in the Bloggerverse.

This morning I have been trawling through my notes on One Note.  I love this program - I have lots of little sections set up and take screenshots and links from the web into the relevent section.  Which is great, but it is starting to bulge at the seams.  I started with each branch of the family having a section and each person having a page, but some people's pages are now getting extremely long.  In addition, my new War Memorial Project here is taking up mounds of space.  In my excitement to get going I didn't think it through properly and just pasted one set of information below another - it's now the equivalent of a bulging, scrappy notebook.  So, with 89 names to research I am setting aside an hour tomorrow to refile things - just goes to show, it doesn't matter how techy something is, it needs some old fashioned planning to use it properly.

Last week I also joined Twitter.  I have found a large number of people to follow, covering several of my interests.  Once again though, I need to find a system to sort them all out.  My mind is reeling from so much information, a lot of which I want to follow up, but I keep losing it in a long line of tweets.  No problem following my tweets though - I was only brave enough to try a couple this week!  If you want to tweet me, here I am!

Finally, now I am back at work I am finding that I have imposed too much on myself.  In addition to work and family I am trying to run regularly and of course research my family history.  I had decided that as well as that I would be able to research three of the men from the memorial each week.  That worked fine during the Easter break, but now I find that three is probably too many - I won't be doing them justice and I won't be doing myself any favours.  However, that doesn't mean I am giving up - just slowing down (bit like my running really!)

Have a great week all.
Monday, 25 April 2011

Military Monday: Two Bristolian ANZACs

Today is ANZAC Day, the day Australians and New Zealanders all around the world remember their fallen service men.  Why today?  It is the anniversary of the start of the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign which marked the first major involvement in a military campaign for these two young countries.  Paul Reed has a great post on his blog Out of Battle which explains the Gallipoli campaign and its significance for ANZAC day

ANZAC Day acquired a significance for me a couple of years ago.  I had always known that several of my grandfather's brothers had fallen during WW1, but try as I might I could only ever find any reference to one of them.  It wasn't until I found my cousins in Canada that it dawned on me that I had only ever searched UK military records.  A quick reccy of the Commonwealth War Graves site searching Australian forces led me to find Reginald and Ernest Brown, two of my great-uncles.  Today's post is all about them.

Reginald Brown

Reginald was the fifth child and fourth son of Henry and Ellen Brown.  He was born in Cardiff - the family spent a few years there - around June 1889.  The family moved back to Bristol and my great-grandfather set up a business in Stapleton Road.  Reginald attended St Gabriel's School at Easton.  After leaving school he became a carter and decided to follow two of his elder brothers in emigrating.  He chose to leave for Australia around 1909.  He settled in Surrey Hills, Sydney, where his mother's brother, Joseph Warren, lived.  He carried on as a carter until 23 May 1915 when he joined the 1st Battalion (7th Reinforcements) Australian Imperial Force at Liverpool, New South Wales.

Pte Brown 2336 was first sent to Gallipoli where he landed on 4 November 1915.  His service at Gallipoli didn't last long - by 28 December he was shipping out to Alexandria where he stayed until March 1916.  He was then sent to the Western Front, disembarking at Marseilles on 28 March 1916. 

Reginald was killed at Pozieres on the Somme between 22 and 25 July 1916 and his body buried in the vicinity - unfortunately his body was not recovered and he has no known grave - he is commemorated on the Villiers-Brettoneaux Memorial.  It saddens me that no one can give a precise date of death, but it gives an indication of the intensity of the fighting. 

I don't have a photograph of Reginald - or rather I do, I have a family portrait, but I don't know which face is his - I have four unidentified brothers.  His army records give a clue though - he was 5 feet 6 inches tall with fair hair and blue eyes.and no scars.  His chest measurement was 32/36 inches.  You could say that Reginald was small but perfectly formed.

Ernest Brown

Ernest was the seventh child and sixth son of Henry and Ellen.  He was born in Bristol around 1892.  Like Reginald he attended St Gabriel's School.  In 1911 he was still in Bristol working in a glass warehouse, but when he emigrated to Australia around 1912 he joined Reginald as a carter.  He beat Reginald to join up; he took the King's shilling on 5 March 1915 and was assigned to the 17th Battalion.

Like Reginald, Ernest went to Gallipoli, leaving Australia for the last time on 12 May 1915 and arriving on 16 August 1915.  He left two months later, suffering from diarrohea, and was sent to the Brook War Hospital at Woolwich, arriving in early November.  By February 1916 he was fit again and proceeded to join his unit.  He rejoined his battalion in April and like Reginald went to the Western Front.  Ernest was killed in action shortly after his brother - first reports gave his death as occuring between 26 July and 7 August, but this was amended to 2 August 1916.  Ernest's fiancee, a Miss A Wiseman of Westbourne Street, Sydney, wrote to the army asking for a more precise date for Ernest's death after learning of it from the papers.  I am glad she got an exact date.

 Henry and Ellen lost two of their boys within a fortnight - dark days in Bristol.  (Sidney Brown died from wounds the following February - Harold, Edwin and my grandfather Philip all made it home.)  Again, although Ernest was buried, his body was not recovered and he is commemorated on the same memorial as his brother.

Ernest was even more petite than Reginald - a shade under 5 feet 5 inches, only 127 pounds and a chest of under 35 inches even at maximum expansion.  His hair was fair and his eyes blue.  He had a mole on his right shoulder.  Again - good things come in small packages (Miss Wiseman would have agreed).

Reginald and Ernest were not forgotten.  Their uncle Joseph and his family placed In Memoriam notices in the Sydney papers on the anniversary of Reg and Ern's deaths, as did a couple of friends.  In finding the records of their army service I was able to trace the family of their eldest brother Joseph who emigrated to Perth.  They too remember Reginald and Ernest on ANZAC Day - I am privileged to be able to join them this year.

Lest we forget.
Sunday, 24 April 2011

Sentimental Sunday: Grandad's Sweetheart

I don't think of myself as an overly sentimental person, but when it comes to my paternal grandad, I certainly am.  I didn't know him as he died nearly 10 years before I was born so my impressions of him are all secondhand.  And they are all good.  All the relatives who have mentioned him to me have done so with affection and speak of a quiet gentle man who would have loved his grandaughter.  (My grandma never mentioned him - I suspect that Ethel didn't forgive Philip for widowing her!)  I really would have loved to know the grandad I see in those old black and white photos - the dark haired boy in the starched collar, the apprehensive bridgegroom, the happy and relaxed holidaymaker and proud father of the bride. 

Apart from these passed-down memories and old photographs I don't have anything of Philip Brown.  My father has been very generous in handing on the family photo album and documents but he has quite rightly hung on to his father's medals and pocket watch.  But this week I have grasped a little tangible link with my grandad and it arrived yesterday in the post.

Grandad was in the Royal Army Medical Corps for the duration of World War 1 (141st Field Ambulance).  During the war women would sometimes wear sweetheart brooches given to them by their loved ones.  These brooches were like miniature cap badges, mounted and attached to a pin.  Some were made by the men themselves, but I believe that most were manufactured by jewellers - some are made of silver and gold, but most were inexpensive.  So, thanks to that wonder of modern shopping, Ebay, I have successfully acquired an RAMC sweetheart brooch.  It is small and sweet and I am already very attached (really quite literally!) to it. 

I am grandad's sweetheart and he is mine.
Friday, 22 April 2011

Follow Friday: Mississippi, Memorials and the Power of Zen

This week I managed to make someone laugh - OK, I do that all the time, but this time I meant to do it.  Tess from Patching My Family Together read my post about my Grandma (Sentimental Sunday - Happy Birthday Grandma), it struck a chord and she left me a comment.  I dropped by her blog for the first time and was delighted to see that she has a Mississippi connection - why would that delight a Bristol girl living in Cornwall?  Well, my family emigrated to the USA when I was 16 and I went to Slidell High School in Louisiana for a couple of years.  Although I moved back to Blighty my parents remained and my father now lives in Mississippi. 

One thing I really like about Tess's blog is her title - I like to think of my family history as a quilt to be stitched together rather than a piece of rope with a far off end that I need to locate.  You can find Tess's blog (with a rather splendid Wordless Wednesday post) at

One of the first blogs I decided to follow was Helen Vail's.  I have mentioned Helen before; I just can't praise her enough!  Her mission is to document 100 New Zealand WW1 memorials for the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War - huge task.  It was also Helen's blog that sparked the idea for my new blog 89 WW1 Heroes (  in which I am researching the men listed on my local war memorial here in Newquay.  Helen's blog is

Finally, I find myself increasingly busy as I am sure most people are these days.  I need a sense of calm in my life and am finding it inspiring to read Leo Babauta's blog at with its tag line "smile, breathe and go slowly"  Sounds perfect.  If I could just get the dog to read it....
Thursday, 21 April 2011

Those Places Thursday: Bristol - St Mary Redcliffe Church

St Mary Redcliffe Church is one of the most beautiful churches in England.  Not just my opinion, Elizabeth I famously dubbed it "the fairest, goodliest and most famous parish church in all of England".  It is a church with attitude, spire towering above all around it; it surely should have been a cathedral.

It isn't just another Bristol church for me, it is the parish church for one branch of my family.  My grandparents, Ethel and Philip, married there on 30 August 1922.  Exactly 30 years later their daughter, my aunt Betty, followed them down the aisle. Neither couple could compete with Prince William and Kate Middleton in the fame and glamour stakes, but the latest royal wedding won't outdo the Browns and Joneses for a grand backdrop.

I was lucky enough to see St Mary Redcliffe on a good many days of my childhood.  My grandmother lived in nearby Somerset Street and we would often walk either past or through the church grounds on our little outings to Queen's Square or Redcliffe Hill (where you could get orange juice in little glass bottles, drunk with a straw - nothing has ever tasted better).  The church yard had the best thing ever - a section of tram track embedded in the earth, ripped up and flung there during the Blitz.  I don't know if it is still there, but it held a morbid fascination for little me. 

When I was older my bus to school took me past the church on the way to the Centre - I always thought it was sad that the church, so beautful, was surrounded by ugliness - the busy A4 (?) on one side, the redeveloped Redcliffe Hill on the other.  It put me in mind of a beautiful lady stranded on a rock in the middle of a mire, trying to keep her skirts out of the muck.

Is it the best church in England - don't take my word for it (or even Elizabeth I's!) - judge for yourself -
Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Wordless Wednesday: The Mad Hatter and Party

Here's Grandma - centre stage in a one woman attempt to cheer up the drab seventies (that's the decade, not the age group!) with a rather jaunty hat.  Both my aunt (next to Grandma) and the lady at the end of the group are rank amateurs in the odd hat stakes when compared to Ethel - who else would have chosen a yellow cowboy-style hat that appears to be at least one size too small? 

Bristol will never see the like again - you go girl!

Monday, 18 April 2011

Military Monday - My Newquay War Memorial Project

I mentioned yesterday that I was thinking of researching the men listed on the WW1 section of my local war memorial - they may have no family left to tell their stories, so to be on the safe side, I thought I would have a go.  No time like the present, so I have got started! 

I wasn't sure about adding it on this blog - I thought it would get too cluttered, so you can find my Cornish heroes on my new blog - "89 WW1 Heroes" .  I hope to have it finished by 11/11/11 - we'll see!

Family History Tales (Part 2)

I started this blog wondering why family history is appealing to so many people at the moment.  Today I am wondering the opposite - why aren't more people interested in family history?

Take my husband (add your own joke here please) - not in the least interested by genealogy - either his own or that of others.  Of course he will paste a semblance of polite interest on to his face and nod approvingly when I present him with my latest findings on his family - but frankly we both know he could care less whether he is descended from Charlemagne or Joe Average (actually he is descended, in part, from a Scottish lace pedlar who failed to impress his offspring so greatly that they changed the family name).  But really his lack of interest is not surprising - he doesn't like "old stuff", he is a throroughly Modern Billy and his interests run to sport, modern art and modern music. 

My mother was more of a surprise family history nay-sayer.  She, like me, loved history so I had assumed that she would be interested in her own history.  No!  My early requests for information about my grandparents were short and sweet, she affected not to remember any of her wider family and could never identify anyone in photographs.  Eventually I lost patience - "don't you want to find out about your family?".  "No dear, I know who I am". 

Well, I am not so sure that that is the reason.  Yes, my mother was a person who was very happy in her own skin, but I think a little digging would reveal a more complicated reason for her dismissal of family history.  Remember my husband's ancestors who wrote their father out of their family history by changing their name?  My mother didn't do anything so drastic, but I know she had a complicated relationship with her mother and maybe she is writing Olivia ("she was probably called Olive, she was always putting on airs and graces" said Mum) out of history.  Reading between the lines, my mother always felt that her mother favoured her sister, mismanaged the household and disapproved of her choices. 

My mother is gone now, but certainly not forgotten.  Nor is her family.  Mum may have been more than a little reticent about her family, but a pile of forgotten paperwork has allowed me to research the Toals and the Williams and will ensure that they too are not forgotten.  Oh, and Olivia Williams may not have been the most successful housekeeper, but her airs and graces weren't put on - she was brought up in an affluent household with maids to do the work - maybe we can forgive her a little!
Sunday, 17 April 2011

Spring has Sprung

Got a new look this afternoon - not sure yet if it suits me, but hey, let's give it a go!  The template is from Yummy Lolly  Check out her site, lots of gorgeous and quirky templates for free.  Scrummy!

Sentimental Sunday: Newquay War Memorial

Yesterday evening I took the dog for our evening walk and our route took us past the Newquay war memorial.  It is in a glorious spot at the top of a hill overlooking Newquay bay.  In the late evening sunlight it looked beautiful.  A very fine place to be remembered.

If you have read some of my posts before you may have gathered that I am very interested in WW1, an interest sparked by both my grandfathers having served and also six great uncles.  When I got home I decided to look for the names of the men on the memorial but although I can find photographs of the memorial, can't find the names.  I remembered one of my favourite blogs, 100 NZ WW1 Memorials 1914-2014, by Helen Vail, and decided that here was the perfect opportunity for a new project. 

So, today the dog and I retraced our steps, but this time armed with a camera, and I have photographed all the names.  I intend to research them all (89) in time for Armistice Day 2011 and publish the information as I go along.  Any suggestions about how to do that?  A static page on this blog, or maybe a new blog?  Let me know, I am already a fair way along with my first man - got his regiment, place of birth, place of death, parents' names etc. 

Sentimental Sunday: Happy Birthday Grandma

It's been a quiet week at The Treehouse, due to a spot of inpromptu laptop juggling.  I proved to be very inept - result, a cracked screen and no blog for a week.  Now happily I have a new screen and will be back on track this week.  And what better way to start the week than saying Happy Birthday to my Grandma on what would have been her 109th birthday.

Ethel Jones was born in Wales and I always think of her as the Welsh Dragon.  She was a red head (she never went grey, just naturally turned strawberry blonde) and had the temperment to match - she certainly wasn't one to hide her feelings.  Ethel managed to fall out irrevocably with one of her sisters and had an on-off relationship with the other.  She managed to get on better with her brothers, aided no doubt by the fact that they lived far away.  I tend to think that we have had little contact with my grandfather's family because she had probably fallen out with them too.  How did my grandfather put up with this virago - apparently he was a very easy-going, quiet man and developed the habit of spending his evenings at the pub.

Naturally she didn't like my mother - but here she had met her match.  My mother was also Welsh, but rather more subtle.  Before my parents' wedding my aunt told my mother that Ethel didn't think that she would be attending the wedding.  My mother replied that she didn't recall inviting her!  In the end Ethel attended, but I have noticed from the wedding photos that she is resplendent in black. 

So, why do I want to remember this irrascible woman?  I loved her, of course. I spent a lot of time with her and she was a great companion - always ready for a game, ever keen on an outing to the park.  She took me to chapel, to her senior citizen club, to the hairdressers, everywhere.  She let me eat sugar lumps and icing sugar on a teaspoon (note to self - Grandma became diabetic).  She taught me to count in Welsh.  Her size amazed me - she looked like she was trying to smuggle a sofa under her frock.  She wore dreadful hats - really dreadful hats!  In fact, if she was alive today I would probably take her a new hat and eat some sugar lumps with her.  Happy Birthday Ethel x
Thursday, 7 April 2011

Those Places Thursday: Bristol - Somerset or Gloucestershire?

I haven't lived in Bristol for over thirty years now so my memories are perhaps distorted by the rose-tinted glass of time, but of all the places I have visited it is the most special.  In my Bristol a forest of church spires reach into an endlessly summer sky, flocks of starlings swoop to rest at Temple Meads Station and the statute of Neptune stares contendedly across "the Centre", alive with double-decker buses.  Just past the Centre Lewis' department store looks like a liner ready to set sail, the quarter jacks at Christchurch tirelessly swing their hammers and the spire of Temple Church, despite the best efforts of the Luftwaffe, remains precariously upright - just.

So, where exactly is Bristol - Somerset or Gloucestershire?  Don't get me started!  It is, as far as I am concerned, and notwithstanding the Local Government reorganisation of 1974, a City and County, courtesy of Edward III by Royal Charter in 1373.  From 1974 to 1996 the county of Avon was in existence and Bristol lay within it - thankfully that County is abolished now. I get quite cross with Ancestry when I type in "Bristol" and it tries to default to "Bristol, Somerset".  You might think me pedantic, but I am actually a rank amateur - there are veritable (bad-tempered!) essays and counter-essays with breathtaking amounts of detail on this subject to be found on the Internet!

I think I have made my position (and hopefully that of Bristol) quite clear.  I have way more to say on the subject of Bristol - its beautiful places, its famous sons, its past and its frankly shocking dialect, but I will save that for next week.
Sunday, 3 April 2011

Sentimental Sunday: Mothering Sunday

Here in the UK it is Mothering Sunday (it may well be elsewhere too, I don't know) - not Mother's Day, but Mothering Sunday, when traditionally girls in domestic service were allowed the day off to go and visit their mothers. 

The dog thoughtfully prepared me a modern art installation in the kitchen using the handle of the broom and assorted laundry, all carefully placed in various pieces around the room.  As presents go, it wasn't the most welcome.  Things looked up when my daughter got up - she came bearing a gifts - chocolates, flowers and a card.  The real treat was inside the card where she had written "Even when I am old I won't be far away, our love can never be broken".  In recognition of their thoughfulness I rewarded both my girls - I took the dog for a walk and let me daughter stay at home for once.

As we rambled along the beautiful North Cornwall coastal path my thoughts turned to my own mother who died 12 years ago.  Her favourite Mothering Sunday present was a bunch of freesias, which I would buy on my way home from school on a Friday afternoon and hide in my room until Sunday morning.  I don't think I ever wrote anything as eloquent as my daughter wrote to me, but even though I am now quite old, she isn't far away from my thoughts and I still love her dearly.  Here is a bit more about her.

Noreen Toal was born in Cardiff in 1924.  Her father was an import manager for Fyffes, the fruiters and her mother had been a school teacher until her marriage.  The family moved to Bristol a few years later, soon after the birth of my aunt.  Both girls attended Colston's Girls' School and I was to follow in their footsteps. 

Bristol was bombed heavily during WW2 and after an incendiary bomb dropped on the family house, landing on my mother's bed while they were out, my grandmother decamped each weekend to nearby Weston-Super-Mare for one night's peace each week.  My aunt went with her, but my mother remained in Bristol with her father, an ARP warden.  I think this shows something of her character, as does the fact that she never bothered to mention the bomb story to me - my aunt told me about it quite recently.

My mother knew hard times.  Her first husband died leaving her with a young son and shortly afterwards her father died and her sister became a nun.  A lack of financial planning on my grandfather's part meant that my mother was now the sole support for herself, her mother and my brother, a role she fulfilled by working as a teacher.  Several years later, at a dance, she met a man, ten years her junior, who she said just wouldn't leave her alone.  At the age of 39 she remarried and I was born a year later. 

As a pattern for motherhood I can find no fault with my mother - she wasn't given to gushing demonstrations of affection, but instead exuded a warm, steady love that never left me (or my brother) in doubt about her devotion to us.  I am devoted to her in return.

She had always said that if she ever became ill she would prefer to be left in peace, she didn't want to be "messed about" by doctors.  She was, unfortunately, as good as her word and kept the symptoms of the cancer that was to take her secret from us until it was too late.  Like all good mothers she left behind a huge hole in my life, but it's her love and guidance that has made me who I am - I love you Mum.

So that's my Sentimental Sunday (and somewhere up above Noreen is rolling her eyes!)
Saturday, 2 April 2011

Sorting Saturday: Housework, running, the dog and other distractions

It's Saturday, it's the beginning of the month and a good time to impress some order onto the chaos to which the Treehouse has descended.  The dog, though amply exercised by Mr Dryad and myself, is looking, well, shaggy.  A very toned young lady is staring at me reproachfully from the cover of this month's Runners World magazine - I am ignoring her, if I was twenty years younger and didn't have this cold, I too would look buff.  The state of the house is, shall we say, relaxed

It wasn't always like this.  The house was more polished, the dog was more groomed, I was more exercised.  I had goals and schedules - my life had balance.  But my family history research is so absorbing that everything else is sliding - so time to get a hold of it again.  What I need is an extra two hours in each day, but failing that here's my plan.

Once my cold is over, run three times a week - with the dog, so two birds with one stone. 5K race in July.
Housework - 30 minutes a day is all it actually needs (no, really, it is!)
Family History - this month's goals - track down one cousin (I am soooo near!), finish report for client, research one Great Uncle's WW1 service with St John Ambulance.  Nothing else, no, not a thing!
Blog - three/four posts a week.
Strip the dog - she is an Airedale Terrier, and needs to be hand-stripped.

So that's that sorted!

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