On November 2nd the guest speaker was Andrea Hetherington, an independent researcher and writer with a particular interest in the First World War. Her talk was based on her published book with the above title.
She took one aspect with reference to what happened to wives whose husband had died in the war and issues of compensation and widow’s pension. At first the government and society did not react well.
There were no pensions available to widows during the Victorian period. Only in the Boer war was some compensation paid to some widows.
There were over 200,000 widows from WW1 and it wasn’t until 1914 that some received a sliding scale of pensions from Officers to privates ie the latter got a lot less than officers. Initially it was a charity organisation, Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Family Association, that helped with some compensation. By 1916 under the Liberal government, a Ministry of Pensions was set established.
Using one family as an example, Andrea explained how the death of a husband killed in action affected a family. Private Joseph Lamb a miner from Northumberland had a wife and four children. The criteria that was used to determine if a pension could be awarded depended on several things eg was the soldier married at the time of enlistment; was death due to war service; did death occur overseas or at home. Again, a widow could lose out if her husband had a criminal record or if she had taken up with another man and remarried. Widows who remarried got a lump sum of one year’s pension and then nothing.
There were charities that did help such as the Salvation Army, Poor Law Guardians and Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Family Association. It wasn’t until 1919 that the British Legion was formed and with the pressure on the relevant ministry from these organisations a widow might receive a decent pension.
On Saturday October 5th our guest speaker was Carol Runciman in which she related her strange story of her family. This took her to places that she least expected to visit and the use of research materials that made possible the unusual outcomes.
The mother of Carol and her sister Marjorie had been adopted in 1914. Her birth name Lola was changed to Pat! She remembered being cared for by a lady. This lady had come into her life simply by coming into a room and being picked by her for adoption. At that time adoption was a very informal affair. Carol’s mum was taken to Northern Ireland by Mr and Mrs Burnett, grocer and baker.
Pat’s father, Ernest Vile, made the occasional visit to N. Ireland but these eventually declined. He apparently worked in the theatre which took him all over the country.
Carol and her sister decided to try and find out more about their grandparents. They had to find their way through the agencies od adoption, name changes and the unexpected links with N. Ireland Yorkshire and Boston, USA. Carol learned that meticulous attention to detail was important.
At first they traced their grandfather, Ernest, to a soldier’s grave in Flanders where he had died in 1918.
Continuing the research using ancestry.com they made contact with other family connections who had at first been unknown to Carol. From these new contacts it became clear that the Ernest Vile who was buried in Flanders was a different one from their grandfather, Ernest Vile. He had in fact continued with his work in the theatre and lived until 1944. Apparently, Ernest had married four times and it was through the offspring of some of these wives that Carol and her sister were able to trace relatives to Boston, York and Bradford. Carol visited the Burnetts in N. Ireland and a family called Lowther in Boston. Ernest Vile, who had changed his name to Vincent, had married his fourth wife, Violet Gould. There was a hint of bigamy in the story. However, it was reported that when Ernest died in 1944 a large crowd attended his funeral being regarded as a ‘pillar of society.’
This complicated story with its confusion of names and brick walls resulted in a satisfactory outcome for Carol and her sister. Carol’s delivery, with the help of her husband on the computer which provided a number of photos of people and places, was delivered in a light hearted and humorous manner with her emphasising the need to persevere and leave no stone unturned.