curiouswombat: (Reminiscing)
posted by [personal profile] curiouswombat at 06:35pm on 17/11/2013 under ,
I have been deeply entrenched in social history over the past few days - primarily involving the periods of the two World Wars.
Since my last entry I have actually read the book of 'letters, diaries and memories of the Great War', that I wrote about, and I found it fascinating - and not just because one of my great uncles is in there!

The stories of the men in the trenches are fascinating and, as the author points out, these 'board school educated' young men wrote prose just as good as their upper class peers whose work is quoted in text books and histories so regularly.

But I found the stories of those who spent their war at sea - from the local fishermen who fell foul of U boats, to those who served in vessels in the Royal Navy, even more interesting as their tales are less well known. I had not realised that U boats were quite common in the Irish Sea in WW1 - much more than in WW2. And the author looks at the effect of this on everyday life; all coal, for example, was brought to the island by boat - and as colliers were being sunk, so less ship owners were willing to take on that task. Almost all the island's passenger vessels were requisitioned by the British Navy. Much of the island's income, in the 30 years before the outbreak of war, was from holiday makers; no-one is going to take a holiday where they run the risk of drowning en route by their ship being torpedoed... and so on.

So in some ways day to day life was hit harder here than in much of the British mainland.

I had not realised, before, the amount of hardship that was caused directly by the harsh attitude to change of the King's representative on the island. (We are not part of the UK - our legislature actually chose to pass a law in favour of conscription as the UK one did not apply here - but the British Monarch is Lord of Man, and at that time their representative could veto decisions made by the legislature. Which Lord Raglan did - when they voted in favour of introducing the old age pension, for example...) Lord Raglan refused to sign into law any sort of subsidy for those whose livelihoods were so badly affected, not even allowing the local authorities to reduce the 'rates' (local taxes based on building size) whilst the boarding houses sat empty.

Whereas many of the new factories that employed women on the mainland did so from a need for the products, on the island some industries, such as a glove making one and a sock knitting one, were actually set up specifically to prevent women becoming destitute as there was no work in the holiday trade, and the men were away on active service, earning so little that they could not provide for their families.

The island had a higher percentage of men of eligible age fighting, or at sea, than any UK county or city - and a similarly high percentage killed - and finally got rid of Lord Raglan just after the war. Never again was the Lord's representative able to wield such power, either.

But as well as reading This Terrible Ordeal, I have been doing a task for Church for which I happily volunteered.

Historically we have kept a Cradle Roll of the babies christened in church. Some time ago we decided to frame all the old ones, which are historic documents, separately, rather than them all being piled on top of each other in one frame. And I offered to copy over some of the faded names on the first one. But there were big problems - which I wrote about, with a couple of examples, here.

We then had more problems - not only did we have a lot of names that couldn't be read, and names stuck on top of other names, but it was actually very difficult to source new Cradle Rolls now, too! Then our Baptism Record book had been taken to Ramsey by our 'interim minister' and he kept forgetting to give it back - and so on.

But this week I got the new rolls, and the baptism book, where two other members of the congregation had spent an afternoon marking all the 'missing' children. And I filled in the last empty spaces on that old roll, and began to write new ones for those whose names had been obliterated on it.

I think I now understand what had been going on - the children whose names had been stuck on top of other names, three and four deep in places, were actually all baptised between 1939 and 1952. I think the person responsible may have either just been saving money or, even more likely, couldn't actually get a new blank roll...

The baptism record is, however, a fascinating piece of social history in itself...

The names of some of the children are interesting, and sometimes unexpected - for example there are 2 Pamelas, a Rhiannon, and a Betty-Mai on the first page, all baptised in the 1930s, whereas I would have expected such names to come later, perhaps - and the Betty-Mai looks very out-of-place! But then I realised her surname was Le Gear, and her father a radio operator in the merchant navy - so I think perhaps she had a Channel-islander father and a Manx mother. And hopefully she stayed here after her baptism... as she was baptised on our island on November 7th 1939.

The 'father's occupation' column on that first page has a wide variety of occupations listed - blacksmith, merchant mariner, insurance agent, farmer, motor driver, plumber, rate collector, four different boarding house keepers, and so on. The 'place of birth' was mainly a private address - but 'Jane Crookall Maternity Home' began to creep in during this period - by the end of 1939 about 1/3 of the babies had been born in what became know as 'The Jane'.

Then we turn the page. The occupation of the first father listed here fascinates me. He is John Burton MacArthur -'Fox Rancher'! I have read, once in a book by Mazo dela Roche, of a 'fox farmer' in Canada. But a fox rancher on the Isle of Man? Where we have no foxes... Actually the baby wasn't baptised until she was 6 months old, and her name was 'Sandra Georgie MacArthur' - although she was born 'in Douglas' I wonder if her mother came 'home' to family when pregnant from somewhere like Canada or the USA and the baby was only christened when the father either came over, too, or sent word that it would be safer not to cross the Atlantic at that time? (Manx women quite often headed home to give birth - my mother did, a few years later.)

And five names down, on May 19th 1940, we have our first father listed as 'On active Service'. Very quickly almost every father is listed in the same way - and those who aren't are often an 'engineer', 'fisherman', 'merchant navy', 'School-master RN', 'Naval chaplain', 'Principal lighthouse keeper'... And a couple of babies have 'deceased' in the father's occupation column.

By 1940 almost every baby's place of birth is 'The Jane', and there were clearly two smaller nursing homes for lying-in as well - the 'Dhoon Nursing Home' and 'Burleigh Bank, Cronkbourne Rd.' Almost no babies were born at home - only eleven out of 70 baptised during the war.

And then it occurred to the Session Clark to change the heading of the column to 'address of parents' instead - which is much more interesting.

As time goes on it is clear that the congregation of our church is not the upper echelons of society - there are many quayside workers, butchers, and lorry drivers - but only rarely, until the 1980s, do you see 'doctor of medicine', or 'accountant'. In fact I saw the baptism of one child of a local doctor in the late 1940s - but his brother and two sisters were clearly baptised elsewhere! Probably in the Parish Church.

All in all, I really have been steeped in social history over the past few days.

And I have promised D-d, who flies home for the weekend coming, that I will hang onto the Baptism Record until after she goes back as she, too, wants to spend time studying it.
Music:: The Calling - Wherever You Will Go
Mood:: 'nerdy' nerdy


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