Today marks the centenary of the end of World War I, and as I paused in remembrance at the eleventh hour this morning I thought of my Great Uncle Sam. And as I reflected on the life of my relation I wondered – was there anyone else in the world also remembering Samuel Rubery Thompson today?
Armistice Day is the perfect time to write his story, however limited it may be. But he was once a loved member of my family, and I intend for his memory to live on.
Samuel Rubery Thompson
16th September 1880 ~ 30th October 1914
Born Pendleton, Lancashire, England.
Uncle Sam was something of an enigma to me as a young, impressionable child. While listening to the stories my grandmother Florence Thompson told me about her older brother, I couldn’t fully appreciate how he “fit” into our family. He didn’t have the same mother as my grandmother, yet he was her brother. She adored him and spoke so highly of her brother, yet he was gone so young – why? What had happened to him?
My grandmother’s obvious adoration of her brother transcended time. Her son, my father, spoke of the man with such fondness that anyone would have imagined they had once been great friends, yet my father had never met his uncle. And my father and grandmother instilled such curiosity into me that I have researched for many hours to learn as much as I can about Samuel Rubery Thompson. So first the facts –
Samuel was born to William Thompson and Elizabeth Ann Howarth in 1880, with the 1881 Census showing the six-month-old living with his parents and maternal grandmother in Pendleton, Salford. He was baptised on the 6th of October 1880.
What became of his mother, however, is unknown. By 1891, Samuel still lived with his family in Pendleton, but with his father and his father’s second wife, Jane.
Ancestry.com provides a comprehensive account of Samuel’s army service. On the 29th of December 1898, Samuel enlisted in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. At this time, he was regarded as “a respectable lad”. According to his Army record, he transferred from the 4th Battalion Manchester Regiment. Considering a man must be eighteen years of age to join the army, Samuel could have only been with the Manchester Regiment for three months at the time he joined the Welsh Fusiliers.
When joining the Welsh Fusiliers, Samuel’s occupation was listed as a barman, he was five-feet-three-and-a-quarter inches in height, weighed only 123 pounds, and had grey eyes and dark brown hair.
Online records suggest Samuel chose the army as his career. He advanced to Lance Corporal, then on the 26th April 1904, he was promoted to Corporal. He served in this position for only six months, however, and on the 2nd November of the same year, Samuel was tried and convicted for “drunkenness”. The event occurred on the 20th of October at Dover, hence he was demoted from his position. It can be safely assumed that Samuel had quite a liking for alcohol – the only times he was reprimanded while in the army was due to his over-exuberant intake of the beverage!
By 1904, twenty-four-year-old Samuel had grown to five feet six inches and had transferred to the Army Reserve. He was still in the Army Reserve in 1910, “willing to serve for general service in the army”.
On the 22nd February 1905 at St Stephen, Salford, Lancashire, Samuel married twenty-two-year-old Ada Dugmore. In the 1911 Census, the couple were recorded as beer retailers living in Salford. They had been married for six years and had no children. Sadly, a record in Samuel’s army medical record shows that he suffered from a bout of the mumps when he was aged nineteen, followed by recordings of orchitis. Orchitis during the teenage years often leads to sterility in males, which would offer an explanation as to why he and Ada didn’t have any children.
After World War I broke out, Samuel was immediately sent to France with the Welch Fusiliers. In the final entry of his Army Record, on the 30th October 1914, Samuel was reported missing, presumed dead. He was only thirty-four years of age. Samuel’s place of death was “France and Flanders”. His name is included on amemorial plaque at Ypres Menin Gate, West Flanders, Belgium.
One-hundred-and-four years after my Great Uncle Sam’s death, the internet has provided answers to what became of my grandmother’s beloved brother, yet there are few people left who knew of him. With no direct descendants to keep his memory alive, Uncle Sam could become a forgotten statistic of the Great War. Yet I was one of the lucky family members who knew about him, thanks to his sister, my grandmother Florence, the Great Story Teller.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them. ~ Ode of Remembrance, 1914.
The mere thought of going for a holiday on a cruise ship sends my sister, Vivien, into a state of horror. When my nephew recently suggested the idea to his mother, her reply was instantaneous – “I had a long trip on a ship once when I was a little girl and I was sick the whole time, so I don’t want to go on another ship!”
The voyage from England as a four-year-old child left an indelible impression on my older sister. While interviewing her for my Oral History unit with the University of Tasmania, Vivien recalled early memories of our family’s journey, their arrival in Sydney on the SS New Australia in 1951 and the challenges they faced living in migrant hostels in a new country.
During the post-World War II years, British families were invited to emigrate to Australia as part of the Ex-Servicemen’s Free Passage Scheme (p. 36). Most families travelled by ship and Vivien’s vivid memories of the lengthy journey, during which she suffered from seasickness and measles have lingered.
…I got sick and had measles and I was put in the ship’s hospital and the next morning my sister Christine was in the bed with me and she’d got them… – Vivien Knox.
A well-travelled and balding teddy bear, wearing hand-me-down baby clothes takes pride of place in a room at Vivien’s home today and she tells the story of the near doom of her treasured toy –
…I had a lovely teddy bear and they wanted to throw it overboard because they said it had germs on it and I was crying and mum said, ‘it’s alright…I can disinfect the teddy bear and then you can keep it’ and I’ve still got the teddy bear today… – Vivien Knox.
After arriving in Australia, the family were offered temporary accommodation at the Balgownie Hostels, now a part of the University of Wollongong campus, where three buildings have been preserved and are Heritage Listed. Offering little privacy, the Nissan Huts provided migrants with a temporary home while establishing themselves in Australia. My sister recalls the arc-shaped roofs of the huts and the walls which didn’t reach the height of the ceiling.
…you could stand on a chair and talk to your neighbour next door… – Vivien Knox.
Besides a bout of whooping cough soon after arriving in the country, which involved a traumatic time isolated from her family in the hospital, Vivien recalls going to the beach at Wollongong and getting badly sunburnt, unaware of the strength of the Australian sun, so different to summer days in England.
After living at Balgownie for a short period, the family were relocated to Wallgrove Hostel, near Penrith, N.S.W. where stable work in the vicinity provided a steady income. Housing Commission homes became available nearby at St. Marys and after moving in, the family remained in their new home until 1960 (during which time I was born).
We got one of the first housing Commission homes that was newly built then, in Little Chapel Street, St. Marys…and things started to pick up… – Vivien Knox.
By the late 1950s the family had bought a block of land in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, and built a house of their own, a home filled with love, people and memories. It was whilst living in this home that Vivien and our two older sisters met and married their husbands.
…they bought land and had a home built, actually, it was only half built and then dad finished building it and we used to have sheets up at the walls until he managed to put walls and everything up… – Vivien Knox.
Just two weeks ago in November, Vivien lost her husband of fifty-one years, the man she had met when he visited our home in the mountains with a friend of hers, the man she married while living in the house our father finished building for his family many years ago.
Vivien fondly recalls her memories of those early years of relocating to Australia, although she remains adamant the voyage across the world at age four will be the only journey she will ever make by ship.
Grandma…hold me a Little Longer… Rock me a little more… Tell me another story… (You’ve only told me four) Let me sleep on Your shoulder… I love your happy smile… I’ll always love you… Grandma…so stay with me a while. ~ Author Unknown.
Granny. I knew her ~ I loved her ~
She sprinkled stardust over her stories, each and every one of them, and I was her captive audience of one.
It has been often said that my granny didn’t let the truth get in the way of a good story. She was theatrical. She craved attention. And she drew me in like a moth to a flame when she began her stories, and for hours, I listened. And remembered her words.
And I always remember the essence of who she was. ~ Jo.
Florence Edith Thompson
17th January 1897 ~ 28th June 1973
Born Salford, Lancashire, England
The details of the early life of Florence Edith Thompson were always questionable. She spoke of brothers and sisters who were long ago dead and buried, of the children she referred to as “her children”, yet long gone. And of the Irish Catholic mother who she barely even knew, due to the short time she had lived, leaving Florence virtually alone, with just her father, and even he didn’t seem to have been in her life for long. She spoke of people she had met, famous people. The family doubted her, said she was dreaming. I was advised to take all of her stories with a grain of salt.
My early learning of anything relating to superstitions, the supernatural, and ghost stories all began with Granny. What a mysterious lady she was.
The conflicting reactions from my family toward Granny had me bewildered. Whilst, on the one hand, those whom I knew and trusted warned me not to believe the stories Granny told me, to me, she seemed so believable, so sincere. But what did I know? The young have not lived long enough to have developed the ability to decipher truth from fiction, I was told. And yet …
Without any encouragement from my family, I paid close attention to Granny. If she wasn’t telling me the truth, how did she come up with so many details of each incident she described? And when I asked her to continue an unfinished story, how would she be able to continue on from where she left off, correcting me if I repeated something back to her with even the slightest detail wrong?
So many stories, so many unanswered questions. Truth or fiction? My family never knew what to think about Granny. But she was my granny, dad’s mum, so I looked up to her, talked to her, admired her tenacity. I knew the life she led had been a colourful one, so I listened to her stories, intrigued, holding onto her words, remembering them.
We knew that Granny was born in Manchester, England, and her birthday was the 17th of January. We sent her birthday cards every year, and we knew her age, as her birth year was 1897.
Dad had a copy of her marriage certificate to his father. They were married in Manchester, England, on the 28th of June 1919.
Granny was a carer. She fed people, nursed them when they were ill, and took in stray cats. And she sang to herself and constantly hummed a tune as she went about her day.
The life of Florence Edith Thompson ended on the 28th of June 1973, in a hospital bed in Dubbo, N.S.W. Australia. I travelled with my parents to Dubbo to attend her funeral, and the only feeling I can remember is one of numbness. The freezing cold Dubbo winter could have been partially to blame, but it wasn’t just the cold air, it was the people. I didn’t see one single person shed a tear for my grandmother, and I would like to think that, as with me, tears were shed privately.
The funeral began late, and when the hearse finally pulled into the churchyard, smoking and spluttering, the apologetic undertakers were most concerned about why their almost new vehicle had broken down on the way. As I stood nearby, shivering, awaiting the time when we could all take up our places in the warmth of the church building, cats, in fact many, many cats, scurried around the yard. How very appropriate for my cat loving grandmother to be so well attended by her feline friends at this time.
Inside the church, I listened to a minister speaking of a lady I knew nothing of, a lady who visited the aged and sick in hospitals and nursing homes, always willing to take the lead in bringing music into the lives of the elderly, singing the old songs they knew, encouraging them to sing along. The minister had known my granny, he knew of the sunshine she had brought into many a sad day, her loving nature, the care she showed to others.
Sitting in the church pew that day, as my teeth chattered and my legs shook from the cold, I saw candles flickering as if touched by a gentle breeze. I quietly pointed the flickering candles out to my mum. No doors were open; perhaps they were decorative, electric candles, she whispered. After the service, we investigated. The wax, hand-lit candles had flickered, in the stillness of the church. How surreal. And how very Granny. She knew just how to let us know she was there.
Over thirty years passed by, along with my parents, yet the mystery of Granny’s life remained.
It wasn’t until the early 2000s, after the onset of the internet, when records emerged of births, deaths and marriages along with Census information from genealogy sites that I finally began to unravel the mystery of the life of Florence Edith Thompson.
Florence was born in Salford, England, on January 17th, 1897, to William Thompson and Mary Catherine Kemp. According to Census records, Mary was also born in Salford, but to an Irish mother, hence the stories of Ireland. Unfortunately, Mary passed away when Granny was only a young girl eleven years of age.
Florence had a half-brother, Samuel Rubery Thompson, seventeen years her senior, and a younger sister, Lilian Thompson, who didn’t survive past infancy.
By the time Florence was fourteen, according to the 1911 Census records, she worked as a servant at a private home in Old Trafford, Manchester. The records show her employers as a husband and wife, with twin daughters. Remembering the stories Granny told of “her” children, I have to wonder how many other children were born to the couple she worked for? Or did she leave their employ, moving on to another family to care for?
Little is known of the life Florence led between 1911 and 1919, when she married Samuel Mottershead, although my cousin told me that she remembered hearing a story of our grandmother from her younger years … Granny had wanted to be an actress, and spent some time with stage actors near to her home. When her father found out how his daughter had been spending her days, she was forbidden to see the performers again. Poor Granny, she must have spent the rest of her years longing to be in the spotlight.
Florence and Samuel Mottershead were the parents of my father, Samuel Rubery Mottershead, and his three younger siblings ~ William, Margaret, and Ronald. Samuel had fought in World War I prior to their marriage, resulting in ill-health for many years, ending with his passing away in 1946.
On the 30th of December 1948, fifty-two-year-old Florence boarded the ship “Orontes” in London, alone, to begin a new life in Australia.
The sister of Florence’s husband, Alice Mottershead, had emigrated to Australia as a young single woman and although the sisters-in-law had never met, it was to Alice’s farming home, where she lived with her husband and grown family, at Gilgandra, in the middle of New South Wales that Florence headed to, after her arrival.
In 1951, Florence married James Hughes, a son of Alice’s, and a man twenty-three years her junior. Throughout my childhood years, I would overhear talk of the “odd” marriage my grandmother chose. However, the man I called Uncle Jim (my grandfather through marriage, but also my father’s cousin) remained a constant friend and loved family member to us all.
Granny lived in the farming area around Gilgandra and Dubbo with Jim for twenty-two years, right up until her death in 1973. As a child, I remember visiting Granny and Uncle Jim on their dairy farm, and later at their home in Dubbo. A granddaughter of Alice (and niece to Jim) lives in Granny and Uncle Jim’s home to this day. I once asked her what she made of their marriage, and why she thought a man as young as Jim was would choose Granny for his wife, and she said that he cared for her, a woman alone in a new country, and they were companions, friends. The adult in me can understand such a situation completely. I admire Granny for her bravery in beginning a new life on the other side of the world after the death of her first husband, and Uncle Jim, for his companionship and caring for my Granny.
When I think of my Granny now, after so many years of confusion, of wondering about her story and the stories she would tell, the puzzle pieces are beginning to fit together. Talking about her to cousins has helped, and seeing her life through the eyes of an adult has helped me to understand her more as well.
My only regret is that I didn’t spend enough time with Granny. I was only a teenager when she died and when she told me stories, I wish I had asked more questions, and written down the details. Even though so many people doubted her words, I enjoyed playing my small part on the stage in the life of my magical, mysterious, grandmother.
To a small child, the perfect granddad is unafraid of big dogs and fierce storms, but absolutely terrified of the word boo. ~ Robert Brault.
I didn’t have the opportunity of meeting my grandfather Samuel Mottershead. He had been gone for many years before I was born, but I grew up loving the stories of the man who I knew as “Little Granddad”. From what I heard of him from those who knew him, I know in my heart that granddad was the bravest of the brave, the kindest of the kind and would have been the perfect grandfather to his six grandchildren. No one is about to tell me otherwise, so I will hold this image of him, and the essence of my grandfather close to my heart always. ~ Jo.
20th August1890 ~ 30th April 1946.
Born Prestwich, Manchester, Lancashire.
Samuel, and his twin brother, George Henry, were born the fifth and sixth children of Edmund Mottershead and Alice Hassall. I have only one photo of the twins and although the quality of the photo leaves a lot to be desired, it was significant to the beginning of Samuel’s life.
Although dressed the same, I’m guessing from the looks of the babies, they were fraternal, or non-identical twins. I’m also guessing that Samuel is the twin on the right-hand side, as I can see a resemblance to his older photos.
Samuel and George were christened on 3rd September 1890, at Bradford, Lancashire, England. Perhaps the photo was taken at their christening.
Samuel was very small in stature. In the photo above, he is the fifth child from the left, the second row from the back. Or to make it easier to locate him, look for the tiniest boy in that row, and the cutest … that’s him! The clothes worn by children going to school in the mid-1890s were stunning, although I suspect they didn’t appreciate how charming they looked back then.
I’m sure the photo above shows the young man Samuel wearing his Sunday best. Unfortunately, I don’t have the year that this photo was taken, but I have seen the background setting in many other photos taken of this side of my family. I’m sure it was taken at a photographic studio, probably somewhere in Manchester, England.
Samuel and his brother Albert, who was two years older than Sam, were choir boys. I know his religion was Church of England and he grew up in Manchester, but that’s all the information I have on the possibility of where he may have sung in the choir, assuming it was a church choir. The books they are holding look like they may be church hymn books.
The photo above shows a slightly older and rather dapper Samuel, although still a young man. Again, I have no date for when the photo was taken. The photo was made into a postcard, with his name, “S. Mottershead” stamped on the back of it and taken by photographer Mrs B Goodman, from Manchester.
On the 11th December 1915, Sam joined the British army at Mill Street, Manchester. According to his army record, he was five feet and half an inch tall and his address was 220 Palmerston Street, Beswick, Manchester. During his time in the army, he was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.
Sam’s brother Albert had emigrated to Australia by the outbreak of the war and when Albert took leave whilst in the vicinity of his family, he visited them. The above photo shows Albert, wearing his Australian army uniform, with Sam, the British soldier.
The above photo of Sam, looking tanned, moustached and wearing his army regalia was taken at the Van Ralty photography studios in Manchester.
It would be wonderful to know when my grandparents met, but alas I have no romantic story to tell, nor any wedding photos. Above is the earliest photo I have of the two of them together; however, Samuel married Florence Edith Thompson on the 28th June 1919, at St. Mary’s Church of England, in Beswick. I am guessing that this photo was taken around the time of their marriage.
Sam and Florence were parents to three sons, Samuel, William and Ronald and a daughter, Margaret.
Sam remained active as an army volunteer throughout his life and posed proudly with his eldest son and namesake, Sam, during Sam’s time in the army during WWII.
After leaving the army, Sam’s health slowly declined. His lungs had been badly affected by the various gases used in battles during World War I. In 1945, a year before his death, Sam wrote to his employer, the Manchester Corporation Transport Department, tendering his resignation, saying he must be “resigned to the Will of God”.
Granddad passed over on the 30th of April 1946, just two months before his third granddaughter, Vivien, was born.
In May of 1946, Granddad’s eldest sister, Alice, wrote a letter of sympathy from Australia to my Grandma Florence. In the letter, she expresses her sadness at the loss of her brother, after looking forward to the family coming to Australia. She remembered him as a lad in his twenties, loving and loved by all. Alice also talks of the strain on my Grandma, with having nursed my Granddad to the end. He was only fifty-five years of age. Granddad was laid to rest at Highfield Cemetery, Romiley, Cheshire.
Although I wasn’t lucky enough to know my Grandfather in person, I feel as if I know him from hearing my parents talk about him as I grew up. I know that my Grandfather was an avid reader, well educated and double-jointed! He was a highly respected man, well mannered and a thorough gentleman. My uncle Bill preferred not to speak of his father, who had passed away on my Uncle Bill’s birthday. He never celebrated his birthday again, due to the devastation he felt at losing his father, who he thought so highly of. I don’t think Uncle Bill ever quite got over the loss.
My parents both held Granddad in the highest esteem. My mother always referred to her father-in-law as “Mr Mottershead,” as a sign of respect for him. She told me that she missed him after he was gone and had enjoyed talking to him. And of course, my father adored his father!
This is Little Granddad’s fob-watch, one of my most treasured possessions, which I inherited from my Granddad. Dad had it during my younger years and I often asked if I could look at it and hold it. Knowing how much I love this watch, my parents passed it on to me. It no longer works, and one hand has come adrift, but that’s okay. I can still hold this watch and know that once upon a time, many years ago, my Grandfather, a wonderful, highly respected and greatly loved man, Samuel Mottershead, held this watch in his hand too.