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.
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.