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Discover the fascinating people and places of Tunbridge Wells.Take a journey back in time to the 19th and early 20th century. See what the town was like in the days of the horse and carriage and what the people did who lived there. See the vintage postcards and photographs.Read the articles about the different trades and professions and the people who worked in them.Learn about the historic buildings and the town's colourful history.

This month I feature a rather unusual photograph taken in Tunbridge Wells during WW1 showing soldiers sleeping in hammocks suspended between the trees. Note the candle  on the chair  ready to be lit at sundown. A peaceful scene contrasted with the horrors in the trenches. Thousands of men like these assembled in Tunbridge Wells awaiting orders to move to the south coast and then to France and elsewhere. The exact location captured by this image is not known for there were a number of military camps set up in Tunbridge Wells.The name of the photographer is also not known but the image is comparable to the work of Tunbridge Wells photographer and postcard printer/publisher Harold H. Camburn , however, the front of the image does not bear his usual caption and card number.

ANNOUNCEMENT

The articles on this site are replaced by new ones on the first of the month, so come back and visit this site often. Feel free to copy any text and images of interest to you.Due to the quantity and size of the images in this website users will find that some of them are slow to appear. Please be patient, as they are worth waiting for.Those without high speed internet service will no doubt have to wait longer than others. To move from one page of the website to the next simply click on the page number in the bar at the top of the page-not the "Go To" instruction at the bottom of the page.

Also note that if you attempt to print any pages from this website before the page has fully loaded, some images may not be printed and the layout of the page may be distorted, as the text and images are repositioned during loading. For the best copy wait for the page to fully load.

There is no provision for contacting me from this website. If you wish to contact me I would suggest contacting the Tunbridge Wells Reference Library or the Royal Tunbridge Wells Civic Society who will forward your inquiry to me. Their contact details can be found on their websites.

ABOUT ME


I am a researcher and writer of articles about the history of Tunbridge Wells and was a member of the Tunbridge Wells Family History Society (TWFHS) until its recent demise. I had been a regular contributer to the TWFHS Guestbook and Journal. I assist others with their genealogical inquiries on various websites such as Rootschat and the Kent & Sussex History Forum. I have had many articles published in various society journals, Newsletters and Magazines in England and Canada. I am decended from three generation of Gilberts who lived in Tunbridge Wells since 1881.

Shown here is a photograph of me taken in July 2015 proudly displaying my T-shirt. I was trained and worked as a Civil Engineer and in the late 1980's changed careers and became the owner of two corporations engaged in General Contracting and the supply of building materials. Upon my retirement in 1998 I devoted my spare time to research,writing and gardening. I lived in southern Ontario from 1950 to 1981 but moved to Thunder Bay,Ontario (about 950 miles north of Toronto) to work as a Supervising Engineer in NorthWestern Ontario. My father Douglas Edward Gilbert (1916-2009) came to live with me in 1983. He had been born in Tunbridge Wells but came to Canada with his parents/siblings in the early 1920's. All but one my relatives (mostly second cousins, none of which have the surname of Gilbert) live in England and some still live in Tunbridge Wells. The only Gilberts from my family line in Canada are me (born in Canada 1950). My dads sister Mabel Joan Gilbert, born in Tunbridge Wells in 1921 died October 2017 in Barrie, Ontario. Her only child Garry Williamson is living in Barrie with his wife and two adopted sons. Since I never got married I am the last of the family with the surname of Gilbert in Canada and England and I am the self appointed genealogist of my family line. Although my greatgrandfather of Tunbridge Wells had three sons and four daughters I am the only surviving descendent with the surname of Gilbert. A complete family tree of my family going back five generations can be found on the Ancestry UK website.

I established this website in 2011. Every month I replace all of the articles with new ones so please come back and visit again. If there are any articles you wish to keep for your records feel free to copy them. There is no archive of older articles on this site but the Tunbridge Wells Library and the Museum retain copies of my articles for their local history files,so please contact them to see them. I am in regular contact with the Tunbridge Wells Civic Society (Chris Jones) who takes an interest in my work and may have some of my articles in his files. Occasionally I republish older articles that have been updated with new information.














On October 9,2014 I was presented with a Civic Society Community Contribution Award in recognition of the contribution that this website has made to the town, especially in the field of history and family history. In the summer of 2015 I had the pleasure of visiting Tunbridge Wells and seeing first hand all of the places I had written about and those which will be featured in future articles. Shown above (left)is a photo taken during this trip at Hever Castle by Alan Harrison in July 2015 in which I am wearing my "I Love Royal Tunbridge Wells" T-Shirt, a slogan which accurately expresses my great interest in the town and its history. Shown with me is my good friend and neighbour Mrs Susan Prince of Thunder Bay,Ontario, who organized the trip,and the lady in dark blue on the right is my second cousin Mrs Christine Harrison of Tunbridge Wells. Christine's grandfather Robert Herbert Gilbert is my grandfathers eldest brother.Christine and her husband were kind enough to drive us around Tunbridge Wells and the surrounding area. It was a memorable holiday, and one that will be reported on in various articles of this website. Also shown above right is a photograph of me that appeared in the Kent & Sussex Courier in August 2015 from an article written about my visit to the town.This photograph was taken by the Courier photographer at the Victorian B&B, 22 Lansdowne Road, where I stayed during my visit. A reception was also held on June 30,2015  to commemorate my visit  and my work in writing about the history of the town by the Tunbridge Wells Civic Society in the garden at the home of John Cunningham,who is a member of the Civic Society.John, Chris Jones and some 30 others came out for the reception and afterwards Susan Prince and I had a lovely meal and evening with John and Chris and their wives at John's home.

I hope you enjoy reading about my family and the articles I have written about the history of Tunbridge Wells.

REMEMBERANCE DAY

On February 11,1923 the War Memorial on Mount Pleasant Road was unveiled, with thousands in attendance, in front of what at the time was the Calverley Parade (demolished in the 1930's to make way for the Civic Centre). On the plaques of this memorial are the names of 801 men who fell in WW1 and 170 more from WWII. Since 1923  people have gathered at the War Memorial to pay tribute to those lost in both wars. I hope that you will join them and participate in this important town event.

My great uncle Edgar Allan Gilbert, the youngest of three sons, fell on the first day of the Battle of the Somme and is listed on this memorial. When I visited Tunbridge Wells in 2015 I made a point of visiting the War Memorial to pay my respects. I took that opportunity to place a poppy beside his name on the plaque and my friend Susan took several photographs. It was a sad moment, and a reminder of the terrible cost of war. Above  is a photograph taken February 11,1923 showing thousands of people assembled opposite the Opera House on Mount Pleasant Road, part of an even larger crowd in front of the War Memorial itself.

Shown below are two photographs taken by Alan Harrison and his wife Christine (my second cousin) of a plaque "FOR THE FALLEN" taken while on a visit to Pentire Head, Polzeath. Cornwall.
















WARTIME WEDDINGS DURING WW2

 

Written By: Edward James Gilbert-Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada

Date: October 3,2018

 

INTRODUCTION

Rationing, restrictions and the uncertainty of the Second World War were just some of the challenges faced by couples marrying in wartime. But despite wartime privations, these couples made their big days special with help of families, friends and their communities.

Pulling everything together for the wedding was a big job requiring a group effort, where friends and family would unite for the big day by pooling their ration coupons; lending clothing or providing fabrics and sewing supplies to make the wedding clothing. Although the men most often appeared at the wedding in their military uniforms, the ladies had a far more challenging task.

Black Markets existed where goods in short supply could be obtained outside their usual of official channels, but they commanded higher prices.

If organizing something to wear for the big day was not enough of a challenge, coming up with the wedding cake and food for the reception proved in many cases to be an even more daunting task, a task made difficult by the rationing of foodstuffs, such as sugar. It was highly unlikely to find a WW2 wedding cake of the size and complexity of cakes typically found today. Instead cakes were often made of decorated cardboard with just a small real cake inside, or forming part of it, or a completely real cake of a very small size.

Most wedding photos were taken by friends and family. Only on rare occasions was a professional photographer hired and the quantity of photographs taken paled in comparison to the modern photographic archives created today. All photographs during the war were black and white but sometimes a few of these images were hand colourized, an expensive but quite effective method of brightening up the images.

Transportation was normally organized by assembling automobiles of friends and family (if they even had a motorcar). No fancy stretch limousines. Those using their motorcars were faced with petrol rationing during the war, which limited travel, and people were encouraged to avoid trips and stay at home.  From September 3,1939 to May 1950 petrol was rationed allowing a notational 200 miles a month. At the beginning of the war only about 10% of households owned a motorcar. A black market for petrol coupons existed.

The honeymoon was kept by necessity quite short as the serviceman had to arrange for leave, which leave was normally granted for only a few days. The locale of the honeymoon was confined to some destination in England. No fancy honeymoons on some tropical island or a long seagoing cruise.

The venue selected for the reception was most often in the home of friends or family although it was still possible, if one could afford it, to have a small reception at a local hotel. These hotels could only offer a limited selection of meals due to rationing. Restaurants were exempt from rationing but in 1940 rules were introduced where a meal could not cost more than five shillings or consist of more than three courses; and meat and fish could not be served as two courses in the same individual meal

It is sad to note that the much looked forward to wedding was in many cases a short lived highlight of life , as all too often the groom was killed or badly injured before they got to enjoy their life together as  husband and wife.

Weddings in Tunbridge Wells were typical of those held elsewhere in Britain. Shown above is a wedding photo stated by the ebay seller to have been taken in Tunbridge Wells during WW2. The location at which the photo was taken and the names of the happy couple were not identified.

FOOD RATIONING 

Rationing in the case of war had been planned by the Government since 1936 but was not actually introduced until January 1940. The Ministry of Food had been set up in 1937, whose task was to oversee the fair distribution and rationing of food, and food rationing was to be controlled through some 1,300 local offices. As an indication of Government foresight and planning, 50 million Ration Books had already been printed before Hitler invaded Poland in September 1939.

Food rationing was introduced January 8,1940, with sugar and butter (two essential ingredients in wedding cakes) as well as ham and bacon being the first items to be rationed, followed by meat in March, and by tea, margarine, cooking fats and cheese in July. Spreads (jam,marmalade, treacle and syprup) were added to the list in March 1941 with eggs and milk in November. This was followed by the rationing of chocolate and sweets in July 1942. Although bread and potatoes were not rationed people were encouraged to eat less bread (with wheat having to be imported). Potatoes were plentiful being home-grown. Long ration lineups such as the one shown below on York Road, Tunbridge Wells in 1942 were common.

A weekly ration for an adult during the war for the usual ingredients of wedding cakes were 8oz of sugar; 2oz of butter; 3 pints of milk (sometimes dropping to 2 pints) and just one whole egg if available, but sometimes only one every two weeks. During the war people were encouraged to raise chickens in their yard for meat end eggs, an also encouraged to grow fruits and vegetables and raise rabbits.

The Ration Book holder was allocated a number of points and all products were given a points value. Since rationing allocations were not tradeable a group effort was necessary among friends and family to contribute a share of their ration to the couples wedding. Since the weekly allocation of rationed goods was very small  planning food for the wedding had to start early.

CLOTHING RATIONING

The Second World War saw unprecedented government intervention into everyday life on the British home front. Food rationing began in 1940 and clothes were rationed from June 1,1941. Fabric was essential for war purposes, such as uniforms. By reducing civilian clothing production, factory space and labour could be freed up for war production.

Rationing forced people to be painfully mathematic in how they spent their limited supply of clothing coupons - and to find shrewd ways to avoid doing so. The government-backed 'Make Do and Mend' scheme was introduced to encourage people to revive and repair worn-out clothes.

Handmade and hand-repaired clothing became an essential part of wartime life. People got creative across the country out of necessity, finding ways to make and care for clothes - and forge their own wartime style. Following the introduction of clothes rationing, people were encouraged to improve their sewing skills.

A report by the Women's Group on Public Welfare requested government support for an official 'Make and Mend' campaign to exhort people to care for the clothes they did have, and to make new clothing from old fabric. The report stated that, 'the Women's Group are therefore convinced that nothing less than a nation-wide campaign on the lines of the food front will suffice to meet the urgent situation when the shortage of material begins to be felt in the second year of clothes rationing'.

A Make Do and Mend scheme was given official support by the Board of Trade in autumn 1942. Publicity materials were produced which included promotional posters, booklets, and a series of instructional leaflets featuring the character 'Mrs Sew and Sew' explaining sewing tips. This wide-eyed doll became a familiar sight, emblazoned across posters like this. She was also brought to life in government-backed animation films to promote home sewing, along with helpful scissors, thimbles, and cotton reels.

Rationing forced people to be mathematic in determining how they were to spend their limited supply of clothing coupons - and to find shrewd ways to avoid doing so. Making clothes was usually still cheaper and needed fewer coupons than buying ready-made garments. Old blankets and un-rationed materials, like fabric for blackout curtains, were transformed into dresses. Men's suits left behind by serving soldiers became their wives' skirts and jackets.

Clothing exchanges were set up by the Women's Voluntary Service (WVS) to help meet the needs of parents struggling to clothe their growing children. Parents could take the clothes that their children had outgrown and were given a number of points for the clothes handed in. These could be 'spent' on other clothes at the exchange. This oil painting by Evelyn Gibbs shows the scene inside an exchange as children are fitted with clothes.

Hand knitting was a very popular pastime during the Second World War. Many wartime handknitted items, like underwear, may seem unappealing to modern tastes but these items were warm, hardwearing, and saved on precious coupons. Knitted headgear also became popular. Most wool was rationed but some was available off-ration. To qualify, it had to be made of less than 16 per cent animal hair. Knitting woollen comforts for servicemen enabled people to contribute to the war effort. Organisations such as the WVS and Women's Institutes coordinated volunteers into knitting parties.

Clothes care was central to the Make Do and Mend message. This poster issued by the Board of Trade advised how to prevent moth damage to clothes. Darning was a vital skill to give clothes a long life. Darning thread was widely available and un-rationed. Initially it came on skeins but when it was discovered that people were buying the thread and using it to knit or crochet whole garments, it was instead sold in shorter lengths on card. A wartime instructional leaflet of 'Darning Do's and Don'ts' stated that 'a neat darn is a real badge of honour'.

Much-loved silk was unavailable after late 1940 and cotton was also in short supply, so finding material to make clothing like underwear was difficult. Some women used 'butter muslin', used in food preparation, as it was available off-ration. Old silk garments such as evening dresses or night dresses were regularly cut up to make garments. By 1945, a new supply of silk became available when surplus 'escape maps' issued to Allied aircrew during the Second World War were sold off. Dressing gowns, blouses and underwear were just some of the garments that were made from these maps.

As people got used to wearing the same clothes for long periods of time, women often crafted their own accessories to refresh or smarten up an outfit. Earrings and bracelets could be made by aircraft factory workers from scraps of windscreen plastic.  Patterns for accessories were published in newspapers and magazines showing people how they could make their own jewellery, handbags, collars and cuffs.

Many couples married in haste to enjoy a married life they feared could be short because of wartime dangers. Although many aspired to a white wedding, clothes rationing and shortages of materials made this difficult. Families pooled their coupons, refashioned dresses from other family members, or made imaginative use of fabrics which were not subject to clothes rationing. Some women chose to marry in uniform. Others favoured a non-traditional dress or a smart suit that they would be able to wear again. This pink crepe dress was worn by Gladys Mason for her wedding to her husband Frank in October 1939.

Creativity was applied to cosmetics as well as clothing. Women were constantly encouraged by magazines to invest in their appearance, and worries about shabbiness as a sign of low morale were very real. This face powder compact in the shape of a US Army officer's cap made a popular gift for servicewomen and the wives and girlfriends of servicemen. But the production of metal compact cases ceased in 1942. The drastic reduction in cosmetic manufacture to spare raw materials for the war effort became a problem and women had to be sparing in their use of the limited make-up produced. Many face powders came without the usual puff to apply it. Other forms of make-up also suffered, but inspired ingenious solutions. Beetroot juice to stain the lips was a substitute for lipstick. Other beauty tricks included using boot polish for mascara and drawing lines up the back of legs to give the impression of stockings.

WEDDINGS IN TUNBRIDGE WELLS

Weddings in Tunbridge Wells were much the same as elsewhere in the country. The local newspaper published several accounts of weddings in the town and on occasion local photographers were called upon to take a few wedding snaps.

As one example of a wedding in the town  I have provided below an account of the wedding of Dorothy (Dot) Coe to Ronald F. Roser at St James Church (image opposite) in 1943. This story is based on a first-hand account by Dorothy. As an aside this was the same church that my father Douglas Edward Gilbert (1916-2009) was baptised in.

“In 1939 Dorothy (Dot) M. Coe had a boyfriend Freddy Davis, a sailor. Freddy was a gunner on The Javelin and was one of the first to die in the war when the gunner crew of 3 were killed by a bomb. Dot remembers that Mountbatten sent a very nice personal letter to Freddy’s’ sister. In 1941 Dot was going out with a man called Thompson who was wounded and waiting to be evacuated at Dunkirk. As his boat was leaving Dunkirk it was bombed, Thompson died.”

“Whilst the war was on, all young woman upon reaching the age of 17 or 18 had to register for war work. In 1940 Dot had to register and was sent to work as a conductress on the local buses. Although Dot would have enjoyed to be sent away, her mum was pleased as she was able to carry on living at home. On the buses Dot was trained by Ronald; not an easy job for him as Dot suffered motion sickness and was sick on Ronald’s trousers three times in the first week! None the less, Ronald was won over and married Dot in St. James Church in 1943.”

“Because of the strict rationing of the time a lot of thought and planning was required to dress the bride. The dress was a white nightgown, thankfully lace was not rationed so the dress was covered with it. The brides’ veil was borrowed, her step-sister bought her a blue garter and white satin dancing slippers were worn. The groom had a friend who worked as a chef at the Spa Hotel and he was able to get hold of enough sugar to make a two tiered wedding cake with angels decorating the top. The reception was held at the busman’s’ sports club. Dot and Ronald lived at 33 Goods Station Road, above a jewellery shop, where Hayward’s stands today.” Shown opposite is a postcard view of the Spa Hotel.

“One of Dots’ clearest war memories is of the many Canadians who were stationed at Crowborough and Forest Row. Dot remembers them as rather pushy but very generous with offers of cigarettes. Dot had to carry an identity card and certain areas such as Hastings and Gravesend could not be travelled to. Another clear memory is of the German bomber planes being chased away from London and as they flew back to the coast, dumping their bombs, a fair number of which fell on Tunbridge Wells. In particular Dot remembers her bus being stopped because of unexploded bombs being spotted on the road, Buttons, a department store in Tunbridge Wells took a direct hit and a man was killed in his house in Lansdowne Road. At home, when the sirens sounded Dot and her family would hide under the Anderson table. Several times fires could be seen in London after particularly severe bombing raids; firemen from Tunbridge Wells would go to help as so many of London’s firemen were killed.”

“Dot remembers V.E. day. She and her friends and family bought a few drinks and then sat on Tunbridge Wells common. The church bells were ringing — the first time for many years as this was the have been the signal for the start of the expected invasion so this was a wonderful sound.”

 

THE WARTIME  WEDDING OF RUTH ADELAIDE HARRISON

Written by; Edward James Gilbert,Thunder Bay,Ontario,Canada

Date:  October 3,2018

INTRODUCTION

Ruth Adelaide Harrison is my mother. She was a Lancashire Lass, as she often referred to herself as, and was born December 23,1922 in the little village of Heysham,Lancashire at her parent’s home at Hill Cottage Lower Heysham. Her father was James William Harrison(1895-1970), who’s first name is my middle name, and at the time of Ruth’s birth he was employed as a carter. Ruth’s mother was Alice Matilda Harrison nee Bramble (1899-1990). Ruth came from a long line of Harrisons and Bramble’s from Lancashire, most of whom were farmers.Ruth had two siblings Jack (1920-1999) and Joan, born 1924 in Heysham.Joan would later get married and in the 1960’s moved to Western Australia with her husband. My visit to see Joan in Australia 2010 gave me an opportunity to find out more about the early life of my mother and part of this article is based on the information she gave me about her sister’s wedding. Sadly Joan passed away last year in a nursing home.

This storey is about Ruth’s early life in the years leading up to her marriage to my father Douglas Edward Gilbert who was a Canadian soldier with the Queen’s Own Rifles ; the marriage itself  in 1943 in Heysham,Lancashire; and a brief coverage of the years until her death in Canada in 1975. My father was born in Tunbridge Wells, Kent December 31,1916 and was the third generation of my Tunbridge Wells family who had settled in the town in 1881.

RUTH’S EARLY LIFE BEFORE 1943

As a young girl Ruth and her siblings spent most of the time in the little village of Heysham located not far from the seaside resort town of Morecambe. It was common for the children to visit Morecambe and play on the beach.

Shown here is a  postcard view of Morecambe beach.  My mum frequently went to the beach .It was a popular spot among tourists and residents of the area alike. I remember playing on this beach myself when my mother took me to England to visit her parents and siblings .This was in 1954 when I was 4 years old and what an enjoyable time I had. I remember making sand castles with  my little bucket and spade; riding a pony  and watching the punch and judy show in a red and white striped tent.My mother used to tell me stories about how much she enjoyed going to the seaside and in the family album is a photo of my mum at this beach when she was a girl of about 10 years of age.

Morecambe was a popular resort town. It has a proud history as a thriving seaside resort in the mid 20th century and has one of the most spectacular views in England. Morecambe underwent many improvements in the 1930’s and much of the towns architecture dates from around then. The town of course had many lodging houses and hotels and there was a pier where entertainment was held.It became a premier seaside resort by the outbreak of WW II. Heysham itself was regarded as a separate non-urban community until well after WW II but is now physically joined to Morecambe. Morecambe did not exist until the late 19th century. It has suffered economically since the 1960’s with the decline of the British seaside holiday.This has led to the decline of the lodging houses and many of the hotels, some of which have been demolished.

The village of Heysham was a quaint little place and surrounded by a lot of farmland.Its main road was quite narrow as can be seen in postcard views of the village such as one taken sometime after WWII and sent to my mum by her brother Jack.The street was lined with all manner of small shops. My mum as a girl used to buy candies at the sweet shop

Here is a postcard view of Heysham taken about 1940 entitled “Happy Memories of Heysham”. It shows a group of young people dancing in the street.When I visited Heysham with my mum in 1954 we would often go for a walk in the village.She was anxious to tell me all about the place and the fond memories she had of it as a girl and young woman .Sadly I was too young to remember what she told me but I know she missed the place and would often speak about it later in life.

As a young girl Ruth attended the local public school. In my possession is a Collins’ National Dictionary and Encyclopedia presented to Ruth by the Borough of Heysham, Morecambe Education Committee.The label in the book reads “Prize awarded to Ruth Harrison for regular and punctual attendance for year ending August 31,1935 at Euston Road Senior School. The label also says that R.W. Sporne ACP was the head teacher. Subsequent research resulted in learning that the school was in Morecambe and that it had the capacity to accommodate about 200 boys and girls.The school is today known as the Morecambe Bay Community Primary School.John Rogan of the Morecambe Library said “ The school still existgs today.It has recently been refurbished and updated,Its name was derived from Euston Station in London.The same company opened a line to Morecambe and persuaded council to rename Taylor Street to Euston road to advertise is presence in the town.” A photograph of the school as it appears now is shown here.Ruth finished her education at the senior school and began work as a clerk at one of the local shops.

When the war broke out Ruth took a secretarial position with the Civil Service.She and her sister loved to go to the cinema and go dancing. Ruth and her sister would often go to Morecambe to see the pictures.Both of them always dressed well and were quite lovely young women, as one can see from the photos in the family album.When the war broke out Ruth was hired as a temporary Civil Servant and worked in a secretarial capacity for the goverments war effort. As you will see later there is mention of Ruth working as a Civil Servant at the Grosvenor Hotel in Morecambe.

The Grosvenor Hotel, pictured here was a fine hotel .The first image of the hotel was taken about 1950 and comes from a book about Morecambe.The hotel was built in 1899 and constructed of local buff sandstone.Before the war it was a hotel of style and quality and was a popular hotel among visitors to the area. It was a tall six story structure with an octagonal tower on one corner. Being located close to the seaside it afforded an excellent view of the town and Morecambe Bay. When war broke out the Grosvenor along with other hotels in Morecambe were requisitioned by the government to assist in the war effort. The Midland Hotel, for example, was taken over by the Navy and used as a hospital. The Grosvenor Hotel was used as offices and it was in one of these offices that Ruth began working in about 1941 and remained there until just before her marriage in 1943. After the honeymoon Ruth returned to work there and remained there until about the middle of 1945.The hotel was de-requisitioned by the government in 1946 and after some renovation was returned to its former glory as a fancy hotel.

HOW MUM AND DAD MET 

My father Douglas Edward Gilbert was born January 31,1916 in Tunbridge Wells at the families St James Park home.His parents were Frances Reginald Gilbert (1882-1975) and Nellie Gilbert nee Mace (1886-1921). In 2015 while visiting Tunbridge Wells Chris Jones of the Civic society took me to see and photograph my fathers former home. Shown below is a photo of me standing in front of my dads home at No. 7  St James Park.

In 1921 my father’s sister Joan was born but due to childbirth problems Nellie passed away on January 28,1921 at the family home. For a time Douglas and his sister were cared for by friends and relatives while their father worked as a printer for the Lewis Hepworth Company.Frances, out of necessity remarried, this time to Kate Emily Hargrove on May 23,1922 who had children from her first marriage.On May 23,1922 the combined Gilbert and Hargrove family moved to Canada and lived initially in Toronto,Ontario but by the time of the war were living in Richmond Hill, Ontario.

While living in Richmond Hill in 1939, and working at a commercial greenhouse as a rose grower ,my father enlisted for military service and joined the Queens Own Rifles as a rifleman. After training in Canada he and his unit were sent to Britian in 1941 for further training and ultimately to fight in the war. Shown below is a photo of my dad taken in 1939.

It was while on leave in England in 1942 that my father first met his future bride. Douglas boarded a train and found two lovely young ladies (Ruth and Joan Harrison) sitting in a compartment. He opened the compartment door and asked if he could join them. They said yes and obviously my father was attracted to Ruth for after that meeting they wrote to one another and when able to do so Douglas went to Lancashire to see Ruth. In anticipation of asking Ruth for her hand in marriage my father carved a wedding ring with a penknife out of a piece of aluminum from a fallen German airplane. I still have this ring among my collection of family mementos. My father said he never used the ring for he was able to buy a better one to give to Ruth on their wedding day.My mum knew of and saw the ring my dad had made and she always said “how sweet of Douglas” when she talked about it.The family collection of momentos includes many items of correspondence between them including  several photographs of each of them with charming and very loving notations on the back.

WEDDINGS DURING RATION TIMES

For anyone familiar with British social history during WW II it will come as no surprise when I say that getting married during the war was not an easy task and required some long range planning for the great event due to severe rationing of just about everything. Before the war it was relatively easy for a young woman to arrange a wedding although such events always seem, at least to men, to be akin to organizing a major military campaign. The ladies will know more about this than me but certainly arrangements have to be made for the venue of the marriage, the wedding  cake/food/decorations etc for the reception, flowers, photographs and of course the wedding dress for the bride,bridesmaids etc …the list goes on and on.  During the war virtually everything was rationed and you needed ration coupons to make purchases.

September 29,1939 was National Registration Day in Britain and every householder had to fill out a form giving details of the people who lived in the house. This was done so the government could issue everyone with an identity card and rations books. Each person had to register with a local supplier from whom the rations would be bought. Every ingredient necessary to make a wedding cake was rationed as was every other footstuff  needed for a wedding reception. Clothing  ,including wedding dresses .had to be purchased with ration coupons. Since each person was only issued enough clothing coupons for one outfit a year one had to be either creative in bartering for enough coupons to buy the dress  or the fabric to make one. If this could not be accomplished then like so many women did, the lady had to get married in their best dress or suit or borrow a wedding gown.There was of course the black market where you could get virtually anything if you had the cash to pay for it, but of course such transactions were illegal.My mother was married in a lovely white wedding gown with a veil which she said was bought for the occasion and that the entire family set out for quite some time to combine their ration coupons so Ruth could get the dress. They also did the same thing to get a cake and other food for the reception. It was indeed, according to my mum, an event that required a great deal of effort to pull off with any degree of success.Rationing was so severe that most brides could not have a fancy multi-tiered wedding cake made.Its making would require several month’s worth of ration coupons and most people had enough trouble feeding themselves with the basics and had no ability to purchase luxuries. When it came to wedding cakes the common practice was to make a small plain cake over which a cardboard cover decorated in a fake manner was placed.This cover was in the shape of a top hat and so covered the top and sides of the real cake beneath.It was common practice for these covers to be reused and were passed around from one relative to the other who were preparing for a wedding of their own.

THE GILBERT-HARRISON WEDDING  

On July 12,1943 the marriage took place between Ruth Adelaide Harrison and Douglas Edward Gilbert.The ceremony was held at St JohnThe Divine Sandylands Church  (image opposite) in the village of Heysham near Morecambe in the County of Lancashire. This fine looking stone church was built in 1901 and with all of its beautiful stained glass windows and fine interior it certainly was a great setting for the wedding.The marriage certificate dated that day records that the marriage was solemnized at the parish church; that Douglas’s place of residence was Shoreham Camp,Sussex and that Ruth was living at 177 Heysham Road,Heysham Village.Ruth’s father was given as farmer and Douglas’s father as a printer. The certificate was witnessed by Kenneth E. Hargrove,the step brother of Douglas, and Joan Harrison, Ruth’s sister. The certificate was signed by Vicar Edwin Greenhalgh.

Rev. Greenhalgh is found in Crockfords Clerical directory of 1932. It gives the following; Edwin Greenhalgh,Egerton Hall,Manchester d1927 p1838 Cleric of All Sts Blackpool 1827-1930;Burnley Diocese Blackpool from 1930-1932. I have in my collection of family mementos a letter hand written by Rev Greenhalgh addressed to my father. It reads “St John’s Vicarage Sandylands,Morecambe November 22,1945.Dear Mr Gilbert, I enclose a copy of your marriage certificate. The cost is 3/7.It will be rather exciting going to Canada and in some ways I envy your opportunity.May God bless you both in every way.Yours sincerely Edwin Greenhalgh”. Shown here is a postcard view of Morecambe labelled “Marine Parade,Sandylands,Morecambe” which my parents obtained on or about the day of the marriage.Ruth and Douglas used to walk along the promenade shown arm in arm.

The following announcement appeared in the local newspaper about the wedding. “St John’s Church,Sandylands,was the scene of a very attractive wedding on Saturday,the parties being Rifleman Douglas Edward Gilbert of the Canadian Army, the son of Mr and Mrs Gilbert, of Richmond Hill, Ontario,Canada, and Miss Ruth Adelaide Harrison,eldest daughter of Mr and Mrs J.W. Harrison of 14 Norland Drive,Heysham.The Rev. Edwin Greenhalgh officiated.Given away by her father, the bride was attired in a gown of white satin with a veil held in place by a coronet of orange blossom.She carried a bouquet of red roses, and was attended by Miss Joan Harrison (sister) and Margaret Hutton (cousin), who wore dresses of blue satin and carried bouquets of pint sweet peas,while the two children bridgesmaids Shirley Harrison (cousin of the bride) and Vera Dunning (friend),wore dresses of pink satin with little Dutch caps to match and carried poses of pink sweet peas. The best man was Sergeant Kenneth Hargrove of the R.C.A.S.C.,friend of the bride groom.The bride’s mother wore a smart dusky pink two-piece with burgundy accessories.After the reception at the King’s Arms Hotel where 18 guests were present,the happy couple left for their honeymoon in the Lake District,the bridge travelling in a floral dress with black accessories”. A second article about the wedding appeared in another publication and presented the same facts except that it says Ruth’s accessories with her floral dress were burgundy instead of black.A third article adds that at the time of the marriage Ruth was a temporary Civil Servant at the Grosvenor Hotel.During the ceremony Douglas slipped a solid plain gold ring on my mother’s finger (no diamonds) and she wore it the rest of her life.She was buried wearing the ring. I do not know if Douglas was given a ring or not. I never saw him wear one and when he passed away there was no wedding ring in his items

The Church of St John the Divine was initially built as a chapel of ease to the ancient church of St Peter’s Heysham.St John’s was designed by a well- known firm of church architects, Austin and Paley and built by the local firm of John Edmondson. The building was constructed from attractive local red sandstone and the roof ceiling and pews from English oak.Today it has become the parish church for the residential area of Sandylands for approximately three thousand people, considerably more than in 1943.The church building is set in a fairly large garden thus acquiring the name “The Church in the Garden by the Sea”.

All about the church are many splendid stained glass windows, some of which can be seen in general view from the exterior view of the church as it appears today and also from the black and white postcard view of the church taken around the time of my parents wedding. On the day my parents were married in the church the weather was fine and sunny but somewhat windy. My mums sister Joan remembers the church very well and said the interior of the church was ablaze in colour as the sunshine streamed through the stained glass windows.She said Ruth looked lovely in her flowing wedding dress and long train and that it was like watching a “princess” glide down the aisle in the arm of her father. She said there were plenty of smiling faces and tears of joy.Ruth’s  mum was quite emotional and even her father, although a very gentle man, was not prone to outbursts of emotion, but even he had to get out the hanky to wipe away the tears. My dad said he was quite nervous and although he was very much looking forward to marrying Ruth he was glad when the ceremony was over so he and his new wife could get away and enjoy their honeymoon.

The first wedding  image of Douglas with Ruth sitting is found in the family album in two versions. It is embossed on the bottom right corner with “A.E. Sampson,Heysham”, who was the photographer who took the pictures.The second version of this photograph is identical to the first except the roses have been colorized to show the red of the rose and the green of the leaves.  The colourized version is shown in the Introduction and shown opposite is a second version. Two image were taken of my mum standing and two sitting.

As you can see from the photograph, Ruth and Douglas certainly made a fine looking couple. My dad looks very handsome in his army uniform but you can see that one side of his hair was somewhat flattened by the previous wearing of his army cap.He could have used a comb to fluff it up a bit. My mother is absolutely lovely. What a spectacular wedding gown and bouquet of roses. The item on her head which the newspaper referred to as a “coronet of orange blossom” was used as I understand it to fasten her veil to her hair but I must admit to not knowing much about womens wedding apparel. My mother’s wedding gown and veil were left in England when my mum came to Canada. I remember the “coronet” which my mother kept in a box lined with tissue paper on the top shelf of her clothes closet. My aunt recently confirmed that my mum bought the coronet but borrowed the dress and veil and so she obviously returned it to the lady she borrowed it from shortly after the wedding.My mum  used to bring out the coronet from time to time to look at it and she used to show it to me and tell me about it. It had lots of flowers on it and looked very nice and I could see it meant a great deal to mum to have it.This item is now in my possession, kept in the same box my mum had it in and stored away just as carefully as she did.

The second image from the same photographer  is a group photo of the main wedding party.Absent from the photo are the parents of the bride and other guests, so those that are in the photo I will refer to as the main wedding party. Shown in the photo from left to right are Back Row….(1)Margaret Hutton,cousin of the bride, and maid of honour (2) Sergeant Kenneth Hargrove with the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps,the best man(3) the groom Douglas Edward Gilbert ‘Rifleman with the Queens Own Rifles of Canada (4)the bridg Ruth Adelaide Harrison (5) Joan Williamson, the bride’s sister and maid of honour. In the Front row are two little girls namely Shirley Harrison.cousin of bride and Vera Dunning, a friend, both of them were bridesmaids.Shirley is the little girl on the right and Vera is on the left.

Margaret Hutton was born in Heysham,Lancashire  on July 25,1926 and was therefore age 17 when this photo was taken.She was the daughter of Edward Hutton(1899-1990) who had married into the Harrison family and was the niece of my grandfather James William Harrison.Her mother was Margaret Harrison(1898-1989).She married Lyle Christopher Maxfield(1920-2002) on October 14,1963 at St Peter’s Church in Heysham and had one child, a daughter Susan Ann Maxfield.Both Margaret Hutton/Maxfield and her daughter are still living in 2012.Susan Ann Maxfield married a Phillips in 1995 and has children.

Kenneth Edward Hargrove had been born September 9,1907 at Staines Middlesex.He was the son of Frederick Reginald Hargrove(1875-1935) and Kate Emily Hargrove(1878-1945).He was the stepbrother by way of the second marriage of my grandfather Frances Reginald Gilbert (1882-1975)on May 23,1922 in Tunbridge Wells to his mother Kate.My grandfather’s wife Nellie Gilbert,nee Mace died a few days after giving birth to my dad’s sister Mabel Joan Gilbert.Kenneth and his two siblings and mother  along with my dad, his sister, and his father came to Canada after the marriage.Kenneth worked as a truck driver for the T.E. Eaton department store in Toronto,Ontario both before and after the war.During the war Kenneth was a truck driver with the RCASC.After the war he married and had two daughters.He died December 3,1996.

Joan Harrison, Ruth’s sister, was born January 24,1924 in Lancaster,Lancashire.On December 6,1947 she married Sydney Robert Bayliss in Morecambe. In 1966 she and her husband moved to Western Austalia. The couple never had any children. In 2012 Joan is living in Victoria Park, near Perth Australia.

Shirley A. Harrison, Ruth’s cousin was born 4th quarter 1936 in Heysham,Lancashire.She was the daughter of Gibson Aldren Harrison and Marie Nolan.Gibson was one of the brothers of James William Harrison,father of the bride.

Vera Dunning, the other bridesmaid, mentioned in the wedding article as a “friend” was the niece of the best man Kenneth Edward Hargrove. Vera was born in Lancashire in about 1936 and was the daughter of James A. Dunning and Freda Ruby Dunning nee Hargrove. Freda was the sister of Kenneth Edward Hargrove.

What a lovely group they made and arranging for all those fancy dresses and bouquets must have quite a challenge.

These five photographs are the only ones amongst quite a collection of photos that bear the name of A.E. Sandford of Heysham and they were taken at his portrait studio in Heysham just before the marriage.Its my understanding that they were taken in the morning  and sometime around noon the wedding took place at the church.A search of directories for Heysham  revealed that A.E. Sampson was Alee E. Sampson a photographer and hairdresser with premises at 382 Heysham Road,Heysham. He is found in the directories throughout the period of 1935 to 1952 and it appears he passed away in Lancashire at the age of 70 in 1963.

WEDDING PHOTOGALLERY

In this part of the article I present a selection of photographs of the wedding. These images were not taken by a professional photographer but by a family friend and distributed to those who attended the wedding afterwards.All of the images are dated July 12,1943.

(1)    Ruth and Douglas standing on the church steps .Ruth’s dress is shown being blown by the wind slightly to the right.

(2)    Ruth and Douglas in the foreground looking lovingly at one another. Shirly Harrison shown to the left side being blown by the wind. Ruth’s sister is on the right side just barely in the picture.Kenneth Hargrove is standing just behind the groom to the left and right behind the groom is Ruth’s father.Just behind Ruth is her mother.

(3)    The whole wedding party standing together outside the church with Ruth’s parents standing behind.

(4)    Close-up view of Ruth and Douglas at the church door

 

THE WEDDING RECEPTION

As noted in the article about the wedding, after the wedding the group left the church and proceeded to the King’s Arms Hotel for the reception. Waiting for them in the room reserved for the event was a two tiered wedding cake . The photograph of the cake was sent by Ruth to Douglas before the wedding and on the back of the photo is this charming note. “Could not take the whole of the cake (3) but I picked up two darling. Remember that day? Signed “R xxxx”. What the note refers to is that sometime before the wedding Ruth and Douglas went to a shop to look for a wedding  cake and Ruth is asking Douglas if he remembers that day. The “Rxxxx” at the bottom is “R” for Ruth and of course the x”s are kisses.The number (3) after the word “cake” refers to the fact that Ruth had intended on getting a three tier cake but had to settle for only the two tier cake shown in the photo. Ruth obviously found that she had not saved up enough ration coupons to buy a three tier cake. However no doubt she was quite happy with the cake they got and thought enough of it and the occasion to save the little porcelain cake decorations from it. They are today found in a little box labelled wedding cake amongst the family momentos.One is a lucky horseshoe.One is a miniature bride and groom and the other one is a flower. What a fine looking cake it was. Its very small compared to today’s standards but there was a war on and any kind of a cake was a luxury.

When the wedding party arrived at the King’s Arms Hotel the cake was there displayed on a nicely polished silver cake stand. The room reserved for the occasion was nicely but modestly decorated and recorded music was played for the couples to dance to. There were several tables laid out in a nice way with white table cloths and fine china and silverware and hotel staff served a nice meal. The portions were small, expecially the roast beef, so my mum said, but they enjoyed it all the same. They had tea and wedding cake for desert.There were 18 guests in attendance. According to my mother the hotel was finished with flocked wallpaper.

The Kings Arms Hotel, shown here, was and still is located at 250 Marine Road Central, town centre, Morecambe. The hotel is well placed and overlooks Morecambe Bay and affords a good view of the seaside. This hotel was not far from the church where the wedding took place. I’m not sure how the wedding party got there but no doubt they went by automobile.

The bride must have reserved a room at the hotel for it is noted that she changed out of her wedding dress before setting off from the King’s Arms for the honeymoon.

THE HONEYMOON

After the reception the bride and groom proceeded to the train station in Morecambe where they boarded a train for the Lake District .According  to my mother they ended up in Kendal where they stayed for two days at a lodging house and spent their time walking about looking at the scenery and going to the shops in the village. It was a short honeymoon for Douglas was only given a pass for a week and had to return for duty in the South of England.

Shown here is a postcard of the Lake District. The date on the back is September 15,1979 and it was sent to my father by Ruth’s brother Jack and his wife. They had themselves been to the Lake District for a few days holiday, as the note says on the back.The message continues by saying “ I imagine you will remember your honeymoon there!”

THE REMAINDER OF THE WAR

After the honeymoon, my father returned to his army unit and my mother returned to her work as a Civil Servant at the Grosvenor Hotel in Morecambe. During the period of 1943 to 1945 my father would use his time on leave to visit Ruth and of course they constantly exchanged letters and photographs. The Queens Own Rifles saw action on D Day and Douglas had his leg injured.He  underwent an operation and was declared to be unfit for further combat duty. He spent the remainder of the war in London with the Canadian Postal Corp and although travel was difficult Ruth would from time to time take the train to London to see him.

Ruth’s father knew all along that it was Douglas’s intention to return to Canada after the war but he was sorry to see Ruth go.He had told my father that if he agreed to remain in England that he would provide a house for Ruth and Douglas to live in. But the offer did not dissuade them and although later they may have had some regrets about this decision Ruth and Douglas looked forward to the end of the war and going to Canada.

AFTER THE WAR

In December 1945 Douglas returned to Canada with the Queens Own Rifles having left England on the Ill de France.After arriving in Halifax he travelled by train to Toronto and immediately took steps to find a place for he and his wife to live. Accommodation was very scarce and it was not until a few days before Ruth’s expected arrival in Canada that dad found a small flat for them to live in.

On January 15,1946 Ruth departed from Liverpool on the steamship Mauritainia and arrived at the port of Halifax on January 23,1946 where she was met by the Red Cross  and exchanged her money for Canadian currency.There was a photograph of Ruth exchanging her money and an article published in the newspaper, a copy of which I still have.After this was accomplished she travelled by train to Toronto where her very anxious husband was waiting to greet her.

Ruth and Douglas had a happy life together, a complete story of which is beyond the scope of this article. Douglas retured to his former work in commercial greenhouses growing roses and later worked in the shipping room. Ruth worked most of her life as a very competent manageress of various ladies wear stores until Ruth and Douglas decided in 1963 to go into business themselves and opened a convenience store in Richmond Hill, Ontario called Gilbert’s Variety & Gift. By 1970 Ruth’s health began to fail after being diagnosed with cancer. Two operations were not successful in stopping the advance of the disease.Ruth and Douglas sold the business in 1970. Ruth was not well enough to work and stayed home. Douglas opened a hobby and craft shop only a short distance from the family home and would close the shop at noon and go home to be with Ruth. On January 4,1975 Ruth passed away at the York Regional Hospital, having lost her battle with cancer. Douglas was grief stricken, sold his shop and retired. In 1983 he moved to Thunder Bay, Ontario, to live with me. I was the only child born to Ruth and Douglas, a birth that occurred on May 22,1950. On January 25,2009 Douglas passed away at the Thunder Bay Regional Hospital. Both Ruth and Douglas were buried in the family plot at the Aurora Cemetry in Aurora, Ontario, a place the three of us once lived in the late 1950’s for just one year in an apartment. Shown above is a photo of my mum taken in 1969 and one of my dad taken in 1983.

Ruth and Douglas had a very happy marriage and the stories they told me about their experiences in England are well fixed in my mind. I hope you enjoy this article about those times.

 

 

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