Many years ago when I started to express my interest in researching the family tree, my uncle sent me a small orange zip up book/folder. Inside were a mixture of photographs and documents relating to my Mum’s side of the family including some notes written by my Grandma at different points over the years on simple lined note paper, about her childhood and life in Maldon, Essex before she married my Grandfather.
She didn’t have a good childhood, which explains why she rarely spoke of her youth. Her mother had died when she was just five years old, leaving her with her older half-sister – aged 19 and her younger half-sister aged just 2. Their mother had died not long after giving birth to a little girl – there was talk of there being twins, but unless one was stillborn, I’ve only found one birth entry. The baby was given up for adoption as it was felt that it would have been too much for the elder sister to look after a newborn as well as two young siblings. She couldn’t give up her job, and my Grandma’s stepfather by all accounts wasn’t the best Dad in the world. After a few years my Grandma and her sisters left the family home and moved around a fair bit being looked after by their big sister.
In my Grandmother’s notes there was a mention of a young man she had been engaged to before and during World War II.
“I walked to Heybridge every morning and night to my next job cleaning the living quarters of a grocer. I’m not sure how long I stayed there, I don’t think I was very worldly-wise, except for cleaning and doing as I was told when I was told and lifting the vegetables into the shop – I never got to serve customers. I had met the boy next door at my previous job in the High Street and we became engaged and were collecting things for our bottom drawer. He was working at a flour mill near Ship Lane and was a Scout Master, played the drum and was an amateur boxer. He was also a part-time soldier and he spent his weeks holiday at army camp on Salisbury Plain…
…The Essex Yeomanry – my fiancés regiment, were called up before the war began in 1939 and he was in the north of England. They were then sent to Palestine and in all they were over there for over five and a half years. He was holed up in Tobruk and had been ill with an abscess on his kidney. It was a long wait and letters were not frequent. We had Air-Graphs, like a photo of a short letter and address. When he did come home he was on the same local train as me and followed me home, although I did not know it at the time.”
There were a few photographs that seemed to relate to her fiancé and his grandmother, she spelled his surname as Savill and Saville so it was difficult at first to figure out more about him. Then some years later my uncle sent me some more photographs of which some were of this gentleman who had at one time been my grandmother’s intended. His name was Len and I found that he had been the Cub Scout Master of the 1st Maldon Scouts in the mid 1930s. He seemed like quite a dashing fellow.
It must have been hard on them both to be apart for so long during the war, and perhaps that was why it didn’t last as she married my grandfather in February 1945. I don’t quite know how she would have broken the news to him about their engagement being off, and how he might have taken it. My uncle always thought that her fiancé had been killed during the war, but perhaps that had just been a story to make it all seem a bit neater, rather than the truth behind how and when my grandparents had met? It turned out that he went on to get married within a few months after my grandparents, so perhaps they had decided to go their separate ways some time before. He married his stepbrother’s widowed mother in law – talk about complicated! He and his wife had two children and he died in 1969 aged 53. I hope to make contact with his family to be able to share the photographs I have with them.
It does make me wonder how different things might have been for my grandmother if she had married Len. Perhaps she might have had a happier, less stressful marriage? But then she might have ended up widowed in 1969.
And interestingly enough, my paternal grandmother was also engaged to someone else – a man called Eric before she met my grandfather. Although I don’t have any photographs of him, I do have a photograph of her with his mother who she remained friends with for many years!
How about you? Were your parents or grandparents engaged to someone else? Do you know much about them?