before I leave christenings

My christening; four generations of strong women. My mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and - as it turns out - me.

My christening and four generations of strong women. My mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and – as it turns out – me.

While I’ve been on the subject of babies, christenings and naming ceremonies, I found these photos and wanted to include them. The photo above shows Katherine Black, Margaret Cruden and Elizabeth Ramsay – the maternal line that led to me (the cute one all wrapped up in white).

Looking back, it seems to me that the lives of these three women were not dissimilar, but very different to mine. My great-grandmother and grandmother both married at 18; my mother at 19. Katherine (great-grandmother) and Margaret (grandmother) were pregnant at the time of their marriages;  my mum had to wait four years for a child, and then my older brother was stillborn. Katherine raised five children, Margaret six, my mum three. Weirdly, both my great grandmother and grandmother had husbands with prosthetic legs. My great grandfather was wounded in WWI; my grandfather suffered from diabetes and lost both legs to gangrene.

I don’t know how much formal education my great grandmother or grandmother had, but I know my mum had to leave school at 15 because her father thought any more education would be wasted on a girl who “was only going to get married”, and besides, the family needed her wages. Until she married she was a weaver in Nairn’s linoleum factory in Kirkcaldy. On Katherine’s marriage certificate it says she was a housekeeper. My grandmother’s occupation on marriage was listed as shop assistant.

Although I also left school young (major rebellion at 16), I studied at night school to get University Entrance and have ended up with two post-graduate degrees. I have one child, born when I was 36 and have never married his father – though we’ve lived together for almost 22 years.

I look more and more like my maternal ancestors as I get older and feel a greater kinship with them then ever before, so perhaps the fact that my life has been so different to theirs says a little bit about the gains feminism has made –  at least for my generation.

Alexander Cruden and Katherine (nee Black); my great grandparents with my at my christening.

Alexander Cruden and Katherine (nee Black); my great grandparents with me at my christening.

Basically, I just love this one. I love the fact that I look so adoringly at the old woman holding me and that my great grandfather looks so lovingly at me. Admittedly, great gran looks a bit underwhelmed; but I guess by the time I came along, she was probably totally over babies . Who can blame her?

 

When the telegram came

Strolling ... Stewart Cruden and his mother with an unknown (to me) couple

Strolling … Stewart Cruden and his mother with an unknown (to me) couple

My mother sent me this photo recently. The young man in front is her great uncle, Stewart Cameron Cruden, who died on 9 March 1942 aboard the HMT Shera in the Berants Sea. The ship was a Norwegian whaling boat which had been requisitioned by the British Navy as a minesweeper to protect the Arctic Convoys delivering supplies to Russia. It was en-route to Murmansk on loan to the Soviet government when high seas and pack ice caused the ship to ice up and capsize, with the loss of seventeen lives.

Mum remembers quite vividly hearing of her great uncle’s death. She said that when the telegram came, her parents were at the cinema in Kirkcaldy and that the management stopped the film to deliver the message that they were to go home immediately. Mum wasn’t sure who had sent the message – probably one of her older sisters – but the reason was that they were needed to comfort my great, great grandmother who was ill and living with my mother’s family at the time.

It seems an odd thing to do, but I guess that, in wartime, it was probably quite common. I also occurred to me that for my grandmother, hearing her name called out in the cinema must have been truly awful since my uncle David, her only son, was also serving in the navy and it must surely have gone through her mind that she was being sent home to a telegram announcing his death.

I like this photo. Stewart looks like a confident young man, striding out with an attractive woman at his side. My mum doesn’t know who the young woman in the photo is – or for that matter, the man at the back. The older woman walking behind is Stewart’s mother, Isabella Wallace.

Isabella Wallace, seated, with my grandmother standing beside her. Probably taken around 1933-1934.

Isabella Wallace, seated.

I don’t know when or where this photo was taken but I’m working on the assumption that it was in the late 1930s; based on the younger woman’s clothes, and also the fact that I have this photo of Isabella Wallace (sitting, with my grandmother beside her) in which she looks much younger, and I know that photo was taken after 1932 when she returned from the United States, having spent seven years living in New Jersey.

Anyone with knowledge of 1930s fashion who could help me date this more accurately – all suggestions welcome!

In Lowestoft, Suffolk, there is a memorial to the 2385 members of the Royal Naval Patrol Service who died during World War II who have no known grave. My great grand uncle is amongst them. lowestoft memorial cruden

My plan for 2013; a trip to the UK to, (amongst other family history objectives) take my mum to see this memorial.

 

An unknown footnote in my great grandad’s life

Have been trying for a while to find the military service records for my great grandfather – Alexander Cruden. I know he fought in World War I, and was wounded, but haven’t yet been able to find out when he enlisted, when and where he fought, etc. However, the other day I discovered that prior to enlisting during the war he – briefly – joined the Black Watch Regiment. Apparently in 1906 he signed up, but was discharged 15 days later when they found out he’d lied about his age. He was sixteen.

From the enlistment papers, I discovered that he was five foot two (so that’s where the “short” genes come from) and a coal miner (guess that made the army seem attractive).

I have never heard this story told within the family, but wondered what would have happened if there had been a war on at the time and the army had turned a blind eye to his youth. Obviously I wouldn’t be here; within 18 months of that first failed attempt at being a soldier, Alexander Cruden became a father – to my grandmother. His actual military service, which cost him a leg, didn’t take place until he was in his twenties, and a father of two.