From the farm to the mist

Just a shortie right now as I’m typing this on my phone. We’re about halfway through our trip overseas and currently enjoying some brisk sub-zero temperatures in Manchester. Here are some photos so far.

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Our accommodation on the game farm in South Africa - no electricity but oh so lovely, such peace and quiet
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You can tell Africa and Australia were once joined - animals have evolved but the earth is so similar
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Paraffin and gas lamps, the braai in the background and bones on the table. The monkey skull was eerily familiar.
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Clear blue sky, temps in the minuses, back in the UK!
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I'm not that materialistic but man I missed shopping in the UK! So many shoes...
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Manchester city centre. I don't know it at all but it was great. We ate Dutch pancakes as it got darker and colder and the mist graduated to fog. I've not developed the ability to pinpoint that transition but according to Mr C, it's obvious.

Once I’m back home I’ll be doing a series of posts on the trip and associated topics. For now, let’s just say that I’m still just as uncertain about ever moving back as I was before. London will be the ultimate test of that, and we’ll be there in about a week…

A life lived large

This is my granddad, Hector:

I’ve had this photo in my possession since I was 14. I did a family history project then, which was the beginning of my genealogical research. That was nearly 20 years ago now.

See the eyes? They were a bright, piercing blue; my son has them. And those pointed, slightly buck teeth? Same in my mouth. My dad got his black hair from granddad. Luckily no one else in the family has inherited that nose – you can’t see it in the photo but it was large and hooked. You can see the smooth confidence this young man exudes, he’s an open book.

All I knew previously was that this photo was taken around 1943 or 44. But now I know more.

“We went into town, got drunk, and had our picture taken.” This was 1944, at the end of granddad’s training for the paratroop regiment. He was 17. He tried to join the army the year before but his mother followed him down to the recruiting office, gave the recruiting officer a serve and dragged granddad home by the scruff of his neck. “If you must join up, you’ll wait until you’re 17 and for Christ’s sake, stay off the water! Get into something with wheels on.” This was his father’s lecture. He’d just returned from five voyages to Dunkirk. He knew what his son would be confronted with. And he knew how vulnerable being on the ocean would make him.

Granddad did get into something with wheels on, but only because of a slight tall tale he rattled off. Upon signing up at 17, when asked by a superior what aspect of duty interested him, granddad mentioned he knew how to drive a bren gun carrier. A lie of course, unless you count the one time he and his mate accidentally drove a bren gun carrier into an Air Raid Warden’s hut. “Which side are you on?” shouted the Warden. “Silly little buggers.” They were 15 and had no licenses.  But that was war, that was the way things went in London in those days. The superior officer was impressed and assigned young Hector to drive trucks. He had a day’s lessons, no real driving experience, and then he was put at the wheel of a first world war Leyland Lynx, a huge monstrosity of a vehicle that required some clutch skills just to get into the next gear. Which was a challenge for Hector as he didn’t actually know how to change gear at all. Luckily his superior and the mechanic were riding up front with him and taught him as he went, with 30 troops in the back, complaining all the way about the bunny hopping.  Off they trundled, in convoy with another truck, across from the far north east of England, Newbiggin by Sea, to Kirkcudbrightshire, just over the Scottish border further west.  They hit the notoriously bad weather in those parts, and the second truck broke down.  This is where destiny begins to show itself in granddad’s life.  He suggested to the officer in charge that they put the 30 troops in his truck.  And against his better judgment, the officer agreed. So now he had 60 troops, two officers, and the mechanic.  The others stayed behind with the broken down truck. The mechanic mentioned they might make up for lost time if they removed the speed limiter the truck was fitted with, and granddad liked this idea a lot.  They came to a sign at the top of a steep incline. “Use low gear”.  Granddad ignored it.  He took off down the hill, spun the truck and overturned it into a tree, the troops having abandoned it halfway down the hill and the mechanic hiding in the footwell. Broken gear stick.  Disaster.  He hadn’t even been in the army three months, and this was his first driving assignment.

So even though it wasn’t his fault, although he could have been more cautious, he was reprimanded and sent off to peel potatoes all day as punishment for two weeks. It didn’t seem much of a punishment.  He and his mate (he always had one with him) were on their lunch break.  They’d snuck off beyond where they should have been and were having a smoke and watching the planes coming in over the downs doing bombing raid practices. And suddenly they saw one plane land roughly and crash nearby.  Without thinking, they rushed across and dragged out the pilot and rolled him in the dirt to put out the fire on his suit, shortly before the whole plane exploded. They disappeared as soon as the fire brigade showed up, hoping their little stunt might go unnoticed. The pilot remembered them and pointed them out.  They were transferred to another unit, “got rid of”, sent back to London on a week’s leave with orders to report back to the CO.  Apparently they had been labelled as ‘good round aeroplanes’, so to their shock and confusion, Hector and his mate, who he refers to as Bennett, were sent up to Marlborough and then Leicester for paratrooper training.

There’s more to the story, so much more, but this is just a little snippet of my granddad’s extraordinary adventures, taken directly from his own narration on the tapes I’ve been transcribing which he recorded in 1996. Unfortunately, as I think I might have mentioned before, I got to the second recording only to discover it’s unintelligible. All is not lost though, as I’m going to try and adjust the sound with some software.  I am desperate to hear about how he met my grandmother.  All I know is that they met at a dance sometime around the end of the war and he told her he’d marry her during that first dance and she laughed and said there’s no chance. I can imagine that.

Dynasty (aka why I have slacked off on blogging recently)

Today my grandad would have been 86. The fifth. Always the fifth in our family, so many of us born on the fifth of the month for some odd reason. Grandad died in 2003. On the fifth. In fact it was on my birthday. I turned 25. My boyfriend at the time and I we’re over at my mum’s place feeding her dogs when my dad called to tell me grandad had collapsed and this was probably it. He was crying. As soon as I got off the phone, I burst into tears. Weird, as death usually doesn’t make me cry. It was just so sudden, but that’s grandad, we all knew he’d just pop off one day when it was time. He was 77. Doesn’t sound very old but considering his own father died at about 60, it’s pretty good going.

About a week ago, my dad mentioned he’d drop by to bring me something. It was a memory stick. And on it, are four sound files, between 90 and 120 minutes each. My uncle had digitised them from tapes my grandad had recorded. Finally, I’ve got his story in my hands!

I knew grandad was writing his memoir and I remember seeing a huge ream of typed pages once, which he said was his book. He had an old typewriter, and he’d type with two fingers. There we’re always murmurs about the book, but none of us ever read it. Grandad’s book. After he died, I asked around the family to find out who had it. Denial from all parties. People in my family tell tall stories and are terrified of the truth. Harsh, I know, but it’s genetic, we can’t help it!

Finally I discovered my uncle had the book. But when I quizzed him about it, he said it was just a bunch of silly stories we’d all heard before, nothing really interesting, just a few pages of ramblings. I was disappointed. And angry! I knew that was bullshit. I knew because I’d seen the book and somehow I knew my grandad had something important to say. He never wasted time. He wouldn’t have sat around typing away on that old typewriter, and later an old PC he got from the Salvos,* if there was nothing to be achieved.

But what could I do? I’m one of at least a dozen grandchildren, I love hundreds of kilometres away from my uncle and I seem to be one of the only people in the family who believes grandad had something important to say, was worthy of a voice. I thought about the book and I never lost hope that one day I’d read it and perhaps edit it so it could be published.

And now I have it, in sound form. He recorded it at Christmas in 1996 and he mentions the number of times he’s already written it out. “This is my story.” That’s how he begins. I was going to listen through once and then transcribe but I’ve decided to just transcribe straight away. Lord knows how he typed it out with two fingers! I touch type about 65 words a minute and I’m still not finished the first recording of about 90 minutes. It’s already nearly 10,000 words! There are stories within it that I’ve heard a few times and it’s nice to hear them again after nine years. There is a lot I’ve never heard and it’s giving me such an insight into who my grandad was. And it’s a good story!

So that’s why I haven’t blogged in a while. Every spare moment I have on the computer I use to transcribe. It’s compelling, addictive, and I can’t wait to hear what happens next. I’m right at the end of WWII now, about 1944, so I figure there’s lots more to come in the next three recordings. So exciting! What a story!

*Yes, you read that right, a computer from the Salvos. It actually worked, even though it was some kind if old skool Windows 3.1 OS and grandad couldn’t get the concept of saving stuff to the hard drive, so he became fixated on floppy disks… I wonder what happened to that computer?

Chase family – NOT American

So, I’ve been doing my genealogical research seriously for about a decade now.  I have had periods where I’ve done virtuallyl nothing for ages, so that’s why I’m only up to about 250 people in my tree (I haven’t included living relatives like my parents’ siblings, due  to privacy, but also because that doesn’t really help me get further back… so I’m missing about another 14 people there…)

The Chase branch in my family is pretty interesting, well I think so. But the annoying barrier I’ve run up against time and time again, well perhaps not so much as a barrier but a frustration, is that Chase is always assumed to be an American surname. So when I search on various genealogical forums and whatnot, people ALWAYS ask me if I’m related to some Chase individual from Massachusetts or something!  I’ve gotten back to about 1790 or so on that branch, and so far they’re all east end Londoners, with the family moving slowly further east, so beginning in Shoreditch and Hackney (central east London, zone 1 on the Tube map now), and eventually ending up in Essex (off the tube network). 

Because there are so many Americans doing family history, and the Chase family must have literally exploded when Thomas and Aquila Chase went out there sometime in the 1600s or something, it’s near impossible to rein in the research and concentrate purely on UK Chases.  It’s quite possible that I’m related to these Chases who went out on the Mayflower or something like that, but I know that the branch of the Chase family that I come from is totally British.

It was fun, the other week, when Google Street View came out and I was able to have a look at the church where my 4x great grandparents were married in 1828 – St Leonard’s Shoreditch, in case you’re wondering.  Although really, looking at it on Google is pretty silly when I live in London and could go and have a look at it any time.  It’s quite an important church for the Chases, as there were numerous children baptised there too.

Now’s the time to spend a day (probably turn into weeks) at the London Metropolitan Archives and get a hold of these parish records, get some parent details for Daniel Chase and Charlotte Robertson (my 4x great grandparents) and find out once and for all, a) if Charlotte was Scottish (just a hunch I have), and b) if yet another generation of Chases comes from central east London.  I always see all these Chases from places down south like Portsmouth, but the ones from London are few and far between. Are we special? I think so!

My dad always mentions the information we got when we ordered the Chase heraldic crest. The print out we were given says that the first mention of Chase was, I think, in the Domesday Book, or some such early Norman record dating back to the 1300s at least. Ironically, he was the Earl of Essex I believe! The name is Norman in origin, from the French for ‘hunter’, chasseur. 

But before I do any of that I must get my partner’s family tree sorted out to a point so his 94 year old granddad can check it out before he goes off to meet all the ancestors in person!