Sunday, March 20, 2011

Rain and tulips

My confused Aunt Jean, who is now in a care home, is a widow: her husband, my uncle by marriage, died about ten years ago. In some ways they were a remarkable couple. They had no children because as a girl, my aunt had both ovaries removed in separate operations, because they were … I don’t know, but infected in some way. It’s hard to imagine this happening now but this was in the 30s. Anyway, she and my uncle were very religious and decided that, since they couldn’t have children, they would be missionaries instead. His family were – indeed still are – Plymouth Brethren and my aunt became one too.

She was a doctor and he was a pharmacist and they spent their working lives in a hospital in Pakistan. But as well as this, they preached Christianity to the Pakistanis, which now seems rather… . Well, they did what they did with the best of intentions, I’m sure. My uncle was also quite a scholar and published learned commentaries on various Bible texts.

When we moved my aunt out of her flat into the home last August, we found lots of photograph albums. I’ve been gradually taking them to her room in the home. She and my uncle travelled a lot, both from their base in Pakistan and during their furlough years. And, happily for the current circumstances, they were very good at labelling their albums, so that I often look at them with her and can say, “Oh look, this is Baghdad – you went there in 1947” and she can agree.

One album that I haven’t taken there yet is actually a notebook, a sort of diary kept by my uncle and illustrated by photos and postcards. There’s nothing intensely personal in it; it’s mainly just an account of their travels and other activities during a few years at the beginning of their marriage. But I never knew it existed and am touched to read it. I never knew my uncle particularly well - we never saw all that much of them because they were so involved with the Brethren. He was quite fun, but not someone who was interested in children. And of course they were abroad throughout my childhood and young adulthood.

Here’s the first page:

The Wedding 24th February 1945

The place: St Philip’s Church, Joppa
Time: 2.15 pm on a dull, cold day
Officiating: Rev. J. E. Adam and A. Hutchison, Craigmillar
[and he lists them]
Best man: John [his brother] Bridesmaids: Effie and Gracie
Organist: Jim [my father]

We arranged for a taxi for Jean but it didn’t arrive so walked to church [it’s only a couple of streets from where my grandparents lived]. The wedding went smoothly. Thence to photographers – photos turned out pitiful. The guests went by special tram to Darling’s Hotel, Regent Place. A splendid occasion – speeches by Uncle Tom, Uncle Andrew, Wm Campbell, Jean’s father and Reg as well as the two ministers. Finally the singing of Psalm 23 and some choruses suggested by Mother brought the proceedings to an end. A delightful and very happy occasion.

Then we went by train to Glasgow. Taxi, in a most tempestuous storm of rain and wind, to Mayfair. At Mearns next morning Mrs Connell announced us as a honeymoon couple. Lunch at John Smith’s. His mother vastly amused at honeymoon couple.

My mother always says that the reception was like a prayer meeting - and you'll notice that none of the wedding party is exactly glamorous, though of course it was wartime and clothes were difficult to get. (My mother is a very pretty and elegant person.) She also laughs at the corsages, which are made of tulips - quite unusual even then!

But it was a very happy marriage.

I feel a bit odd having this notebook but there's no one else closer to them and though I shall take it in to read to my aunt, I don't know how much it will mean to her. I wouldn't like it to get lost so I suppose I'll bring it back here again. The ink's a bit faded so I shall type out the rest of the words to preserve them. The last entry is July 15, 1947.

I do like having this link to my uncle.

Words. There's nothing like them. As we bloggers know.


  1. you've found a treasure ... my mother's albums are neat and tidy, but there are no labels and she becomes frustrated because she cannot remember, so i have stopped trying

  2. What A lovely story You are lucky to have thosr memories to keep.
    Hugs Mary.

  3. What a find! And lovely that your aunt is still here to have you to share them with her - even now she may derive much pleasure from diary and albums.

  4. Oh Isabelle, many people would love to have such diaries and albums from their ancestors (even recent ancestors). I do hope you keep all of them intact, to pass on to future generations of your family. It might seem trivial stuff now, but it really is family heritage which will be of great interest to historians in the future. What a fascinating couple they must have been.

  5. maybe a historical society would like the journal in the future. they need to be preserved for the citizens of the future

  6. Thanks for sharing this with us! Words, indeed, are wonderful - but I think pictures are (all together now) worth a thousand words.


  7. Such things are priceless really. Links to the thoughts and feelings of people we never really knew but who are links in our human chains.

  8. What a fascinating old album. I'm glad it's safely in your hands. I hope it will stir some familiar memories in your dear confused aunt's mind.
    The final entry was written 6 days before I was born (on July 21st, 1947).
    I was reading this post when your comment popped into my we were visiting each other simultaneously :)
    I had to stop reading and make dinner, which is why I'm just commenting now.
    Thanks for the well wishes. Ross is home and slowly recovering. The warmer weather helps.
    Happy spring dear Isabelle!

  9. What a treasure Isabelle! I love old albums like that -- we have one from my grandfather. I often feel sad that we don't keep such albums -- although, I guess our blogs sort of do that for us. Although, I don't feel we can be as personal in out blogs as we would be with a journal -- given the public nature of blogs. It sounds as though your aunt and uncle had a very interesting life together!

  10. fascinating stuff. All happening at the same time my Dad was in the army awaiting demob...

  11. Thanks for this Isabelle! What a lovely thing to show your aunt. You've given me a great idea for when I visit my aunt, who is a bit confused, though cheerful, but doesn't speak much. I wonder if my cousins have some journals like that. I would like to see what Baghdad looked like back then! Not that I have seen it now, but in photos on the web. Iraqi friends tell me it was very beautiful before the war.