I am fascinated by family history. As a child, I loved being regaled with stories of people I had never met. More recently, I began researching the death of my great grandfather in World War 1. Details had become sketchy and I wanted to ensure they were secure for future generations. Like candle making, I was soon hooked. I spent hundreds of hours researching our forebears and bringing them to life. Ordinary people, living ordinary lives, lost in time and forgotten by most.
Margaret Dunn Hamilton and George Liddle Morris. This is the story of my maternal great grandparents. George was born in rural Linlithgow in 1880. He was one of seven children. His father was a blacksmith. Tragically, George’s mother died when he was only seven. Shortly after, the family was uprooted and moved to Glasgow. Glasgow was the industrial hub of the empire at that time and no doubt George's father wanted to ensure he had work to support his large family. In adulthood, George was an underground fireman. This was a brave, arduous job. The fireman had to inspect the mine before each shift to ensure it was safe. Often, pockets of methane gas would build up between shifts. The testing involved extending a naked flame into crevices at the coal face when methane was suspected. Many men were killed performing this role.
Margaret was born in 1885 in Hamilton, the youngest of three children. Her father was a coalminer. As with most working class young women, when Margaret left school she worked as a domestic servant. Margaret's mother died when she was only 23. As the only female in the household, she would then take up the responsibility of running the house and tending to her father and brothers.
So how did they meet? I have established that Margaret's family lived on the same street as George’s brother. It is perhaps this link that led to their meeting.
They married on New Years Eve 1909, the dawn of a new decade, with burgeoning hope for their new life together. Their first child, John, was born in 1911. Followed shortly by Elizabeth in 1912 and finally Thomas in 1914. War was declared five months later.
Coalminers were classed as essential workers and exempt from call up. However, George signed up to fight for his country in 1914, leaving Margaret to look after their three young children. We will never know what their thoughts were as they parted. Tragically, on 31st July 1917, George was killed in action at Ypres. He was 37 years old. His body was never recovered and lies forever in Flanders Fields. Margaret was left a widow at the age of 31 with three young children- John, 6; Elizabeth, 5; and Thomas, 3.
Eventually, Margaret went onto remarry and have a further four children. She died in 1969 at the grand old age of 84. She had survived the death of a child, two wars and widowhood twice.
It is a story like so many others- filled with enduring hardship and tragedy. Unremarkable to many but vitally important to a few. I am fiercely proud to name them as my forebears- George, for his bravery and great sacrifice; and Margaret- for her strength and fortitude. Without which I, and many others, would not be here.
The only photo that we have of George, taken with his fellow soldiers. He is on the far right.
The sombre wee woman sitting down in the last photo is Margaret. This was taken at my parents wedding. Her third husband is seated beside her.