Mary E. Wilson Autobiography – 1915-1916

Every Sunday for quite a while, I’ll be posting the autobiography of Mary E. Wilson, the mother of a childhood friend, who was born in England about the same time as my Father and Uncles, and didn’t come to this country until 1925. It gives us a totally different perspective, that of a female living in England during the same time that my Grandfather’s family was growing in Mt. Vernon, NY and Trumbull, CT.






I recall the panic I felt when I was dragged out of my bed and pushed under a large beer barrel. I was told by my mother, Hezabinda Greenhill Ellum, as she pushed my younger brother

Mary, Jim and Arthur Ellum @ 1915

Mary, Jim and Arthur Ellum @ 1915

Jim in with me, to be a brave girl and to put my arms around my brother to keep him quiet. I found out later that the village of Doncaster had been bombed by a Zeppelin and it was en route to Bishop Auckland in the County of Durham where we lived.

It was the year 1915, and although I did not understand, we were at war with Germany. The beer barrels were my mother’s idea of an air raid shelter, as she held my baby brother, Arthur, under another barrel.

Bishop Auckland was bombed that night but the Zeppelin was brought down by a single R.A.F. pilot who was later cited for bravery and given a medal of honor. I remember my horror when daylight came and I saw that the graveyard had been bombed.

Bishop Auckland in 1915 was populated with old man, women and children because all able-bodied men were in Europe fighting in the war. My father was with the British Territorial’s in the far east and he wrote to us about the “big heads in the sand”, which I later realized referred to the Sphinx in Egypt.

Food was very scarce and I remember as a five-year-old going to the marketplace to buy “specked” fruit which was actually overripe fruit. My mother did all the “fine” laundry for the teachers in a private girl’s school. The headmistress was called Elexadria Fisher and I used to deliver the packages of laundry in a baby pram to the school, returning home with more soiled laundry and the money for the laundry I had delivered.

Army pay was very small and the money my mother made helped a little. She used to take us into town twice a month to pick up my father’s military pay and that was the day we ate pea soup and bread cubes in a soup kitchen. My mother thought she was giving us a treat but I looked longingly at the delicious smelling meat pies in a stall in the marketplace in Bishop Auckland. To this day I hate and despise pea soup.

1916 LEEDS


In 1916, we all moved to Leeds in Yorkshire and lived with our grandparents, my mother’s parents. My grandfather, Adam Greenhill, was such a kind, gentle man and I adored him. My own father was very vague in my mind and I scarcely remember him.

My brother Arthur, was born after my father went away to war and he did not see his son until Arthur was four years old.

My Grand-da worked as an engineer for the railroad and he was able to get my mother a job on the railroad as a conductor. My grandmother took care of us while my mother worked. We were enrolled in school in Leeds and one thing I vividly remember is the awful noise made by the children because we all wore wooden clogs in school – the same kind used in Holland. We had to remove them when we were in our classroom.

Life was difficult. I think my grandmother resented us. Food was scarce and we saw  little of my mother. I was responsible for keeping my two little brothers quiet and out of mischief. I was young myself and there was only three years and four months between myself and my youngest brother.

Tomorrow, we’ll move to 1943 and spend the week there, with a detour on Tuesday for a Guest Post from gpcox, writer of the blog, who shares Hollywood’s contribution to the war effort. I think you’ll find in this post interesting things you didn’t know.

Judy Guion


11 thoughts on “Mary E. Wilson Autobiography – 1915-1916

  1. Reblogged this on quirkywritingcorner and commented:
    I found this interesting. It’s a personal look into our early history.

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed this. My father fought in WWII. I still have 2 pictures of that time. One is just the camp site and the other with him marching as the color guard in a parade.

    • jaggh53163 says:

      quirkywritingcorner – I am fascinated by history, but especially the history of my family. What I find amazing is that my Grandfather and my Father saved all this material, not having a clue that I would be the one who did something with it. I didn’t find all these letters until after my Father’s (Lad) death, and I wish he had shared them with me before he passed away. I have so many questions I would have liked to ask.
      Suggestion – get your family members to share their memories and record them or write them down. Who knows, a future generation member might be thoroughly taken with the stories. I believe it is our family traditions and stories that hold families together like glue.

  3. Anna Bobko says:

    Looking forward to more this is very interesting. My mother and father were born in Norway in 1908 and she lived there with 2 small children while it was occupied. I try to look up my own geneology.
    A Bobko friend of Arla and Beverly

    • Judy Guion says:

      Anna Bobko – Thank you for stopping by my blog and reading this post. There are actually 2 more after this one, so I hope you’ll find them and read them also. I really enjoy sharing Mary E. Wilson’s story, primarily because it is so different from the story of my family, yet it covers the same time period. Fascinating.

      Good luck in your search for your family roots. May I suggest that you record any family traditions you have and share them with other family members. Encourage them to do the same. I believe it is the family traditions and stories that hold a family together, like “glue”, and create stronger bonds.

  4. Great WWI story–I’ll be looking forward to the rest.

  5. Mrs. P says:

    It seems unusual that they would allow her mother to be a conductor. I am looking forward to more of this as I have very little knowledge of personal stories during WW!. By the time my grandfather had enlisted, the war was just about wrapped up.

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