Mary E. Wilson Autobiography – 1917-1918

This is the second installment of Mary E. Wilson’s Autobiography. She is still quite young and not sure exactly what is going on in her family and is quite confused.

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My first heartbreak was when my adored Grand-da was killed driving an ammunition train. This happened in 1917 and I do remember the elegant funeral that was given for my Grand-da. After the funeral, we returned to 29 Blue Row in Bishop Auckland, England. My mother was able to get a job at Doggart’s which was a department store in the village.

We were enrolled in church schools. Mine was St. Anne’s, a school for girls. My brothers were in Barrington School for Boys. The education was very good but the teachers were very strict. We spent long hours in school, because, due to the war, our mothers were all working. The teachers were very quick to ”cane” us for any minor problem, which meant being hit very hard on the hand with a ruler.

I suppose life was difficult but everyone lived the same way; so if food was scarce and life hard, we really did not dwell on it, as every family who had their men fighting in the war, were in the same predicament.

The men were still away and the casualties were enormous. My father spent most of his four years in the Far East so he had no leaves at all.

The flu epidemic broke out and between 1917 and 1918 it was awful. Every day, it seemed, there was a funeral taking place and my mother worked very hard with Dr. Wardell, the village doctor. He made his rounds on a three-wheeled bicycle with a sidecar. There seemed to be illness in every home. My brothers and I constantly wore camphor cubes around our necks because it was supposed to ward off the flu germs.

The death toll was awful and because so many people died, they were buried in mass graves in St. Anne’s Church Cemetery. When the flu epidemic finally ended, my mother was given recognition because of her endless work with old Dr. Wardell. It was a miracle that our family escaped the deadly flu germs.

In 1918 my father came home and that was the beginning of a very unhappy time in my life.

The return of the man should have been a joyous event but the men had been changed by the horrible war and the local pub was filled every night, as they like to congregate with each other. They seemed to resent restrictions of family ties and were cruel and insensitive to their wives and children.

I was the oldest and now I was seven years old. My mother depended on me to help. My father started to drink very heavily but he did get a job with a local brewery. I remember he drove a huge brewery wagon pulled by four, large, Clydesdale horses. He had been a horse soldier in the Army so he was familiar with them.

My father did not like my two brothers and me as we got on his nerves. I learned later that he had been shell-shocked and gassed while he was fighting in France trying to get a gas mask on his horse. The Army orders were that you put the mask on the horse first and then you put on your own. At that time, mustard gas was used and it was lethal.

The population started to increase. It was so good to see “new babies” on Blue Row. Poor Dr. Wardell was again very busy delivering babies.

My mother never had any more children because after her delivery of my youngest brother, Arthur, the doctor told her she would not be able to conceive, as she was so badly torn during delivery. Frankly, I think my mother was relieved she could not have any more children. My father had developed into a very bad tempered man with a violent disposition.

A good percentage the man in Bishop Auckland worked in the coal mines and they would all congregate around the water pump on Blue Row to clean up. They seemed to be more relaxed with each other than with their own families.

My father was still with the brewery and we tried to keep out of his way when he was home. My mother still did the laundry for “Durham School for Young Ladies”.

Tomorrow, we go back to 1939 and find out what is going on in Trumbull, with all the boys at home and Biss married. Lad continues working in Venezuela and Grandpa keeps him informed of what’s happening in and around Trumbull.

Judy Guion


12 thoughts on “Mary E. Wilson Autobiography – 1917-1918

  1. Mrs. P says:

    I’m really glad you are sharing her stories. Her experiences growing up circa WWI are much less told than those who went through WWII. She seems to be quite the forgiving person. Though she experienced personal hardship as a result of the war, as she grew older she seems to have found a greater understanding of why that was so.

    • Judy Guion says:

      Yes, I get the same impression. She not only reports what happened but includes how she felt and, more importantly, why she thinks the way she does. I am enthralled by her story. I knew her as the mother of my friend and had no idea what her life had been like.

  2. The beginning and ending dates of wars are so misleading. The fallout in psychological damage for those fighting is the beginning of years of misery for their families when they return. I fear this has changed very little since WWI.

  3. Good story about the psychological effects of war. I was reminded that soldiers were considered more expendable than their beasts of burden. It was similar to the situation of coal miners in my part of the country. If there was an emergency in the mine tunnels, the cry rang out “save the mules” because miners were expendable, mules were not.

    • Judy Guion says:

      warturoadam77p – It is amazing that even today, there are places in this world where human life is of little value…. and the almighty dollar fuels it all !!!

  4. gpcox says:

    An insightful post for everyone to read.

  5. Gallivanta says:

    How tricky it must be to put a gas mask on a horse! Even today I think it is not easy for soldiers to make the transition to civilian life but times were certainly hard following the First World War.

    • Judy Guion says:

      Gallivanta -My first thought upon reading this story was “cannon Fodder”. There was less regard for human casualties of war during World War I. I looked up the words “cannon fodder” in Wikipedia and this is what I found. Cannon fodder is an informal, derogatory term for military personnel who are regarded or treated as expendable in the face of enemy fire. The term is generally used in situations where soldiers are forced to deliberately fight against hopeless odds (with the foreknowledge that they will suffer extremely high casualties) in an effort to achieve a strategic goal. An example is the trench warfare in World War I.

      • Gallivanta says:

        Indeed! And, if one survives, it must be horrible to realise that you were regarded as cannon fodder.

        • Judy Guion says:

          Gallivanta – The really sad part is that so many young men go into battle, especially WWII, with such high ideals and come out damaged or broken. But I’m afraid, BIG MONEY and POWER MONGERS will never see it that way.

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