Army Life – Dan’s Trip Abroad (4) – July, 1943 – May, 1945) – Bombings of London – May 13, 1945

Dan’s long letter of his early experiences in London and France continues in this next segment. 

Dan in uniform @ 1945

Apropos of narrow escapes, here is a list of the dangers your little Dan has run (from) during the war:

1 – Bombings of London. When we first came to London we had raids on the average of about once or twice a week, I generally happened to be in a section of London which was far from the bombing, but it is an odd feeling to hear a plane passing directly overhead carrying bombs and the question, “Has the bombardier released his load yet?” There is nothing to do but wait. For that reason I never liked to be at the billets in Kew during a raid. I would rather be in a pub or on a bus or on the underground. At the billets we had to put on our helmets and gas masks, go to the shelters, and wait — just sit and wait — till the all clear sounded. Suddenly, in February 1944, the Luftwaffe lunged out again at London. It was compared to the blitz in ’41 and ’42. That week or so in February was the closest I ever came to fear of death — particularly on a night when a string of bombs fell right in line with Kew billets. In quick order we could hear the explosions coming closer to us – boom, boom, Boom, BOom, BOOm, BOOM. — Then silence — only the din of anti-aircraft and plane motors, but we welcome “silence” at that! The most terrifying noise is the sound of a heavy bomb dropping. It has been described as the roar of a speeding locomotive, but it seems to me that there is a suggestion of vacuum in the roar that renders it all the more horrible — as if cosmic forces were romping through the vaults of hell. The most beautiful site I saw during the bombings was on Friday night of that fateful week in February. I was on fire guard and had to stand out in the open to watch for incendiaries. The night was cloudy. Suddenly a silvery liquid stream appeared falling from a point in the clouds, then another, then several, then hundreds of them, as if molten metal were being poured through a celestial sieve. Fortunately none fell in Kew but the sky was soon lit up by fires in the direction of Barnes and Wimbledon. I think it was a new type of incendiary bomb – probably Phosphorus that burned on contact with the air.

2 – Buzz bombs. Towards the end of June we were alerted one night by the air raid signals, then the “Raiders near” sirens blew, but there was no evidence of planes. We went to the shelters and waited. Nothing happened. No all clear — no sign of a raid. Once in a while we heard sporadic gunfire. We were mystified, angry, a little frightened. The all clear blew shortly after daybreak but the alert sounded again almost immediately. We knew something unusual was happening — perhaps the Normandy bridgehead was being wiped out – perhaps Jerry was using poison gas. Rumors began to trickle in. Robot planes, radio controlled, rockets —. But from that night on, never a moment of the day or night was free from the threat of the V-1.

Tomorrow, the final segment of this letter from Dan, written in 1945 which included a letter he had written in 1943, but was returned by the censor.

Judy Guion




Trumbull – Dear Sons of a H.F. Father (2)- News From Marian and Dan – 8.20.1944

Marian (Irwin) Guion

Page 2    8/20/44

And Marian the Faithful writes again, still from Pomona: “Yes, here we are again, still sitting in Pomona wondering what we are going to do next.  Evidently there was too much publicity regarding the current move of the 142nd  Bn.  (Practically everyone in Pomona knew about it) or maybe they were unable to get a troop train, or maybe just because.  Anyway, we haven’t gone yet although we are practically completely packed and have gotten our gas coupons.  But I refuse to unpack our things again, so as long as my last box of soap flakes holds out we are all right.  Lad’s suntans are receiving the best treatment of their lives — washed by hand and in Lux, no less, for we are skeptical about sending them to the cleaners or the laundry for fear that we will move out suddenly and we won’t have anything to wear.  Such a life!  But we don’t mind.  The longer they keep us here the better we will like it.  We don’t dare get too optimistic, but the war news seems to be getting so much better that a week or even three or four days means an awful lot in the way of new developments.  Lad and I had a holiday yesterday (8/13).  With another couple we spent the day at Lake Arrowhead, one of the most scenic spots in Southern California.  The lake itself is at an elevation of 5,125 ft., and is situated in a lovely forest.  We spent a couple of hours out on the lake in a sailboat and had a perfectly glorious time.  All three of us were land lubbers from way back, Lad was the skipper and had to do most of the work.  But he didn’t seem to mind and in spite of the fact we all came home with sunburns, it was well worth it.”

And last, the enclosed “report from a Normandy camp” from our own private War Correspondent, beggars description.  It speaks for itself and I am sure you will be as interested in it as have all those here who have had the opportunity to read it.

Daniel Beck Guion

He also enclosed some samples of the new invasion French money we have heard so much about, as well as a sheet of “Vagrant Impressions of London: “Arriving at the outskirts — looking for signs of bombed out houses and finding very few — feeling much closer to the war, reminded by the pudgy barrage balloons, high sentinels facing steadfastly into the wind — “Jerry” only a few air minutes away.  Marching to our quarters, heavy packs on our backs — marching along narrow streets, curious looks exchanged between newly arrived soldiers and passing Britishers — a milk-woman pushing her hand card laden with squat milk bottles, four shelves deep — an old lady shuffling along the sidewalk, saliva-stained cigarette drooping from ancient lips — big red two-deck buses, garish with advertisements, rumbling past on the wrong side of the street — neat hedges rising so high before the compact little front yards that only a glimpse of the tiled vestibule can be seen through the iron-grilled gate.  Shops of modest demeanor, tobacconist’s, chemist’s, ironmonger’s, Tea Shops, Taverns (The Rose and Crown; Coach and Horses; The Kings Arms; The Hope and Anchor; The Three Pigeons; The Star and Garter).”

   Alfred Duryee Guion (Grandpa)

How tame and hum drum in comparison seem the homely everyday things which we at home have to write about.  It almost makes one wonder that we have the temerity to even mention our prosaic goings and comings and yet I suppose the very fact that they come from the old familiar place we call “home” lends a sort of enchanted coloring not so much to what is said as to the answering visions they call up in your own minds — at least that is the hope of ye scribe.  At least what you all know is real is the love and affection that dwells here for you no matter how weak the transmission may be.


Tomorrow, I will post the first part of a description of the area around San Jose written by John Jackson Lewis to the folks back home.

On Sunday, the last (perhaps) entry for My Ancestor, Alfred Peabody Guion. I hope to bring us from the move to California and a little about Lad and Marian’s life north of San Francisco.

On Monday, I’ll begin a week of the children’s early memories of Trumbull.

Judy Guion

Trumbull – The Guion Clipping Service (1) – News From Most Of The Boys – May 7, 1944

Trumbull, Conn. May 7, 1944

Dear Subscribers to the Guion Clipping Service:

Lad GuionFor purposes of record let me here state right at the beginning that if Anchorage had come through last week, we would have marked up a score of 100%. Yes sir, even Dick contributed. Top honors however, go to California. Lad writes:

April 30. It is six o’clock here but in Conn. it is 9 PM so I imagine you have finished your weekly chore of writing to your widely separated families, by now. I have been in bed all day trying to get rid of a cold and Marian seems to have been quite successful as a nurse. I feel a great deal better than I did last night at this time. Sometime after the middle of May and possibly before the 20th, I can take a 15 day furlough with six or seven days traveling time. Or I can wait until about June 10th. However, if the battalion moves from Pomona before I take it, it might mean a cancellation of furloughs. Therefore I think it better to take it as soon as possible. We are both looking forward eagerly to seeing you-all. We’ve not had a chance to get our pictures taken, due to odd working hours but we still have hopes. If things go as we are hoping, you will see us in person before we could send you a picture anyway. Possibly you have seen something in the papers regarding the closing of the CAMA (Calif.-Ariz. Maneuver Area) of which Pomona is the general headquarters. Therefore, Pomona Ordnance Base activities have been cut to a minimum, as well as personnel. There are to be only a few men left here, and as yet we don’t know which companies they will be. Of course, we’re hoping that the 3019 will be one of those remaining, but if not, we shall be moving out in a few weeks. So far, we have not had a chance to really use our trailer and I’d just as soon not have to use it yet. (Signed) Lad

And Marian adds this: Isn’t it exciting about our “Furloughmaybe”? I refuse to believe it however until we actually arrive, but I find myself giving Marian (Irwin) Guionan extra hop, skip and a jump every once in a while just thinking about it. (Not that Jeep influence again, I hope.)

Dan-uniform (2)Dan is ripe for sulfur and molasses or some other spring tonic, I believe. He writes: Spring has come early this year and found me unprepared to resist its cozening wiles — so, if nearly a month has elapsed since you heard from me it is not because of any startling developments, nor is it lack of time. Call it willing indolence, tempered by intervals (such as this moment) of a rather battered conscience. And try to be content with the hope that the weather will turn “beastly”, thus breaking the spell that has bound one with a thousand subtle meshes. Life has become too pleasant to be compatible with the war that has brought it about. “Ah, to be in England, now that April is here – – and now I abandon myself again to its sweet seduction.”

The proprietor of Brazilian Stables, Inc., says his intention was to write a long letter but “I don’t feel exactly radiant radiant this evening. I am in the midst of a cold and there has been a lot of work lately.


And Dave was in a left-handed mood when he wrote on April 30th: time is going by faster than ever here. This is the last day of April. Everything here is green. I’ve seen blossoms on the fruit trees here. This is excellent farm country except for the stones. Camp Crowder is filled with apple and peach orchards that the farmers took care of until they were bought out by the government to make the camp. I think this camp is supposed to cover 90 sq. miles. The orchards have been let go since the camp was built – – the government would rather spend thousands of dollars buying fruit from the farmers (and making it so the civilians can’t get decent fruit) then spend a few hundred dollars for spray and equipment to keep up the trees which are already planted and bearing fruit. They’ve got the manpower to pick the apples and keep the trees in good condition. The idea of growing our own fruit, with everything we need for doing it right here, is far too practical for the government or the Army. So, instead, you civilians get no fruit and we get battered and bruised apples, some of which aren’t fit to eat, that had been shipped halfway across the country, taking up valuable shipping space and using up valuable gasoline. This is the Army. The end.

I am in a rut at radio school. They call it a plateau of learning. When you first go to school you start with Z speeds – – Z1 to Z6. These are all to teach the alphabet. In other words when you get through with Z6 you know the complete alphabet and a number of different signs such as a long break (between messages), repeat back, end of transmission, etc. After you pass all of the Z speeds you go to the 5W (5 words per minute), 7W, 10 W, 12 W, 15 W, 18 W. To pass the course you must be able to receive 18 W (18 words per minute) and send 13 words a minute. The course is five weeks long, four of which we have completed already. I’m on 10W and as I said before, I can’t seem to get by it. I have been for two weeks now on that one speed. I haven’t been able to pass any sending tests yet. I have only one week to get 18 W receiving and 13 W sending. This sounds bad but it’s almost average – – but then, too, there are a lot of boys being transferred to other schools. Just keep your fingers crossed – – I’ll work – – you hope and pray for me, and maybe I can make it – – O.K.?

I only received one letter all week long. I’ll bet you couldn’t guess in the thousand years who it was from. Dad? No. Eleanor? No. Jean? No. Aunt Betty? No. One of my brothers? Yes, you’re right. I got a letter from Dick! Am I proud! He wrote me that he saw Nick Halsack (Peggy VanKovic’s future husband) in S.A. He said Nick is a radio operator in a B-24 and was on his way to Scotland.

This letter is a 3-pager, with a long letter from Dave, at Camp Crowder, Missouri, for Basic Training, in the middle.Tomorrow, we’ll have the rest of the letter from Dave from Dave and Grandpa will add his two-cents worth.

Judy Guion

Army Life – Letter From Dan in London – April 4, 1944

I don’t have very many copies of letters from Dan, but this one is interesting. He is stationed in London and makes frequent trips to Paris prior to D-Day. He is a surveyor and Civil Engineer so I wonder what, if anything, he had to do with the planning of the Invasion on that fateful day. He may have been involved with making maps. I don’t know of any stories he told so unless we discover letters or memoirs, we’ll probably never know.

Daniel (Dan) Beck Guion

Daniel Beck Guion

4 April


Hello, again, Pater, old Bean! I am going to devote this first paragraph to a testimonial on the inspiration your letters afford – – which, however enigmatical it may seem on the strength of evidence, keeps me writing with greater regularity then the dictates of my erstwhile conscience! Particularly effective (in a supplementary way, of course) is your happy policy of quoting directly from letters you receive from other current Guion’s – and I suggest that you elaborate on this policy to the fullest extent. In the same vein I am more than delighted to receive snapshots of the family not only for my own delight but also to show proudly to my acquaintances over here. Apropos of that, I have hied myself to the photographer’s to have a series of pictures taken – 48 separate poses – portraying the several vagaries of expression at my command, but I must wait several days for the proofs, after which I shall select the most flattering profile and have an enlargement made and sent to you.

At this point I must dispel the “illusion of the good conduct medal” over which the General has caused such an unwitting stir. After discounting for my natural modesty, the facts still remain about like this: the “medal” is a red ribbon which adorns the breast of some 40% of all American soldiers. Although it carries a certain amount of significance, it seems to have been designed primarily to aid morale – a sort of reward for having stayed out of the guard house an average number of times. It is about as much a travesty on decorations as the E.T.O. ribbon we are required to wear as a reward for crossing the Atlantic under orders – or the yellow ribbon awarded to those who happened to be in the Army before Pearl Harbor. At home they might seem impressive, but in England, where  a ribbon means actual campaign experience, they border on the ludicrous and become embarrassing to explain. To knock the last prop from your pride (and thus undo all that the General has striven to accomplish) I must confess that I have never actually been given the ribbon, having been on furlough when the award was made.

So, when you receive the photograph I shall send you, no amount of scrutiny will divulge more than the lonely E.T.O. ribbon over my left pocket, where it must remain as a constant reminder to the British people that I have the guts to obey the U.S. Army when they told me I was going again ”overseas”!

It is amazing how quickly my attitude has been altered by living for such a short while in England. I feel the strongest resentment against anti-British sentiment in the American press. The traveling Congressmen who created such a furor last fall were either acting with malicious designs on vote gathering among the large prejudiced group of Americans or else they were just ignorant rumor mongers. It infuriates me to hear anything said about the Americans by Britishers who have never been to America and I’m equally impatient with criticism of England by those who have not lived over here. Fortunately, most intelligent people see our differences in perspective but small things uttered by little people can produce mighty echoes, thus jeopardizing our personal relationships with each other but also perpetrating the sort of sentiment and resentment that has brought the world to its present state. Hate is not bred by understanding. I am quite fond of the British people. They take a hell of a lot of criticism when it is justified, and even much that is ill considered, but no people can be expected to smile and turn the other cheek when they are struck blows of ignorant prejudice. I have listened to complaints against America which I know to be widespread and utterly false, and I realize more and more how rarely a man is justified in passing judgment based on hearsay evidence. It is hard for the British to understand our customs. We feel the same way about their “teatime”, which brings their meals up to five per day – breakfast about seven, tea about 11 (with rolls or cake), luncheon from one to two o’clock, tea and sandwiches at four or five o’clock, dinner at seven or eight. And sometimes a sixth “meal” is taken before bedtime – a sort of tea-snack. So there.

Please try to find and send me a small brass brush for polishing buttons.


Tomorrow, a letter from Grandpa, then one from Dave and on Friday, one from Marian.

Judy Guion

Trumbull – To Members of Medical Staff, Everywhere, Just Everywhere (2) – News From Dan in London – October, 1943

This  is a continuation of the letter I posted yesterday from Grandpa to his sons, scattered around the world.

From our London maternity branch, Dr. Daniel Guion reports the successful delivery of a new infant (or will within nine days) in the shape of an additional year to his young and growing family. I am open for congratulations myself in view of the good job along this line I helped your mother do so many years ago. Incidentally, there must be something psychic in his composition, for before he received my former letter with its epic California news, he starts his last note home with the words: “Neath the shade of an imported redwood tree in the famous (deleted by censor), I met a free French soldier whose home and family are in Paris. We spent an interesting afternoon, paying more attention to a discussion of languages and customs then to the imposing vistas of myriad trees and representative flora of the world’s most distant corners. Later in a tea shop in (Censor again) he described the occupation of Paris by the Germans in 1940, and his own escape, first to unoccupied France, then to North Africa. Any wonder I find England fascinating? I have spent literally hours at (darn that censor) with religious fanatics, socialist speakers, salvation army song fests, humorists to speak for the pure joy of pleasing listeners, malcontents who lampoon everything — a melee of people listening, heckling, talking — like a sort of intellectual Carnival. All this has occurred while on pass of course.

There is nothing to report from our First Aid Outpost Station near the Arctic Circle, nor from our Deaf, Dumb and Blind Clinic in Brazil. Intern Richard seems still unable to communicate with any regularity with any of his family but his wife. Guess I’ll have to study the sign language. It is quite evident he still loves her and keeps telling her so from start to finish of each letter. How do I know? The deduction is simple. She passes on to us any items of interest, but day by day the answer comes back “There ain’t no news”. (Am I going to suffer for this when Jean reads this paragraph! Whew.)

Dan, there is a little gift coming to you, if the P.O. will allow packages to be sent after the 15th deadline. It is not a Christmas gift but a wee birthday token, but whether the government will make the distinction, I know not. It was not send sooner because I have not been able to get delivery of what I ordered due to (so they say) the manpower shortage, so while it may not arrive by the 26th it will serve whenever it does put in appearance as a very inadequate token of love and affection that grows in profusion back here in old Trumbull.


Tomorrow, another letter from Grandpa to his sons scattered all over in service to Uncle Sam.

Saturday and Sunday, more Special Pictures.

On Monday I’ll begin a week of letters written in 1945. Dan is still in France, our of the Army but working with the Graves Registration Department and getting to see Paulette whenever they can arrange it.

Judy Guion

Autobiography of Mary E Wilson (5) – Leaving England – 1925

Mary's Mom and Dad

Mary’s Mother and Father

Mary’s mother had sent money from America to their father to pay for passage for her children but Mary’s father had spent the money on other things. Mary’s mother, Hezabinda, tries again, but this time she sends the money directly to a Travel Agency. It looks like Mary and her brothers, Jim and Arthur, might actually make it to America this time.


Meanwhile, my Mother had accumulated more money for our passage again but she sent it to a travel agency this time. My father was furious and very angry because my mother had not trusted him with the money. He seemed willing to go to America but my Mother had tried to get us to America without him. We had our passport pictures taken again and we were vaccinated. My brothers were so excited but I had mixed feelings because I was so hurt. Our Mother had left us and would not return home. I felt she did not love me and she had been away so long.

My wardrobe was awful and my brothers had only the English type of clothing. When the time came for us to embark for America, I was really frightened. Grand-da went with us to the railroad station and he quietly gave me some money for myself before we got on the train.

En route we stopped at Uncle Dick and Aunt Isabel’s house. She was such a beautiful woman and what thrilled me was that she had been a dancer and actress before she married Uncle Dick. They had three children but I was so envious of them because they all seemed so happy together. Aunt Isabel danced for us and I thought she was so pretty and dainty – so unlike the average mother.

Why were Uncle Dick and Uncle George so different from my father? I did not know that they were not in the war like my father.

We proceeded to Southhampton where we took a room near where the boat was docked. My father decided he wanted to go out for a while and I think I started to yell bloody murder. All I could think of was my father had in his possession my Mother’s $100 “lending money”. The landlord came and wanted to speak to my father because we were too noisy. I got a slap across the face but he did stay in the room until morning.

The next day, we boarded the President Harding, which was an American ship and finally we were on our way to America. The second day of our voyage, our father left us and “camped in” with a large Irish family and we did not see him until the day we landed in New York.

It was November and it sure was cold and we did not have the right kind of clothing. The sea was so rough that I was so seasick I felt I wanted to die. There was a stewardess who evidently felt sorry for me. She washed my hair and really cared for me and brought me food that I could keep down.

My brothers were natural sailors and explored every inch of the ship and had a marvelous time. For once they were getting enough to eat. We had what we called Thanksgiving dinner and I did not know what it meant because I did not know anything about American history and customs.

Next Sunday, Mary tells us of her experience landing at Ellis Island . It is quite a story.

Autobiography of Mary E Wilson (4) My Father Returns – 1925

Mary E. Wilson

Mary Ellum 

The story of Mary Ellum Wilson continues in her own words. She has written her memories of her childhood in England during the first quarter of the last century.



There was no news of my father’s whereabouts so my Grandmother arranged to have my brothers live with other family members and I lived with her.

So, another phase in my life started. I was now fourteen and my cousin Qweenie lived with my grandparents who had brought her up. She was the pianist for the London Symphony Orchestra. She had never married and she made me feel like Cinderella, as she was very spiteful and resented me living with them. She practiced on the piano daily and my Grandma adored her. Qweenie was the lady. She played the piano and was the one who made my life miserable. I hated her.

My Grandmother ran a little food store from her house and across the street there was a business which chopped wood into “faggots” for burning in fireplaces. They also sold bags of coal. My Grandmother taught me how to prepare food for the workers in the mill.

I still attended school and loved it. I saw my brothers and they seemed very happy with their living arrangements. My mother sent money regularly but would not return to England. I remember she sent money for shoes for me. Grandma used most of the money and bought Qweenie a beautiful pair of high button shoes and I had to wear ugly black ankle shoes bought with what was left of my mother’s money.

My father finally returned to Grantham. Only God knew where he had been all that time. My Grandmother welcomed him like a prodigal son and did not even question him as to where he had been. He did not even ask me how we have managed when he disappeared. My Grandmother put all the blame on my mother for our problems. Uncle Bill came to the store and had a fight with my father about his desertion of us. The aftermath of the fight was that my Grandma had a stroke and almost died.

My Aunt Sarah Jane came down from London and immediately sent me to live with Aunt Ruth and my cousin, Phyllis. I really loved living with them and they were so kind to me but they all hated my mother over the desertion of her three children. My Aunt Ruth worked in a hospital and with an extra mouth to feed, it must have been hard for her but she never complained. Phyllis was a few years older than I but she was my friend and I could confide in her. I was just beginning to feel a little secure when Aunt Ruth had a man come live with her so I was sent back to my Grandparent’s house to live.

After school I would work in the store. My Grandma had recovered from the stroke but was partially paralyzed from the waist down. She had a couch in the store and I sure got used to ducking because anything I did that displeased her would cause her to throw anything within her reach.

Looking back, I realized how unhealthy it was to have an old lady lying in a food store, who did not trust anyone and was angry all the time. She adored my father and blamed my mother for all his weaknesses and misery.

Tomorrow, we’ll begin reading the reactions to their engagement from those closest to Lad and Marian. This will continue throughout the week.

Judy Guion

Autobiography of Mary E Wilson (3) – Difficult Years – 1920 – 1924

This is the next installment of the Autobiography of Mary E. Wilson, the mother of a friend since childhood. She was born in England and spent many tumultuous years during the First World War. Those stories are told in previous posts. In 1923, her mother sails for America and the children led a difficult life.

Mary E. Wilson with

Arthur, Mary and Jim Ellum



During 1920, my Grandmother Greenhill and Uncle Ernest came to stay with us. Uncle Ernest was a very spoiled teenager and planned to stay with us prior to going to America to join other family members.

We were very crowded in our row house on Blue Row but we had more to eat because Grandma gave my mother money for their room and board. It did not last long because Ernest was caught trying to “caress” me and mother really beat him up and told them to leave. They went back to Leeds to wait for their sailing date for America.

I was now nine years old and doing very well in school. I was obsessed at that early age with the idea of becoming a nurse when I grew up. I think in my young life I had seen so much of death, illness and miserable poverty that I really wanted to help people.

In 1922, my mother received a letter from Uncle Ernest. My Grandmother Greenhill was dying of cancer and she wanted to see my mother before she died. They all donated money for her fare to America and she was thrilled to be able to get away from the drudgery of her life in England.

In December of 1923, my mother sailed for America and I was left to care for my two younger brothers and a bad tempered, drunken father. I was frightened.

We had no Christmas in 1923, I guess I had no access to any money. After my mother left, my father started to drink more and we learned very quickly to keep out of his way.

My mother had been in America for a few months when she took out her naturalization papers to become a citizen of the United States. She was commended by the judge for loyalty. She had borrowed money for our fares to America. She refused to return to England to what you referred to as “a life of drudgery and hopeless ambitions”. I have often wondered about her loyalty to her children when the judge was admiring her loyalty to her new country.

My Grandmother had died and my mother was working in the Stratfield Hotel in Bridgeport, Connecticut. She finally sent money to my father for our passage but he immediately deserted us and disappeared. My mother sent money to a local food store to pay for our food and rent. I was so frightened and often very hungry and felt so sorry for my little brothers. I remember vividly my brothers and I eating raw turnips from the farmer’s field because we were so hungry.

The school board finally notified my Grandma Ellum in Grantham about our problem and she came to Bishop Auckland, sold all our home furnishings and we all went to Grantham to live with her and Grandfather Ellum. He was a kind, gentle man and used to be a Baptist minister but was completely dominated by my Grandma.

We’ll continue the story tomorrow with the next installment and still more moves for young Mary and her brothers, Jim and Arthur.

Autobiography of Mary E Wilson (2) Early Memories – 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.

ellum 008



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, I’ll begin posting letters from 1941. Lad is in Trumbull, working a Producto, in Bridgeport, where 100 % of their production was war-related. He is concerned about his Draft Status. Dan, Ced and Dick are all in Fairbanks, Alaska, worrying about their Draft Status also. Grandpa and Dave are keeping the home fires burning.

Judy Guion

Autobiography of Mary E Wilson (1) – Early School Education – 1915 – 1916

Every weekend 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 about the same time that my Grandfather’s family was growing in Mt. Vernon, NY and Trumbull, CT.

Mary, Jim and Arthur Ellum @ 1915

Mary, Jim and Arthur Ellum @ 1915



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 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, the next segment of Mary E. Wilson’s Autobiography.

Next week I’ll be posting letters from 1941. Lad has returned from Venezuela, Dan, Ced and Dick are all in Alaska and Dave is home with Grandpa in the Trumbull House. Elizabeth (Biss) is married with two sons and living in another town close to Trumbull.

Judy Guion