I’ve been watching my own husband fearlessly march off to battle every morning recently.
There’s no soldiers to fight, and there’s not really any actual weapons at this point to wage in this war. Except social distancing, which generally goes against the rules of most warfare. It’s an odd, but very real battle.
He’s an Emergency Medicine physician who recently took on the position of CEO at our local hospital. The timing of that move seems providential to me now, he knows what the needs are, given his years in medicine, and he knows the enemy his staff are facing.
When I think about this whole scary situation as warfare, my mind often goes to my grandparents, some of whom really did serve in actual battle.
I told you recently about my Poppy, who was a Desert Rat in North Africa.
This week I want to tell you the amazing story of my paternal Granny, Louisa Sarah Good née Smith, who was, among other roles, a War Nurse in WW2.
I have a Granny Smith, like the Apple!
My middle name is Louise, and I was named after her.
I’ve put this story together through a mixture of tales I’ve heard and read from a few of my uncles and my dad, and especially from my Granny Good.
I loved her very much.
I remember visiting her in a couple of different homes she lived in. She always had a little basket of things for me when I was a little girl. There was yarn in there and a little yarn doll you could make long stretches of knitted rope from, and always a little bottle of Lily of the Valley I was allowed to use.
I still have that little knitting dolly:
Granny visited us when we lived in Australia. She traveled many places with us during our visit, all the way from Adelaide to Sydney in a car, through many beautiful and barren outback locations. It was a fair hike in those days.
She desperately wanted to buy an Australian opal when she was with us, and I still have both the earrings and necklace that she bought on that trip.
Many of the following stories come straight front the horse’s mouth, so to speak. She stayed in my bedroom when we weren’t traveling, and at night when she’d take out her teeth, she’d chat about her young life.
I’m not sure if I was more fascinated by her lack of teeth, or her stories, at the time.
But here we go.
Granny was born in 1912, the same year that the Titanic sunk. She passed away, very sadly, on Scott and I’s first wedding anniversary, July 31st, 1994, at the age of 82 years old.
When she was just 12 years old, as many young ladies of her station in life did, she went to London to be a servant girl for one of the aristocratic families living in Berkeley Square. Her father put a shilling in her pocket, enough to catch the train home if she ever felt she was in danger. Her younger sister, my great Aunt Jess, also went to London to be a spinster’s personal dressmaker. This was just the way of life at that time for young women in their social class.
She worked on Berkeley Square (yes, the one the nightingale sang on in the famous Glenn Miller tune) for a wealthy family who lived on the corner of the Square and Bruton Street. She lived in the home, as did all the servants, and she rarely saw the actual family. Her immediate supervisor was the Head Housekeeper, a fierce lady that she had enormous admiration of.
The children of the family were taken care of by the Nanny, and Granny would run into them occasionally in the hallways, and find it odd that although some of them were her age, they had such different lives.
Granny’s job was to clean and polish the silver. Just that. Because there was so much and it took all day.
She was there at least 2 years because in 1926 when she was 14, she and the other servant girls were called away from their duties first thing in the morning. They followed the Head Housekeeper up the stairs to the top of the house where they looked out the back windows down into the adjoining garden of the house next door to them at 17 Bruton Street.
A Nanny, with several very excited nurses, was in that garden, and took a tiny newborn out of a pram, holding her up for the girls to see.
The Head Housekeeper told them,
“That, young ladies, is your new Princess….”
Princess Elizabeth, now Queen Elizabeth II, born April 21, 1926.
My Granny told me:
“I think I might have been one of the first Royal subjects to see the Queen, she had only been born very early that morning, I remember being woken up with noise and chatter in the middle of the night and wondering what had happened…”
I looked it up later. Her Royal Highness was born around 3am that morning. By C-section nonetheless, which is pretty amazing for 1926.
By the time Granny left service in her mid to late teens, she had formed a firm friendship with the Head Housekeeper. So much so that the daunting lady gave her her own pocket watch that she used to perform her duties.
She gave it to me and it’s kept in a secure location but I wanted to show you:
I don’t have much information about what happened in the meantime, but at some point my Granny became a nurse and was a nurse during the War.
Even when I was a child, Granny was a psychiatric nurse at Knowle Hospital in Hampshire, fairly near to where I grew up. She told stories of how depressed people were subjected to insulin-shock therapy, how unwed mothers were housed there because they “clearly” must be mad, and how anorexic women (and many others) were given Electro-convulsive therapy.
Yes, ECT is used now, and with success in certain conditions and using anesthesia, but my Granny certainly observed a point of history where doctors were experimenting and discovering, and I think it stuck with her forever how those patients were treated, because she talked about it a lot. My mum told stories about how Granny always had scratches and bruises and bites from the inmates.
That insulin therapy will do that to ya….
Will we ever “know it all”?
I copied the following from my Uncle Jack’s obituary. I always knew him as Uncle Jack, not John. He passed away recently, my dad’s last brother, a quiet, dignified, carefully spoken man.
“John Benjamin Good was born on 12th February 1935 to Louisa and Benjamin Pikard. Louisa’s parents ran a guest house just off Southsea seafront. Sadly Benjamin was killed on the HMS Eagle when it was sunk off Malta during the war on August 11th 1942. Jack was very young, so he had little memory of his father. Benjamin’s name can be seen on the Memorial Wall on Southsea Common.”
So, if Granny was 14 in 1926, she would have been 23 when Uncle Jack was born. I don’t know if her and Benjamin were married, no one’s ever really said, and I need to research this. I know she loved Benjamin fiercely, I remember those conversations. At some point after he was killed, Louisa answered an advertisement for a Housekeeper to Joseph Daniel Good, known as Dan, who was returning to England from Singapore with his four sons, because his wife had died there of yellow fever while he was serving with the RAF. Louisa was given the job on the understanding that her son stayed with her.
Happy ending. They got married. Here they are around that time:
Grandad was a Sergeant in the torpedo development unit section with R.A.F. Coastal Command. Granny was a nurse during WWII.
Grandad has four sons of his own, one I never knew, he was old enough to join WW2 and disappeared from the family, sadly, at that time. I do remember my Uncles Charlie and Ted, who were also both old enough to be in WWII, and Uncle Den. Louisa and Dan went on to have two more sons, Uncle Bob, and my dad, David!
They were stationed in Wick, in the far north of Scotland and my Granny hated living there, but loved the Northern Lights.
My Granny came from a family of Blacksmiths, hence the name Smith!
Uncle Jack remembered, very fondly, time spent at Uncle George’s blacksmith forge at Blackwater, Hampshire.
Apparently Uncle George kept pigs and once slaughtered these were kept in a pit of brine in the ground and covered until preserved.
Uncle George would tell the boys the story of the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show which was founded by Buffalo Bill Cody in 1883. It was hugely popular in America and eventually toured Europe in the early 1900’s. They are reported to have travelled through Blackwater on their tour and Uncle George had the task of ensuring the horses were re-shod at his forge!
I remember seeing a photo of this event sometime, somewhere, at my Granny’s house. We are all trying to find it, and think Uncle Jack may have had it, so watch this space!
Even if there’s some missing parts to Granny’s story, I’m so grateful for it, and I know she was equally grateful for her time on this mortal coil. And it led to this, and for that I’m so thankful.
She was there, that day, bless her heart. Here she is, the little lady in pink, along with most of her sons (my uncles and my dad, in between her and I)
I feel like I’ve learned so much from this brave and remarkable woman.
Stay safe, my friends.