Monday, December 08, 2008

Getting in touch with my forebears

There is something I would like to write about before the year is out. November 2008 saw the 90th anniversary of the end of World War I - The Great War as it was known, or "the war to end all wars"! British television has been full of commemorative programmes, documentaries, reconstructions of battlefields and photographs of war cemeteries in Europe. These have drawn my thoughts once more to the only one of my blood relatives who died in the war: my mother's first cousin Arthur Brian Rabone. I have always known that he died in The Great War, but as I watched some of these programmes I began to wonder exactly when and where.

Captain Arthur Brian Rabone

So I consulted my brother's genealogy of the family, and found that he was a captain in the 6th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment, and had died in France on 1st July 1916, the first day of the Somme offensive by the British and the French. I believe that the Battle of the Somme is considered to have been one of the most wasteful of the war in terms of massive casualties for a very small gain in territory. The bodies of many were never recovered, and there is a cemetery, and a memorial to the missing soldiers, at Thiepval in the Somme. It is the work of the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens. The sixteen pillars are engraved with the names of 73,367 British and Commonwealth soldiers who fell during the First Battle of the Somme between July and November 1916 and who have no known grave. Our records say that Brian (as he was known) was buried at Thiepval. He was 29 and had been married two years. He left no children.

Thiepval Memorial and cemetery

And that is where his story becomes my story. Because Brian Rabone was an only child, and left no children of his own, when his mother, already widowed, came to dispose of her personal estate, she chose to leave it to her three sisters. One of those was my grandmother, and her investments have eventually come down to me through both my mother and my mother's unmarried sister. Without that inheritance, my family's life, and my own, would have been very different. My great aunt died in 1938, which is why, in 1939, my father was able to give up trying to sell cars in Birmingham, which he hated, and become semi-retired. We moved to a country smallholding near Worcester, where he was able to work hard, and happily, raising fruit and vegetables for market.

My great aunt Mary Maude Rabone

My great uncle by marriage Arthur J Rabone

In 1949, at the age of 21, I was given my first holding of shares in John Rabone & Sons, makers of rules, tape measures and spirit levels. When I eventually came to sell these shares in 1972, as a member of the family I was able to keep the original share certificate as a souvenir. Also out of sentiment, and as a frequenter of antique markets, I have added considerably over the years to the one or two Rabone rules and measures that I already had in my possession. The collection has now passed to my son. So my inheritance has enabled me not only to indulge my own interests, such as collecting, but also to live comfortably on my own for the last 23 years.

Like so many family firms John Rabone & Sons eventually merged with another, becoming Rabone Chesterman in 1963, and finally being taken over by Stanley in 1990. Below is a picture of the original Birmingham works, taken from a price list and catalogue dated 1878.

I reflect often on how my great aunt's great sorrow has meant comfort and support for my family. But this year, in the context of the commemorative TV programmes, and with the additional information I have found, I feel that I have come a little closer to this cousin who died before I was born, and to whom I owe so much.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

A bit of fun

I have had about 100 visits from French speaking countries in the past 10 weeks, so I am going to take a chance on posting something in French (sort of). I found this in a folder of souvenirs which I keep at the back of my filing cabinet (real not virtual). I probably put it together when I was in France as an au pair in the 1940s. I have found one mistake in the French which I have put right, I hope. Maybe someone will find others.

Societé Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Menu du Jour

Paté Wagon

Potage Horaire

Sole en Voyage
Entrecôte Chef de Gare
Poulet au Guichet

Bombe à la Consigne
Compôte de Billets

Fromages Détraqués

Café gaz-oil

[Service non compris]

I offer this rough translation for those who need it:

Waggon pate
Timetable soup
Sole on a journey
Stationmaster steak
Chicken in the ticket office
Left luggage pudding
Compote of tickets
Cheeses off the rails
Diesel coffee

"Bon apetit!"

Summer angels

Christmas seems to be the right time to be talking about angels. I was searching the web for 'gliding angels' the other day, because my son Richard, the one who is a street theatre performer, has recently joined a group called Larkin' About, and one of their acts consists of gliding angels. I have never seen my son perform with this group, so I was glad to find a video on YouTube taken in 2005 when they were performing at the Tate Modern. Richard was not with the group at that time, but it gives some idea of how they look.
Here is Richard at the Gateshead Summer Flower Show in 2007. Cute, eh? I've never seen him in lipstick before.

[Picture by Jack Pickard ]