In my possession is a Certificate of Discharge for Seamen. This was given to my Great-grandfather William Stroud, born 1816, when he retired from the ship Eclair in 1882. He was ship’s engineer and the ship was for Home Trade. His wife was Martha (Slaughter) and the only child I know anything of is their son William (1862-1944), who married Eliza Eyre (1863-1935) in 1881. Eliza’s family belonged to Kent, and she remembered going hop-picking as a child. William lived in Woolwich and worked in the Arsenal as a turner. They had a family of five daughters and four sons, all born between 1882 and 1904. My father, Percy Edgar, was the youngest son and second youngest of the family, born in 1901. William (Bill), John (Jack) and Albert followed their father into the Arsenal. In 1910 the Royal Navy moved the main part of the Arsenal to a new factory in Greenock in Scotland. Most of the workers moved with their families to what must have seemed like a foreign country!
My Grandpa and Grandma brought family with them from Lilian (Lil), the eldest, her husband Alfred (Alf) and children Albert and Alice through Bill, Edith (Edie), her husband Alfred, John (Jack), Eliza (Lizzie), Elsie, Percy, and the youngest Winifred (Winnie). Albert elected to stay in Woolwich and married May Beatrice Smith in 1911. Apparently the Woolwichers, as they were called, weren’t very impressed with the tenement flats they were given. Soon an estate was built at Larkfield in Gourock, small semi-detached houses with gardens, more like the Londoners were used to, and many moved there. The roads were all named for admirals, Rodney Road and Nelson Road for example. The houses are still there but the Factory is no more.
By the time I was born in 1926, eight or nine cousins had preceded me and we had gatherings on Saturdays which were happy, but quite different from the Sundays at the Toll. William and Eliza lived in an upstairs flat in George Square in Greenock, along with Bill and Doris (see below for more information about her). There was no garden to play in and children were seen and not heard! The table in the kitchen could seat about twelve. I was always in the same place, at the back of the table on the window side. At tea time, tall glass jars held celery for the grownups and there were bananas for the children. Grandma stood by the table with the loaf held in her left hand against her spotless white apron and cut perfect slices with a big knife in her right hand. To me then she seemed tall, but she was really quite small and had a lovely calm face. Grandpa was always cheerful and liked to sing the old music hall songs: My Grandfather’s Clock, My Old Dutch and My Old Man Said Follow The Van were among his favourites.
I liked being there and hearing the London voices. The older ones never lost their accents. My dad did, but whenever he met a Londoner he reverted unconsciously. They all talked a lot and were a lot more vociferous than the Toll crowd, but always in a friendly way. I suppose among so many siblings you had to be loud to be noticed! Grandpa and Uncle Bill both had bushy moustaches. Most times I sat or knelt on my chair with a picture book to begin with and just listened and looked. They all talked quickly and cheerfully, and just as happily as at the Toll but it was different!
At that time I was the youngest grandchild. Until I was three, my cousin Jim Lindsay was there but he and Auntie Elsie went away to China. My cousins Albert and Alice were grown up. Edie and her husband emigrated to South Africa where their four children were born: Charlie, Edith, Tommy and Johnny. Alf, their Dad, died in 1925 and with the help of the family she came back. My Dad gave most of the money he’d saved for getting married – he always had a generous heart. Jack married Martha and had two daughters. We didn’t get to know them and eventually there was a divorce and Jack lived in lodgings near George Square. Albert and May had Edith (Edie), Bill who served in the Royal Artillery manning the Heavy Artillery at Dover during the second war, Albie and Fred. Lizzie had a daughter out of wedlock who was brought up by her grandparents and called them Mum and Dad. I was told by my Dad to call her Doris and often wondered why when she seemed to be my Aunt. When I was growing up I thought perhaps she was Lizzie’s child. When we moved to Paisley after retirement, Doris and her husband lived near us and we visited them. She told me that Lizzie had told her the truth when she was 14 and her response was “I’m not going to call you Mum, I’ve got a Mum and Dad”. She was still a lovely woman in her old age and a very good singer. She and John died in the last 5 years, both well into their 90s. Two daughters survive them.
Elsie married Jim Lindsay who was a sea-going Engineer mainly in the Far East with the Jardine Matheson Co. They came back on leave when I was 10 and Annabel was 6. By then they had a second boy, Ian, born in China, as well as Jim junior. I remember when they were going out from George Square seeing Ian stand still with his arms held out behind him, just waiting. Elsie explained that he was used to having his coat put on by his Chinese Amah! He would be 4 or 5 at the time. Uncle Jim told us about the ship they came in and the fun they had, especially when they crossed the Equator. There was a fancy-dress party for grownups. He and another man went to it with only a large bath towel, worn like a nappy with lots of pins, carrying large dummies and behaving like babies. We thought it must have been very funny, and they had won first Prize.
They brought lovely gifts for Annabel and me. Annabel’s was a baby doll, the size of a real baby, with the most beautiful blue knitted outfit with hand knitted leggings, jacket, bonnet and mitts. There were pants and vest, a long nightie and a beautiful day dress, all made of crepe-de-chine and embroidered with sprays of roses, all hand done by the Amah. Annabel loved it. My gift was a workbox, which was just what I needed as I liked sewing and embroidery. It was made of cedar wood and smelled lovely. The lining was green silk, and there were compartments and a drawer underneath. It was enamelled in shiny chestnut colour with mother of pearl inlay on top. It was a wonderful gift. I got a parasol too, which was waterproof.
That was their last visit to Britain until the war was over. Both boys were in a boarding school in China, and when the area was threatened by the Japanese Jim decided they should leave. He collected his brother and, with all the cash they had, set off to reach Hong Kong which was then a safe haven. They got there just in front of the Japanese and sailed on the last boat going to Australia. Either on the ship, or when they landed, they found Elsie. Jim (Snr) joined them after the war and they settled in Sydney. I don’t think Elsie or Jim ever came back to Britain, as by then all their parents had gone. Elsie kept in touch with Bill and after the War I wrote to her instead of young Jim. I had hoped to see her in 1995 when we were in Sydney but Jim said there was no point in taking us as she was ‘away with the fairies’! She died the following year aged 96.