Saturday, 10 November 2018

Remembering: The Big Penny

It is over 100 years since my great-uncle, Jim Ferguson, was killed in Belgium aged 21, just a over a month before the end of World War 1.

When I was a child I was fascinated by the big penny which was propped on the mantelpiece in my grandparents' bungalow. They told me about its significance; how these pennies were given to the families of solders killed in the war.

As I grew up I learnt more about the war and wore a poppy on Remembrance Day but didn’t really have much interest in the details.  Later after I became a teacher and married Paul I was asked to go on a school trip to visit the war graves in Flanders.  It was 1994 -  we were living in Norfolk at that stage and I was teaching in Costessey High School in Norwich.  Granda had died 8 years earlier but Granny was still alive.  I found the details of the location of Uncle James’s grave with the help of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.  And so on the trip I visited the small graveyard in Dadizele, Belgium and used the map to find James Ferguson's grave among the identical headstones each planted up with colourful flowers.   It was peaceful there even with the coachload of schoolchildren who accompanied me; they were quiet and respectful.  My teacher friend took some photographs which I showed to Granny when I visited later that summer.  She was a little tearful and said that Granda would have been so pleased I’d visited. He’d never forgotten his younger brother who died with so many others in World War 1.

That was over 24 years ago and now the ‘Big Penny’ has been passed on to me. Inspired by the story of James Ferguson,  I've been doing some family history research this year and I have found out a bit more about him.  For a start he wasn't called James at home but 'Jim' like my dad who was named after him.  He was the youngest of 7 children and lived in Ballyronan, growing up in the same house as I did.  His father started off working for a local landowner but earned enough money to buy his own farm, and then eventually buying a second one nearby.  He was clearly an ambitious man but it appears he was rather hard on his family.  He quarrelled with his eldest son, John, who emigrated to Canada, followed by two more sisters Sarah and Minnie. Jim's mother died when he was 12 and by 14 he was working on the farms with his 18 year old brother, Sandy (Alexander), who is my grandfather.  This information is on the 1911 census. I suspect the family weren't very happy.  All of the girls had married and left home by 1915 leaving just Jim and Sandy with their father. When the war started, young men in Northern Ireland were encouraged to join up. So Jim entered active service with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers on the 25th September when he was just 18.  

I haven't found out much about Jim's experiences during the war as there are no individual records or photographs of him.  I do know that he returned home on leave at one point and went to Saltersland Church in his uniform as Granny says she remembers this.  His battalion was part of the 36th Ulster Division and were one of the few divisions to make significant gains on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916.  They attacked between Ancre and Theipval against a position known as Schwaben Redoubt.  It was apparently the only division to have achieved its objectives on the opening day of the battle.  Their attack was described by war correspondent Philip Gibbs as 'one of the finest displays of human courage in the world.'  but in two days of fighting 5,500 officers and enlisted men were killed, wounded or missing. 

When he joined he was in the 10th Battalion and the men were known as 'The Derrys'. But in February 1918 the British Army on the Western front was reorganised and the 10th Battalion and 11th Battalion were absorbed into the 1st and 2nd Battalions.  The War Diary of the 2nd Battalion is available so perhaps it gives us some insight into what the soldiers were doing though there is little detail about the horror as it is very factual. However, it stops in January 1918 before the 10th Battalion were absorbed so it is unlikely that Jim was involved in the action or the football match described below.

He was killed in the Hundred Days Offensive which ended the First World War.  The images below from the Imperial War  Museum show the troops of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, 36th (Ulster) Division which included James's Battalion, advancing from Ravelsburg Ridge to the outskirts of Neuve Eglise on the 1st September 1918. According to the Cookstown War Dead, the 2nd Battalion had marched to fresh billets, skirting Courtrai to St. Anne where they were accommodated in and around a convent.  Jim was killed in action on Sunday 29th September 1918 along with 19 other men from the battalion.

He died in fighting near Dadizele which was in German controlled territory for much of the First World War until it was reached by the 36th Ulster Division and taken by the 9th Scottish Division on the 29th September. At the time he was buried in the local graveyard or on the battlefield.  However after the war in 1920 his body was moved with many others to Dadizele New British Cemetery.  The reference is 111.E. 13. Back in Northern Ireland John Ferguson was mourning the loss of his youngest son.  In 1920 he paid for an inscription to be added to his son's grave: 'Safe in the Arms of Jesus'. 

In 1921 he also erected a new gravestone for his wife Margaret and in memory or his son James at Salterland Church. He would be buried there himself. in 1928.  His son Sandy went on to live a long and happier life than his father, farming with his son who he called Jim in Ballyronan.  

This is the grave on the 22nd September 2018.  My cousin Doreen, Private James Ferguson's great-niece put these poppies on the grave 100 years since he died, aged 21, just a couple of months before the end of WW1.  

I'm not one for glorifying war but tomorrow I'll go along to the memorial parade in Chester and think about this young man who died with so many others in this terrible war. 

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Empty Nest

The birds had flown away before we discovered this nest when cutting our hedge a month or so ago.

It's four weeks now since we took Kate to Sheffield University where she is now studying History and Politics.  After a few days feeling a bit anxious, she has settled in well, making friends with the her flatmates and generally having a great time,  I'm probably getting an edited version of events too. She was stressing a bit about her first essay and adjusting to studying more independently but coping fairly well overall. She came home last weekend and already she seems more confident and less reliant on us to sort things our for her, though she did bring several loads of washing home.

We, on the other hand, are finding it harder to adjust.  I'd didn't cry on the day we drove her to Sheffield with an overflowing car boot of her belongings and uni 'essentials' (she says they have 8 cheese graters).  I'd already done that in the car park outside Debenham's a few weeks before when I had a row with Kate and she said that soon she'd be gone so I wouldn't have to take her shopping any more. So I had prepared myself and arranged lots of things that first week to keep me busy.  Paul hadn't really thought about it and has really missed her. The house is so quiet without her and her friends around; it's tidier; there's less washing; we don't need to buy so much food and I haven't had any shopping trips to Zara.  I don't like this at all.   And all the things I enjoyed doing with her aren't so much fun with Paul who isn't terribly keen on watching 'Bake Off' or 'Strictly' though he is trying. The dog isn't happy either, missing his main playmate. We listen out for the phone and put it on speaker so we can both hear her. Now she's has settled in she's not ringing so often though and I try to resist the urge to text her for updates.  After nearly nineteen years of watchfulness, not knowing anything about where she is, who she is with and what she is doing is hard.  It's not really that I'm worried - just interested really,  as my life seems rather dull in comparison to hers now.   I'm a bit envious to be honest.  I've heard others say that they wouldn't want to go back to being a teenager; I would!

Thursday, 13 September 2018

'Cool' Holidays

September comes round again and the long school holiday has come to an end. I've been back
at for over a week now and started to draft this post some time ago, getting distracted and never finishing it. For the record I'll finish it off now.

 After out main holiday in France I had a few shorter holidays away during August - several days in London, a visit to Market Harborough to visit my sister and a trip to Northern Ireland.

The London trip was a kind of reward for Kate for working so hard for her exams. We stayed in a great Airbnb place in Bloomsbury, just near the British Museum which was both convenient and quiet.  Not that we spent much time at the museum - we did go in but after seeing a few mummies and the Rosetta stone, we left, doing the whole thing in under an hour.  There were just too many tourists. Most of our time was spent exploring - she liked the trendy shops and bars in Soho though laughed at me for using the word 'trendy' rather than 'cool'.  She met an old school friend while I explored Somerset House, a recommendation from my blogger friend ganching who lives in London.  There were fewer tourists there - even though it's just of The Strand - just locals in the know. Parents picnicking while their kids raced around cooling off in the fountains designed for their entertainment. I met ganching for coffee on our final morning.  She grew up not too far from me in Co Antrim so we had plenty to talk about - I really enjoyed chatting to her.

We also spent a day with my sister who got the train in from Hurst Pierpoint and her daughter, who has just started her first job in London, working in Westminster on a graduate training scheme and living in a shared house near Clapham Common. I am a little envious - it seems only a few years ago since I was doing much the same thing in.....1982. With them we explored Borough Market and Shoreditch which is full of 'cool' bars where apparently you can play ping-pong or board games or jump about in one of those ball-pits you get in children's soft play areas. Perhaps young people are getting bored with their mobile phones and are looking for more real social interaction?  Anyway Shoreditch was a bit dead on a Wednesday lunchtime so we went back to St Paul's Cathedral; we viewed it from the adjacent shopping centre which has a convenient and free roof terrace.  Then we walked across 'The Apprentice' bridge or at least that is what my niece calls the pedestrian bridge by St Paul's as it is shown in the opening sequence of the programme. The rest of the day was spent exploring the South Bank, Westminster and St James's Park.

On our way back from London we stopped off in Market Harborough where my youngest sister and lives.  My cousin also lives there and so we had a night out catching up with her.  I was going to call it a 'girls' night out' but really we could hardly call it that since Kate is the only 'girl' and two of us are over 50.  The weather was still hot at that stage.  We went to a food festival in the park; visited my aunt; enjoyed a barbecue in the garden and played Uno with the kids.

I then travelled by myself to Northern Ireland for a long weekend to visit another sister - just needed a trip to NZ and I'd have seen them all. It was a bit cooler by then in Northern Ireland though still sunny most of the days I was there - the sort of weather I prefer.  I'm not that comfortable if the temperature goes much above 21 degrees. We went into Belfast on the Sunday afternoon and went to the Ulster Museum which I really liked.  There's big display about The Troubles - it was strange to see events that I remember presented as history like this.  Another big attraction for visitors is a huge tapestry, looking a bit like the Bayeux Tapestry but actually a recent work, which tells the story of The Game of Thrones, which was filmed in various locations in NI.  We also visited the Botantic Gardens - the new modern glasshouses as well as the old Victorian ones which I remembered.

On the Monday we called into The Home Place, the Seamus Heaney centre and had a look at the exhibition.  It's a brilliant place with information about the poet's life and recordings of him reading his poems as well as lots of interactive displays and things that would appeal to young people.  They have lots of school groups visiting - I'd love to take a group there.  I can't think of anything similar in England.

The final night of my trip was spent with my cousin near Ballyronan.  I had a lovely time catching up with her.  We visited some more of the family and I continued gathering more information on family history.  More of this in another post.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Hot Holiday

I've been away quite a lot recently, first on holiday in France and then on a mini break with Kate in London followed by a visit to my youngest sister and her family in Market Harborough.

In France we stayed in Versailles for a few nights.  I'd visited there as a student and was so impressed by the gardens then that I wanted to return. But my heart sunk when I saw the huge queue of tourists waiting to get in - it was blazing hot too and we had no intention of standing in it. Luckily you didn't need to queue for the garden and it is so huge that the crowd dispersed so we were able to enjoy our walk, finding shade in the groves surrounding the castle.  What I like is the symmetry of the garden and the grand scale of it.  Eventually I managed a walk around the chateau itself later when the queues had disappeared though inside it was still busy.  It was just so opulent - room after room lavishly decorated with paintings and gold leaf, chandeliers, mirrors,- too much really - and, as Kate noted, obscene that one ruler should have so much wealth.  No wonder the people revolted.

We stayed in an apartment in Versailles which was in a quiet courtyard near the centre.  No aircon but a powerful fan and Paul spent his afternoon there watching the Tour de France.  In fact he spent most afternoons of the whole holiday watching the cycling - he is not a fan of heat or of sightseeing.

I was also fascinated by this shop which we passed every day in Versailles on our walk into the town from the apartment.  It was advertising pest control services and to attract customers it had a window display of stuffed animals including three rats which it claimed had been caught in the castle in 1971.

From there we drove to the west coast and had a few days there, spending most of our time in La Rochelle, a lively resort with plenty of restaurants and cafes overlooking the pretty harbour.  It was a bit cooler by the coast but still rather uncomfortable to sleep and our hotel was a bit cramped and noisy at night.  On our final day in France we drove north towards the Channel Tunnel staying in Montreuil where we had a really good meal in the hotel's shady courtyard.  Luckily we missed the chaos which hit the Channel Tunnel shortly after our trip.  All went to plan with our travel arrangements though we all agreed that we spent too much time in the car.  Now that Kate has passed her test she likes to give her dad driving advice - I'll leave you to imagine how that turned out...

Harbour in La Rochelle
That's it for today.  I'll write about the rest of our trips later in the week.

Monday, 16 July 2018

Holiday Catch up and Summer Races

It's been a long time since I posted here so a bit of a catch up.  School summer holidays now so no excuses.

I've been enjoying what seems like the first proper summer for years, though of course now that school holidays are eventually beginning it seems to be breaking down - it's cloudy here this morning and threatening rain. I think our terms dates are all wrong in England - most schools still have one more week so that it's nearly the end of July before they are on holiday.  In NI the school holidays begin at the end of June and it's the same in Scotland - better timing I think.  I'm not a huge fan of really hot weather, but the sunshine and blue skies have been a welcome treat and I have been enjoying sitting in my garden which is looking good despite the parched lawn.  Lots of watering to be done to keep my veg plants alive though.  The sun has meant that I have had lots of ripe tomatoes already as well as other veg.  The meal we cooked (well Paul cooked - I cleared up) on Saturday for my sister who who was visiting featured my tomatoes, little sweet yellow and red ones; new potatoes grown in a dustbin; and green beans which I had grown in pots - there were only enough of these for one meal but they did taste good.

Last weekend Kate and I completed the Chester Race for Life.  In the end we didn't really race but walked it.  I picked up an injury - pulled a ligament on the inside of my knee - so my Couch to 5k training had to stop - a pity as I'd got to week 4 and was doing ok.  To raise funds I had an afternoon tea party, making scones, carrot cake, lemon drizzle cake and millionaire's shortbread.  Unfortunately my party clashed with the England game last Saturday so I had a few cancellations but I sold remaining cakes in school and made £108 for Cancer Research.

Me looking glam after Race for Life.  Kate dis it too but wouldn't let me put her pic on here.

I've also had my sister and her husband from Northern Ireland staying for a few days and entertaining her has seemed like I've been on holiday as we've had some lovely outings.  Even though I've lived in Chester for 17 years, I'd never been to the races, being put off by the sight of drunken racegoers falling off their heels and out of their dresses on their way home.  So we thought we'd give it a try and avoided most of the drunks by going to an evening meeting.  I quite enjoyed it - especially when I won on my first horse: Rainbow Rebel, chosen because I like the name.  I won £6.50 and then lost most of it again on other races. It was a pleasant evening sipping Pimms from plastic glasses in the sunshine. I didn't fall off my heels being sensibly shod and Pimms too pricey to overindulge. We also had a day out in Wales visiting Llangollen, Betws-y-Coed and Llandudno, a lovely old Victorian seaside town. Sister was disappointed by the beach though - nowhere near as good as Portstewart with lots of seaweed and jellyfish making it too precarious to paddle.

By the river in Llangollen

That's it for now. Back soon

Sunday, 3 June 2018

What's in a name?/ A rose by any other name would smell as sweet...

It's early Sunday morning at the end of half term week so time for another blog post.  I've had a relaxing half term catching up with garden and household tasks as well as having a couple of good evenings out with friends. The weather has been warm and sunny mostly with the occasional heavy downpour.  I don't mind this really as it saves me watering the garden.

I have also attempted a bit of training for the Race for Life event which Kate and I have signed up for.  Now I am no runner, nor is she but we both could do with improving our fitness so I thought preparing for this event would give us a bit of motivation as well as raising some money for cancer research.  So I downloaded the Couch to 5K app and have been out jogging/walking alternately on the cycle path several days this week, listening to the encouraging words of Michael Johnson, my chosen personal trainer  It starts at a fairly easy pace so  I have coped - might be a bit more challenging when the ratio of running to walking changes.  Kate can't be persuaded away from her books to join me but I hope she will when exams finish.

It's very pleasant jogging on the cycle path at present as the wild flowers are in full bloom - glossy buttercups, big daisies, cow parsley and, my favourite, the dog roses.   I was wondering why they are called dog roses so I looked it up.  It's a translation form the Latin name, Rosa Canina and it was given that name because the root was originally a remedy against the bite of a mad dog.  Kate considers my fascination with wild flowers and their names very amusing.  It goes back to my primary school years when my favourite topic was 'nature study'  - we'd escape the classroom and go out collecting flowers which we would then press in heavy books and stick into our nature study books, I remember random facts about primroses like how there are male and female ones and how to identify primrose gender.  I wonder if any of the kids I teach will remember any of things I have taught them in forty years time?  Perhaps they'll still know that the quotation above is from 'Romeo and Juliet'.
Manley Knoll Quarry Garden

I am also enjoying visiting gardens which are open for charity through the National Garden Scheme, dragging anyone who I can find available to come with me.  Husband not a keen gardener and usually half way up a mountain on a bike on Sunday mornings so I persuaded one of my friends to come along with me.  Last week's garden was spectacular - Manley Knoll which is owned by the Timpson family (shoe repairs etc). The garden was built around an old quarry and is full of woodland plants.  There were lots of rhododendrons in bloom which was very impressive, though I am not at all keen on them - I have a rather garish purple one in my garden. They were serving teas in old china cups and huge hunks of homemade cake - we shared a piece of coffee and walnut.

And there's plenty more gardens to visit in the months ahead.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

More Matter for a May mornng

It's beautiful quiet May morning so time for a quick catch up.  What have I been doing?

1. The garden. 
I've planted peas, lettuce and rocket and leeks in my raised bed.  Nothing is growing very fast - I think I might have planted when the soil was too cold or something.  The potatoes I planted in a plastic bag and old dustbin are doing well though.  I also am growing tomatoes in pots and these are flourishing mainly because I've kept them inside in my nice bright kitchen.

2. Some Family History research
This year in September it will be the 100th anniversary of the death of my grandfather's brother, Great-Uncle James Ferguson in WW1.  This has prompted me to try to find out a bit more about his life and what happened to him in the war.  I intend to put this together in a little book for the family.  I consulted a helpful Family History Buddy in the local library and she advised me to try  There I discovered that someone else in the US was working on the Ferguson family history: the great-grandson of James Ferguson's sister, Minnie who emigrated to Canada.  I contacted him and we have shared information.  I also have been in touch with another lady working on the family tree.  She is the grand-daughter of another of my grandfather's sisters, who I do remember - Aunt Annie.  All very fascinating for me but probably not you so I'll move on!

3. Work 
It's that time of year again when exams are near and stress levels increase - not just for students but also their teachers. My head is full of the texts I am teaching: the title of the post is from 'Twelfth Night'.  Another line from this play I like is 'This fellow is wise enough to play the fool'.  I've got a mug with this on which I bought in the Globe Theatre shop. 

I'm not saying this describes me though - I'm not wise at all. 

That used to be one of my dad's sayings in response to what he considered foolish actions - 'you're not wise'.  Anyway, I disgress.   I need to finish this and do some annotation of coursework and admin. for the exam board.  On a Sunday - this makes me cross.

 At the same time I am supporting Kate who is working very hard for her A levels with cups of tea, hugs on demand etc.  I can't really help her with her work as she doesn't really need me for the English and I know very little about her other subjects: she is often astounded by my ignorance of American politics, for example.  This week we attended an awards evening at her school. She got the prize for Government and Politics and was described as an exemplary student who was passionate about her subject.  We were very proud parents.