Alison Botteril shares the story of her grandmother, Mary Jamieson.
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"This photo shows a group of Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAACs), with my grandmother, Mary Jamieson (1892-1949) seated second left". I have been told it would have been taken around October 1918. She had left her Scottish village home as a very young woman and travelled to London where she became involved in the Women's Suffrage Movement, regularly addressing the crowds at Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park.
My mother always said that she was among the first 100 women, in the early part of 1917, to join the newly-formed Women's Army Auxiliary Corps and was stationed, as a forewoman, with the second Artists' Rifles, at Romford OTC, Hare Hill in Essex (shown in the photo), where both Wilfred Owen and Edward Thomas underwent their training.
She also spent some time in France, near Lille. From her humble village background, she seems to have moved into quite elevated and intellectual London circles, but in January 1916 she gave birth to a son, the address on the birth certificate given as Marylebone Workhouse. The father’s name isn’t given.
In June 1918 she gave birth to a daughter, the address on the birth certificate identified as that of the St Pancras Workhouse. It was quite a moving experience to see her name, and that of my uncle and aunt, in the workhouse registers, but I like to think she had simply taken a practical approach to her situation as a single mother and booked herself in for the birth, leaving again some weeks afterwards when she was ready to go back to work.
It was necessary in those days to pay for hospital care, so workhouse hospitals were often the last resort for those who couldn’t afford to pay. I have a photo of the children’s father in Army uniform, and must assume he was away fighting when their births were registered, unable to give consent for his name to be put on the birth register. Or maybe there were other reasons why he was unable to be identified.
He sadly died of wounds in 1918. Mary Joan stayed with our grandmother, but she had to give John up to friends to care for, having no family nearby and very little financial support either. Only a year or so later, she met and married a fellow Scot, almost 20 years her senior, and went on to have a further six children, including my mother, of whom five survived. She died aged 58, having suffered years of debilitating illness, four years before I was born.
I have always regretted the fact that I never had the chance to know her, and the many secrets still surrounding her life, which surviving relatives have always been unwilling to discuss, sadly remain undiscovered.