Tuesday, November 11, 2014

War and its effect on families

On this Remembrance Day, which marks the end of the First World War, I've been reflecting on the effect that wars have on families and the impact of war on my own family's history. 

In some cases a war has had a very direct effect on individual's lives. If there had been no war in 1914, my grandfather Thomas Henry Ward would probably have stayed in Milnrow, Lancashire. He almost certainly would never have travelled to Colchester if he hadn't been sent there to train for military service, and he wouldn't have met my grandmother, Rosina Beales. He wouldn't have experienced the horrors of the Mesopotamia campaign. And Grandma would probably never have moved from Essex to Lancashire.

Rosina's mother, Eliza Whybrew, also came from a family that knew well the impact of war. Eliza's father David Whybrew, an Essex teenager, joined the British Army and travelled via the Maori Wars in New Zealand to Australia. There he met Eliza's mother, Susan Mason. Susan and David's children were born in three different countries as the family moved around with the army.

Susan and David lost one son (David Henry) to the Boer war, and, it seems, another son (William) and a son-in-law (George Howard) in WW1. Rosina's brother William James Beales also fought in WW1, but fortunately survived.

On the other side of my family, two of my grandmother's cousins, John Henry Bentley and Thomas Bentley died in WW1. But it was the second World War which had most direct impact on my maternal grandparent's and families, with the blitzing of Salford and the evacuation of my grandmother and the younger children to Rossendale.

Wars have emotional and psychological impacts which affect not just those who experience the war directly, but their children and grandchildren. Fears and anxieties get passed on, sometimes without any explanation. Attitudes learned in war-time become the next generation's norm. As a simple example, I was brought up with a strong sense of 'waste not, want not', a carry-over from the rationing and scarcity of my parent's childhood.

Wars also have economic and social impacts. For instance, the Napoleonic Wars of 1803-1815 resulted in taxes being raised steeply to fund the war. This resulted in great hardship for many people. How many of the children who died in infancy in this period might have lived if their parents had been even slightly better off? It's difficult to say.

A major factor in the "Lancashire cotton famine" of 1861-1865 was the American Civil war, with imports of raw cotton blockaded and exports reduced. Unemployment in some places rose dramatically, and many families found themselves in poverty. 

Some left Lancashire to find work in the woollen mills of Yorkshire. Perhaps that was the reason why Samuel and Alice St Leger moved with their family to Hebden Bridge about that time. (More of that in my next post.)

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