Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Eliza Whybrew - a life in two armies

Eliza in her Salvation Army uniform
 In my post on David and Susan Whybrew's fourteen children I skimmed over Eliza, saying that I'd devote a whole article to her. I've just realised that two years have gone by, and I still haven't done it. So my next few posts will be about Eliza Whybrew, her husband Bill Beales and their family.

Eliza had an unsettled childhood. She was born in Adelaide, South Australia, on 10 December 1869. Soon after her birth her mother Susan (nee Mason) moved to England to be with her husband David Whybrew, a soldier in the British army. It's possible that David returned to England almost immediately after their marriage in July, having been charged with deserting his regiment and successfully arguing in court that he was only 'absent without leave'. If so, Susan would have made the long sea voyage on her own with her new baby.

Susan was apparently not 'on the strength' as an army wife, meaning that she was not eligible to live with David in the barracks and receive rations from the army. She had to find her own accommodation and support herself as best she could. It's likely that her circumstances were quite poor.

Childhood - following the British Army

When the 1871 census was taken she and Eliza (listed as 'Emily' on the census form) were in Redan Gardens, Aldershot, living with a retired couple named Hudson. Susan had work as a general servant. David was in the barracks, a thirty minute walk away.

Eliza was five years old when her two younger siblings David and Rosina died, and she and her mother moved to Ireland with her father's regiment. She would have been almost 6 years old when Alice was born in Ireland in 1875. Those deaths and the 6 year gap meant that she had no siblings close to her in age as she grew up.

Nor were there any grandparents in her life. She would have known her aunt and uncle, Eliza and Jeremiah Murphy, and their children, since Jeremiah was in the 50th regiment and they were in Ireland at the same time as David. However, they moved to Scotland in 1878. Was Eliza aware that she had an older sister, Harriet, still living in Australia? Given the attitudes to illegitimate children at the time, it's possible that it was never discussed.

After a few years of being uprooted regularly, from Dublin to Birr, from Birr to Bantry, then back to England, first to Dover then Canterbury in Kent, the family finally settled in Colchester in the mid 1880's. But even in Colchester they moved houses several times, before settling in Pownall Cresent. Along the way Susan and David added a child to their family every couple of years, though not all survived.

Harriet's arrival in Colchester sometime between 1885 and 1888 must have been a time of upheaval and adjustment for the whole family, whether or not Eliza and the other children knew of her existence. For Eliza especially it must have been strange to suddenly have this older sister in her life after she had been the eldest child in the family for so long. Harriet's experiences at the Industrial School and prison made her more street wise than Eliza, but Eliza was likely to be the more mature of the two.

The chances are that the family were living in a standard "two up, two down" house. The presence of three adult women, (Susan, Eliza and Harriet) along with two younger sisters and three young boys in such a small space must inevitably have led to tensions and disagreements, especially as Susan and Harriet seem to have shared a volatile temperament. I've described previously how this erupted on at least one occasion.

Eliza seems to have had a more peace-loving personality, observing what went on and trying to calm the situation. Harriet soon moved out, but Eliza seems to have stayed at home until she married. She was employed as a 'tailoress' when the 1891 census was taken.

Marriage - a different army life

Eliza and Bill in later life
In late 1891 she married William (Bill) Beales, a porter from St Osyth, south east of Colchester. How they met is one of those fascinating questions that will probably never be answered. Perhaps it was through a Salvation Army street meeting. Bill Beales  and his family were dedicated members of the Salvation Army in Colchester.

Like his father, Bill played in the Salvation Army Band, and later became band master. A family member tells me that before Bill moved to Colchester, he used to walk the 12 miles (nearly 20km) along the railway line from St Osyth to Colchester to attend band practice each week. Eliza joined him in the Salvation Army, if not before they married then certainly afterwards.

It would be interesting to know what David and Susan made of their new son-in-law and this strange 'religious' army that he belonged to. Meetings of the Salvation Army, especially those held outdoors, were often interrupted by hecklers and people throwing bottles and other objects. Just the use of the word 'army' must have created some heated discussion in an army garrison town like Colchester.

Susan, still in her early forties, would have had Eliza's sister Ellen as a toddler in tow when the marriage took place. Eliza already had two children of her own (Alice and Rosina) when her youngest sister Ada was born to Susan in September 1895.

Eliza and Bill had seven children between 1893 and 1906. One child, Ernest David (born 1901), died when he was five years old, but the others all lived into adulthood. Initially they lived in Albion Grove, then later moved to Campion Street in Colchester. Eliza was said to be a firm but kind mother.

When the 1911 census was taken the family had a soldier, James Ford, and his Irish-born wife Carrie, living with them as boarders. Apparently they also cared for Eliza's niece, Emily, (daughter of John Whybrew) for a while, though she doesn't appear with them on the census.

In 1914, at the outbreak of the First World War, their eldest son William joined the Essex Yeomanry, then transferred to the Royal Reserve Regiment of Cavalry and then to the Machine Gun Corps. Eliza and Bill must have spent many anxious hours during the war, waiting for news of him. Eliza's brother-in-law George Howard (Ellen's husband) died in France in 1917. Her brother William Whybrew was killed in action only weeks before the end of the war. It must have been a huge relief that William Beales survived, returning home after serving in Afghanistan in 1919.

Salvation army worker writes
a letter home for a wounded US soldier*
The Salvation Army were well known for their ministry to soldiers both on and off the battle field during the war. My father tells me that Eliza and Bill used to invite soldiers who were doing their training in Colchester to afternoon tea on Sunday, particularly those who were a long way from home. That was how their daughter Rosina (my grandmother) met her future husband, Thomas Henry Ward from Lancashire.

Rosina left Colchester and the Salvation Army when she married, but at least two of Bill and Eliza's children remained in the Salvation Army as adults. Alice and Ada married Salvation Army officers and were very active themselves in the Army's work among the poor.

Some time after David Whybrew's death in 1917, Susan moved in with Eliza and Bill, and stayed there until her death from pneumonia in 1921. Presumably Eliza nursed her in her final illness. She and Bill continued to live in Colchester for the rest of their lives. Bill died just after the end of the World War II in  1945. Eliza lived into her 80th year, dying early in 1949. In more ways than one, she had come a long way from her mother's early life in Adelaide.

*Image: Salvation Army worker writing a letter to the home folks for the wounded soldier. Salvation Army. , ca. 1917 - ca. 1918
Still Picture Records LICON, Special Media Archives Services Division (NWCS-S), National Archives at
College Park, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740-6001 
Copied from https://www.flickr.com/photos/ooocha/2576203531


To read more about Eliza and her family, see my book Susan: convict's daughter, soldier's wife, nobody's fool. It's available on Amazon and other online books stores. To read a preview of the first chapters, click on the cover image.

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