I recently read Surviving Brigitte's Secrets by Saskia Tepe and reviewed it on my bookblog. It is the personal account of the daughter of a Holocaust survivor as she tries to understand her mother (the Brigitte of the title) and fill in the missing details of her life.
For those interested in family history who love piecing together their own background from half understood documents this account is enthralling.
I first encountered author Saskia Tepe on Twitter and started reading her blog which introduced some of the background to the book.
I was shocked to learn that survivors and other displaced persons had to live in camps for so many years after World War Two had ended. I'd no idea that so many years elapsed before people were able to start re-building their lives.
In the book we are taken on Saskia's life journey from childhood to maturity and we learn of the impacts the Holocaust had on the children of survivors. In addition to the usual teenage angst, Saskia's life is made so much more complicated by feelings of protectiveness towards her mother and resentment caused by Brigitte's own experiences, disclosures and secretive evasion.
The book has been written in a direct and honest style. The author deals with some difficult issues without sentimentality. She explores and shares some intimate details of her life story and the impact of the complexity of her early years on the rest of her life.
It's hard to say Surviving Brigitte's Secrets is an enjoyable read because at times it is so poignant and starkly open about some of Brigitte's and her daughter's experiences. However, it is a fascinating book: at times humorous, occasionally surprising and always very well written. I found it compelling and a book I was still thinking about several days after I'd finished reading it.
I was delighted when the author agreed to answer some questions about Surviving Brigitte's Secrets for an interview on my bookblog which you can find here if you wish to read it for yourself.
Emma Jane Gooding (1871 - 1957)
Emma Jane was the younger child of George and Ann Gooding. She was born in 1871 in Bacup, Lancashire. When Emma was born her father was employed as a joiner and had also opened a refreshment house in the premises where the family lived. George's business was successful and evolved into Gooding's Dining Rooms where, at the time of her marriage, Emma was employed as a waitress.
John Thomas Ashworth (1871 - 1931)
John Thomas was the oldest of Richard and Ellen Ashworth's six children. He was born near Bacup in 1871. His father was a farm labourer at Clifton Dean, Newchurch near Bacup. The 20 acres farm where Richard worked belonged to his mother who was the widow of John Ashworth. Ten years later Richard and Ellen were farming 26 acres for themselves at Thorn Farm nearby. They were still farming at Thorn Farm in 1891 but by then John Thomas had become a butcher.
Marriage 21st September 1891
The marriage between Emma Jane and John Thomas took place on 21st September 1891 at the parish church of St. John's in Bacup.
By the end of the 1890s they'd moved to Burnley in Lancashire where John Thomas was employed as a Butcher's Manager and they lived at Number 2, Woodbine Street.
What happened to prompt Emma Jane and John Thomas to leave the town of their birth? Were they ambitious and looking for a better future. Certainly Emma's father had a strong entrepreneurial streak. Did they have a family falling out? John Thomas' father continued to farm and deliver milk to the neighbourhood for many years after John Thomas married and left the area. Did they continue to visit their respective families in Bacup? There are no answers to these questions; all that is known is that by 1905 they'd re-located to Nelson in Lancashire living at 27, Scotland Road. John Thomas was still employed as a Butcher's Manager.
By 1911 they'd moved again and were living at Number 12, Altofts Road, Normanton, near Wakefield, in Yorkshire. John Thomas was still employed as a Butcher's Manager and worked for The River Plate Meat Company.
Emma Jane and John Thomas had six children: Richard Henry born in 1894; Arthur (1896); Frank (1899); Tom (1901); Fred (1903) and Horace (1905).
They continued to live at Altofts Road until 1931 when John Thomas died. By then his career as a Butcher's Manager had ended and from the mid 1920s he'd worked as a nightwatchman. Emma Jane re-located to Firville Crescent in Normanton and lived there until her death in 1957.
These rather blurry images are Altofts Road, Normanton and Market Street, Normanton in the early years of the twentieth century. Note the advert on the wall for the River Plate Meat Company. Maybe this was on the end of the building where John Thomas worked?
This photograph was taken in 1953. Emma Jane was my grandmother and that's her in the centre of the image. I'm the grumpy looking youngest one!
These photos seem appropriate for the start of a new school year!
The girl in the front row is holding a board with the words. "Royston N. School" written on it. N. School was National School and I would guess it was taken around the turn of the century. Why is it in my family archive? I really don't know. Perhaps one of my ancestors is one of these children. I know the teacher isn't related to me though. I found a really interesting story in Hansard (the record of the proceedings of the British Parliament) about the National School in Royston.
A new Headmaster was to be appointed and at the interview the school managers were divided equally in favour of two candidates: Mr Milne and Mr Gardam. The Chairman of the managers, the local vicar, came out in favour of Mr Milne. The supporters of the other candidate appealed to the local education authority, the West Riding County Council, who turned down Mr Milne. The case became increasingly controversial and ended up with a full-blown debate in the House of Lords. You can read the transcript at the Hansard Archives.
On 9th August, The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer carried a full and detailed report of the affair.
So far I haven't managed to find out who was appointed as the new Headmaster. However the unofficial reason why Mr Milne was the preferred candidate was that he was a married man while Mr Gardam was a bachelor and all the teachers were women!
Meanwhile, you might not know where Royston is. It was a coal mining village in South Yorkshire between Wakefield and Barnsley. All my ancestors lived there in the mid twentieth century when I was born and my father's side of the family had been employed in coal mining for decades. In the 1911 census my grandfather (Sidney Henry Buckle), great grandfather (John Henry Buckle) and great great grandfather (Christopher Buckle) were all working down the pit. In fact, John Henry was the under-manager and he'd managed to get jobs there for all his male relatives.
Against the wall you can just make out a board with "Infant School Royston" written on it. I think that the young assistant teacher standing at the back on the right is Annie Smith. She was my grandmother's sister and I know that she was a school teacher. She looks as though she's got curly hair which is typical in my family and her face shape resembles other known ancestors. It's so frustrating when you have photographs which are fascinating but you're not sure who the people are. Everyone who knew about the photographs has died long since and there is no way now to be completely sure. I've gone through all my own photographs and stuck labels on enough of them so that anyone interested in years to come will know who we all are. I would guess that this photograph is from the same era as the previous one. Looking at the size of the class, hopefully both the women were teaching it or they've doubled up two classes together for the photo. Annie taught at Royston Infant School until she married in 1915.
I found another fascinating entry in Hansard related to teachers. In 1913, an MP asked the President of the Board of Education if he is aware that the majority of the women teachers in the elementary schools wanted to have the option of retiring with a suitable pension at an earlier age than sixty-five. He said that many had commenced class teaching at fifteen to twenty years old. They were now upwards of fifty years old and had become conscious of their inability, through physical or mental weakness, to perform their work in the most efficient manner. Yet they were unable to claim a breakdown allowance, not being medically certified as permanently incapable owing to infirmity of mind and body. He asked whether, in fairness to these women and in the interests of the efficiency of their schools, the President of the Board of Education would consider the advisability of inaugurating a system of earlier optional retirement for women teachers? The answer wasn't encouraging but somewhere along the line they did bring in retirement at sixty. I think recently it's been taken back up to sixty eight years. Don't we learn anything from history?
Poor old Annie wouldn't have had the option of early retirement; she died in 1926 aged 45 years.
In a completely different era, this photograph is from the 1930's. It's the Speech Day at Normanton High School for Girls where my mum (Doreen Buckle) was a pupil from 1938 onwards. I've enlarged this image on several occasions to such an extent it was just a mass of dots, trying to work out which girl is Doreen. I decided she was on the right hand side, two rows from the front, three girls in from the end. Normanton was a few miles away from Royston but it was where children had to go if they passed their 11+ exam and wanted to have a grammar school education. Although there were no school fees to pay by that time, the cost of uniform and equipment was often prohibitive and lots of children who were academically suitable for a grammar school education didn't get it because their family couldn't afford the expense. Doreen was able to go to the High School at Normanton because she had two aunts who were both unmarried and childless and who agreed to help with the costs.
You might be interested to read more about Doreen in the 1947 Diary section of the website.