Welcome back to the life of Reginald George Wilfred Willats (Reg) and Eileen May Willats Nee O’Connor, my Great-Grandparents.
Its the year 1928, in the City of Southampton in Hampshire, England.
The city is well paved, sewered and lighted, and has an excellent water supply, a fine sanatorium, a municipal dispensary and a school clinic.
The town is beautifully situated on a peninsula and is distinguished for the beauty of its position, it has many fine ranges of buildings.
There were in addition to the docks a commodious quay and a fine pier with a large pavilion, much frequented in the summer.
The shores of the estuary or bay were ricky wooded, and afford a continuous stretch of finely diversified scenery, studded with villages, mansions and villas.
Like today, the port was vital to the local economy with docks that could handle the largest vessels afloat.
Powerful steam tugs are always available for distressed or disabled ships and the best appliances exist for coaling steamers.
The Guildhall of the day was still a room above the arches of the Bargate, which also housed the criminal courts.
The Southampton Public Baths have two covered swimming baths for ladies and gentlemen, 40 slipper baths supplied with salt and fresh water, a suite of Turkish baths, while at the rear is an open-air bath, half an acre in extent, with water being exchanged every tide. Mixed bathing took place in the open-air bath on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays, during the season.”
Charities such as the Southampton Mayoress Blanket Loan Society had its depot at Town Quay Road, Our Dumb Friends League and another charity dating back to the 15th century and helped “poor maids” in Holyrood.
Entertainment in Southampton are many, the Hippodrome in Ogle Road, the Grand Theatre, West Marland and the Palace of Varieties in Above Bar.Southampton houses 6 cinemas, one was named the Gaiety.
The Gaiety stood on the corner of the small road, Albion Place and the High Street, not far from the Mayes departmental store, and first opened for business on September 26, 1914, soon after the outbreak of the First World War.
This is where an unbreakable love began its story, when two souls, sat watching a film with their friends, unknown to each other, met for the first time.
While Eileen and her friend were watching the film, they got a case of the giggles. Reg and his friend were sat in front of them and we trying to watch, but the girls laughter was a distraction. Reg turned around and said “Excuse me, I’ve paid good money to watch this”
After the film had finished, he was waiting outside for the two young ladies and ask Eileen if he could walk her home.
Of course she agreed, but was a little unsure as she didn’t really know him.
Eileen wouldn’t let him walk her all the way, as she was weary as to letting him know where she lived.
A few days later, Reg was cycling his pushbike around the area where he had leaft Eileen after their evening stroll, a few nights before. He asked a young girl, if she happened to know Eileen O’Connor?
The young girl only happened to be Eileen’s Sister Kathleen (Aka Kit), it must have been fate, because from that moment on, a love so strong, a love like no other, blossomed.
While they were both working in the First Class Silver Service, as Waiter and Waitress, at different hotels, in different bays, on the Isle of Wight, Reg would swim from one bay to the other, just to see Eileen upon the shore and give her a wave. How romantic.❤️
It wasn’t long until Reg asked for Eileen’s hand in marriage.
It was all systems go, the wedding was booked and paid for. All they needed was for Eileen’s Father, John cornelius O’Connor, to sign the marriage forms.
For one reason or another, he wouldn’t sign them, throwing a massive spanner in the works to the plans, of a young couple so crazy in love, spending the rest of their lives together.
John wouldn’t agree and tore up the paperwork, I guess no-one was good enough for his Daughter, which is rather sweet.
Eileen and her Mum Ethel ended up going to court to get the permission they needed to wed and on October 24, 1929, at St. Josephs Chapel, a Roman Catholic parish church in Southampton, Hampshire, England, Reg and Eileen were joined in marriage.
Reg was a 23 year old bachelor, he was working as a waiter and residing at Number 50, Manchester Street. Manchester Street, was next to the Bus Station originally linked to Above Bar Street to Western Esplanade. It was demolished in 1987 when the Marlands Centre was built. A terrace with some similarities was added within the Shopping Centre itself.
His father, Harry Herbert Willats, was a deceased actor, who died on the 17th October 1929, a few days before their marriage.
Eileen was a 20 year old, spinster and residing at Number 11 Crosshouse Terrace, Southampton. For many years Crosshouse was almost a separate community with a collection of houses at Crosshouse Terrace that had been occupied since at least the 1830s, much earlier than those in Crosshouse Road. Crosshouse Terrace, adjacent to the ancient ferry shelter, was a triangular huddle of around a dozen houses where the numbering was a little haphazard. Nearby stood a shipbuilding and repair yard that later became George Napier & Sons engineering works, then down on Crosshouse Wharf were a number of businesses including Richard Westlake’s sack factory and Tagart, Morgan & Coles steam driven Sawmill. The whole area was totally destroyed in the war by bombing that was aimed at the Supermarine Works on the opposite side if the River Itchen. As with any decent community, there was the local pub, in fact, at one time there were two. ‘The White Swan’ and the ‘Ship’, both of which disappeared in the wartime bombing. The ‘White Swan’ which stood on the east side of Crosshouse Road, adjacent to the old shelter, dated back to the early 1800s when Thomas Dear was the landlord. Local ship builder and later celebrated politician, John Ransom was proprietor in the 1820s and owner for several decades.
Eileen’s Father, John Cornelius O’connor, was working as a Coal Porter. He was named as Cornelius O’Connor, not John.
Their witnesses were, Frederick Brown and E.M O’Connor, Eileen’s Mother, Ethel May O’Connor Nee Wheeler.
On May 21, 1930, Eileen May, gave birth to a baby girl, whom they named, Doreen June Willats. She was born at, Number 11, Crosshouse Terrace, Southampton, Hampshire, England.
Sorry I can’t share her birth certificate with you as my Nan thankfully is still alive and kicking.
Shortly after their daughter Doreen, was born, Reg starting working for the White Star line. He is described in his, Seamans Board Of Trade, as being 5 feet, 11 inches tall, with blue eyes and dark brown hair, with a medium complexion.
His first voyage as a Plate Steward, was aboard the Homeric (RMS Homeric), from the 4.6.30 to 22.6.30, Southampton to New York.
and again on the Homeric as a Plate Steward from, July 11, 1930 to 11 July, 1930, travelling to New York and back to Southampton.
His report of character, for ability and general conduct, was Very Good.
On return he boarded the Majestic, for many voyages from Southampton to New York. His job role was a Steward.
RMS Majestic, was a White Star ocean liner working on the North Atlantic run, originally launched in 1914 as the Hamburg America Line liner SS Bismarck. At 56,551 gross register tons, she was the largest ship in the world until completion of SS Normandie in 1935.
Reg worked upon the Majestic, on the following dates.
|30 July 1930||14 August 1930||New York||Southampton||Southampton|
|20 August 1930||5 September 1930||New York||Southampton||Southampton|
|10 September 1930||25 September 1930||New York||Southampton||Southampton|
|1 October 1930||16 October 1930||New York||Southampton||Southampton|
|22 October 1930||7 November 1930||New York||Southampton||Southampton|
|20 May 1931||4 June 1931||New York||Southampton||Southampton|
|10 June 1931||26 June 1931||New York||Southampton||Southampton|
|1 July 1931||14 July 1931||New York||Southampton||Southampton|
|22 July 1931||10 August 1931||New York||Southampton||Southampton|
|12 August 1931||30 August 1931||New York||Southampton||Southampton|
|2 September 1931||18 September 1931||New York||Southampton||Southampton|
|23 September 1931||9 October 1931||New York||Southampton||Southampton|
|10 August 1932||26 August 1932||New York||Southampton||Southampton|
|31 August 1932||30 September 1932||New York||Southampton||Southampton|
Reg was also worked aboard Britannic. MV Britannic was a transatlantic ocean liner and the penultimate ship owned by the White Star Line before its merger with the Cunard Line in 1934, and was the third company ship to bear the name. Constructed by Harland and Wolff in Belfast, the ship was delivered to White Star Line in 1930 and assigned to the Liverpool-New York line, from 1932 she was joined by her sister ship MV Georgic. When White Star Line merged with Cunard Line in 1934, the ship’s route changed to the London-New York line, and she later provided winter Mediterranean cruises. During World War II she was used to transport troops, carrying 173,550 people. Resuming commercial service in 1948 after being overhauled, the ship experienced a number of problems in the 1950s, including two fires. However this diesel-powered ship’s career continued until 1960, when she was sold for scrap to Thos W Ward. Britannic was the last ship constructed for White Star Line to remain in service.
|22 April 1936||11 May 1936||Southampton||London|
|15 May 1936||8 June 1936||London||London|
|12 June 1936||6 July 1936||London||London|
|11 July 1936||1 August 1936||London||Southampton|
|8 August 1936||31 August 1936||Southampton||London|
Here are a few of the crew lists from the voyages.
A few short years later, the United Kingdom, along with most of its Dominions and Crown colonies declared war on Nazi Germany on September 3, 1939, after the German invasion of Poland. The British government instituted blackout regulations when World War II began in September 1939 as a defensive measure against German air raids. Windows were covered with black curtains to keep interior light inside, and exterior lights were turned off at night. The blackout included lights on bicycles and automobiles, causing an increase in accidents. Air wardens policed the city streets to keep residents in line. A journalist for the Daily Herald wrote about the psychological impact of the dark city nights in 1939: “What was left us was more than just wartime blackout, it was a fearful portent of what war was to be. We had not thought that we would have to fight in darkness, or that light would be our enemy.”
Life became unrecognisable, fear was seen in the eyes of all, as the night sky alit with fire, the sounds of air raids and the screams of thousands of honest, hardworking people, as their families died or their homes collapse around them. I can’t even begin to imagine how they carried on life as the smell of burning bodies and homes, consumed their lungs.
The 1939 prewar register, was taken on the 29th September, 1939, which shows Reg, Eileen and Doreen, residing at, 9 Cliff Road, Southampton.
Reg was working as a Motor Driver, Eileen was an Unpaid domestic and Doreen was at school.
As war broke out around them, Eileen had to face the death of her Father, John Cornelius O’Connor, who died October 4th 1939 at, Number 1, Botley Road, West End, aged 66. His occupation was listed as a Watchman, on his death certificate.
His residence at the time of his death was, Number 32, Canute Road, Southampton, Hampshire, where I have traced Ethel, Patrick and Molly as residences in the 1939 register.
John died from Bronchitis and Myocardial Degeneration.
Ethel May O’Connor Nee Wheeler, registered is death on the 4th October 1939.
Eileen and her family, buried John, at Hollybrook Cemetery, Southampton, Hampshire, England, on the 7th october 1939, under a lovely old tree. You can read more about him here.
Life had to go on, war wasn’t going to let them grieve. Reg, Eileen and Doreen, survived the odds and made it to the other side of the horrific war. I’m not going to shed too much light into their life throughout the war, as my Nan will share a little of this next week.
The year 1948, was most possibly the worst year of Eileen life, when her soul mate Reg, died on may 14th 1948. He died at, The Royal South Hants Hospital,
Reginald George Wilfred Willats, was laid to rest at, Hollybrook Cemetery, Southampton, Hampshire, England, just a stones throw away from his father in-law John C O’Connor.
A few days before Reg’s death, Eileen had read her Reg’s tea leafs and foreseen his death. Can you imagine the horror and fear she must have felt over the upcoming days. Granny always had a special foresight, a gift or a curse, I’m not sure which, but her amazing ability to know the future or to sense when something was gravely wrong, is one of the thing I remember most about her and one of my most favourite memories, you’ll have to wait to find out more next week, sorry.
After her beloved Husband Reg died, Eileen worked for the, Hants and Dorset bus service, in their works canteen. After that she worked for the Southern Railway. She was manageress of the Buffet on Number One platform, a job she absolutely loved.
Over the following years, Eileen slowly saw her family fade away, starting with the death of her Mother, Ethel May O’Connor Nee Wheeler. Ethel died on the 1st November 1974, at Moorgreen Hospital. You can read all about her life here.
Her Sister, Norah Margaret Cooper Nee O’Connor, died on the 18th May, 1980, in the Southampton district.
Eileen’s Brother, Patrick John O’Connor, died in the October-December quarter of 1983, in the Southampton district.
Her Sister, Dorothy Rose Emily Croucher Nee O’Connor, died in the January – March, quarter of 1984 in the Southampton, district.
And Eillen’s Brother, Brennan O’Connor, died on the 25th May, 1993, at Number 44, Castle House, Castle Way, Southampton, Hampshire, England. He died from Septicaemia, Empyema of gall bladder and Gall Stones. His Son Brennan Patrick O’Connor registered his death.
Heartbreakingly a few months later my Great Granny Eileen, died at Romsey Hospital, Hampshire, England. She died on the 25th October 1993, aged 84. She died from Carcinomatosis and Carcinoma Breast. Eileen’s occupation was given as, Catering Manager (retired), Widower of Reginald George Willats, Salesman.
My Nan, Doreen June Townsend Nee Willats and my Mum, were present at her death. My Nan, registered Eileen’s death on the 26th October 1993. 😢
Sorry I can not share her death certificate with you, due to it having information on it, that is still valid today.
Eileen, was buried at Hollybrook Cemetery, Southampton, with her true LOVE Reginald, following a beautiful service at, St. Joseph’s, Abbey House Drive, Romsey, Hampshire, England.
My Nan remembers her Mums very last words, which are truly lovely and give us all hope that one day, we will see our lost loved ones again. I will leave my Nan to share her beautiful last words with you next week.
My Great-Granny’s death, is properly the second hardest loss of my life, I loved her so deeply and I don’t think I will ever be able to get use to her not being in my life, even though I know she is looking out for us as she did in life. I miss and love her just as much now, as the day she left us and I long to wrap my arms around her and give her the biggest hug thats humanly possible.
I’m so excited to be able to share a little more about her life next week with you all, especially the memories from her Daughter, her Grandchildren and Great-Grandchildren and even though I feel an overwhelming pressure to get every fact right, to make her little write up, as perfect as I can, and to show how much she was adored by everyone, I feel as if its just not possible because how do you begin to express a love so meaningful.
So until next time, I will leave you with a photo, of the most kind, caring, loving lady who I had the honour to call my Granny Cuddles, our Eileen May Willats nee O’Connor.
I have brought and paid for all certificates throughout Intwined.blog. Please do not download or use them without my permission. Thank you.