I can’t believe I’m at the end of my “52 Ancestors” challenge. At times I thought I would never get here. It’s been extremely hard work, time-consuming, blooming expensive, but most of all it’s been an absolute pleasure.
I’ve also learnt a lot about myself along the way.
I’ve learnt that my spelling is still appalling but even with dyslexia, I can still achieve my goals by not letting it stop me.
I’ve learnt that I’m pretty stubborn, as I would not let myself give up when by body was screaming at me to.
I’ve also learnt, that no matter how hard life can be for all especially the working class, that there is always someone out there in a worse situation and that we have to give life our best shot, because we are marking out the future, while hopefully learning from the past.
I’ve learnt that my ancestors were pretty incredible, strong, humble people, who gave every inch of their beings to survive and make a better future for their bairns.
I’ve shed tears for their losses, there were so many losses.
I’ve felt my heart-break with theirs and felt an overwhelming sense of pride at their achievements, their strength and talents.
All in all it’s been an incredible journey.
So here we are at Week 52, part 3, where I will be sharing my Nan’s memories about her Dad and Mum and also the memories of Eileen’s grandchildren and a few of her Great-Children.
I asked all her Great Children if they would kindly share with me one of their memories of our Granny Cuddles. Sadly I guess life got in the way and only a few answered me with their heartfelt memories.
Each brought tears to my eyes and a smile to my lips as I relived those memories.
Personally I believe that their stories are the perfect end to what has been more than names and dates of lives gone by, especially as my Great Granny is, hands down, the most beautiful soul to have ever walked this planet.
It’s a shame I haven’t got more to share with you, as I’ve so very much enjoyed reading what my family have written. They’ve made me roar with laughter and shed tears, at how much they were loved and how greatly they are missed.
On that note I’ll stop rambling and let you find out a little about them for yourselves.
Let’s start with my Nan, Doreen June Townsend Nee Willats, memories of her father Reg.
My Nan wrote –
I will try to tell you about my Dad. He was a very well-educated man, he always dressed smartly, he was very well-mannered, always raised his hat to ladies, I never ever heard him swear like some men did. He was a very good dancer and a strong swimmer, he could play the piano and the trumpet. He started going a little bald in his twenty’s, which he said was my fault, as I used try to put curlers in his hair when he sat in his chair, I think it was hereditary the baldness as my Uncle Dick was the same, it bypassed Kevan but Andrew inherited it. that’s why he shaved it all off. Back to Dad. As you know he was a first class steward on the big liners when I was small, so he saw lots of famous film stars and very rich people going back and forth to New York, Mum always took me to meet the ship when it docked, I was given a little toy black dog once it had a note on its collar which said to a sweet little girl from two of Daddy’s headaches, these ladies had seen me waiting on the dock with my Mum I had that dog for years, on the wall in my bedroom is a photo of me with that dog. I am getting off the point, I don’t remember where my Dad worked after that. The war was coming and Dad tried to join the forces but he couldn’t pas the medical, as he had a duodenal ulcer, he tried many times to join up but they wouldn’t take him. One night my Gran sent a message their lights had fused, could Dad go and fix it for them. Gran was living with my Auntie Norah in Bevois Valley, Uncle John Norah’s husband, was in the RAF and his hairdressing shop was closed up, Dad said we must go with him in case there was a raid and he couldn’t get back to us, so off we went. There was a terrible raid that night we were all terrified, some how we survived, next day we went home, there was only the front of the house still standing, the back was completely gone including our Anderson shelter, we would have all been killed if we had been there. Dad got a lorry from some where and collected all my Mums Sisters and took us out of Southampton. He found an empty bungalow in New Milton and left us there while he went back and got mattresses for us to sleep on and as many things as he could get on the lorry. Auntie Kit had just had my cousin Jean and Auntie Norah had just had Johnny, both their husbands were in the Forces. I don’t know what we would have done without my Dad.
After Dad had moved us to New Milton, he went to work for the R A F, he was driving a huge lorry nicknamed “Queen Mary,” it was a very hard job, he was delivering engines and parts of aircraft all over the country, with only slits for headlamps, no street lights, total blackout, and no signposts, they had all been taken away in case of invasion. A house had become vacant up the lane so my Auntie Dorrie and Auntie Kit moved there with their four children, so we had more room in the bungalow but we moved again to another Bungalow in Highcliffe, I don’t know why, but the Luftwaffe followed us, a unexplored bomb dropped in the field next door to us and we had to evacuate. I don’t know where Gran and Auntie Norah went, but Dad took Mum and I with him in the lorry, I suppose he shouldn’t have, but we had nowhere to go. Towards evening the lorry got stuck under a bridge, Dad had to get the police as the road had to be closed. The police let us sleep in one of the cells, they brought us tea and doorstops of bread and cheese, they were so kind to us. The next day we were on our way again, Dad dropped us in a field near the airdrome. It was a very hot day, Mum and I lay down in the corn field and watched this tiny mouse, he went right to the top of a stalk of corn and proceeded to wash his face and clean his whiskers, I have never forgotten it, there was a bloody war going on but the little mouse was just living his little life. When we got home the bomb disposal men had bravely done their job and removed the bomb. Not long after my Dad collapsed and was taken to Tidworth Hospital with a perforated ulcer, he couldn’t work for the RAF after that. Dad had another job driving stores and things to the docks and Mum was able to see that he ate properly. He joined the Home Guard and took his turn every week fire watching, so he did his bit for the war. He was only 42 when he got very ill and died. He had been in hospital for an operation but seemed to be getting over it. One night, Mum woke me as Dad was writhing in pain, we had to go a fair distance to call the Doctor as no one had phones then, the doctor finally came, gave Dad an injection said the pain should go off but it didn’t, it just got worse. I went to the phone again on my own, Mum stayed with Dad, the Doctor came again, and sent for an ambulance, that must have been about 5 am. The ambulance finally arrived just before midday, if it had come sooner they might have saved his life. They told Mum they had operated for a burst ulcer, it wasn’t true there was no sign they had operated at all. There was a post Mortem after and our doctor attended, he said Dads bowel had burst, due to something that had happened during Dads operation. Mum didn’t get Dads insurance as he wasn’t covered for an ulcer and that was what was put on the death certificate. Our doctor wouldn’t tell what he knew so that was the end of that.
Dads life was a short one, but he travelled a lot and he made Mum and I so very happy.
Our world fell apart when he left us.
Sleep in peace my Darling Daddy. ❤️
Unfortunately there are not many people still living that remember Reg, as he died so very young. I very much wish things could have been different and that Eileen could have spent her life wrapped in his love and that our Nan, could have had her Dad, walk her down the aisle and he could have been part of all our lives.
I truly do understand the loss my Nan feels, the what ifs she has, because I feel that loss everyday from loosing my Dad when he was still a spring chicken.
For your father to never know his Grandbabies, is beyond devastating. I was extremely lucky that my Dad met my husband and they got to know each other but still the pain of him never knowing my two boys, Con and Cal, is a constant ache in my heart and the what ifs only grow with time and age.
I was very lucky to have my Great-Granny in my life, if only for a short time. I got to hug her, snuggle into her lap and breath in her delightful scent, she always smelt so lovely, her lap was soft and comforting. How I miss her.
As I mentioned earlier, I messaged my Nan, my Mum, my Auntie Jan and all my cousin, asking if they would do me the great honour of sharing their favourite memory of Eileen (Mum, Nan, Great Granny Cuddles). Thankfully I was gifted with a few replies and I’m extremely grateful for those. I wish I could be a fly on the wall when my Nan reads them, as they are as much a gift to her as documenting all those special moments. I just wish I could have shared more.
Let’s get back to them, shall we.
Here are the heartfelt memories of, Eileen May Willats Nee O’Connor
My Nan wrote –
She was the first one to have her hair cut off and into a bob, she had it done in her lunch hour, then was scared to go home as she knew her Dad would be angry, which he was but he couldn’t put it back on. A few days later Dorothy had hers cut, then Kitty and then their Mum so Granddad gave up.
Mum was a real girl of the Jazz age, she was a very good dancer, and won the Charleston and Black Bottom championship competition on the pier in Southampton, I don’t know what year that was.
Once her hair had been cut, she started dressing in the fashion of the time, just knee-length dresses with fringe round the hem, Garters with mirrors or bells on them and clothe hats. She was very beautiful, no wonder my Dad fell in love with her.
Her sister Dorothy was very close to her and they went everywhere together.
When she left school she went into service at a big house in Southampton. It was sheer drudgery from six in the morning until the Madam of the house said she could go to bed about nine at night. Mum was very unhappy there, but she needed the wage so she stuck it for a while, until the Sir of the house tried to force himself on her, she got away from him and fled home in tears leaving all her belongings behind her. Her Dad sorted the man out and got Mums stuff, she never went back there again.
I don’t really know where she worked after that, she didn’t work in hotels until after she met my Dad.
During the war, Mum worked at a factory making guns I believe, an engineered apprentice, I think she quite enjoyed it, once she got used to the work and she liked having a bit of money of her own. Men didn’t like their wives to go out to work then, not like today but Mum had to work in munitions or other war work, all married women who had children of school age had to, it was the law. After the war my Dad saw a little car for sale that he wanted so badly, he couldn’t afford it. Mum told him she had enough in her savings for him to buy it, he was over the moon.
My Mum kept me safe through out the war, Dad and I were well fed, Mum was very thin I think she was giving us her rations.
She was my best friend as well as my Mum, I loved her with all my heart.
When Mum was so ill and dying at Romsey Hospital, your Mum and I were sat at her bedside holding her hands, she wasn’t talking much at all but she looked towards the end of the bed and she smiled and said quite clearly
“Oh my Darling I have been so lonely for you.”
She didn’t speak again, she closed her eyes and peacefully passed away.
I like to think my Dad came for her and that they are together for eternity.
I hope there is life after death and then I might be with my beloved again.
I have missed her so much since she died, her lovely smile her sense of humour, her wisdom.
God Bless Mum.
My Mum wrote –
My Nan was a wonderful lady. She was wise, kind and loving. I remember when we arrived home from living in Jamaica it was very cold. When Jan and I went to bed she wrapped our feet in a big fluffy shawl and warmed our bed with a stone water bottle. It was heaven to feel warm. She was great fun one Christmas, she got a little tipsy and sat playing her imaginary violin, she had us all in fits of laughter. I’m so pleased I was blessed to have her as my Nan.
I’m sad to say I can’t remember much other than that. She was so lovely. We didn’t do much as children with her as we were abroad but I loved living with her when we came home.
I always remember my Mum telling me, that when she was about 8 and they were moving to Jamaica she took a hammer and tried desperately to knock down her Nans house in the Polygon, Southampton. When her Nan Eileen, asked what she was doing, Mum replied, “If I can’t live here with you, no one can.” Bless her, she didn’t want to leave her Nan.
My Auntie Jan wrote –
Well what can I say about my wonderful, wonderful Nan, she was such a wonderful kind and caring women.
She was the eldest child of 7 children, and used to pray to god asking him that when she was grown up that she would not have loads of kids.
When she was a child she told me she had to look after her brothers and sisters a lot, especially in the evening when her Mum Ethel, would go up the pub for her daily Guinness.
One night whilst her Mum was at the pub, she looked under the bed and saw two eyes staring back at her, she screamed !! She ran out of the house with all the siblings following her in their nighties screaming !! With their dog in hot pursuit.
One of her neighbors went in to check all was fine and looked under the bed.
When her Mum returned she gave my Nan a belting, for allowing the neighbors to come in her house and look under the bed, as she was more afraid they would talk about how clean her house was.
It turned out to be the dogs eyes she had seen under the bed, but her Mum never forgave her .
As she was growing up she told me that they were quite short of money, so much so her Dad even knitted her a pair of socks. She loved her dad to bits.
When she young she was sent into service, which of course was the done thing in those days, she complained to her Dad, one day that the man of the house kept annoying her !! So her Dad went marching up their, throw in the front door and said to my Nan get your things girl!! Your not saying here.
She meet the love her life my Grandad, who I am sorry to say I never meet him.
She told me he was the light of her life.
She was always singing my Nan and had a very good voice, one song I always remember her sing was,
“On Mother Kelly’s doorstep,
down paradise row,
I’d sit along O’ Nelly,
she’d sit along O’ Joe”
I loved hearing her sing, She was so cuddly and made the best apple pies I have ever tasted.
She was so funny, she decided she had to paint something red I can’t remember what it was, but all I know is she had some paint left over so painted the washing up bowl red and the taps.
My Nan was always fun to be with, I loved her so much, and to me she always explained things so well.
I used to going shopping up the Southampton High Street, with her, and sometimes she would take me to the Cadena restaurant with her, we were stood outside of it one day when a seagull dropped a message from the sky, it landed directly on my Nan!! And it was dripping down her face and all over her glasses, she was so angry, but the rest of us with her thought it was so funny.
One of her favourite saying, was when I would ask her if I could have something, and she would say, “yes of course you can my lovely, it’s up in mini’s room behind the clock!”
I used to reply, but we don’t have a mini living here !!
She would laugh her beautiful laugh with her beautiful smile, which would always make me feel good inside.
One day I went into her lounge when we were living with her, I found her kneeling down so that just her eyes were over the top of the table, she had a flower-pot holding a small plant on her head, I asked her, “What are you doing Nan?” And she said she wanted to see what the people were doing across the road ! But she didn’t want them to see her, so she put the pot on her head to disguise herself,😂
She used to polish her front door step and Brasso her door knocker, as she said to me once, hers must be the shiniest down the road.
She also had beautiful hands and Nails, and would never go into town without her hat.
One day when we lived in Winchester, we took the dog Bobby, for a walk over the harbour, Bobby cocked his leg on the lamppost, and Nan was stood the other side of it, the wee went all down her leg and into her shoe, she was yelling
“You filthy beast!! You filthy beast”
Us kids fell about laughing.
And once, she was looking after bobby and she had bought a chop for her dinner, just as she put the fork into it, Bobby who was sat by her begging for food barked!! Nan jumped, and the chop flew into the air landing straight into bobby’s mouth who then ran of with it, she was so cross 😂
She always smelt so lovely and you would never see my Nan without a cotton hanky which was always embroidered.
I loved her so much x
My Uncle Kevin’s, favourite memories of him and his Nan is,
Granny loved growing Roses, she had a beautiful rose garden. Uncle Kevan would go out with a bucket to collect the horse dung, left behind but the Rag and Bone man and other horse and cart tradesmen. Granny would use it to put on her roses.
She would pay Uncle Kevan, Threepence on his return.
One day he decided to go back out and collect a second bucket for her. Of course he wanted paying another Threepence, as all young boys would. He has done double the work, so wanted double the money. 🤣
His Nan didn’t really need the second bucket full and told him she had no need for it and wouldn’t be paying him the extra Threepence.
Uncle Kev being a fun-loving young lad, was a little miffed so he but the bucket full of horse dung under her bed. 🛏
He got his extra Threepence and more than likely a clip round the ear.
My cousin Kelly wrote –
I have such lovely memories of Granny, I loved her flat with her chair overlooking the balcony and the green out the back. Was always cosy in there, and used to sit on her footstool next to her armchair. She would always have a jar of foxes fruit bonbons, the boiled sweets with the gooey insides. She always let me choose my favourite and I would eat that whilst playing with her rings on her fingers and popping her veins. I always used to look at her cuckoo clock thing, I can’t quite remember if it was the same clock or a different one but it had two little people at the bottom that told the weather, a boy and a girl who would come out depending on the weather, does anyone else remember that? I was always fascinated by it. The boy had a rain hat and coat on and the girl, a summer dress.
I also used to play with the draught excluder snail she had, it was flowery with a red tail and had a hat with its antennae sticking through the hat and she had put a hat pin in its hat, I always used to joke about that as she was of course the hat queen.
I never remember her not smiling. Happy rosy-cheeked, most perfect great-grandmother ever. Always seemed to be on our wavelength and never talked down to you, no comments on us being typical teenagers or anything.
I used to go to Nans on a Sunday afternoon to see her and Granny and I would go in Nans car and drive Granny back to Lordshill, I loved doing that.
One time I got stung running my hand along the long balcony leading up to her front door and she covered my hand in vinegar.
I remember her buying us all pretty much matching nighties every Christmas and we would go upstairs to Nans bedroom and put them on and come downstairs and do a fashion show and make up plays.
One of my most favourite memories is going with Granny and Nan to the donkey sanctuary in Sidmouth and seeing her excited cute little face looking at all the donkeys.
Every memory is lovely, and I wish my children could have known her.
Kind, loving funny and so cute.
My cousin Michelle, wrote –
I just remember she had a beautiful smile and an infectious laugh, my Mum and Dad obviously adored her as they ask her to be my Godmother. She got me a piggy bank as a christening present, it had a beautiful pattern on and Diamanté bright blue eyes, and you could only get the money out shaking it upside down. I don’t know why but I alway called her Great-Aunt Willy.
I vaguely remember the cuckoo clock.
She had so much love to give.
My Sister Hayley shared her memories with me but they are the same as mind, which you can read below. (Hats and shirts)
I personally have so many wonderful memories of my Granny, she was the most wonderful lady, who wore her heart on her sleeve. She loved her family greatly and was so proud of all her Grandchildren and her 9 Great-Grandchildren.
If only you could have seen the pride and love in her eyes when her Great, Great-Grandson Karl was born. It’s a picture I will never forget.
It’s extremely hard to say what my favourite memory is but I’ll give it my best shot.
Granny was living in a second floor flat in Lordshill, Southampton, on an estate behind Sainsbury’s. I would alway love going to see her. We would run as fast as we could along the what seemed at the time, a never-ending balcony. We would pick her up and take her shopping every Tuesday throughout the summer holidays. My Nan would be looking after us while my Mum worked.
Granny would always treat us to some sweets and let us play on the stone hippos that use to be outside.🦛 We would play happily while Nan and Granny did their weekly shop.
After we would return to Granny’s flat, help her unpack and she would always get her sweetie jar out and let us have one or two. I would always pick a humbug. Humbugs still remind me to this day of my Granny.
Her little flat had its own private balcony while was the home to lots of plants and a washing line. On sunny, warm days, she would always put her budgie, out there to bask in the sunshine. I think one of them was named Teddy. How she loved her little budgies, they would always be flying around. I swear I remember they use to talk back to our Gran.
I was a little afraid of her balcony, I’ve no idea why.
Our Granny loved owls and donkeys, she had lots of little trinkets around her flat. One sticks in my mind more than the others, it was a little china owl that she had hung over one of her doors. When she died I was given it and it hung for many years above my kitchen doorway, sadly it fall one day and broke. It made me smile every time I saw it hanging there smiling down on me.
She absolutely adored hats. I had borrowed a 1920s style floppy hat from my childhood best friend Rachael, to wear to my other great-grandmother Eva whom we all called Granny Wheelbarrow, funeral. It didn’t stay long on my head as Granny fall in love with it and decided it suited her better.
We ended up buying her one just like it and even though she said her face was far too old to wear such a youthful hat, she did wear it and loved it.
Granny was also very trendy, as is our Nan. She always wanted us to be in fashion. in our early teens, Lumber-jack shirts were in fashion, we all desperately wanted one, so she saved her pension and Nan took us to a shop in Romsey called Scats and she brought Kerry, Hayley and I one each. I remember that day as if it was yesterday. It’s also my twin sister Hayley’s favourite memory of our wonderful Granny.
Every Christmas she would buy all her great granddaughters a nightie, a colouring book and felt tip pens. We all use to get so excited to see what pattern or picture would be on ours.
I remember as she aged her poor legs would swell up like balloons, if you touched them they would bruise badly, but she never grumbled or made as fuss even when she couldn’t get her shoes on.
As I mentioned in last weeks post, she had an amazing ability at knowing certain things, she could sense spirits, read tea-leaves and often had items drifting across her room or oil lanterns floating down the stairs. If you aren’t a believer, you sure would have been, if you were lucky enough to have met our Granny.
When I was 12 years old, something horrific happened to me that, I won’t go into, all I will say is I told no one. My gran could sense something wasn’t right. She asked my Nan to go out and buy me a Rosary, take it to, St.Joseph convent and have it blessed by the Father.
I was going to spend the summer holidays in Saudi Arabia, with my Dad so Granny gave me this little blue beautiful Rosary, and told me it would keep me safe.
I still carry it with me everywhere with me and through times of trouble it brings me peace knowing that she gave it to me and she is up there somewhere looking down on me, keeping me safe. Granny was a Catholic coming from irish roots, she prayed every night. She had the most beautiful gold-edged bible, which was handed down from her Mum. All births and i believe deaths, have been hand written in the pages Granny carried on this tradition, I think my Nan has also.
A few weeks before my Granny’s death, I started to get a recurring nightmare. It was my wedding day and as I walked down the long aisle of Romsey Abbey, Granny was behind me, but it wasn’t the beautiful Granny I know but her corpse in a wedding dress dragging herself up the aisle. I was horrified, scared beyond belief. The day she died, those nightmares stopped, vanished to never be dreamed again, thank goodness.
When she was so desperately ill in hospital, my Dad took me in to see her, we knew in our heart that we were saying our goodbyes. We both had tears in our eyes, holding them tightly back so she wouldn’t see our hearts breaking.
Granny didn’t recognise us as first, she just kept looking to the end of her bed and talking to what must have been her Reg. Her eyes alight like we had never seen them. I swear he was there waiting for her to go with him, but we all know that when death is upon us, we can hold on until we’ve said our goodbye or everything is in place. I swear my Dad waited until my Auntie Jan was at the hospital with us, so my mum had her to support us all, when his soul left his body.
Anyway Granny soon came back to us, she was so frail and you could see in her eyes, that she was ready to leave, to be reunited with her true love.
After Dad and I left the hospital we went on holiday, and while we were there she passed away.
I can’t explain it but I knew, somehow I knew, even though a decision had been made not to tell us, so we could enjoy our time with our Dad.
Against my Dad’s wishes, I went to the phone box and called mum. She had to tell me then.
Of course we were all heartbroken, beyond heartbroken. We felt real pain for the first time in our lives, we learnt the real feeling of grief, a feeling that is indescribable and has only truly been felt that deep, a few times since. 💔
A few years ago I went to see a spiritualist and my Granny came through. Calvin from the Allsorts Psychic Café in Bedford place, said to me that she was a pure soul but when needed she could be hard. I asked what he meant by that. He replied that, her life was far from easy losing her soul mate so early on in life and that she had to deal with all the pressures of life in a mans world but she gave as good as any man of her era, that she was strong and dependable but her heart was soft and loving. He summed her up perfectly.
She was loved by everyone that know her and is missed so deeply by us all.
I just hope that when my days are over and I am a distant memory, that I will be spoken of and loved as much as she still is.
We are so honoured to be her flesh and blood, to have her DNA running through us.
Eileen May O’Connor will never be forgotten by those who loved her and hopefully her love and her life, will always be remembered from the loving memories my beautiful family have shared with you.
I hope that my Great-Grandparents, Reg and Eileen are reunited, dancing among the stars, in each other’s arms, loving each other for eternity.
May they rest in peace
Until we meet again.
Reginald George Wilfred Willats
1906 – 1948
Eileen May O’Connor
1909 – 1993