Maya Bull is a Customer Relations Manager and started working at Ancestry.co.uk in August. Passionate about family history, this personal account is dedicated to her nan, Marion Wilson, who inspirationally contributed to the war effort on the homefront and who passed away in 1993.
Here at Ancestry we always suggest that the best way to start researching your family history is by talking to your relatives. Sadly when it came to writing this blog post I wasn’t able to get first-hand information from my nan, Marion Wilson, as she died in 1993. However, I was sure there were some stories that she might have passed on to my mum about her experience during the war and I’m so glad I asked as it turns out that my nan’s wartime experiences not only reflected that of many women during this time, but also set the scene for some pivotal events in my family history.
My nan was 21 years old and living at home with her parents in Ross-on-Wye when the Second World War broke out in 1939. My granddad, Percy Wilson, was working as a miner in Wales when he was called up to serve as a private in a Welsh battalion. His company was moved to Ross-on-Wye for training, prior to being sent abroad with the D-Day landing force to Normandy in June 1944. They met during a blackout, courted and decided to marry before Percy was sent away to fight.
My nan’s sister, Norah, had also met and fallen in love with a soldier so they decided to have a double wedding (photo above) in July 1942. Of course rationing was in place at the time but friends and family rallied round and saved food coupons for the celebrations. My great-grandmother was an expert dress-maker and made the dresses for the brides and bridesmaids with fabric purchased with clothing coupons they’d saved. The picture shows my nan on the right with Percy, and Norah with her husband – as you can see the men wore their uniforms.
During the war all able-bodied women were expected to work to support the war effort and my nan found employment in a munitions factory in Hereford. However, when my granddad came home on leave and discovered that her skin had turned yellow with the cordite, he insisted that she leave the factory and find work elsewhere. She then found alternative employment on a farm.
She fell pregnant when my granddad was home on leave and had a baby boy called Edward in October 1944, but Percy didn’t see his son until the war ended in 1945. Several weeks before the end of the war my nan received what women at that time feared most, a telegram from the War Office. My granddad was with his unit in Germany behind the enemy lines when a bomb had exploded close to the trench that he and his friend had dug. His friend was killed instantly, my granddad was wounded.
My nan did not know where her husband was nor what injuries he had suffered, but she knew that he was alive and that he had been brought back to England. She travelled to London with her young son and the War Office located her husband in a hospital in Faversham, Kent. He was recovering from an operation they had carried out to amputate his right leg, below the knee – some shrapnel had become embedded in it and turned gangrenous. My nan and her son stayed at the hospital for the best part of a year while my granddad convalesced. She found a job locally as a hod carrier, carrying mortar to brick layers, in order to support her family during this time – quite incredible as she was a slight woman who suffered from asthma.
Aspects of Marion’s story will be familiar to many, as countless women made their contribution to the war effort on the “home front”. Personally, the part of her story that touched me the most was the optimism they displayed in the face of hardship with my grandparent’s decision to marry before Percy went away to war.
Many thanks to my mum, Maggie Wilson, for sharing these memories with me – I am only sorry that nan did not have the opportunity to tell me herself.