Waiting in War

My mother’s story ‘Waiting’ is fictional, and ignores an event that would have changed family life as much as the First World War changed the world in the twentieth century. My great-grandfather, John Gregg Windsor Hazell, died in March 1915, and this would have affected the business as well as family life. But Cynthia continued to include him as a character, as the focus moves from St. Vincent to England at the end of the story.

JGWH’s Memorial in the Botanical Gardens, St Vincent, WI

WAITING

by Cynthia Costain

The sun was just rising as Carol slowly turned and left the dock. The ship had completely disappeared towards the dark misty horizon and the clouds were flushed with pink. The cool morning breeze was already becoming warmer with the promise of a hot day. She walked towards the town but instead of taking the turning to ‘Windsor’ she turned aside feeling she needed to be alone for a while. Leaving the little shacks behind, she climbed higher and coming to a low stone parapet edging the sharp drop to the water she stopped. With a guilty glance around she perched on the wall with her feet dangling into space.

“Not the action of a respectable married woman!” she thought. “But although I am married and have a child, I am only 23 years old and I am going back to my old home to live with with my parents. I’m becoming a daughter again with my Mother and Father and sisters because Gordon has gone to England. Thank Goodness Ettie is there with her girls, we’ll be in the same position with both our husbands away, but it will be very strange; like being a girl again. No house or servants to look after, no need to worry about meals or cooks and Mary Sam to look after the baby.” She couldn’t help smiling at the thought – no responsibilities! “Of course I’ll miss Gordon but he’ll soon find a job in England and buy a house so that we can join him.”

There was no doubt that the last year or so had been difficult. Gordon became discontented and restless in Kingstown. He thought Dr. Durrant was old fashioned and incompetent but he was the senior doctor, and his boss. Then again, Gordon didn’t really get on with her parents and resisted being automatically taken over by the Hazell family. Moving to Georgetown had seemed such a good idea – further away but not too far. It had been such fun at first; a nice house in the small town up the Windward Coast and Gordon had been pleased to be on his own in a new district. For a while all went well but it was small with not many estates nearby, so not many friends. Before long Gordon was bored and the friends he had thought so delightful at first became dull. Before the year was finished he was applying for another move.

When the posting to Carriacou came he was pleased, but Carol had dreaded leaving St. Vincent. Yes, she knew Carriacou was not very far away, just one of the Grenadine Islands near Grenada but she would know no one and would have to live in a different house and find new servants, leaving all her family behind. It was a long two days in a sailing vessel with the baby and all their furniture and trunks and when they arrived the house was old and not even very clean because it had been standing empty, and the garden was a jungle. Even Gordon’s pleasure at a new place and new people soon faded and Carol felt miserable. Of course she had tried not to show it but the servants were slow and tended to be rude to such a young mistress. Baby Cynthia missed Mary Sam who had stayed in St. Vincent, and was fretful and difficult.

The decision to go back to England came as a relief. Gordon explained that he would have to go first until he had a job and could get a home for them and Carol realized that this was only sensible.

“You can stay at Windsor with Cynthia when I go,” Gordon said. She had hesitated and he went on, “They’ve already taken in your sister Ethel and her girls while Simmonds is in New York so they can’t refuse to take you.”

Carol felt reluctant but she wrote to her parents when Gordon wrote to England. She need not have worried – her Mother wrote kindly that of course she and Cynthia could live at home while Gordon was away. Many more letters were written and plans were made until finally it was arranged. Dad got a passage for Gordon on a ship with a cargo for London; their furniture was sold, then back they sailed to St. Vincent and home to Windsor. Everyone remarked how the baby had grown and how thin Carol was.

“I seem to have done all this before,” Carol thought. Now all the packing and moving and rushing was over. Carol sat and gazed at the sea and felt all her worries and tension melting away. Scrambling off the wall she began hurrying down the road in the bright morning sunshine, and then up the steep hill to her old home. Mary Sam, back with her again, was strolling down the drive with the little girl in her arms.

“Daddy gone?” said Cynthia.

The house was certainly full; two unmarried sisters, Blanche and Muriel, besides Mother and Dad and Aunt Min then Ettie with her three girls, Milly (11), Marguerite (8) and Mona (5), and now Carol and Cynthia. Fred and Mil lived in town with their baby Jean while Bee and John Otway with their boy Jack were not far away. Carol looked forward to joining the family but Mother had suggested that she and Cynthia and Mary Sam could have the small cottage in the garden as their own, as it would be quieter for the baby and Carol was delighted.

Carol holding Cynthia with a bow in her hair.

They soon settled down to a happy routine. Every morning they went up to the big house for breakfast and Cynthia waved “the big girls” off to school. Afterwards there were jobs to do. Mary Sam would sweep the cottage while Carol made the beds, then go up to the house again to help. Carol would do the flowers or dust the furniture while Mary Sam did the baby’s washing while Cynthia would play happily.

One of her favourite playmates was Great Aunt Min, or Miss Wilhelmina Maria Laborde. She was Mother’s sister who had come to live with her after her marriage. She had not approved of the bridegroom, as he was in Trade and their father had been an Anglican Archdeacon! However, as an unmarried sister, she was grateful for a home, but continued to call her brother-in-law “Mr. Hazell” all her life. She had a very special place in the family and was much beloved by all the children and grandchildren.

Aunt Min would sit quietly sewing or reading while the little girl played at her feet and told her long complicated stories. One place she loved to play was underneath one of the big high mahogany beds where the surrounding starched white valance made a secret playhouse. Hidden there she would play contentedly, if she could find some of the lovely books or paper dolls which were sent to her cousins by their father in the States. She was not supposed to play with them as she was “too little” and would tear them and spoil them. Still she would go looking and bring some of the lovely fragile paper dolls into her hiding place. All would go well until she heard the girls’ voices as they came from school and then panic-stricken she would call, “Aunt Min! Aunt Min! The girls are coming! Help me! Help me!”

Poor little Aunt Min would come running, and crawl under the bed on hands and knees to help gather up the treasures and help return them to their rightful places. Of course the big girls found out many times and Milly would be cross and Marga would scold but there were not many playthings and the paper dolls were too tempting to resist.

The days passed pleasantly for Carol. She enjoyed the company of her sisters and joined in all the family activities. They worked at the Cathedral and every Saturday cut flowers in the garden and took them down to “do” the flowers for the Sunday Services. In the afternoons they would rest or sit on the verandah sewing or making lace and talking while Cynthia slept. Afterwards Mary Sam would take her for a walk and later other friends and family with their children would drop in for tea. Mother was getting old but still very much in charge of everyone and everything. She was a severe-looking old lady and did not take kindly to many of her sons and daughters-in-law, but she was very kind to Carol and Cynthia. Sometimes she would take the little girl onto the verandah at night and show her the stars. She taught her “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”.

Many of Carol’s evenings were spent in the little cottage writing long letters to Gordon. He was a regular correspondent and anxious to hear all her news and how his little daughter was growing. Besides the letters, he sent Cynthia postcards of children and beautiful actresses, so that she looked forward to the mail as much as her mother did.

Gordon had retired from the Colonial Service and had been medically unfit for the Forces because of his childhood illnesses and emphysema. He was applying for jobs and had contacted old friends from his Edinburgh days. One of them had been hopeful that he could find something for Gordon in the area, which was promising.

Willie

Months went by pleasantly to be suddenly shattered with the tragic news that Willie had been killed in France. He had always written so cheerfully and had said that he was the lucky one, that they had come to believe that he would be all right. Carol wept over the picture he had sent her of him in his uniform with a loving message on the back to her and her little girl. Dear kind Willie – it should have been Fred as the youngest son to go to England when the War began, but he was married and had a family and Willie had said, “I’ll go!” Only two Hazell sons left.

Commemorated at Loos Memorial

Glad news came from Gordon that he had got a job in Newcastle-on-Tyne, and Carol was happy and began to plan what she would take with her to England. Already it was nearly a year since he had left and she couldn’t help being anxious. Looking at a map of England, Newcastle seemed a long way from London and the places she had known during her school days and she had hoped to be near her dear Miss Lefroy but she was sure that it would be lovely. Now Gordon’s letters were full of plans. He was saving his money and living in lodgings but he liked the job and he was making friends. He was looking for a house but in 1918 that was not easy and the months went by until at last the War was over! St. Vincent joined in the general rejoicing and gradually young men began to trickle back to the island.

Still Carol waited and hoped but the post-war shipping was in confusion and although Gordon had sent money for a passage to England for her and Cynthia, Dad had not been able to arrange anything. Finally he suggested that he could get a berth on a ship going to New York where she could stay with her brother Arthur, and he would have a better chance of finding her a place on a ship going to England. Gordon agreed, so Carol found that after two years she would soon be with her husband again. Cynthia was now four years old and remembered nothing of her Father, having only looked at his picture and the post cards he sent her. How would they all get on together?

With excitement and misgiving, Carol packed for the last time and said her goodbyes. This time she knew in her heart that she would never see her parents again and probably not many of her family, but she tried to be brave and cheerful for Cynthia’s sake.

The last day arrived and she parted from her Mother with tears but tried to laugh and joke with the sisters and friends who had come to see her off. She stood at the rail of the ship waving while Cynthia kept saying, “Bye bye” and lifted her up to see the last glorious sight of the sunshine glowing on the green and gold island. Would she ever see St. Vincent again? Perhaps when I am an old lady and Cynthia is grown up, she thought, but that was something she could hardly imagine.

The Hazell Business

This letter, while addressed to my grandfather Ewing, ended up in the care of the Hazells in St Vincent. I am very grateful for their generosity in sharing it with me here.

Pages 1 and 4
Pages 2 and 3

I believe this transcript is mostly accurate, but any corrections are welcome.

Sat: night 

May 11, 1918

Dear Mr. Ewing

I very much regret to inform you that your brother-in-law, Cpl. W Hazell, & incidentally my Pal, has been killed buy a shell last Sat: about midnight as near as I can tell you. We were in a trench on the banks of Bethune Canal crossed-out word, and as the Germans were shelling, we, that is the 12th Northl’d Fusiliers and the people we were relieving, were bunched up together, & an order was passed up, to extend out a little, & Willie passed it on, & moved in accordance, and jammed with several, were in a very shallow part of the line, and a shell burst right amongst them, killing two & severely wounding others, of whom one or two died later.

I don’t know his mother’s address, but he often spoke of you, but I forget the no of your house, but I reckon your name will suffice to find you all right, anyway I thought it best to inform you, so that you can cable his folk, for the War Office message will be some time yet in informing you of his death, and my writing will put their minds somewhat easier, I hope.

Well Sir, he suffered no pain, for he died instantly, for which I am very glad, and if there ever lived a good & brave comrade it was W. Hazell, for he was one of the True Blue, for he was cool & his coolness helped others to stand the awful strain.

He was in command of my section (the Lewis gun) until he was promoted Cpl, then he was on another one, and I took his place being made L/Cpl to do so.

Yours sincerely, 

G. G. Wilkinson

One thought on “Waiting in War”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s