Saturday, 27 August 2011

My Grandmother Freda: 1915 - 1996

After I posted my debut blog last weekend, I was pumped with excitement. I couldn’t wait to write another one. Then the days passed and the nagging doubts returned with a vengeance. At the end of the day, I told myself, my doubts are not going to get my stories written, it will not give my ancestors any credit (or recognition) and my memories will go unheard and unshared.

This blog is dedicated my paternal grandmother. From the outset I thought this one would be harder to write because I did not get to see her as often as I would have liked to as a child, and when I moved away to Australia my relationship with her was mostly through the exchange of letters, and cards at Christmas, Easter and birthdays. Up until two years before she passed away, she was still writing to me regularly.
Somehow Nannie always knew that I would be a writer and pursue the family history. She loved to tell me stories about her family, show me photographs of family members from her vast collection and when I had to write a family tree project for school, she was more than willing to help me with it. I kept my scribbled notes from all those years ago and am continually amazed at how much she knew and remembered about her family history (Even down to finer details such as birth addresses and dates).

Freda Waters
 My grandmother was born Winifred Ellen Waters on 17 April 1915. Named after two of her aunts (Winifred Bowes and Sarah Ellen Waters), everyone who knew her called her Freda.
Freda was born in the market town of Beccles, in the county of Suffolk, and she lived there her whole life.

Freda was the third child of Albert Waters and Eva Bowes. Before her was one sister and one brother – her sister Muriel a lifetime friend and close companion. After Freda, came two more brothers, both of whom Freda doted on and always spoke of with the deepest affection.

When Freda was a girl she had a doll she named Germolene. This name would later prove ironic in the extreme as in her adult years she would rely on the aseptic ointment for her troubled ulcerated legs.
When she was just fourteen years of age Freda met her future husband Herbert Ward. According to a diary entry of January 1930, Herbert wrote that he had met Freda at the Methodist Chapel in Station Road, Beccles. Freda’s father was a staunch Methodist and for many years worked as a verger there.
Freda worked as a Seamstress in Beccles. My research into Freda’s maternal ancestry revealed that her grandmother Mary Leman came from a family of drapers and tailors so it is no real surprise that Freda’s interests lay in sewing. She worked for George William Bond in Exchange Square. Bond opened his draper & millinery shop in 1903 and ran a successful business until well into the 1970s. An advertisement in the local newspaper of 1903 reads:
“Flannelettes, Calicoes and Shirtings at the very lowest price”.
In the 1930s Ronald Martindale took over the running of the drapery shop at St Andrews House in New Market, Beccles. His predecessors, Womack Brooks and Arthur Dare, were both prominent tailors and local charity fundraisers. Freda and her sister Muriel went to work for Martindale who ran his store for almost four years until Woolworths took over the premises in 1937. In 1933 an advertisement ran in the local paper:
“R Martindale the Leading Draper Fashion-Wear Specialist Household Furnisher and Undertaker’.
All her life Freda loved sewing and fancy goods. All her handkerchiefs were made with the finest embroidery and lace-work. She was a lover of embroidered tablecloths and lace napery. She was very proud of her sewing achievements.
In September 1933 Freda, having turned 18 years of age, married her sweetheart Herbert Ward. Before the outbreak of World War Two Freda had two sons and in August 1940 she was faced with home life alone when Herbert joined the Royal Army Service Corps. As Herbert was 30 years old and married he was not sent to serve on the front line but was posted to the East Midlands town of Sutton-in-Ashfield.
Freda talked of how, when the winds were right, people living on the East coast of England could hear the shelling and bombing from Europe. Nearby Ellough and Flixton airfields were used as practice for the USAAF & RAF and Freda said she was relieved to hear “our boys” flying over rather than enemy aircraft. In 1944 Ellough Airfield was used to drop prototype spinning or bouncing bombs, which were called “Highball” bombs.

After the war, Freda gave birth to my father and six years later, came her forth, and last, son. By this time Freda and Herbert had moved from their home in Blyburgate Street to Ingate Street.

Freda (left) and Muriel

Freda lived for company and summer holidays. Every year she would go to the seaside with her parents and siblings and as the years passed, she would holiday with her own children and with her sister Muriel. Mostly they holidayed in Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth, two of Suffolk’s most popular seaside holiday destinations.

In August 1977 Freda lost her husband of forty-four years, to cancer, and my dear Nannie was understandably devastated. She had known him almost all her life and she had grown up with him and bore his children. She was alone for the first time in her life and it cut her deeply. Her compensation was her sister Muriel and her four sons, though now grown up and married with families of their own. Freda relied heavily on her family to ease the increasing ache of loneliness, which constantly plagued her. Two of her sons lived away from Beccles so she would visit with them. She looked forward to these little holidays and trips away but preferred the comforts of her own home.
In the 1980s Freda and Muriel became regular visitors to the local day-care centre called “The Dell”. It was here Freda met Arthur Gilbert, a local widower. They were firm friends from the outset of their meeting and eventually, as romance blossomed, they married in 1986. Their life together was short-lived though when Arthur passed away unexpectedly, as a result of a stroke in 1990.
Freda’s unabated loneliness took its toll and when Muriel passed away just one year later, Freda never really recovered emotionally.
Freda was not blessed with good health for the best part of her life, especially after the birth of her children. She suffered with circulatory problems in her legs for a great many years and her heart caused her to suffer greatly. She spent many weeks at a time in and out of hospital for most of her adult life, more so in her later years when she continually required heart monitoring or investigative procedures. She made the joke to me once that the hospital was her second home.
One problem, which ailed Freda in her later years, was her eyesight. This frustrated and upset her more than her legs or heart troubles ever did. Her letters to me often spoke of her impatience and irritability at not being able to see well enough to write, relying on sunny days to help her to see clearer.

My fondest memories of my Nannie are:

Nannie loved writing and receiving letters, and sending special cards and notelets to her extended family. I will forever treasure the letters she wrote to me.

Nannie absolutely loved bathing. She loved to collect scented bath salts, soaps and bath foams. My sister remembers how the Avon catalogue would be eagerly raided for the latest bath smells and scents. Nannie liked to wear perfumes, such as Pagan by Lentheric.

As a child I remember going to stay with Nannie for the night. She loved having her grandchildren to stay, and she would spoil them and dote on them lovingly. I especially remember she would fry up ‘Bubble and Squeak’ on a Sunday morning for the two of us. That was always my favourite!

I fondly remember that Nannie loved a good laugh. She had the kind of laugh that was almost like a girlish giggle and she always had an expression of faint embarrassment if she laughed too loud. She professed to me once that she was painfully shy as a girl and even had a photograph of herself where she had written on the back “Shy Freda”. My father was a connoisseur for making her laugh and he always managed to have her in stitches. He would tease and mock, and she loved and welcomed it in equal measure. Her bashful laughter was adorable to me and still today, whenever I think of her I remember her in a fit of the giggles.

Nannie loved songs and singing. It didn’t matter the song, as long as it had a quirky tempo or catchy beat. A clever advertising jingle on the television, a cartoon theme tune or game-show theme, Christmas carols or even a Cockney knees-up song, Nannie would be humming or singing along happily. She loved in particular, “Lambeth Walk” which was one of her and Grandad’s favourites.
Nannie lived for outings with the family, fish and chips for tea on Fridays from Peck’s in Beccles, and having her hair washed and regularly permed by her daughter-in-law. She always joined in with games and liked to play cards and she never tired of hearing what her grandchildren were getting up to in their lives, good or bad.

The last time I saw her was in 1995, and it was one of the most turbulent periods of my life. Nannie was desperate to see me happy, and sadly I wasn’t always patient with her or willing to listen to her advice. However, she still managed to sit me down to give me a small collection of her family photographs. She was deeply afraid that I wouldn’t see her again. In my stupidity, I didn’t believe her. She was right. In January 1996 she passed away, knowing she would never live past the age of 80 (just as her mother Eva had believed of herself).

Freda (Taken in 1995)
Soon after my first child was born I had a dream that I walked into a room to see my Nannie sitting in an armchair in the middle of the room. I knelt at her feet and cuddled into the softness of her lap whilst she quietly stroked my hair. She had neither bandages or any pain in her legs. It was a beautiful dream and I still remember it so clearly ten years on. When I asked my sister about her memories of our Nannie recently, she wrote to me about one of her memories of laying on the sofa with her head in Nannie’s lap!


  1. First of all, I want to encourage you about those nagging doubts. DON'T give in to them!! Keep writing. Even if you feel no one will read what your write or even care about it, keep writing. The reality is that you are writing for YOU...and for future generations. So just continue to put passion and love into whatever you want to write about...and whether you have 1 reader or 50, your passion will spill forth and you'll draw your readers in.

    I loved hearing about your dear Nannie. You kinow what, my paternal grandmother has the exact birth and death years as yours. Mine was born in January of 1915 and died in December of 1996. However, since she died of Alzheimer's, the reality is that I lost her in 1988, when her mind began to leave her and she had no idea of who I was or even who she was.

    You are blessed to have all those wonderful written letters. What a joy to still look upon her beloved handwriting!!

    I experienced that recently. My paternal grandfather passed away in 1986, just 2 years before Alzheimers kicked in on my grandmother. Well, in my genealogical research, I contacted the funeral home that took care of him. Just last week, I received a bunch of info (I'm fairly new to ancestry research). One of the things that was in the info they sent me was a copy of the cemetery invoice...signed by my grandmother, since she was paying the bill. To look upon that beloved signature that I remembered so well was such a cherished treat. so I know you must love having all those wonderful letters.

    Sorry for the rambling comment. Definitely, keep writing and sharing!!


  2. Good for you starting a blog and getting this wonderful family history written for others to enjoy. I have very little info on my family as I didn't ask questions when I should have and now it is too late.
    Keep writing.

  3. This was very touching...Keep writing. I agree with Tanya and Patti! You have so much to give and so much to share.

  4. Keep up the good work!
    Welcome to the GeneaBloggers family. Hope you find the association fruitful; I sure do. I have found it most stimulating, especially some of the Daily Themes.

    May you keep sharing your ancestor stories!

    Dr. Bill ;-)
    Author of "13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories" and family saga novels:
    "Back to the Homeplace" and "The Homeplace Revisited"

  5. Beautiful story, Debra. Welcome to the genealogy blogging community.

  6. Welcome to the world of genealogy blogs! What a lovely tribute to your grandmother. And so nice you have her letters :-)

  7. Such a lovely story about your grandmother. Keep writing the blogs. You have an engaging style of writing and will do great justice to the stories of your ancestors.

  8. Beautifully written poignant memories of your Nannie. Looking forward to your next post :-) Jo

  9. Such wonderful tributes to both your grandmothers. They are moving and beautifully written. It is amazing how much you know and remember about them and fantastic that you have been able to share their stories and lives. You must keep blogging - I can't wait to read more :)

  10. What a beautiful story. I couldn't stop thinking about my grandmother as I was reading your blog. I put my blog on hold temporarily while my son was visiting his grandparents this month. It should have been the perfect time to write with no interruptions but I was missing him too much. I look forward to more of your wonderful stories.

  11. I am like your granny in that I love to order bath stuff from avon. A bath with a good book is my quiet, unwinding time.
    Theresa (Tangled Trees)

  12. Finally, after all this time, I have worked out how to post reply comments! It is impossible to thank each of you individually so I shall make my reply applicable to all. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your kindness and words of encouragement. I am deeply touched. xx

  13. I have really enjoyed reading this,my maternal grandmother was called Ruby Eileen Waters, She was the daughter of William Bourgoine Waters who died at the age of 27 in the 1st worldwar . I would dearly like to hear some more of your storys about the Waters family .

    Amanda Barham.

    1. Hello Amanda, I would love to share more information with you regarding your great-grandfather William. If you wish, please leave me your email adress. :-)

  14. I found this blog as I was searching for the opening times for Pecks Fish and Chips in Beccles. Really enjoyed it and as I live in the town I can relate to the places mentioned