Sunday, 21 April 2013

A Place To Call Home

I have neglected my blog here at "Pocketfull", but I do have a good excuse. Well, maybe not a good excuse but an excuse nonetheless. In recent months I've created a new blog which is dedicated to the history of my childhood hometown and I've been contributing to it almost twice weekly (See it here). For now at least, I've run out of steam so I've decided to devote some of my free time back here, amongst my family history.

A new Australian drama is set to start on the Seven Network next week called 'A Place To Call Home' and while I've been rather looking forward to watching this post-world-war-two drama it has got me thinking lately about "home" and what it means to me personally. Even though I have lived in Australia for most of my life, I still have a hankering for my childhood home. Beyond this, I have often found myself wondering what my family and my ancestors would have called home.

Both of my grandmothers were devoted to their homes. My maternal grandmother Lilian always proudly called herself a "Londoner", even long after the war ended in 1945, when she was married and living in a quiet market town in Suffolk. Then, in 1978 she emigrated to Australia. Yet, all her life, at every opportunity she could get, she went back to London. Her heart was always right there and when she died in 1983 of a massive heart attack, I always believed (and still do, to this day) that it was because her heart was broken for home.
My paternal grandmother Freda lived in Beccles all her life. She never moved away from the town, except for a few years when she moved to nearby Brampton but she quickly welcomed a return to Beccles. There was no question of her living anywhere else but Beccles. She was born there, she was married there, she raised four boys there, and it never entered her mind to travel further than was absolutely necessary. She believed in setting down your roots and staying put and, for the most part, she was content with that. It didn't make her small minded but it certainly made her homely and connected to her roots.
My grandfathers? My paternal grandfather Herbert lived in Bungay, London, and later, Beccles. I don't think that any one particular place meant more to him. I believe he went where "duty called" for the most part, even during the Second World War when he was stationed at Sutton Coldfield.
My maternal grandfather was born and lived all his life in Bungay. While he fudged his age slightly on enlistment with the Norfolk Regiment I don't think it was necessarily because he wanted to escape home life. He just wanted to do what he felt was right. He was to travel to India during his pre-World War Two service and later to Dunkirk before his capture and internment in a German Prisoner-of-War camp. Later, in 1944-45, he served with the Royal Army Medical Corps and was stationed at Epsom, county Surrey. After the war, when he married my grandmother Lilian, they remained in Bungay and raised their family there, trying (against impossible odds at times) to live by the post-war standards of a secure family life.

Aerial view of Beccles and the River Waveney

If I look back another generation, to my great-grandparents' idea of what home meant to them, it differs quite dramatically. For example, my maternal great-grandparents Albert and Elizabeth, were born in the exact same town in London. They were both from working-class families and both were baptised at the same church. Their families possibly knew one another and shared a similar social history. Albert was restless though, even as a young boy. He wanted to travel and see the world, stretch his wings and leave Putney well behind him forever. He lied about his age to get into the Royal Navy and his only reason for returning to Putney was to marry his sweetheart, Elizabeth, in 1905. After that they lived in Southwark, Fulham, Tooting, Bloomsbury and later, Sutton (where they settled and remained until Elizabeth's death in 1951).
My other maternal great-grandparents, Percy and Nellie, were much like my paternal grandmother. They remained in the Suffolk market town of Bungay all their lives. There was no question of moving away, although my great-grandfather Percy, as a younger man, did love the sea and he took to fishing on trawler boats off the coast of Lowestoft for many years before settling back to farm life after the Great War (1914-1918).

Putney, in Greater London

My paternal great-grandparents were also a mixed bunch. Albert and Eva were Becclesians to the last, although my great-grandmother Eva was born in Loddon (her parents were Loddon born and raised before moving to Beccles) but she never had a great need to return there. Beccles was her home and Great Yarmouth was her favourite family holiday destination. Albert was born and raised in Beccles, and he remained staunchly faithful to the town and its townsfolk; at home, in religious circles, and in his work.
My other paternal great-grandparents, Arthur and Barbara, lived as a married couple in the market town of Bungay and raised their family there but they were not knowingly tied to their roots. Barbara was born in Holdenhurst, county Hampshire and lived there until she was a young girl, when her father took on a new job as a Railway Gatekeeper in Woodsford, county Dorset. Less than five years later, her mother passed away, her father abandoned her and she moved to London to work in the Domestic Service. Arthur joined the Norfolk Regiment as a young man and served in both the Boer War and the Great War. It was during the Great War that Barbara moved back to London with the children (including my grandfather Herbert) while Arthur was away fighting for King and Country. When the war ended they went back, as a family, to Bungay.

So there we have it; a mixture of loyalties towards home and yet, across the board, so very similar. There are those who willingly left home to fight in the war. Those who wanted to leave their homes for broader horizons. Those who stayed in the same town all their lives, loyal to the last. Those who wanted to run from their past and never look back and those who couldn't let go of their past and so returned again and again.
To this day I share the same tug-of-war with my maternal grandmother Lilian, the Londoner, who always found a way to go back even though the memories of her childhood were not altogether pleasant or heart-warming ones. Something always called her back and she was deeply proud of her London roots, even in the impossible heat and vastness of Australia that she made home for the last remaining years of her life. My own tug-of-war calls me back to Beccles, and sometimes that call is overwhelming. It certainly reflects in my ability to write about it without getting completely caught up and swept away in a sea of nostalgia and sentiment! Even though Australia is now the place I call my home I still carry a piece of Beccles deep within my heart, and I always will. I could never let it go.


  1. That's a beautiful story of 'home'.

    1. Thanks very much Alona, I'm glad you enjoyed it. xx

  2. Deb,this was a lovely read to start my day! There's plenty of food for thought there in how different people hold 'home' in their hearts and minds. Thanks for a great inspiration to look at my own family and their 'homes'!

    1. Thank you very much Laura, your comments have really touched my heart. I will go to bed with a smile etched on my face now. xx

  3. Very thought provoking. We moved towns regularly as children but we were very fortunate that we always went on holidays to the same place, so this became the emotional 'home'. I hate to think what it would feel like for the emotional 'home' to be in another country.

    1. Thank you for your comments Sharon. I know what you mean about moving towns. Since I've lived in Australia I've lived in many suburbs in the metropolitan area, not really emotionally connected to any one place. Emotionally my heart belongs in two countries which can be very conflicting at times! xx

  4. Denise Preston-Ling28 April 2013 at 15:04

    Bought a tear to my eye and a lump in my throat! It is said that there is "No Place Like HOME" ...

    1. Thanks for your comment Denise, you are so right. Miss you. xx

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