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Keeping a diary: If only they had written it down

I was talking to a friend the other day about my grandmother. She was called Milly, short for Mildred – not a name you hear nowadays. I was, and in some ways still am, very close to her. She was 97 when she died in 2001 and therefore had seen most of the 20th century including the devastation of two world wars and the vast changes brought about by the growth in technology.

Her roots were in rural Norfolk where she was adopted along with her brother and sister by Wymondham’s local butcher when her parents ‘disappeared’. It is just that ‘disappearance’ which I find bewildering. My father doesn’t seem to have any real clue as to what became of his grandparents and he has never seemed that interested in finding out. My mother on the other hand has documented, with varying degrees of success, her side of the family, so we now know a little more about our ancestors including the music hall artist, Arthur Roberts who created the word ‘spoof’.
As for my grandmother’s daily life as a young women my memories of what she told me are sparse. I believe she came to London in her late teens to live with a distant relative in Stratford. Sadly, her brother was killed in a motorbike accident, whilst her sister, Ena, trained to be a midwife and worked in the vast Victorian Metropolitan Hospital in the Kingsland Road in between Shoreditch and Dalston. However, my grandmother had a much tougher life, working in a workhouse called Langthorne Hospital in Leyton, East London. I believe she then went on to work as a lady’s companion in West London before meeting my grandfather who she was married to for over 60 years. As a married woman in those days her working life was curtailed and she became a doting mother to my father, a great cook and homemaker.

These scanty facts just go to show how little we know about her early life. If only she had kept a diary and written some of it down. How interesting it would be to look back 100 years to simpler times with little of today’s comforts nor the complexity of 21st century living. So may I encourage you to pick up a pen or open an app and write a line or two from time to time so there is glimpse of life as it is today to pass on to the next generation.


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