My Auntie Mary was actually my Great Auntie, but we always called her Auntie, I suspect because she hated the thought of being old enough for that title! She died last year, and recently I found myself thinking about her and reflecting on her life, for a couple of reasons.
Despite the fact that I always thought of her as a poor penniless auntie, since she never owned her own house and lived most of her retirement in Abbott's Ladies Homes in Halifax, she did leave some money to her nieces and nephew when she died, some of which my mum generously passed on to me a few weeks ago.
While I was visiting my folks recently, my mum and I went through some of the papers and photographs that were left by my Auntie Mary. It was a fascinating collection of family history and ephemera - birth and death certificates, wills from several generations back - old birthday cards, school reports, shorthand and book-keeping certificates, several albums of photographs, and even things such as travel documents from the 1930s and onwards.
The collection of her 21st birthday cards offers a fascinating glimpse of 1930s greeting card style, and the box of papers also included the 'Party ticket' that took her on the boat to Ostend in 1938 (an early booze cruise?!), the details of her flight to Jersey in the 1950s, and newspaper clippings reporting my grandma and grandad's wedding.
I always wondered why my Auntie Mary had not married, and looking through these albums and documents underlined the mystery further. She was a very handsome woman in her youth, and I know from my memories of her that she was vivacious and friendly, always laughing and joking.
But the old cliche 'always the bridesmaid, never the bride' is played out quite painfully in her photograph albums and her mementos. She had a large collection of the tiny gift cards that used to be sent with slices of wedding cake after the event, and even in the single photo album I kept, there are several photos of her in bridesmaid's attire at various weddings. Until I got chance to look through this photo album, I never knew whether she was just not interested in men, whether she was never asked (which seemed VERY unlikely) or whether there was indeed more to the story.
Now this might just be the incurable romantic in me, finding its way to the surface for once, but I think I found the answer in the photo album. This is my Auntie with her sweetheart. He is on lots of the photographs in 1939 and 1940, many of them with Auntie Mary, often sitting next to each other in groups, and in one or two pictures she is on his knee.
And then he is gone. There are no more pictures of him. At first I didn't realise the photographs were of a military funeral, I thought they were just soldiers marching in country lanes. I don't think I realised the significance, because I wasn't really sure of the name of my Auntie's sweetheart. But looking through the album, and with a bit of internet research, I found details of RAF pilot Dick Hartnell, who died in training and was buried in the Isle of Man in 1940. I feel sure this was him, and now I wish I knew more about my Aunty Mary's life. I have only this album and a few cards, but it's enough to keep her memory here for me.
Stoke Newington, London
1 hour ago