More family treasures

I’m pretty sure that I’ve mentioned before that my lovely Grandfather Roy Williams [ Australian-born son of a Shetland Islander father ] was badly wounded while serving with the AIF in France and Belgium during WWI. While he was recuperating back in Blighty, he met, and fell in love, with Sybil Miriam Bowden and married her in the Summer of 1918.

He returned to Australia in April of 1919 [  it’s a bit unclear as to whether they came together, or whether he was on a troup ship ] but in any case, in February of 1920, they welcomed my mother, Noreen Elsie, born at the home of her paternal grandparents in East Camberwell. Mildred Bowden Williams joined them 2-and-a-half years later.

And here I need to digress. Mildred was known by all and sundry, from the day of her birth to the day of her death and beyond, as Billee. This was all down to my mum who was convinced that she was getting a brother William, and was most insistant that the new baby’s name was Billy.

Marnie [Sybil] left her father and sister behind to start a new life on the other side of the world, and my grandfather promised Great Grandfather Bowden that, if it was within his power, he would bring the family back to England for a visit.

That was how Marnie, Mum and Auntie Billee found themselves on the deck of an ocean-going liner in 1925

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Noreen & Billee on deck 1925

Noreen & Billee on deck 1925

on a beach in Durban, South Africa during a stopover [ small boy identified as family friend Leo Perry ]


and enjoying a local form of transport [ Durban again ]


These next ones are identified simply as London 1925, and would have most likely been taken at the family home in Fulham


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Until a week ago, when I was given a parcel of bits and bobs, that Auntie Billee’s sons had decided should be mine, I’d never seen any of these … and I’m pretty sure most of my Williams cousins haven’t either. So no gold, or pearls, or precious jewels, but to me, these fragile scraps of paper have a worth that is incalculable.


Paging Peg Utting!

Back in March of 1941, the Powers That Be [ in Aus at least ] decided that the time had come to allow women to enter the armed forces. My mother [ Noreen Williams as she was then ] and Auntie Billee [ otherwise known as Mildred Williams ] were among the girls who signed up for the Women’s Auxilliary Australian Air Force, or WAAAFs, on that very first day, March 15. Mum was number [900]24, and Billee, number [900]13.

Mum had just turned 21, Billee would have been one of the youngest at 18, and she passed away last year at almost ninety, so I’m not sure how many of the so-called ‘Old Originals’ are still with us.

One who is, is the lovely Peggy Utting, follower and frequent commenter on this ‘ere blog, and last year when I finally got to meet her at Billee’s funeral, I asked her if she might be able to identify the following photos … which I was subsequently unable to locate again until a week ago. So much for my vaunted organisational skills,eh!



The first two appear to have been taken on the same occasion as the women filing up the steps of [ if I remember correctly ] Saint Paul’s Cathedral in Melbourne, are in the same order as those nearest the camera in the other shot. Billee is 7th from the front, with mum behind her. I’m hoping Ms Peg is in there too.

… and I think that’s Blackie [ Dame Margaret Blackwood ] at the front, Peg?

And then there’s this newspaper clipping, found amongst Mum’s stuff after her death, which shows Billee 2nd from right in the front row.


It has had all identifying markers cut off, and I never got around to asking Billee what it was about. It may have absolutely no connection to the WAAAFS, but I’m thinking the lady in the striped dress second from left just MIGHT be the same one that’s in the middle of the front row in the second picture. Maybe Peg will know.

Edited to add : see Peg’s comments regarding the identity of these young ladies. Peg herself is in the striped dress, third from right and next to my aunt.

Fragile Treasure

Oh I’m on a roll here. Two posts on consecutive days.


Some of my cousins and I have been posting old family photos on FB and trying to document as much as we know of the history because we’ve already lost so much of that. In my case, I need to double and triple check anything that I THINK I know of family history, because little mum was rather fond of ’embroidering’ family history, when she wasn’t just making it up out of whole cloth.

So in a sense, what I and my cousins know of our shared antecedents could be regarded as the fragile treasure of the title. Each previously unseen photo. Each tentative date or skeleton of a story.

Nadie is always saying to me ” I hope you’ve got that labelled” or “I hope you’re writing this down”

so Nadie, this is for you:

My gorgeous maternal grandfather, Roy Williams, had a twin sister Elsie. They were born on Christmas Day, 1890, and there doesn’t seem to be many photos that we can be sure are Elsie, mostly because she died as a very young woman. I’m thinking 1915, but I need to check that… and this is one of those bits where I have to question what I think I know, because Mum always said that Elsie died in childbirth, having her son Edwin McLaughlin.

Maybe one of my cousins knows whether this is correct, but certainly what I do know, is that the photos of Edwin as a toddler all show him with either his father, or with his Nannie, my Great Grandma Gertrude Henrietta Adams Williams. No signs of Elsie. So maybe Mum was correct.576286_10200863080927628_1583406655_n


That’s Elsie on the left, with my great aunts, Gertrude Alice in the middle and Doreen Constance on the right , taken at the family home in East Camberwell, we’re guessing around 1900-1902, as Do was born in 1894. Tell me you don’t just love the cabbage-tree hats, pinafores, lisle stockings and button-up boots!

and this is Elsie on the day of her wedding to Roy Edwin McLaughlin in 1914


541617_10200863081447641_1594588875_nwhich is what leads me to the title of the post.

Elsie’s wedding veil.

My treasure.

It’s unbelievably fragile and foxed, thanks to its being stored in plastic for goodness knows how many years before I got my mitts on it.

In fact, though I hate remembering this, the very first time I picked it up, my finger went right through the netting which is so brittle I’m not sure how it is holding together.

You may all be assured that since 1994 it has been living in archival tissue, in a labelled box, and rarely ever coming out into the clear light of day. [ and did I just hear a collective sigh of relief from all my embroiderer/quilter friends ? ]

This week it did, because I wanted to photograph the embroidery for my cousins

and I thought some of you might like to see it as well.





Each corner is different: the net embroidered in fairly heavy cream thread,

542765_10200863726663771_545099070_n which has a slight sheen and is probably equivalent to modern 6-strand embroidery cotton.

and so I continue to preserve this whisp of century old embroidered lace, the tangible expression of the fact that Elsie was a living breathing woman, who loved, was loved in return, and then lost.

Another Treasure

After Auntie Billee’s funeral last week, I was looking through some of the old family photos, when I noticed something that had never really dawned on me before.

The wedding headpiece of tiny wax orange-blossoms that Billee was wearing in that 1951 photo, is the exact same one that my mother had worn a year previous,

and which was later worn by my Aunts Fay

and Judy.

It was my ‘something old’ when I married Marc more than twenty years after its last outing [ but you’ll have to trust me on that, at least until I can relocate my wedding album which seems to have disappeared into the black hole otherwise known as my shed ]

The headpiece went missing for a decade or so after mum was conned into lending it to a friend of a friend, on the spurious pretext that I knew the bride, [ short version was yes, we did go to the same school but she was several years behind me, and I didn’t really know her at all ]

More by good luck than anything else, we did eventually get it back much the worse for wear.

It was far too frail and bedraggled, after its decade in the wilderness, for Nadie to even consider wearing it for her 2010 nuptuals, had she been so inclined [ which she wasn’t ] so it was carefully wrapped in archival tissue, and packed away with a scrap of unused [extra] lace from the first wedding dress that it was worn with, on February 18th, 1950 .

Celebrating Billee

A long life well lived.

That’s about all any of us can ask, and it was very obvious to everyone at St Andrew’s Anglican Church in Brighton this afternoon that Mildred Bowden Williams Foley, aka Auntie Billee, had a very very good life, and 89 years is a pretty good innings by anyone’s standards.

Billee was so named the day she was born by her two year old sister, my mum, who was adamant that the new baby was going to be her brother Billy … and Billee she’s been to everyone who knew her ever since [ helped by the fact that she cordially loathed Mildred as a name]

Billee and Mum both signed up for the WAAAFS on the very first day that women were allowed into Australia’s armed forces in 1941, and their service during WW2 is something that we are all very proud of.

and with no attempt at a smooth segue, this:

is how much knitting one can achieve on a rocking high-speed express train ride from Southern Cross back up to Castlemaine.

odds & sods

there’s no one theme to this post – it’s a bit like one of Sheepish Annie’s WNBPP [ which for the uninitiated, means Wednesday Night Bullet Point Post  ] except, in this case, it’s Thursday.

  • I’ve been knitting yet another of the ubiquitous Forest Canopy Shawls  [ravelry link ]
  • It’s alpaca and soysilk. I dyed two balls turquoise/green and three turquoise purple.
  • The yarn used to be a perfectly respectable pale green and  a sort of grey mauve.
  • I like my colours better.
  • We had 2 inches of rain yesterday. My carport was under an inch of water … flowing straight off the goat paddock.
  • The carport is now scented with eau-de-goat-poo.
  • You have to watch where you step when you get out of the car.
  • On Tuesday I had a long-distance chat with Nonna about the spindle that she passed on to Nadie on Monday. I think we both assumed that she had owned it since the days when she learned to spin in school [ and she only went to school until grade 3 ] which would have put it somewhere in the early 1930s. Not so. Apparently she found it at home and snaffled it when she was preparing to get married at age 20.
  • It was already old – very old – when she found it in the early 1940s.
  • Think peasant Italian multi-generational home.
  • Yup. You’re way ahead of me. It probably belonged to Nadie’s great grandmother or possibly even her great-great grandmother … MIL couldn’t remember her mother spinning so great-great is looking more than possible.

Habetrot has a vintage postcard in her collection which shows a Roman woman “of Ciociara” spinning with what looks to be the same type of spindle. She [ Habetrot that is, not the Italian spinster ] has been kind enough to let me swipe it for blogging purposes.

  • You should go visit her eponymous blog if you are at all keen on vintage images of textile or fibre pursuits or fibre-bearing animals.

  • Ciociara is near Rome. Tocca da Casauria in Abruzzi where Nonna was born isn’t so very far away.
  • In Italian, a spindle is called a fuso. [ when Nonna says it in dialect, she sort of swallows the ‘o’ on the end, so it becomes foose ]