Not many of you will know my Aunt Hilda. She is 100 today, February 8, 2016. Wow!
“Today” is one minute past eight in the morning in the Philippines and this post is scheduled to be published then. It will be one minute past the stroke of midnight in Accrington, Lancashire, England and timed to herald her 100th birthday.
One of the special thrills about becoming a centenarian in the UK and the Commonwealth countries is the receipt of a personal message from HM Queen ElizabethⅡ.
I hope she will be just as thrilled about my personalised box of Cadbury’s Milk Tray chocs I sent her – Auntie Hilda, not the Queen 🙂
She is the only surviving sibling and is the eldest child of Billy and Jane Cornwall, my maternal grandparents. I don’t like to confess that I have a favorite aunt but she is just that.
As a duo, my brother and I spent many days and nights at her home when we were kids, less so my sister, sorry Sis – don’t blame me for the age gap! Summer school holidays were never complete without an adventure at Dill Hall Lane, Accrington. Auntie Hilda was always ready for a giggle. I always had a sense of freedom in her home that I didn’t feel at my own home.
Hilda – a Good Lancashire Cook
Like her sisters and mother, Aunty Hilda was a good cook. One of the highlights of tea¹ at her home was home made meat pie and chips². That meal gave birth to an eating habit known as “one chip in a but³.” Peter, my brother, would make his chips go as far as possible. Buttered bread always accompanied meat pie and chips. Peter would fastidiously place one chip in one slice of buttered bread, fold the bread over, eat and repeat! Michael and I would laugh and make fun but Peter never changed that habit.
It helped that I was close to Michael, Auntie Hilda’s youngest child who is a few months older than me, and still close to her only daughter Joan. Keith was her eldest child and I didn’t have much to do with him when I was young; I guess because of the age gap. I saw more of him when I was eighteen plus, old enough to play snooker with him in working men’s clubs and pubs. He used to piss me off. He was good at any sport he turned his hand to. In fact, if he had been a boarder at Hogwarts, J.K. Rowling would have rewritten Quidditch scenes to include Keith as the Quidditch King!
Auntie Hilda was an excellent dancer and still continued to dance after having toes surgically removed and a knee replacement. I certainly did not inherit the dance moves from the gene pool on my mother’s side. She wasn’t the only giggler in the Cornwall sisters. They all were, my Mum and Auntie Nellie were just as adept at giggling. I must have been about eight or nine when I recall them, all three, performing handstands up against the living room wall of our Huyton, Liverpool home. They tucked their skirts inside their knickers and would vie with each other to see who could stay upside down the longest. One by one they would fall in a heap in a fit of giggles.
Hilda – a Lancashire Cotton Mill Lass
She is a product of a typical Lancashire mill town, having worked in cotton mills upon leaving school. She has a stubborn streak, my Auntie Hilda, undoubtedly reinforced during her mill working days. By all accounts, many of the overlookers or supervisors were bastards! Hilda gave as good as she got! That was particularly the case when the “baby” sister, my mother, started work in the same mill at 14 years of age. In the early settling in period, one overlooker was especially harsh on Kathleen, Hilda’s youngest sister (my Mum), and used a torrent of foul language during the course of the admonition. My mother’s face never failed to beam when recounting the story of big sister Hilda springing to her defence.
Auntie Hilda was competitive in most things. She danced like there was no tomorrow and loved her garden, striving to produce the best display in the street. Keith, I’m sure inherited that competitive streak.
None of those Cornwall girls were big drinkers. Like my Mum, they “had their talkers on⁴” after two glasses of sherry. But, they didn’t need alcohol to have fun. The only occasion I can recall that Hilda ever got drunk in my presence was when she visited my home when I lived in Wakefield, West Yorkshire. She was plied with a “brandy shandy”, a home-made concoction of cognac and lemonade with the emphasis on cognac! But, she stayed the course. Her husband, Uncle Arthur, staggered off to bed early, resorting to all fours as he ascended the stairs to the bedroom.
Auntie Hilda was born on February 8, 1916. This is a selection of the UK news in that year –
- King George V was the monarch and Asquith was Prime Minister
- Great Britain was at war with Germany, WW1
- 1 February – Night-long German Zeppelin raid on the West Midlands of England, claiming at least 35 lives; Tipton suffers the heaviest losses, with 14 fatalities
- 4 March – Third war budget raises income tax to five shillings in the pound
- 22 March – Marriage of J. R. R. Tolkien and Edith Bratt at St. Mary Immaculate Roman Catholic Church, Warwick. They will serve as the inspiration for the fictional characters Beren and Lúthien
- 1/2–5/6 April – Nightly German Navy airship raids on England
- 2 April – Munitions factory explosion at Uplees near Faversham, Kent, kills 108 men
- 24 April–30 April – Easter Rising in Ireland: Members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood proclaim an Irish Republic and the Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army occupy the General Post Office and other buildings in Dublin before surrendering to the British Army
- 25 April – German battlecruisers bombard Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth
- 27 April – Gas attack at Hulluch in France: 47th Brigade, 16th (Irish) Division, decimated in one of the most heavily-concentrated gas attacks of the war
- 1 July–18 November – Battle of the Somme: More than one million soldiers die; with 57,470 British Empire casualties on the first day, 19,240 of them killed, the British Army’s bloodiest day; the Accrington Pals battalion is effectively wiped out in the first few minutes. The immediate result is tactically inconclusive
For my many American readers, this is a snippet of US news in 1916 –
- The President was Woodrow Wilson
- February 11
Emma Goldman is arrested for lecturing on birth control.
The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra presents its first concert.
- March 15 – President Woodrow Wilson sends 12,000 United States troops over the U.S.-Mexico border to pursue Pancho Villa; the 13th Cavalry regiment enters Mexican territory.
- March 16 – Mexican Revolution
- The U.S. 7th and 10th Cavalry regiments under John J. Pershing cross the border to join the hunt for Villa.
- United States Army aircraft fly their first mission over foreign soil when Curtiss JN-3s of the 1st Aero Squadron carry out reconnaissance over Mexico.
- April 20
The Escadrille Américaine (“American Squadron”), later to be known as the Lafayette Escadrille (“Lafayette Squadron”), is established as an American volunteer unit of the French Air Force. Their first aerial victory is claimed on May 18 by Kiffin Rockwell.
The Chicago Cubs play their first game at Weeghman Park (modern-day Wrigley Field), defeating the Cincinnati Reds 7–6 in 11 innings.
- July 30 – German agents cause the Black Tom explosion in Jersey City, New Jersey, an act of sabotage destroying an ammunition depot and killing at least seven people
The Accrington Pals battalion mentioned in the 1916 UK news above was formed of men drawn from Accrington and the surrounding area. Hilda Cornwall was born, baptized, confirmed and married in that Lancashire town. She has always lived there.
Accrington has had its share of tragedy but it was a joyous day that saw Hilda Cornwall born there in 1916. A shaft of light amid the dark days of WW1.
Happy 100th Birthday, Auntie Hilda.
Thank you and all my love – Stephen
¹ Tea is dinner in Lancashire, England, usually eaten about 5 – 6 p.m. Dinner is lunch meaning a mid-day meal as in “It’ll have to wait. Can’t you see I’m having me dinner.” Breakfast is … breakfast 🙂
² Chips are fried potatoes, not crisps! Americans call them French Fries. Lancastrians call those french fries thingys from MacDonalds – stringy overcooked tasteless excuses for real chips!
³ A ‘but’ is short for buttie or butty. In the North of England it means a sandwich made from bread slices as in “That bacon buttie looks tasty.”
⁴ A Lancashire expression meaning to become more talkative under the influence of alcohol. Or, if you imbibe too much then it becomes “under the affluence of incohol.” 🙂
A big thank you to Joan and Anne for the photographs.