Sixteen: This is a difficult part of the book to write
The evangelist George Greenwell's second daughter, Polly Hindley - Mary Jane - and her husband both lived on peaceably enough in Australia. It is hard to tell how much contact she had with her sister, Dora. The only recollection that Dora's descendants have of the Hindley family is of Richard Hindley - full name Richard Greenwell Hindley, in fact - Polly's second child, and eldest son. Her husband Richard died in 1907; Polly herself in 1912. Three of their children - Elizabeth, William Ewart and Alice - were married by the time Polly died. Jessie, the youngest, whose wedding photo survives, married after her parents' death. Her husband's German surname - Bollenhagen - was discreetly truncated to Bollen after the First World War, when all of her three children were born.
Lizzie Hindley, in the early 1890s, the first child of Mary Jane (Polly) Greenwell Hindley. She is the elder sister of Arthur Redman Hindley.
The younger Richard never married, and there was some mild family scandal when his will left all his property to his housekeeper - Jessie was upset by this, and there is some suggestion that Richard had done more than merely employ the woman to whom he left his belongings. Of George Greenwell's four daughters, there are no definite photographs of Polly, although one strong candidate is a photograph found in Michigan by Tom Carruthers' grandchildren, a photograph taken in Carlisle, and kept together with the one surviving photograph of Elizabeth (1) . A photograph of Ellen herself turned up in Carlisle. There are three or four of Dora. Identifying photographs is a tricky art, because it is so easy to want the pictures to reveal a known name, a missing person. There are, however, several photographs of Polly's children, and one of the Hindley home.
Left: Elizabeth Greenwell (1840-1872) Right: Ellen Greenwell (1848-1880) These are the two sisters, first and third daughters of George Greenwell, who died in Carlisle, both aged only 31. The picture of Ellen was found in Carlisle , but the picture of Elizabeth turned up in Michigan, in the house of Ellen's great-great-granddaughter, Kathleen English-Barrett.
The next son down from Richard Greenwell Hindley was Arthur Redman Hindley. Their middle names are mementoes, souvenirs of George Greenwell and his first wife Jane. Arthur was still unmarried in 1915, at the age of 37, when, on March 8th, he volunteered for the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). He was a clerk, and bored with his lot, but he had done a year's military service before. Around him, much younger men were signing up; it would at least be a change from his humdrum life in South Australia. He could still remember the Liverpool he had last seen as a tiny child, and perhaps this helped to draw him back to Europe.
But he very soon changed his mind.
In fact, it took only a fortnight before Arthur, eleven stones exactly and 5 feet 9 inches tall, decided that military discipline was double-dull, and that life in B Company at the Base Depot in South Australia wasn't all he had cracked it up to be. On March 22nd, he went AWOL for three days, and forfeited three days' pay. If this was intended to teach him a lesson, it failed. Only three weeks after he had been allocated to the 27th Battalion, he helped himself to another day out, and was hauled over the coals. Just over a fortnight later, he took another overnight fade, and was confined to barracks - and, according to the records, “reverted to the ranks”, although there is no obvious sign of his having ever been anywhere else.
At the end of May 1915, the troopship carrying the first reinforcements for Arthur's battalion sailed; but without Arthur Redman Hindley. He refused point-blank to embark. This time he was fined £5. 10s, and a further four days' pay. A week later, he absconded for a further three days, and lost a further three days' pay, besides being confined to barracks for a week. He was caught now in a trap - he had signed the attestation forms, and he faced the additional problem of being branded a coward. Without any choice, he boarded a second ship in mid-June, one which was due to stop in Western Australia to take on more recruits with fewer second thoughts in their heads. Now on the wrong side of Australia from all of his family except his youngest brother William, who was in Perth, and whom he almost certainly visited, Arthur took an even bigger step. He deserted.
The Australian army bureaucracy, busy trying to keep tabs on its lads, lost track of 2351 Arthur Redman Hindley entirely for three weeks at this point. His head was dizzy with alternatives. Why had he signed up? Why was the army so full of petty rules and petulant sergeants? Probably his brother talked him round, after a fashion, because, having jumped out of the 27th Battalion, Arthur now took a more complicated step. He stowed away on the “Orsova” with the 1st Battalion, where he was eventually discovered. Quite whether the authorities on board realised they had a deserter on board is unclear. It may be that they turned a blind eye: after all, deserter or not, he seemed to have found the compass in his head again. He was officially signed up and attested all over again, there and then, on the boat, and into a different battalion - the 1st.
At some point, heading for the war in the western hemisphere his parents and grandfather had left behind, Arthur changed ship to the “Borda”, heading for Alexandria. The troops sailed through the Suez Canal, and paused as the AIF re-grouped itself in Egypt. But once again, Arthur was not on board when they landed. On October 29th, he was dropped off at the army hospital on Mudros, suffering from jaundice. (Mudros was the base on the island of Lemnos from which the Gallipoli assault and other Mediterranean military and naval actions were co-ordinated. Indeed, the Gallipoli disaster was taking place while Arthur was in hospital, and involved, amongst others, the troops with whom he had originally enlisted). He spent nearly two months in hospital, apart from ten days at the end of November. It was not until December 28th that the very reluctant recruit finally landed at Alexandria, on the troopship “Huntsgreen”, in the company of some of the battle-smashed veterans of the war in Asia Minor.
Arthur had now spent ten months in the army, in a succession of run-ins with authority, being dished out punishments on a regular basis, and getting no closer to action than sharing a hospital tent with the victims of a major farrago. Back with the 1st Battalion at Tel-el-Kebir, he had no intention of paying even lip-service to the NCOs. It was January 1916, the start of a New Year. Granted some leave, he did what he knew best - disobeyed orders. He went missing for a full ten days on 12th January, losing a further ten days' pay, and being ordered to parade for fourteen days. The prospect of drilling in the desert did not appeal. Two days into his sentence, he failed to turn up on the parade ground. By now, his devil could hardly care less. He was confined to barracks for a further week.
On Valentine's Day, 1916, the units were assigned to their respective divisions. Arthur was shifted to the 53rd Battalion, 14th Brigade, Fifth Division. By the end of March, Arthur had clocked up another four days away from the camp, and endured the familiar routine of enforced inspections and parades. It was not until June 19th that he finally boarded the “Royal George” at Alexandria, bound for Marseilles, where he disembarked on June 28th, and began the journey towards the mud of Flanders, into the chaotic stalemate of the Western Front, and specifically into the already intolerable bloodbath of the Somme. The AIF soldiers in this, his third battalion, were inexperienced: they'd never been on a front line like this before. Training was pencilled in for July 14th. With five days to go, Arthur went on a binge, and was plucked out of the marching ranks for drunken behaviour. He wasn't as drunk as he looked, and dodged out of custody for five days, at which point, he blithely and carelessly re-presented himself for service. The five days' pay were duly docked, but this time he was given a full 28 days of parade-ground punishment, suspended until the training was over. Between July 14th and July 19th, 1916, Arthur was part of a crash training programme, before being ordered to advance on German lines at Fromelles. Fromelles: it has a phonetic exactitude which cannot have escaped the men. Nevertheless, they had a cheerily defiant song, to the melody of “The Church's One Foundation”:
We are the Anzac Army,
We cannot shoot, we don't salute,
What bloody good are we.
And when we get to Ber-lin The Kaiser he will say,
“Hoch, Hoch! Mein Gott, what a bloody odd lot
To get six bob a day!” (2)
The idea was to create a diversion from the imminent assaults further south (including a battle at Pozières, which is where Arthur's brother Richard wrongly thought his brother had wound up - it was where his original battalion had gone). A small hill called “the Sugar Loaf” was chosen for capture. It lay about three kilometres to the north of Fromelles itself. After more than sixteen months, 2351 Private Hindley was going to see some action, after all. The German artillery hit the Australian lines with devastating effect even before the assault began, and the gunners watched in the clear, bright sunlight as the men filed along the communication trenches. As a result, the men had to stand on a slurry of corpses as they steadied themselves for the attack, which finally took place at six in the evening. As one of the 14th Brigade, Arthur was one of a wave of men instructed to move forwards on the left flank. They moved through the German lines with comparative ease, and even reached the open countryside, the green fields beyond. Before dawn, however, the shell-dazed companies of the 14th had been counter-attacked and cut off. They had to fight their own way back through the German lines.
Those who managed, like the badly-wounded Arthur Hindley, his gut ripped open by a bullet, to reach the Australian positions, had to struggle across a no-man's-land carpeted with the corpses of the 15th Brigade, who had been sent to attack some German trenches. This would have been a half-reasonable instruction, had the trenches existed. But they weren't where the maps said they were. Instead, the men were stranded in no-man's land, while the German soldiers came out of their trenches and sent down shocking volleys of machine-gun bullets. Most of the Australian officers were killed; those who somehow survived were completely unable to call for the support of artillery - because they literally did not know where they were. After ten hours, with dawn approaching, the AIF soldiers were ordered back. Out in the grey, greasy pits and craters lay hundreds of men yelping and screaming in pain. Three hundred men were somehow tugged back to the trenches after a defiant Australian major called Murdoch walked across to the German front line with a hastily improvised Red Cross flag. Many of the other casualties were still seen writhing in the mud three days later. (There is a statue there now, called “Cobbers”, in honour of the repeated calls, “Don't forget me, cobber”, which hung on the foul breeze in the aftermath of the battle.)
It was his first day of active service. The next day he was transferred by ambulance to a casualty clearing station, and then by ambulance train to another one (a Canadian one). An official had him dictate a will (in which he left his possessions to William, rather than to Richard, who had been in receipt of his pay). He hung on for a further five days, clinging deliriously to life. But he never made it through. George Greenwell's treasured grandson was a victim of a nightmare well beyond George's fervid imagination. He died on July 25th, 1916, after a brief half-life in a limbo, reduced to a statistic, buried in a communal grave at Bailleul, one of the 1,708 Australians killed as a result of that one day's encounter, in the worst Australian military horror on record. It was exactly a year and a day since he had enlisted. His belongings went predictably missing in the chaos, although the army bureaucracy ground on until January 17th 1923, when his brother Richard received, on Arthur's behalf, a gift from the government. It was a Victory Medal. One peculiar quirk of the battle of Fromelles (which the British army did not rate as a battle, but as “an attack”) was that, in the German front line, firing on the hapless Australians, was one soldier the world would hear more from. It was Adolf Hitler.
At the same time as Arthur Hindley died, two of his cousins were heading for the Western Front, cousins of whom he would have been completely unaware (as they would have been of each other). In England, Geoffrey Greenwell, Tom Greenwell's grandson, had signed up with the Royal Fusiliers. And in Canada, Elizabeth Collin's grandson James - a sign painter by trade, the son of Gilbert Tickle Collin - had also signed the papers for a trip to the trenches (3). For Geoffrey, recalling the events over forty years later, the main memory was of the ear-splitting noise as they approached La Bassée. His division - the 29th - was marching 25 miles a day with a 60 lb. weight on his back. There was no rest. He spent “the nights patrolling in no man's land, or else burying dead bodies after removing their identity discs”.
Eventually Geoffrey was singled out as the platoon scout, because he had demonstrated particular marksmanship with a rifle whilst training at the rifle ranges above Dover. The end of the war was practically in sight when Geoffrey was involved in a British advance on Outterstteene Ridge, near Armentières. This time he was on the wrong end of the sights. A bullet smashed his right shoulder and bicep, and bone was clearly visible beneath the red divisional patch on his sleeve. It was August 1918. The way back was across a landscape so featureless that route-finding really required a compass. Not that there was one. The “Casualty Station” was the cellar where a farmhouse had once stood. In a blur, he saw a chaplain, drank some rum, felt the jab of tetanus injection, and knew that he was being loaded into an ambulance. He woke up in a hospital in Arques, intended for Scots soldiers. He was penniless, and in danger of slipping into a coma. The medicine he was given was champagne. It did nothing for his health, but he traded it for Red Hussar cigarettes with a Cameron Highlander in the next bed. He did not arrive home for several weeks; the armistice was declared almost the day he arrived back in Lancashire.
Geoffrey Greenwell of the Manchester Fusiliers, 1917
Arthur Hindley as a young man - about 1900
He was to have operations on his shattered arm for the next nine months, before being discharged in July 1919. The army's thanks extended to handing out a pound when (as he did) he handed in his greatcoat at a railway station, and to the offer of £2.10s. 0d, or a civilian suit. Geoffrey took the money, and went to visit his relatives, including his grandfather in Falmouth.
James Collin had arrived in France a little earlier, probably in 1916, when he was nineteen years old. He kept a diary for the last year of the war (in which he was a wireless operator). The entries begin on December 16th 1917 with a laconic remark:
Went to Aire. Got pinched because we were late. Spent night in jail on floor.
The young James is unimpressed. Over the next few days (“Trial tomorrow.” “Still awaiting trial”. “Case dismissed with a bawling out”.), he establishes a trademark, laconic style. The day after his release, he watches the signallers beat the officers 3-2 in a baseball match, before settling down in the freezing weather for six-hour stints on the phone. A sergeant, presumably making up for the court's failure to punish his unpunctuality, makes sure he is not at Headquarters (“Dirty work,” he comments).
On New Year's Day, 1918, it is snowing. Four raids by German soldiers dressed in white fail to impress him. He uses up the time between raids reading books, reading and writing letters, playing chess, studying French, and starting to teaching himself Esperanto. Whilst idly wondering if “Fritzy” has a bead on him, he is reading a famously Catholic novel by John Oliver Hobbes (the pen-name of Patricia Craigie), The School For Saints . “Very deep,” remarks James, who also observes that the Bible would seem to have predicted a quick end to the war. But his mind is also wandering elsewhere, although he does casually mention the death of a captain, which he attributes to the man having carelessly drunk too much rum. This is after all the man whom Alice Brown, his cousin, writing in the 1950s, remembered as irresponsible. Fond of girls (4). “Fond” is an understatement. Sitting in the frozen mud on the front, James devotes much mental energy to girlfriends, of whom Alice Brown is certainly one. There are also Irene, Eva, Elsie, Hermione, Hannah, Mabel, Audrey, Holly and Agnes, not to mention a few unnamed others.
Alice certainly makes the running. He has a letter from her on January 5th and another soon afterwards, although he misses it at first when it slips under his bed. She sends a letter and a photo which arrive on January 26 (“Photo very good but flatters her somewhat,” remarks James, who is never afraid to be ungallant). In mid-February, James (who stayed with his cousins in Carlisle on his leaves), goes back to England, although he pauses in London for some shows (“Very good and scenery extraordinary. Got off with two nice young ladies”).
Both Alice and James had been raised in the Church of Christ (James ticks “Baptist” on the attestation papers, which is the closest option), in which their grandfather George Collin and great-grandfather George Greenwell had been such key players. For James, a theatre-going, hard-smoking, sweet-eating. happy-drinking, romantic ironist, Carlisle must have presented one or two challenges. He was on his best behaviour, especially with his aunt, Jane Redman Brown (“Aunt Jeannie”). He joins in at the chapel with enthusiasm, reserving his fuller observations for his diary, in which he at one point reveals that he thinks they're narrow-minded. Nevertheless, and to the delight of the local congregation, he is immersed only three days after arriving in Carlisle on his 1918 leave. There is a feeling in his diary that he is above all inquisitive, that the adult baptism is an event he took part in out of a kind of intellectual interest. In later life, he was no church-goer (as his hymn-singing and feisty father Gilbert continued to be). The entries from February 23rd to February 25th 1918 amusingly show the misconception that some of the Carlisle girls have of him:
Got up at 8:30 am as it is market day. Alice and I went to market. Met Auntie Ethel (David's Wife) (5) and her sister. Very gay girls and a bit fresh. Don't know how on earth he married that sort of girl. Had dinner and some more chocs. Went to social. Helped to carry piano. Nice evening. Cigarettes on table and of course I smoked, shocking several people. Helped to sweep chapel and carry picnic back. Met numerous young ladies and had one for tea. I was told I was very shy. They don't know me very well. Bed at 12 mid. Had photo taken.
Up at 10 am. I am wearing long pants for chapel. I would like to be immersed so have decided by after service. I decided for the best and to be immersed this evening. Was introduced to about 7 or 8 Browns and don't know one from the other. Also met 2 or 3 cousins. Had dinner and stayed in all afternoon. Had tea. Chapel again and was immersed. Very pathetic meeting. Several were in tears. Welcomed as a member.
Alice at work again. Not well and blaming me for buying her too many chocolates. Got up at 11 am and had breakfast and dinner at 12:30. Bought a Walterham Silver Watch, English Lever for Pounds 3.10.0. It is good serviceable watch so worth the money. Spent afternoon down town. Had tea took Nora and Arthur (6) to pictures and at 8 pm met Alice when she quit work and went to see Edith and stayed to supper. Got home at 12. On way home Alice asked me a few questions about why I didn't want to see her join the WAAC and although rather embarrassing I told her few facts.
After a quick trip to Edinburgh to visit his cousin Millie, who was over the border at college, the young Lothario is back with Alice, although she must have been unimpressed by his wandering eye - indeed, she catches him out chatting up two girls while he is waiting for her on March 2nd (she also doesn't realise that he takes three extra days leave, with the same canny what-the-hell attitude he has to everything in life - his catchphrase is “we should worry”):
On March 3rd, he takes his first communion, and then
Walked down town met Alice after school 3:30 and went to tea with the Carruthers (senior) (7) had tea and went to chapel and said goodbye all round. Should leave by tonight's train but we should worry I guess. Went to bed at 12. Letter from Millie and Hannah.
4 March 1918
Got up at 9 and had breakfast. Walked downtown and met Mrs Nixon. Went down to her little room in the shop and spent my morning talking about love and life in general. Home for dinner and got a talking to for spending morning with Mrs Nixon as she is a bit flighty. Went down to town to show and met Alice. Home for tea and Lilian D. and her cousin there. Won the ping-pong championship against Alice. Bed at 11:30. One day over due.
5 March 1918
Got up at 11:30 had breakfast and then dinner at 12:30. Went to Auntie Annie's to say goodbye.......Went home with Alice and Doris. Doris proposed to me and of course being a 4 th cousin I could not accept, worse luck. Had supper. Second day overdue . Catch train at 1:25 getting me in London at 8:25. Train left Carlisle 2 am getting me in London at 8:25. Said goodbye Jeannie and Alice seeing me off. Had nice company at dawn. No sleep and a lady insisted on buying me breakfast.
By now, he is back on the way to France, pausing only to order a brooch for Alice, and to pick up two girls for a show. There is enough confusion at Boulogne for him to confide to his diary that he is “safe from getting caught now.” The strictures of his aunt, the ripples of shock his smoking causes, the possibility of more bother with the army authorities - they wash past him. He is the happiest bunny in the family.
During James' last eight months of the war, he keeps his diary going, although the stretch from August to October, his remarks are repetitive and brief. The war only exists as a kind of distraction: or rather, the diary is a kind of distraction from the war. “Fritzy” causes a few scares, but time is what James is killing. March 23/24 are good examples:
Very quiet but an awful war on somewhere but no news except rumours of Fritzy having advanced umpteen miles, and Fritz shelled Paris, from a point 70 miles away....went to Church of England service. Fritz...shelled Paris again.
Spent afternoon at aerodrome. Football match cancelled.
His diary is more interested in girls, girls, girls - and, for a while, in the Bible. On March 12, after writing to Alice, he reads the first six chapters of Genesis, and a week later he is reaching the end of Exodus. Alice sends him a little lecture on “reforming” at the end of March. He puts up, sometimes sardonically, with the army drill (“have to have our kits exactly so and so or of course we will never win the war”). Sometimes the war peeps out from behind the diarist: “We fought a rearguard action and as we were wiped out we came home early and had some tea.” He makes the trenches sound domestic. By summer he is a lance-corporal, and also spending an inordinate amount of time on parade, or doing shooting and bayonet practice. He gets to go back to Carlisle in August, where he resumes active service with his girlfriends (not that he hasn't been flirting in France with the local girls). On August 7th, he stays with his uncle David (“Very eventful night, and Holly in my bed to start with.” The scamp!)
And then the diary subsides. September is a more or less simple routine. Drill by day, a girl at night. He sees nothing more of the front line, and is patently bored by the endless round of drilling on the South Coast. Like Ethel Hallewell in Sunderland, his father's cousin, he records the news of the armistice:
11 November 1918. Armistice signed. Went out and played the silly ass in town. Cake walking on main street at 11 pm.
Everyone went nuts.
Five days later, he shuts the diary for good, but with a prediction. “Stay in tonight. Course ended.
Going back to Canada. “I don't think.””
But he was back home within months. Eighty years later, I was in touch with his cousin Maisie, one of the family with which he'd stayed. (This is one of the treats of moving back through a family - the sudden memories and connections that it sparks). She'd been ten and eleven when he'd come to their house. Maisie, then 95, remembered him well, as did his second cousin Dorothy, then 96. They'd called him “Little Jim”.
“Little Jim ” - James Brown Collin - is finally hitched in April 1920. Gilbert Tickle Collin is at the left, standing.
Other cousins were also involved in the war. My grandfather, after a stint as an artillery officer, became one of the first members of the Royal Flying Corps, and whilst Arthur Hindley and Geoffrey Greenwell stood in line in the trenches, and James Collin sent and received radio signals, he flew risky trips across the lines in reconnaissance planes, or trained binoculars on the enemy lines from baskets slung precariously below observation balloons. This was the occupation of a sitting duck. On one occasion, finding his balloon on fire, he turned to ask his superior officer whether or not to test one of the highly unreliable parachutes. His superior had already departed.
Robert Greenwell Knight - Bert - came back from Canada, but the stories he told Maud Kitts, Laura Greenwell, Ethel Hallewell and her daughters, Ethel Pottinger (her sister-in-law May, his other cousin, being in China) and my great-great-grandfather Tom - beside whom he is pictured - were not about the Western Front. He had been stationed in the Middle East, in Palestine, the Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey. He had been put in charge of some Turkish prisoners, prisoners he grew to like because they were eager to discuss ideas. One of them rewarded him with a pocket watch. Like my grandfather, he had been in the artillery - the place to be, said Bert, because you could keep an extra supply of socks and underwear in the crates of shells, although the repeated firing of the guns damaged his left eardrum for good. He had one narrow escape. He and several others managed to get so severely sunburned in Egypt, after manfully wearing shorts, that they were unable to move for three or four days. Fortunately, the Germans chose not to attack. His visits to the North-East - and possibly to Falmouth - were well-received and well-remembered. As with Little Jim Collin, there was a sudden, almost final round of family reunions.
The rose, a floribunda rose, cluster-flowered, is a medium pink, with salmon-pink blooms, and eighteen petals, growing to a height of up to two feet. Its diameter is, on average, three inches, with a flat, large semi-double bloom. It is a hybrid created by Harkness from a Jove seed, with City of Leeds pollen. It was introduced in 1979. Its scent is very delicate indeed. And its name is “Mr. E.E. Greenwell” - Edward Evelyn Greenwell, the child whose existence my aunt did not, could not accept was possible. It was created as a mark of respect for Evelyn, to commemorate his death just over a year earlier. When the Young Farmers of North Yorkshire set up their pavilion at the annual county fair, they planted the roses all around it.
So what had happened to Evelyn, the search for whom had kick-started my rummage through the attics and electronic files and memories of so many people? Who was he? And where had he gone? I had seen the photo of him at Mollie's in Lincolnshire, a lost-looking boy of about 15 - it was possible to date the picture, because of the presence in a parallel picture of Evelyn's cousin, Bert Knight - the son of my great-great-grandfather's youngest sister, Emily. Bert had come over from Canada in 1916, and he was in uniform. It took me several years to realise that the picture was almost certainly taken in Sunderland - I had assumed originally that the snap was in Falmouth, where my great-great-grandfather retired. But I'd seen the house in Falmouth (or at least, its twin), and this wasn't it.
When Evelyn's mother Jennie died, in 1910, he was only nine, and his father was nearly seventy. It seems likely that at this point, Evelyn would have been sent to a boarding school, but of this I cannot be sure. One alternative is that he was looked after by his mother's unmarried sister, Jessie, and funded by his father. At all events, Thomas George Greenwell did not leave Sunderland, did not allow himself to be hounded out. He moved about on business much as he had done before, sharing an office with Harold, his third son. It is possible that Harold may have been the one to look after Evelyn, and certainly there are many photos of Evelyn with Harold and his son Alan - Alan being older than Evelyn by four years, although Evelyn was technically Alan's uncle. But the boarding-school seems the most likely solution, quite possibly a boarding-school in or near Falmouth, where his father owned his “Sea View”.
Effectively, Evelyn vanishes from view until 1916 and the photograph. This was a significant year for him, and it seems probable to me that his schooling stopped at this point. My great-great-grandfather decided in that year that it was time to pull the plug on ship-owning, and on marine insurance, and on the offices in Frederick Street he shared with Harold. Harold had in any case managed to demonstrate that he was less than competent in the insurance trade, having botched the insurance of a ship that subsequently sank, and relieving his father's till of a great deal of money as a result. He had also hit the bottle in a serious way. You could see that from the photographs. In twenty years, he had aged forty. Now the old man insisted Harold take up farming. And it suddenly became obvious to me what had happened to Evelyn. He had been placed with his half-brother Harold, with the object of Evelyn becoming a farmer, too. This must have come from Evelyn in some way; it must have been a desire he had expressed. How else to account for Harold's distaste for the change?
I had found the names of Evelyn's wife's nephews and nieces in her will, and contacted them. The rush of information (and blood) to my head meant that I did not meet any of them for eight years, but, when we did meet, the jigsaw started to compose itself slowly. Leila, one of the nieces, presented me to Pamela, the other. “Look at him,” she said. “There is something of Evelyn about him.” They had known Evelyn well - and Harold's son, Alan, too. Evelyn had vaguely referred to having moved to North Yorkshire with “an uncle”. The uncle was his brother, Harold. They had moved to a village called Ingleby Barwick on the Yorkshire/Durham border. Presumably my great-great-grandfather hoped that Harold would act as his surrogate, that Harold would repay the support he had been given, by seeing Evelyn into the world. The plan went wrong. Harold, a morose-looking man, died in 1920, of cirrhosis of the liver.
I had never spotted the obvious about the original will I'd seen in Somerset House. It had been written in 1920, and it didn't mention Harold. It was obviously a new will designed to take account of Evelyn's new predicament, the loss of a second protector. Probably my great-grandfather, Willie, was the one charged with sorting matters out. The special sum set aside for the purchase of a farm for Evelyn (the rough location is even specified in the will) would have been administered from Sunderland, fifty or sixty miles to the north. By the mid-1920s, Evelyn was established as the owner of Goskins, a farm near Catterick (where there was a well-known army base). Now Evelyn was out in the world. His father had duly succumbed to a heart attack in Falmouth, as I had discovered. Evelyn was part of a new community, close enough to its heart to have played in local cricket teams. He shut the book on his childhood, and if he ever had a picture of his mother, it was not on display.
He married Gladys Harrison in the late 1920s. She was proper, without being prim. They settled happily into the farming world, living with private gusto in each other's company, leaving almost all the other Greenwells behind. When my father was born in 1922, the fourth of Thomas George Greenwell's great-grandchildren, although one whom he was never to see, it was almost as if Evelyn had never existed. And yet, in the North Riding of Yorkshire, Evelyn was a pillar of the community. He was like his father, too - dapper, immaculately dressed. “I don't suppose he ever ate at a farm table,” remarked his niece. The house at Goskins was spick and orderly, and all it lacked was children - Evelyn and Gladys wanted children, but they could not have them. They lavished attention therefore on their nephews and nieces, on the landgirls who came to work there in the war. The farm grew barley - flax in wartime - and there were a couple of cows, and two or three regular farmhands.
Evelyn, who had known such loss in his childhood, gave back to the community everything he knew about farming. He started young farmer's groups, and encouraged them, passing on all the skill and information he has acquired. He was good with the young men, egging them on. A cigarette perpetually in his mouth, he had a reputation for good humour and probity. He was a man of habit. A football match at Middlesborough on New Year's Day. A trip out to the market. In the late 1930s, he could not have known that my father was at a boarding school only a few miles away, nor again in the 1960s that I was there (this was where the library duties caused me so much trouble). Did my aunt or my father notice in the 1970s that a Greenwell had been awarded the M.B.E. for all the unstinting work he had put into encouraging young farmers? Did they recognise the name of the recipient, Edward Evelyn? It seems that they didn't. Evelyn and Gladys retired in the 1970s, to a bungalow in Brompton-on-Swale, contented in each other. His nieces said that he would have liked to have met me. I should have liked to have met him. But the Greenwell family had undergone the diaspora so characteristic of so many families. There was nothing to commemorate even Evelyn's father, let alone Evelyn, apart from my grandfather's testy notes, the name “Evelyn” hidden on a family tree, and the stern refusal of my grandfather's sister Nancy to discuss the matter at the dinner-table.
Edward Evelyn Greenwell (1901-1977)
“Mr. E.E.Greenwell”, the rose created in Evelyn's memory.
But there was the rose. There was the rose.
The main gates in 1963.
When my father knew that he was dying - when my mother knew, too, although he tried to maintain the fiction that she didn't - he asked her to drive him into the centre of Sunderland so that he could have a haircut. It was the same establishment as ever - John's of John Street, with its immovable pictures of quiffs from the fifties and early sixties. It was 1987. They were driving along the same streets where my great-great-grandfather had had his offices at the end of the nineteenth century and the start of the twentieth. As the car approached, my father saw to his dismay that there was someone just going in whom he knew - an acquaintance who would ask solicitous questions, to whom he would have to explain himself, his death, to whom he did not wish for an instant to talk. He sucked his teeth.
“Drive on,” he said to my mother. “Drive down to the yard.”
There had been no ship-building, let alone ship-repairing in Sunderland for five years by then. It was much more than a decade since he had been there, since the sequence of events which had seen the shipyard first sold to an imploding conglomerate, and then nationalised, and finally closed over altogether. My mother drove him down to the South Dock, down across the aluminium bridge, past the curious clock-tower. It was almost hard to find the way. But the gates were still there. You could still read the words GREENWELL DRY DOCKS LIMITED over the entrance. Everywhere else was slowly going to the dogs.
In the late spring of 2002, my mother and I went down for one more look. Barbed wire surrounded the area. The security man on the gate was keen to let us through - his father had worked at Greenwell's. “I wish it was still there,” he said. As we drove down to the quay, we could see a line of ruined buildings, and this time, with the gates gone, it was harder still to orientate ourselves. I walked along the South Quay. It was just over a century since my great-grandfather had founded his ship repair yard, and fifty years since the grand opening of the colossal dry dock. Inside the buildings - those still standing - were the ruined girders, hooks and pulleys of the shipping businesses which had thrived there. The floors were spread with vague debris - dead pots of paint, broken crates, smashed glass and scrap metal. Outside in the sunlight, under a clear blue sky, there were shapeless tumuli of brick and half-brick, mounds of dark brown earth in which hundreds of fragments of metal were mixed, and from which bits of boiler and pipe and corrugated iron protruded. A mis-shapen ladder disappeared into thin air, surrounded by coils of twisted wire, and rusting, brown-stained pieces of tank.
One man was painting the inside of a small, surviving building, optimistically signed as a Maritime Heritage Centre. It had a long way to go to achieve its aim. He had himself worked at Greenwell's in its final days, and pointed us towards the site, which was mainly occupied by a clean, anonymous, featureless metal pre-fab, and a neatly grey-bricked service road. The dry docks had been filled in and levelled. They looked like a dead field. Hunks of wood and odd pieces of canvas occupied one corner. Near one tatty building - being used by the education department as some sort of store - there was a forgotten slipway, red paint peeling and flaking from its concrete walls. At the far edge of the slipway were some ancient railings, and what looked like wrought iron letters along their top. I scrambled through some makeshift sheds, and turned a corner. There it was: one surviving image of the yard, the remains of its name, half-hidden by the remains of a later, bleached wooden sign. Where the T in T.W. should have been, a bored, outsize gull sat, staring dispassionately away from the river mouth, where there were some new buildings occupied by the university. It did not even turn its head towards me.
Two images from 2002, on waste land behind where the dry docks were. The original wrought iron sign TW Greenwell & Co Ltd has been covered up during the amalgamations of the 1960s with a wooden sign reading Greenwell Dry Docks Limited. Both have rusted or rotted away.
And so the whole family was now an explosion of sparks and splinters, frags and jags and whistles in the dark: a chaos of voices. I could not and cannot tell whether I am the ventriloquist or the dummy in this. To know a name is nothing. To know a date is tidy. To see a photograph starts the jangling of the imagination. To read letters, poems, even books, is to gaze, apparently, into the synapses, into the inner person. To meet is to animate someone who never knew you, never expected to know you, and, for the most part, never will.
What started this search? Why has the harmless pastime of genealogy become a national obsession, sufficiently great to crash the Public Record Office's server when it tried rather witlessly to put the 1901 census on-line, expecting just a few million hits, and receiving instead something like fifty million of them? It feels like a collective act of worship, but perhaps it also represents loss. Over the last two hundred years, we have become steadily more mobile, more willing to move on and away. We place our awkward elders in homes, where they stare, pink-eyed, into the cheap wallpaper of television, or shift their feet on the silent communal carpets. We do not marry; or we marry and divorce. The social history of a family tree, if you follow them forward, is a portrait of separation and divorce. About a third of the marriages in my generation seem to have failed (in one neat case, after marrying a bride whose surname was Marriage). We construct defensive screens around our houses. We remove ourselves from telephone directories; we instal answering-machines, and listen to the messages arriving in them, silently. A census has to be sold to us: it makes us paranoid about central government. The phrase “identity card” causes headlines and scares. Our neighbours are known only to postmen and (where they persist) milkmen. We fail to vote. We fail to register to vote, in the hope that it will baffle a tax system which is already baffled. In about a hundred years, it may be much harder to locate our ancestors than we expect.
Then we all log on to internet sites that tell us with agreeable banality what has become to people we last saw when they were knee-high and skedaddling round a playground. We rummage through indexes and certificates and concoct connections with long-dead royals or lords and ladies of vanished manors. For a small fee, we can play private detectives, and track down houses and their occupants, or look at photographs taken from the air of anywhere in the country.
But no big deal. The paradox of unstitching our lives, and then attempting to sew them up again in a different way is just how we are. It is an irony that needs no explanation or moral commentary. The independence of individuals within families has changed what we mean by family in as many ways for the better as it has for the worse. What my own idle adventure in genealogy has done is to blow away a few designer cobwebs that a variety of relatives have spun, either to protect the innocent, or to convince themselves of their status. Most of the threads would have broken, have broken. The religious convictions of George Greenwell and Mary Wilson, so definite and determined, have persisted in some cases, and not in others. As the records show, there are Anglicans, atheists, Catholics, Buddhists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons and Methodists descended from the Baptist couple who married in Sunderland in 1811. And there are still some baptised into the Church of Christ.
Their descendants live in Canada, New Zealand, Italy, the USA (Michigan, Illinois, California), South Africa, Australia, China; in Ireland, north and south; in Kent, Dorset, Surrey, Sussex, Hampshire, Devon, Somerset, Gloucestershire, Berkshire, Herefordshire, London, Birmingham, Manchester, Yorkshire, Staffordshire, Cumbria, Lancashire, Suffolk, Essex, Nottinghamshire, Huntingdonshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Warwickshire, Lincolnshire, Northumberland - and, of course, in the county of Durham and its relatively recent descendant, Tyne and Wear. Some live only streets away from the houses occupied by George and Mary and their children in Sunderland itself. Quite why there is no-one at present in Wales or Scotland, or indeed Cornwall, doesn't particularly suggest an anti-Celtic instinct (there are those who have lived in all three at one time or another). As I write, there are exactly one hundred living great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren descended from the original couple, and eight in the generation after that. In all, there are 256 living descendants, including eight who are merely great-great-grandchildren. The eldest is 97; the youngest has just been born. The slew of Georges, the cascade of Mabels, the riot of Janes, the knots of Thomases have been slowly but steadily replaced by a crop that includes Kihana (and indeed Keanu, who is a girl), Neo, Chumani, Dannika, Cody, Murphy, Rohan, Nikita, Tara, Marissa, Curtis, Brooke and Bethany. There are very few still carrying the nineteenth century surnames as forenames, although there is one under-ten with the middle name Collin. Three people still possess the middle name Greenwell, the youngest of whom is in his twenties. There are only ten who still use Greenwell as a surname.
Inland from Bamburgh, where our family went on holiday in the 1960s, where the owl and the lighthouse were up for grabs, there is a tiny village called Chillingham, known principally for its nearby cattle, which have a pure pedigree; and for an allegedly haunted castle. This is north by about ten miles from Bedlington, where George Greenwell was the pastor in the late 1830s, and where he composed his attack on infant baptism. Chillingham possesses a tiny Norman church, the Church of St. Peter, into which about one hundred people could cram, and which has pews with doors. Five people would fill each of these enclosed pews.
The three of us were waiting there, like lemons, as my father would have said. Or like tins of milk. The church is intimate, personal. The walls seem close, thick, comforting. It had been raining when we arrived, and it looked, in a rather melancholy way, as if it would continue to rain for some time. On the way in, I had been introduced to cousins of my father whom I had never met, or last met when I was obnoxiously five: cousins on my grandmother's side, not my grandfather's. It was my aunt's funeral - my father's sister, Pamela - the end of my father's generation of Greenwells. Another wave of family crashing over the rocks into what we like to term eternity. It was a short, quiet and private service, with a burial to follow in the small churchyard behind the church. There were perhaps thirty people present. A full-scale memorial service was scheduled for the afternoon, by which time I would already be obliged to be on my way back to the south-west by train.
My hymn-singing skills were not tested to their limit. One of the choices was John Bunyan's “He who would true valour see.....”, which is one of the few hymns I remember with some affection from nine school years of morning and evening chapel. The three of us watched, formal, composed, curious, as people are at funerals, to identify the living, to take in the surroundings, to read the inscriptions, to fix the moment.
Three. My mother, my brother, and me. It occurred to me that we had almost never - perhaps actually never - been alone together like this. You would have expected my sister to have come along. You would have expected Clare to be there. To have exchanged words with her as the sun made its brief appearance during the solemn commendation of the body to the earth in its fresh oak coffin, to gaze at the headstone, to stand in honest bewilderment at the open ground. So much of a funeral makes a human being a voyeur. It was strange for her not to have completed our family quartet.
Clare's pet party trick? To ring up and say “Guess what?” Then the impish, slightly dirty chuckle, the register of her voice falling. When she rings you, you imagine her on the end of the line: long, straight ginger hair, one hand perched on her left hip, the right hand across her waist to meet the other (my brother does a good imitation). As skinny as they come, and then some. At the age of ten, she is a butterball, plump. At the age of fourteen, she is suddenly thin, and her hair is parted in the centre. So thin, you can place your hand around her wrist. Anorexic in everything but the medicals she passes each time she starts a new teaching job - weighing in at about six stone, when five feet, four inches tall.
“Guess what?” she asks.
I try something absurd, and miss the target entirely.
“I've got to lose my eye.”
“I've got to lose my eye.”
For some time, her vision had become slightly blurred in one eye. Her husband, Gunnar, whom - typical of my sister, this - she had met in Lanzarote, whilst she was on holiday from working in Italy, and he was on holiday from his native Iceland, and with whom she had nonetheless managed to stay in touch - had seen in her eye some kind of visible obstruction, almost like a slug lying behind it. It was a tumour. Alive, active, malignant, choose whichever word you want. When the doctor told Clare that she would have to surrender an eye to the cause, Gunnar fainted clean away.
1997. I have to ask Clare which is the missing eye, so good is the job that the surgeon has done. The age of glass eyes has gone. Instead, sewn into the muscle, there is a plastic sphere, which moves a little. There is a gizmo like a contact lens that you learn to insert. With a typical strength of will (very like my father), Clare manages this without difficulty. By a supreme irony, she has re-trained and become a teacher of visually-impaired children in two local primary schools. She is a workaholic and a nibbler of lettuce leaves and a completer of crosswords and jigsaws. Seeing her and talking to her makes me realise how comparatively separate our lives have become. It comes down to phone-calls and occasional reunions. She lives her own life, and I don't know what's in it. What she does manage is to glue the rest of us together: brother, sister, mother. She has enough strop in her to make sure of that. But where did thirty years go? It is the common curse of the time. That, at any rate, is the stereotype. But the Greenwells, like many families, have been separating and vanishing for two hundred years or more. It is not as unusual as I am tempted to think.
“Guess what?” she asks.
It's a year later. I feel like squeezing the phone's receiver until it snaps. That her voice sounds chirpy is just the way she is. I know that she has opted for an experimental course of drug therapy, in which you may be taking a placebo or taking the heavy duty interferon they are testing. But a random test requires that some of the applicants be rejected. The computer has already randomised her out into a world of six-monthly checks. She is happy with that. So, guess what .
“I give up,” I say, eventually.
She laughs. “I'm pregnant!” she announces. This is the sister who has sounded off so many times about the advantages of being an aunt, to whom children are the day job, not the be-all of the rest of the week. So the family tree will have to budge up for another littl'un, and my mother is now a grandparent for the seventh time, a feat achieved only once before, so far, in that generation of George and Mary Greenwell's descendants. She also stands her ground on her new son's surname. He gets to be a Greenwell, not a Gunnarsson. She calls him Anthony, after my father. My sister turns into a raging mother. It is plain that she is planning for Anthony to win major scholastic prizes by the age of two, to be able to speak Parsee by three. Bloody typical of her. Lose an eye, gain a child. Everything neatly unplanned, unlike her photograph collection, which is boxed, indexed, shelved and accessible.
“Guess what?” she asks.
It's ten months into a new century. Here she is, gossipy again, on the line, sister calling brother. I play for time, and then bat the question back again.
The cancer's back. It's in her liver this time. It's metastasised. Radiotherapy, chemotherapy, the specialist tells her it's one in three, like her. So she's going to be one of the three. She's not cut out for screaming abdabs, just wants to get on and get it out of the way. People live all the time, people die all the time. It's there on the computerised family tree above my head. Lines and boxes and dates and names. Her full name is Jane Clare Greenwell - she is a redundant Jane, the name recurring sporadically through the family tree for two centuries and more.
At Christmas, she comes to our house, and we play board games for the first time in three decades. “I like playing games with you,” she says, sitting at the kitchen table. We have been talking Tijuana, the capital of alternative medicine, and are now conversant with the arguments for and against laetrile, a substance derived from shark. She's spoken to a survivor of the Contreras clinic there - one of the many clinics that operate just outside American territory. Actually, I'm more conversant with the laetrile arguments than she is. There is a website that attacks its use with such virulence that I keep the evidence to myself. The e-mail messages bounce between us with increasing frequency. We natter about the marriages on the beach near Bamburgh, about a childhood spent switching Russ Conway records to 78 r.p.m. and chasing each other round the sofa.
She has been keeping a private diary. It is almost laconic:
It was a terrible shock to hear that my eye melanoma had returned to my liver. Somehow I never really imagined what it would be like to relapse. Very scary. Suddenly the next world seems to be quite close.... or it could be. Thoughts flash through your mind about the act of dying and even more, about what you will leave behind.
She starts a separate message at the back of the notebook she is using. “This is a difficult part of the book to write,” she puts, “but I feel I must do it as I can't help thinking about all the possibilities that the future holds.” She lists records she wants played at a champagne wake. They include Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This), I'll Try Anything, and Do You Know The Way To San José . She misses the irony that this is on the way to Tijuana.
I see her in Bart's. She's lost a lot of weight, and she suddenly resembles my grandmother, as in beauty, rather than age. I go to see her at home for a couple of days - it's Anthony's third birthday, but the noise and mayhem of the party are more than she can stomach. I purée some pineapple, so that she can drink something, but it won't stay down. She has a satellite TV channel tuned permanently to black-and-white films, or fillums , as they pronounce it in Sunderland. Plenty of morphine. She's as skinny as bamboo. Kiss her goodbye carefully. My brother is due the following week, and then I'll be back.
It's obvious she needs special assistance with the feeding, so she moves for a short stay in a local hospice. I'm busy with all the barmy bureaucracy of work. A student fails to show for an appointment to discuss her non-attendance, so I ring Clare at the hospice. Her voice is cracked and parched. She says “I know my voice sounds a bit funny, but my throat's very dry,” and I say “It's the drugs”. I ask her if she is able to drink. “What, alcohol?” she replies. (Not a joke, I think, more an expression of incredulity that I might be asking daft questions.) “No, water,” I say. Then I tell her I am coming to see her the next day. She says I should discuss this with Gunnar and David. “What are you going to try to make me drink this time?” she says. And then: “I am just lying here getting better.” She shifts into some morphine-befuddled banter.
It's the end of the conversation.
“Night night, Daddy,” she says.
This book is also dedicated to the memory of my sister, Jane Clare Greenwell
(7.12.1954 - 16.3.2001)
(3) His attestation papers, digitised, can be viewed on the internet. Bureaucracy has faithfully recorded a vaccination mark and three other tiny scars, including one on his left thumb; it also tells us that his girth, fully expanded, is 34¾ ins, that he has fair hair, and blue eyes. He was the son of Gilbert Tickle Collin, the cousin who had kept in touch with Tom Carruthers.