Category Archives: Archibald McDonald ROWLEY (II)

Crisis of Faith

A fanciful account

She genuflected, crossed herself, then followed the line to the priest. In a trance, her body seemed a second or two behind her, unattached and out of reach. Her mind, on the other hand was razor sharp.

Hell, hell,” she thought, “what would a bloody priest ken aboot hell? The hardest thing a priest ever had to dae was remember tae speak in English, that monotone, bastardised tongue of the Sassenach. It may as well be Latin, for the way he speaks it, you’d be sure he was sucking on a stane, and if he stuck that nose of his any higher in the air, his heed would fa’ right aff.”

Hell is being married to a man who spends half his life working, and the other half drinking near’ every penny he’s paid. In between one and the other he comes hame only just lang enough to faither another bairn. Twelve bairns, twelve.”

She was at the alter now, kneeling with her mouth open. “Blood of Christ” said the priest.

Blood of Christ, what would a man know about blood, or bleeding.” Her son Allan flashed in her mind, seven years old and coughing up blood, tears running down his face, his eyes bloodshot full of fear. Seven years ago the previous month, and still that face haunted her. “Well maybe some know a little of bleeding.

She stood up, having consumed the small biscuit “Body of Christ”. Her head was swimming, there was a pain in her chest like a knife being twisted between her ribs. She swayed visibly until the woman behind her placed her hand on her shoulder, just enough to steady her.

She shuffled back to her pew. How she had gotten through Christmas she did not know, but three more days and a long drunken night and it would be nineteen fifteen.  “Nineteen fifteen, Glasgow Scotland, that’s where hell is.” She grunted audibly, to the withering glare of her husband Archie.

Annie’s no here again,” she thought, “I wouldnae be either, if I had a choice. Twelve bairns I’ve had. I’ve no’ even finished havin’ my ain bairns, before my bairns are havin’ bairns. My wee Lizzy and Annie’s wee Johnny. The pair of them gasping for air, one would fa’ asleep and the other wake, the whole hoose awake and praying. My bairns, they are. Mine. I’ve nursed and fed, and loved them day and night. What dae I get? I get to watch them thrown out into the street. My first born, cast out into the street like a pail o’ shite, by her ain faither!” Another grunt and another withering glare.

Only a few weeks old and Johnny was gone. Annie putting her first born in the ground, that was hell. Three weeks later, and Lizzy’s gone too. Pulmonary something-or-other the doctor said. Died o’ breathing is what he meant, the pair of them, died o’ breathing.”

Outside the church, Jane surveyed her brood. Why they were so happy she could not understand. Watching them playing on the icy street, she could clearly see that they were happy. She began the short walk home, the children and the husband following after, she couldn’t have cared less, she was numb.

She was making some tea when the two Archies came in. She looked up at them, young Thomas darted out from behind them and let the cat out of the bag.

“Archie’s going to be a soldier. He’s gonnae get those German’s” he crowed pretending to fire a rifle, “He’s gonnae win the war.”

Jane nearly feinted. “Jesus, Mary and Joseph Archie, what are you thinking of.” She blasphemed.

“Leave him, Jeanie, leave him, he’s a man noo” Archie senior said accusingly.

“Me an’ the lads went yesterdae, we enlisted in the Gordon Highlanders, we had our medicals and we’ve a’ passed. All I have t’ dae is wait for ma uniform and orders.” Archie junior was beaming with pride.

“Och, Archie, Archie, what have you done?” It was rhetorical, she didn’t wait for an answer. She put her coat and hat back on and reached for the door. “I’m off tae visit Annie.”

She shook her head unconsciously, “I cannae lose another bairn, I cannae, my heart is already broken.” She muttered under her breath as she trudged the short distance through the icy street to Annie’s house. “Nineteen fifteen, a’ the world’s gone mad.”

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Granny Rowley’s Wedding Ring

An Object Biography

Sarah Morgan, my paternal grandmother, married Archibald Rowley in Glasgow, Scotland in 1922,[1] she died in 1945.  In 1981, after the death of her only surviving daughter, Sarah, I was given her wedding ring by my father.

Wedding rings have been worn by women for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. In the UK it is believed to have been adopted during and after the Roman Occupation. In some cultures it is worn on the left hand and in others on the right. Some cultures wear it before the wedding on one hand or finger, and after the wedding, on the other hand or finger. It is most often, but not always worn on the fourth “ring” finger.[2] It is not uncommon nowadays for a man to also wear a wedding ring.

This plain gold wedding band weights approximately 4g (0.1oz), it is 7mm (½”) wide, approximately 18mm (8/10”) in diameter, and 63mm (2 ½ “) in circumference. Its’ scrap value is currently $86.00.[3] On the inside of the band, in letters large enough for plain sight, is stamped “8LP”, much smaller and requiring a magnifying glass, is stamped the four components of a British Hallmark.

The “8LP” remains a mystery and much research has found no explanation of its origin or meaning.

Hallmarking of precious metals in Britain is a very old consumer protection, it was first legislated in 1300 by King Edward I of England.[4]  It has four components: a sponsor’s mark being the company or person for whom it has been hallmarked; the standard mark being the fineness of the metal; the Assay Office mark; and finally, the (now optional) date letter.[5]   For this ring the marks are E.J.LD.; 9.375; S; [Illegible].

E.J.LD.  was the maker’s mark of Excalibur Jewellery Ltd of Birmingham and London, now defunct.[6] 9.375 represents the fineness of the gold at 9 carats[7]. The date letter, before 1975, was unique to each assay office and as the assay office mark is illegible, it was difficult to ascertain the date, however the letter “S” is sloping forwards and has a distinctive concave tick at the top. It could only be an item Hallmarked in 1973 in the London Assay Office. This ring was assayed in London in 1973 as 9 carat gold by Excalibur Jewellery Ltd. This was not the expected result.

My grandparents were a working-class couple of modest means. In 1922, a wedding ring would have been a significant purchase. Although it is common now for wedding rings to be made of 24 carat gold, that would most likely have been outside my grandfather’s means. A nine carat gold ring would also have been more robust, an attribute that could have been relevant at the time, due to the hard labour a working-class woman would do in the course of an ordinary day.

The Clyde Shipyards, the largest industry in Glasgow, was in recession. By 1920 It was operating at only eighty percent of pre-war levels, falling steadily throughout the decade.[8] 1922 also was a year which saw a “Hunger March” from Glasgow to London, people protesting to the government about the high unemployment and hence inability of workers to afford food.[9]

Assuming that it was, indeed, my grandmother’s wedding ring, which I have no reason to doubt, it is possible that it was purchased second-hand, that it was not manufactured in the UK, and it was assayed in 1973 in order to obtain a valuation. This, of course, is pure conjecture.

My grandparents honeymooned in Ireland and had a studio photo taken to commemorate their wedding. My parents emigrated to Australia when I was five years old, and so I did not know any of my extended family. Although I did not know it at the time, I had never met anyone who in any way resembled anyone in my family. As a young teenager I embraced that Australian tradition of visiting the UK on a “working holiday”; now known as a “gap-year” and reciprocated by the British. Whilst at my grandfather’s house, I was shown the studio photo taken in Ireland. It was a sepia-toned very traditional studio photo. My grandmother was sitting in an elaborate chair, with a book in her lap and her hands crossed over the book showing her wedding ring. My grandfather was standing to her left, a little behind the chair and his hand was resting on her shoulder.

It is a moment that, for me, is frozen in time. The woman in sitting in the chair, was identical to myself, I was the image of my paternal grandmother. Some years later, I was able to borrow that photograph and have it enlarged and copied.

The ring is the only material object I possess that is tied to my family of origin. This is the result of two major events in my life. Firstly, I was a child migrant in the 1960’s, when migration still meant the disconnection of virtually every relationship, and the loss of virtually all possessions. Secondly, as the result of violence, I made a choice to move within Australia, at a time when I was unable to afford to take more than a suitcase. The material objects left behind in storage, were variously stolen, sold without my permission then the proceeds stolen, or destroyed.

I no longer have that photograph. That being said, however, I have the photograph in my mind and it is linked, inextricably to my grandmother’s ring. One object elicits the other. At times my grandmother’s wedding ring evokes the memory of loss. Loss of relationships, of the culture and heritage attached to being a Scot, of the life I had before the violence. At other times my grandmother’s wedding ring evokes a deep sense of attachment, to someone who is exactly like me, someone I never met, my grandfather in his youth in the photograph, in old age holding that photograph out to me, to my Aunt who cared for it before me.

Just as a wedding ring is a symbol of never ending love, this ring is a symbol of the continuity of my family across the great chasm of time, place and meaning.

 

[1] Scottish Marriage Register, 1922, ROWLEY Archibald to Jane Morgan, District of Govan, County of Lanark p96/191 (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : acessed 22 March, 2005)

[2] http://weddingdetails.com/lore-tradition/ accessed 19/8/2016

[3] http://www.cash4goldaustralia.com.au/ accessed 19/8/2016

[4] http://assayofficebirmingham.com/safeguard/hallmarking_history.html accessed 10/8/2016

[5] https://theassayoffice.co.uk/help-with-hallmarks/anatomy-of-a-hallmark accessed 10/8/2016

[6] http://www.silvermakersmarks.co.uk/Makers/Birmingham-EJ-EO.html accessed 10/08/2016

[7] http://www.gold-traders.co.uk/hallmarks/results.asp accessed 12/08/2016

[8] http://www.inverclydeshipbuilding.co.uk/home/general-history/clydeside-revisited accessed 19/8/2016

[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hunger_marches accessed 19/8/2016

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Strangers in the Night

Archie ROWLEY (1897 – 1981) and Harry HARVEY (1893 – 1979) lived their lives twelve thousand miles apart, yet, before cars and planes were commonplace, their paths, so very nearly crossed. Archie and Harry, had the unfortunate luck to be born just in time to participate in a conflict we now call World War I. To them it became the “War to end all wars”.

Military service can be a boon to a family historian because of the information that is recorded and kept. Four years of Harry’s life is recorded in twenty-two pages of his army record. [1] Not only did the “war to end all wars” fail to end any war, it was followed a mere twenty-one years later by a sequel that obliterated over fifty percent of the British records of the first one. [2] In September 1940 a German bombing raid struck the London War office, and what remains of these records is now known as the ‘Burnt Documents’. Archie’s service in the Gordon Highlanders is recorded on a single medal card all other records burnt in the raid. [3]

Archie and Harry both served in France. Late 1915 or early 1916, Archie was gassed and blinded for three days, it impacted his health for the rest of his life. [4] On 12 July, 1916 Harry was sent to hospital in France with neurasthenia, a medical term used at the time known colloquially as shell shock. [5] He was shipped to England and admitted to the King George Hospital for treatment, he does not appear to have returned to France, and was transferred to the Australian Flying Corps 13 March, 1917. [6]

References:

[1] National Archives of Australia (NAA): B245 Harvey, HC (http://www.naa.gov.au/ : accessed 13 March, 2016)

[2] Service records for the first world war. The National Archives (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/pathways/firstworldwar/service_records/sr_soldiers.htm : accessed 27 June, 2016)

[3] Ancestry.com. British Army WWI Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2008. Original Data: Army Medal Office. WWI Medal Index Cards. In the care of The Western Front Association website. Retrieved 27 June 2016.

[4] Adams, GF, Family History Workbook, unpublished, “Interview with self” p 70. In the possession of Georgina Adams.

[5] Smithsonian Magazine, The Shock of War, C. Alexander, September 2010 (http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-shock-of-war-55376701/?no-ist Retrieved 27 June, 2016)

[6] Same as 1, above.

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