Was my grandmother unhappy? (ii)

A couple of days ago I wrote about my grandmother Ida’s early life. She was born in 1888, the middle child and only daughter of Lois after whom I was named and Louis. Despite respectable middle-class appearances, Lois and Louis never married, he was from a strictly observant Jewish family, Lois was a gentile. Lois was ‘widowed’ when she was forty, Louis dying suddenly and unexpectedly; his family continued to support Lois and her children, the two older boys going away to school. Undoubtedly Lois and Louis loved each other and she must have been devastated by his death, as were the five children, then aged between sixteen and three. My grandmother was only seven when her father died.

The family must have appeared so respectable, the boys going on to good careers, no doubt sponsored by their Jewish uncles, but all the time they hid the secret that their parents never married, and may have concealed their Jewish connection from their friends and associates. The photos I have however, show a warm and loving family, with a sense of fun – pictures of them dressing up, pictures of the boys with their fiancées who became friends as well as sisters-in-law to Ida, show  a calm and happy home. Lois had the reputation among her grandchildren of being very strict; she was a Victorian woman, well-brought up who would have been firm, but not unkind or unloving. Once her sons married, and Ida too, she lived with them, giving up her own home.

Somehow Ida met a man of the same age as herself who she went on to marry. He was William Reginald Matthews, the eldest of four sons of a respectable family from Littlehampton in Sussex. Respectable they may have been, decent and hard-working people, William’s father employed by Travis Perkins the timber merchant, but they were not quite of the same class as Ida’s family. William, always known as Reginald, was an exceptionally intelligent man and went to London Polytechnic and did not follow his father into the timber yard. Somehow, maybe when Reg was in London at the Polytechnic, he met Ida and they fell in love. They married in 1916, however they had been engaged for many years, maybe as long as nine years, which means they must have met when they were aged about twenty – the age he would have been when a student.

Reg joined up to serve in the 1st World War, however he had some health problems and fortunately for him did not see action in Belgium or France. He was a deeply patriotic man, and I think he must have been frustrated and even angry and maybe ashamed that he was not able to literally fight for his country. He saw service again in the 2nd World War when he joined up again in his fifties. Intellectually Reg was a brilliant man, but he was also a very difficult man, and it seems although they had four children and remained married and together for forty-three years until Ida died in 1959, it was not a happy marriage. They had their first child William Alan in 1918, their second Audrey in 1920, but at some point, maybe before Audrey was born, Reg went abroad, maybe to Manaus in Brazil – ‘900 miles up the Amazon’ as he used to say, or maybe to the Cape Verde Islands. 

It’s impossible to know now where Ida stayed while her husband was away, maybe she lived with one of her brothers and their wives, or maybe with Lois, or maybe she had lodgings on her own with her two year old son and baby. Wherever she lived, whatever her circumstances it must have been hard for her. Her own father had often been absent from the family home, now her husband was absent too. Little Audrey was only a small child, when her father returned which must have been in 1922 or 1923. She had no idea who this strange sun-burned man was, and whereas her brother Alan aged four or five was so happy to see their father return, Audrey ran away from the man who had his arms open wide to hug her. Reg was terribly hurt by this rejection, and it must have hurt Ida in turn – so easy for us with our modern understanding, but for people of the Victorian era feelings and emotions were often suppressed. 

I’m not sure where Reg and Ida lived, maybe in London, but before long they had moved to Winchester where their third child, a little daughter, Rene Beryl Lois was born in 1924. She must have been born early because she was a tiny child who was Christened at home as her survival was not certain. How worrying for Ida, to be in a city far from her mother and brothers, in rented accommodation with a little boy of five and a little girl of three and now a small baby. However, Ida made friends because I have her autograph book with signatures from people living in Winchester. The following year, in 1925, another daughter, her last child, was born so now she had four children aged seven, five and a half, twenty months and a baby.

More to follow.

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