Youth Day … unexpected weddings and more

This has been a week of weddings – I’ve had the joy of attending 4 – ok, not physically but reading about them.

Three of them concern the Northwood VAD Hospital project I’ve been working on and surprisingly two in Dar es Salaam at the end of the war (@UKNatArchives ref CAB 45/44). It’s also quite fitting having a discussion on weddings this week as South Africa commemorated Youth Day on 16 June. Youth Day has far more sombre origins – that when the students of Soweto rose in rebellion at having to learn in Afrikaans in 1976 – and although we remember those who lost their lives then and subsequently in the struggles for freedom across Africa and the rest of the world, it’s also an opportunity to reflect on the power of the youth in bringing about change. And for that I see a link.

In amongst all the turmoil of war and loss of life, people took time out to celebrate and share their happy occasions with others.

One of my three favourite Northwood stories is that of Ethel Jones and Lieutenant Charles Felgate. They invited all the soldiers and nurses to their wedding where afterwards the soldiers formed a guard of honour crossing their sticks. Ms Jones worked in the hospital and afterwards, her father treated the men to tea back at the hospital.

My other memorable wedding is that it was the first act performed in the church between it being decommissioned as a hospital and the first church service being held there. The couple, quite fittingly, were a nurse and an officer of the RAMC – neither of them having served in the hospital as far as I can make out but were local residents.

The final story is about a young man Archibald Yuille who had been a day patient at the hospital who eventually married the nurse who had treated him at Northwood many years later. Although they had both married soon after the end of the war, they had been kept in touch by Archie’s sister and after both their partners died, they got married. You’re never to old…

These three stories will be in the publication to accompany the Northwood VAD Hospital exhibition (opening on Thursday 19 June at Northwood Library and will be on the web in due course at www.northwoodcommunityarts.org).

Researching a church on the Home Front doesn’t make weddings too surprising, but it was the last thing I expected to read in CP Fendall’s diary of the East Africa Campaign this morning. On 23 February 1919 he writes

Saw Forbes and Pett married on 26th Dec. The first British wedding in Dar es Salaam and started same evening for Nairobi…

Alas, Fendall doesn’t say any more about this wedding but I know I’ll be keeping an extra eye open as I work through various diaries and accounts over the next few months to see if any other details come to light.

It’s also a fitting time to remember the young people who were caught up in the turmoil of World War 1 through no doing of their own but to be be born at a particular time. Generally speaking, we know much about the soldiers and how some of them falsified their ages to participate but little is known of those who were born in captivity when their parents were taken prisoner or interned – the youngest known prisoner in East Africa was 3 (later to have Gilman’s point named after him) and the youngest I’ve found in South West Africa was born two weeks after her mother was interned in South Africa. These names are in the In Memory lists on the Great War in Africa Association site.

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