Armistice Day saw the end of the Great War and the beginning of my grandparents' marriage. To mark the 100th anniversary of both, and also the 121st birthday on 18th November of my lovely, free-spirited grandmother, Hilda Florence Mary Hill, I'm posting an extract from 'Nanny 1897 – 1991 An Uncommon Woman', which my uncle, Noel Hill, wrote for her friends, her ten surviving children, and their children and grandchildren after her death.
Hilda Florence Mary Drewett, aged about 13
Nanny worked for several employers, but latterly and mostly for a Professor Dobson of the
. Her earlier employers were hard and
inconsiderate. Her first job entailed
dawn-to-dusk working for two shillings and sixpence (12½ pence) per week. Even Nanny's lifetime habit of singing whilst
she worked brought trouble onto her head.
The lady of the house was herself taking singing lessons, and hearing
Nanny singing as she scrubbed the nursery stairs, declared 'How dare you sing
one of my songs, I have paid good money to learn that!' University
It wasn't only her employers' songs that Nanny borrowed. Frequently raiding their libraries, she was and remained an avid reader, anxious to improve herself, often reading far into the night by candlelight. She was also a great correspondent, writing letters to all and sundry in a good, plain, round hand, in lucid and graphic style. In her apron pocket Nanny invariably carried a few scraps of paper and a pencil, and would note down her thoughts and observations on life in verse. Copied out in exercise books, they were her most treasured possessions and survived her death to speak to us of her concern for all around her.
Nanny's second job was at Weston-Super-Mare, some twenty miles from the parental home, but when her mother heard that a regiment of Australian soldiers was about to be billeted there, she attempted to recall Hilda to Bristol, where a better eye might be kept upon her. This endeavour appears to have had little success for despite the constraints of a living-in job, Nanny seems to have surmounted them quite literally by climbing in and out of her bedroom window, sometimes wearing her mistress's clothes. Her great friend and cousin-in-law Kate often spoke of the Saturday evening during the Great War when she encountered a haughty-looking Hilda, wrapped in a magnificent fox fur cape, sweeping past on the arm of an army officer and being greeted with a well-articulated 'Good evening, Kate, and how are you?' 'And she without a stitch of her own clothes on her back!' Kate would declare.
William John Hill
There was a young pilot, a tall Australian soldier and a magnificent Scotsman, photographed for her in his kilt. But most of all there was the quiet, dark dispatch rider in the
'I could have loved you a long time ago
And could have said it
But you went away – a long way away.
When you came back it was too late –
And love was a forgotten word
Jack and Hilda were married by special licence at St Michael and All Angels in Bishopston two days before Armistice was declared on 11th November 1918. Their brief honeymoon was spent at The Royal Oak, Clevedon, a pub owned by one of Jack's uncles, who was also a fisherman. The newlyweds' first breakfast consisted of a huge skate which Uncle Joe had caught and which he declared to be very good for fertility. In later years, Uncle Joe undertook to buy each of Jack's children a pair of shoes at Christmas, and as the numbers grew and his bill for shoes increased, Uncle Joe would suck deeply on his pipe and mutter that if he had had any sense at all he would have thrown that bloody skate back in the
My grandmother with her triplets, 1939
The Hill family, 1940