Sad news

Hugh’s letter of May 1941 continues.

I was sorry to hear about the death of your old sheepdog. Perhaps the pup will make up for this loss in time. Dying is one of the faults dogs have. Their average length of life is much too short compared to humans. One becomes attached to them and regrets their passing away. I’ve shed tears over them myself when I was a youngster.

Jim in her nineties with two of her Shelties

Jim was brought up with dogs in the house and found great companionship in her own pets. When Rover became ill in mid-January, she feared the worst. When the end came a month later, Jim recorded ‘my happy cavalier – affectionate and generous, so anxious to please. There will never be another pal like him.’ Then:

1941 Saturday February 15 Bought a Shetland Sheepdog in the market age 2 months. Sunday 16 Called the dog Rum – a dear little thing. Monday 17 It’s nearly 10 pm having played with Rum all evening.

Preparing for sea

Since I wrote last life has been as quiet as it is possible for it to be under the circumstances. I’m still in good health though I’ve lost some weight which has done me little harm. I expect to be going away from England for some time after this trip so don’t be surprised if you don’t hear from me for some time.

This comment suggests two voyages are in the offing and that the first will be in home waters. I found it puzzling that Hugh had just returned from being away but was about to leave again. Osiris had been out of action for months but it was not clear how Hugh had spent this time. Had he been kicking his heels somewhere?  If so, where?  I continued to read the log books for the weeks following his letter.

A flag tradition

When the refit began in January 1941, Osiris had just returned from six war patrols in the Mediterranean.  There, she achieved considerable success and one event assured her place in naval history.  At the end of one particularly successful patrol, the commander of the flotilla sent out a package to the incoming boat with a message to open it before coming alongside.  Inside the parcel was a Jolly Roger flag which was duly hoisted. This began the practice of every flotilla commander presenting the Jolly Roger after a boat’s first successful patrol. The submarine would then display it after subsequent successes. One of the crew was appointed to sew on appropriate symbols.

The log books housed at The National Archives are Admiralty ones bearing the abbreviation ADM.  The records are for one month only. The April log book is numbered ADM 173/16836. It tells us that a quarter of the crew went on leave on April 4. Maybe Hugh was amongst this group.

By May, the refit was almost complete and sea trials were about to begin.  The month began with stores being moved and the replacement of DSEA lockers. Used by the Navy since 1929, the Davis Submerged Escape Apparatus was an emergency escape for submarine crews.  It comprised a breathing bag containing oxygen.  A release valve allowed air to escape as the user ascended to the surface and the water pressure decreased.  Hugh would have learned to use this apparatus as part of his training at Gosport.  Arthur Dickison’s explanation of the procedure in his book Crash Dive conveys the terror felt as the water level rose inside the escape chamber.

Mining trials

On May 12, two days before the writing of this letter, Osiris moved to the centre of the basin. This move was in preparation for a dive which took place at 11:30. She surfaced at 12:15. Next day, hands were involved in drawing provisions, calibration of torpedo tubes and embarking dummy mines. This sounded to me like some serious kind of practice run.

Chatham Dockyard in 2013, much quieter than in 1941, showing old tracks on the right

On the day Hugh wrote to Jim, Osiris moved to the North side of Number 3 Basin in the morning.  At 11:45, the Captain addressed the crew on the lower deck. Tod Euman had taken over command a month earlier. Moving back to the South Wall in the afternoon, cleaning began. There were to be mining trials, hence the dummies, and, over the next week, loading of more ammunition and fresh provisions. The ship was cleaned once more. Torpedoes were embarked all day on the Saturday, a day when work normally stopped at mid-day.

Secure for sea

Interior of Chatham Dockyard Church in 2013

Even on the Sunday, the stores were being sorted. On the Tuesday afternoon, canteen stores and personal kit were embarked and two days later they were ‘secure for sea’.  This left two more full days of checking that everything was ready for departure on May 23.

Victorian postbox at Chatham Dockyard

It would be good to hear from you from time to time as your letters always make pleasant reading. I like the name ‘Jim’ (good name for a girl I think). I had an Aunt who was called Dick and it always sounded odd saying ‘Aunt Dick’ but she was never called anything else. Something she acquired in her younger days when she was a bit of a tomboy.

What’s in a name?

‘Jim’ was a nickname given by her father, William Forbes Roy who, at the time of her birth in 1908, had gone through an identity crisis of his own. In order to claim an inheritance, he was required to produce a birth certificate. On applying for one, he was surprised to learn that he had an extra name, James, as his first name. He had wanted a second son so when a daughter was born he declared that the baby should be called James, a name he didn’t want for a baby he didn’t want! Her father doted on her but the diminutive form stuck.

Jim recounted this story on a 1974 Radio Merseyside interview entitled A Merseyside Childhood which described her middle-class background. This included the influence of her great-aunt, Mary Maitland Roy. Born in Scotland, Mary had moved to the Wirral along with several other members of the family in the 1860s.

Although Hugh addresses this letter to ‘Evelyn’, less formally than in his February letter, it is likely that she signed herself ‘Jim’; or, he may have remembered the name from when they met. Hugh continues the theme with mention of his aunt.

Letter of 1906 to William Roy from Somerset House

Census Records

I turned to the internet to find out more about Hugh’s family.  Sitting at a computer table in the quiet of Malvern Library, I firstly followed up the lead that Hugh, aged twenty-eight in 1940, had lived in the States since 1928. The genealogical website held records of the American census for 1930. There was a family living in Newark, New Jersey, with a son called Hugh aged sixteen.  He was working at an electrical engineering company. The record showed Hugh’s parents, William and Margaret and five siblings.

William was in the stage of ‘First Papers’, the first step to becoming a naturalised US citizen and indicating that he had declared his intention to do so. Further detail gave the impression that more than one family lived at each dwelling in this Watson Avenue address, suggesting that they lived in an apartment. The rent was forty dollars a month. All the family were born in Scotland.

I wondered if Hugh and Jim had shared their Scottish ancestry during their conversations on Samaria. Along with the other Scots on board, they may have felt an affinity.

When I skipped forward to the 1940 census, I found Hugh living away from home. His father was also missing from Newark. Had he died? Only Margaret and four of her six children were there. They had moved to Stanton Street in the Hillside Union district of Newark and all the children were employed.

Robert, 29, was a machinist in a tool-making factory, Ann, 23, operated a machine in a bakery and James, 21, was a stock clerk at one of the 5+ 10+ stores established by F W Woolworth. Janet, 19, was a filing clerk for an insurance company. Hugh’s brother William was missing so I assumed he was the soldier in England.

Families apart

Both Hugh and his father are at different addresses miles away in the town of Warren, County Trumbull, Ohio. This is only a hundred miles south-west of Chautauqua. Hugh was lodging in what looked like hostel housing for over eighty men. He was working as a machinist in a machine shop. The census also records that he had reached Grade 2 at school and worked thirty weeks in 1939 earning 911 dollars. He had worked a strenuous 48 hours ‘last week’.

Hugh’s father William Whyte was living in the household of Robina Bustard and four grown-up children at Elm Road, North-East. William is listed as her brother working as a labourer in a steel mill and the whole family had been born in Scotland.  Robina was recorded as the head of the family but married, not widowed.  It looked as though the Whyte father and son had been forced to seek work away from home, as had Robina’s husband whom I found living in lodgings.  All had been in Warren since 1935 at the latest.

The 1930 census lists Hugh’s aunt as ‘Robina D. Bustard’ and married to James. Passenger Lists for voyages between the UK and the USA reveal that James Bustard had travelled on the Samaria in 1923 intending to settle in America. Robina and the five children followed on November 27, 1926, sailing from Glasgow to New York on SS Transylvania. She is recorded as ‘Robina Dick Bustard’.  This was not the end of the story.

More Passenger Lists

I decided to look again at Ships’ Passengers Lists and pieced together the story of Hugh’s family’s immigration. 1928 was not the first time he had crossed the Atlantic.

Hugh had indeed left Scotland for America in 1928 but the family had visited Hugh’s father in 1922. It seems that in common with many Scots, in the wake of the slump in industry after the Great War, William Whyte left his homeland in 1920. Shipbuilding, mining and engineering had been in demand during the war but the 1920s saw a decline in these industries with subsequent widespread unemployment.

For William to leave his wife and children would have taken great courage on behalf of them both. He sailed from Liverpool bound for New York on SS Carmania on November 9 along with at least eight of his compatriots from Renfrewshire, four of whom were described as engineers like himself. His wife Margaret was about four months pregnant with their sixth child. In the midst of the post-war slump, we can assume that the couple hoped for an improvement in their lives by settling in America. William’s destination was Newark, New Jersey.

Hugh’s first Atlantic voyage

The passenger list of February 24, 1922, for SS Cameronia gives the details of Hugh’s voyage.  It was a family group of eight sailing from Glasgow in the February darkness. Margaret and the children, Robert, Hugh, William, Annie, James and Janet, appear in age order.  Janet was to meet her father for the first time. The last name is another Janet Whyte, a widow. Perhaps to avoid confusion, and of great help to me, an official has squeezed in a handwritten ‘Mother-in-law’ above her name. She must have been of invaluable help to Margaret on the voyage.

The family’s destination was Davis Avenue, Kearney, a town just north of Newark. Home to many manufacturing industries, the town had strong connections with Scotland and with Paisley in particular, being home to branches of the Clarks Thread Company.  It may have been the tradition of Scottish emigrants to this area that attracted William to make the move. There may even have been a financial incentive from his company.

Back to Scotland

Hugh and his mother and siblings stayed in Newark until November 1923 when something made them return to 238 Main Street, Elderslie, a town about halfway to Paisley from Johnstone. Many engineering companies were located in Johnstone, supporting both the shipbuilding yards and also the Paisley mills.

Five years later, the family left Scotland for good, with sixteen-year-old Hugh having worked in Electrical Engineering.  Following in Aunt Robina’s footsteps, he boarded SS Transylvania on October 20, 1928, at Glasgow, bound for the nine-day voyage to New York.

Hugh’s aunts

As the Maitland element in Jim’s own name shows, it was common in Scottish families to use surnames as given names. Children’s names often followed the strict code of patronymics. The youngest children were named after the oldest of their ancestors. The Whyte family were no exception and this was to prove vital in the quest for Hugh’s background. The 1901 census for Johnstone shows Robina as the second daughter. She inherited both forenames from her paternal grandmother whose maiden name was Robina Dick. Hugh also inherited both given names from his maternal grandfather, this time as second son.

In fact, the Scottish births, marriages and deaths registers show that there were two possible contenders for ‘Aunt Dick’. Hugh’s father’s sister in Warren is unlikely to be the one because he refers to her in the past tense. He did though have a great-grandmother called Robina. She was born to John and Helen Dick in about 1830.

Robina Dick married twice. Her first husband was James Whyte by whom she had Robert, Hugh’s paternal grandfather. She was widowed and then married James Meikle. Robina, born to the couple in 1873 would be Hugh’s half-great-aunt and may have collected the nickname for identity purposes. She was born nearly thirty years before Hugh, so could easily have been the lady he remembered.

Hugh’s family tree

John Dick married Helen Forsyth. Their daughter was Robina Dick.

Robina Dick married James Whyte in 1855. Their son Robert Whyte was born in 1857.

Robina (Dick) Whyte married James Meikle in 1871. Their daughter was Robina Meikle, ‘Aunt Dick’ born in 1873.

Robert Whyte married Janet Miller Whitehill in 1881. Two of their children were Robina Dick Whyte b 1883 and William Whitehill Whyte.

Robina Dick Whyte married James Bustard.

William Whyte married Margaret McClaren in 1910. One of their sons was Hugh McClaren Whyte.

The records also clear up a question from Hugh’s first letter. He told Jim that his grandmother would miss his brother. This must have been his maternal grandmother, Annie, who appears on the 1922 Passenger list as next of kin to Margaret and the children. His other grandmother, Janet Whyte, died in Paisley in 1937. Scottish death certificates quote all surnames a woman has ever had, making people somewhat easy to trace.

Shared ancestry?

Unbeknown to Jim, for she had not yet delved into her Roy and Maitland ancestry, she had a great-great-great-grandmother named Margaret Dick. In fact, because of a marriage between first cousins, this was the case twice over. Margaret, heiress to several estates in her own right, was the wife of Frederick Lewis Maitland, a distinguished naval officer. It was their son, Admiral Sir Frederick Lewis when in command of HMS Bellerophon who received the surrender of Napoleon in 1815.

Maitland transported Napoleon to England from France. At the end of his three weeks aboard, Napoleon thanked Maitland for his ‘kindness and hospitality’. William Quiller Orchardson painted a picture of Napoleon on Bellerophon’s deck. Napoleon and his entourage spent all morning there looking back at the shores of France. The picture was painted six decades later than the event so the artist used Maitland and his officers as models for the onlookers. Many prints were made, one of which hangs in a corridor of Malvern College. Napoleon was then sent to prison in St Helena.

The Home Front

Your family are all well and happy I hope and you yourself happy and working. One is better off at the present time if one is doing something worthwhile I think. Your part of the country has had its share of air raids I gather. There is the consolation that the longer it goes on the sooner it will be over and it is easier to be cheerful in the pleasant summer weather don’t you think?

Here, Hugh was probably referring to Jim’s position whilst feeling a sense of honour in his own situation.  She was keeping busy not only with her teaching but with her Civil Defence duties.  Strained relationships often existed at home.

Detail of the sum of money Jim’s father inherited from his father James Roy

Jim’s father had died in 1930 whilst she was nearing the end of her teacher-training course.  He had travelled extensively across the Atlantic, having made trips to South America as well as the States working as a ship’s clerk. He met his wife Florence in Southampton where her father ran a grocer’s business.  His inheritance, received on the death of his father in 1905, changed the family’s lives. However, the income died with him and Florence and her grown-up children moved to Parkgate in 1936. Following Guy’s marriage in 1940 when Jim was in Chautauqua, the household now consisted of Florence, Mary and Jim.

Jim takes stock

The new post at Willaston began on Monday, December 2, 1940. Jim summed up her time at new Chester Road in her diary but didn’t sound very hopeful about the future.

1940 Tuesday November 26 I’ve spent a youth that will never return in the service of the school. I know I have done some good stuff there. However each year brings fresh kids and none of my own. I’m getting very old. Must try and get away and have a place of my own.

Willaston was an all-through school so Jim had to get used to teaching younger pupils in addition to a wider range of subjects. In spite of the rural setting, there were air-raids to cope with too, the children often having lessons in the shelters. In order to save petrol, she cycled to school unless the weather was bad.  An air raid on the afternoon of her first day was a sign of things to come. However, she loved the work with the children as is shown in her account of a typical day. On Sunday January 19, 1941, she settled down to write A Day at a Country School in Wartime.

Danger on Merseyside

Hugh comments on the war news on the Home Front.  With the Battle of Britain still raging, bombing extended from London to the docks in Liverpool and as far as Glasgow.  Merseyside had indeed experienced a battering.  Even on the west side of the Wirral where Jim lived, life was dangerous. Writing in May, Hugh was probably referring to the recent onslaught but Jim records what happened back in March too.

1941 Mar 13 Terrible blitz at night. It was moonlight with a frost and the drone of planes and noise of guns kept us awake. Birkenhead news is ghastly. Must be about 2000 casualties. The glass is thick on the road and people are still being dug out. Mar 18 The BBC announced that Merseyside had 500 killed and 500 badly wounded. Clydeside 500 killed, 800 wounded. There are about 10 thousand homeless.The conscription of women power has now begun. The 20s-21s register first. Mar 19 Liverpool College Exchange and Leeds Town Hall heavily bombed.

Mass Murder

May 3 Bombs had been dropped in Liverpool and some in Neston, Tannery Lane, windows smashed in the village.  In the evening another terrible raid.  I was by myself so went out to fire-watch.  It was a moonlit night, the sky riddled with searchlights.  Soon the guns began to woof, shrapnel fell unpleasantly close.  It developed into a major raid. The planes came over and hovered like evil birds of prey. Bombs crashed and crunched. I felt indifferent.  Life is not sweet enough to hold on to too strongly.  I wondered if I’d get a chance to help do something.  Rum slept on my bed.  I went out again.  No-one was in sight. The sky over Liverpool was red with flame, Molotovs and chandeliers, the ground shook. Mass murder!

May 4 Walked up to the land. Rob said Lewis’s, Blackler’s, Exchange, Central, Water St. India Building all down. A lovely night but the sky cloudy and barrage and bombs.

Hugh signs off

Well, Jim, I’ll say Cheerio for the present and I’ll be looking forward to hearing from you again.  Please do not pay me back in my own coin by waiting a long time before you write.



P.S. Here is the proper address: P.O. H. Whyte

H.M.S. OSIRIS  c/o G.P.O. London

Hugh’s rank of Petty Officer reflects his skill with machinery. He was about to embark on his first voyage on the submarine. The crew were at last to put their training into practice. There had been a lot of ‘making and mending’, jargon for having time off.  The crew, especially new recruits like Hugh, would have anticipated their future with a mixture of excitement and apprehension.

Jim recorded neither the receipt of this letter nor the date she replied. At the time, war news and school were her preoccupations. These were patriotic times, the British people developing the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ spirit and volunteers like Hugh anxious to do their bit. As it turned out, Hugh was about to travel to the country of his birth.