Jaqui's Daily Blog

False Teeth, Lap Dogs and a Very Sad Tale

If you’ve been trying to reach me then I am really sorry but I have ventured back into the past again. Back to July 5th 1916, in fact.


Armed with my precious CD containing digital images of twelve copies of the Worthing Gazette from July to September 1916 and a vague idea of what I am supposed to do, gleaned from my training session a couple of days ago (see Tuesday’s Blog) I have decided to Make a Start on my newspaper indexing task.


I knew exactly what my main problem would be before I even started. We were under strict instructions only to index anything which could be classified as “war related.” But there was no way I would be able to contain my interest in the rest of human life, as reported in the esteemed Gazette in the week in question.


Here’s a letter from one Harry Reynolds, Principal Baritone, Royal Opera House and once of the “Worthing Whimsies.” (Who were they? What did they do? Could I be a latter day Worthing Whimsy, if I tried hard enough?) Mr Reynolds had visited a local dentist to have his teeth extracted (“completely painless” the advert said) and a false set of teeth provided, all for the princely sum of £2.2s (please ask your mother or your grandmother if you require monetary translation.) Our Brave Baritone took to the stage the very same day and found his false teeth “improved both tone and delivery.”


Moving swiftly on, and here is a letter entitled “Doggy at the Opera”. Signed by “A Moderate Dog Lover”, it reads thus: “Dear Sir. Last week at the Opera I saw ladies with dogs in their laps. My sympathies went out to the poor men who had paid for an evening’s outing and had to share the ladies’ attention with a lap dog. I trust managers will not allow or encourage this practice. A dog fight may mar the entertainment at a critical point or a pampered Fido might yowl if the music did not meet with his approval.” Perish the thought.


I know what you are thinking – none of this is war-related. I have wandered off again. You are, of course, quite right but, wait, here’s a story to make you weep. A poor woman named Hilda May Denyer, carrying her baby daughter Winifred and weighed down with stones, threw herself into the sea at Worthing on May 15th 1916, which was exactly 97 years ago yesterday. She left a poignant letter explaining that she had endured “twelve weary months” waiting for her husband’s return and could wait no longer.  “Kindly see that Teddy is taken care of until his dad comes home, if he ever does,” she writes, adding: “Please ask Ted to forgive me. He is one of the best and to live without him is impossible.”


Hilda’s bid to find what she describes as the comfort of “a watery grave” came to naught, for a young woman called Joyce Cunningham, staying in the resort on a visit from her home in Luton, bravely ran into the sea and rescued mother and baby.


There was little sympathy from the powers-that-be for poor Hilda who was hauled up before the Magistrates and bound over in the sum of £10.  His Lordship remarked that her husband was doing his duty for his country and “she must do hers by looking after herself and her children.”


The newspaper article tells me that brave Joyce Cunningham was presented with a Royal Humane Society’s certificate “on vellum” to mark her courageous action. But what I want to know is, what happened to this tragic family?  Did Ted return safe and sound from the Front? Did he forgive poor Hilda and understand her desperation? I do hope baby Winifred grew up sturdy and strong and never knew what her mother had so nearly done.  I hope that she and Teddy welcomed their father home with open arms at the end of the war and that they all lived happily ever after.


What will I discover next, I wonder, of the weird, the woeful and the wonderful as I turn the (digital) pages of Yesterday’s Newspapers?

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Latest comments

23.04 | 20:15

lovely and heartwarming - an inspiration to us all x

09.03 | 12:07

Love this story told as ever beautifully.x

10.11 | 21:31

What a super account of a special event. I loved meeting you last night and seeing your creation come together. I’m so pleased you got so much from the activity

07.09 | 13:17

I have broad shoulders x

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