I have chosen to upload a post about the relative of one of Petersham’s servicemen, because I wish to pay tribute to Eileen Allen, whom I have come to know over the past six years or so. Our initial contact was in connection with my research of the stories behind the names of the people commemorated on the Petersham War Memorial.
Eileen Allen and her brother, Frederick, were natives of Petersham, and the only grandchildren of Frederick George Morffew, who is commemorated on the Petersham War Memorial.
However, as the member of a family that has had a presence in Ham for at least 200 years, Eileen was also related to several men on Ham’s War Memorial. As an example of this connection, I will soon upload a post on Walter Stanley (alias Frederick) Benson to Ham Remembers. W.S. Benson turned out to be the half-brother of Eileen’s Auntie Vi—Violet Emmeline Buckner, the wife of Eileen’s great-uncle, Robert Samuel Morffew. Older residents may remember Vi as the wife of the bootmaker near the New Inn. Indeed, if rumours Eileen shared with me about her black sheep of a great-grandfather are true, quite a few descendants of Ham’s 19th century families may unwittingly be distant cousins of the Morffews.
Fortunately, by the time my post on Eileen’s grandfather, Frederick George Morffew, came to the attention of the Deaf Heritage project, I had already made contact with Eileen and her eldest son, Mark. Deaf Heritage was then working with BBC Two See Hear on a television programme about deaf soldiers in the First World War and the producer contacted me to find out more about Frederick. I was able to put her in touch with Eileen and Mark, and the three of us were subsequently filmed for that programme. This was done at unexpectedly short notice because of Mark’s heavy schedule, which gave us little time to prepare. I think, however, we all remember it as a pleasant experience, and the programme was duly broadcast as one of the commemorative documentaries which were screened during Remembrance Week in 2014.
Eileen was born on 6 March 1935 at the Grove Road Hospital in Richmond, from where she was taken to the Morffews’ home at 6 Park Place on the Petersham Road. She was the younger of the two children born to Frederick Robert James Morffew (1905–1974) and his wife, Maud Alice Walder (1905–1992). Also in the family home at the time of Eileen’s birth were her elder brother, Frederick, and her paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Morffew, née Ball (1872–1949). It was not until after her grandmother’s death, and as a consequence of the Dysart Sale, that the family moved from Petersham to Ham, the parish to which her ancestors had migrated in the early years of the 19th century.
As a child, Eileen was curious and observant, and a good listener. I met her first in connection with her grandfather. Later, Eileen provided information to support my local history research, confirming the accuracy of a database which I had built up to map the names of the many cottages of Petersham and Ham with their present street addresses. (I needed to know the precise houses from which the men had gone to war.) Over time I came to marvel at the rich trove of memories she had to share.
Eileen has been a valuable ally in my research. She always seemed delighted to help when there was something I wanted to run by her, and gave generously of her time. She listened with interest when I had titbits to pass on from our war memorial contacts. Her indomitable spirit was also something that I found inspirational.
Eileen once rattled off, house by house, the names of all the residents who were on the west side of the Petersham Road during the 1930s, when she can’t have been more than four years old. I’m not sure many of us could do the same. The recent release of the 1939 Register confirmed all but one, and that a minor variation which was easily explained!
A leading oral historian praised Eileen’s ‘very rich world of memory’ commenting on the quality of our relationship ‘which came through in the quality of [Eileen’s] memories and stories, which are pearls’. I am glad that I was able to feed that praise back to Eileen. Indeed he had previously sought permission, which she was happy to grant, to add a clip from that interview to the Child Care History Network’s website. In this particular clip Eileen described a visit she and her father had paid to the Gordon Boys’ Home.
What I always enjoyed was Eileen’s ready wit, and her bubbly sense of humour. Another bonus for any researcher was her sharp recollection of what she had observed as a child who watched and noticed, and puzzled over and retained what she had seen or heard. She also had a wonderful appreciation of anything that was at all incongruous. She was fascinated by what I was discovering about her Petersham neighbours and what I was able to find out about her own family’s history. At her instigation, I recently researched her mother’s family history and had the opportunity to share this with her, clearing up and putting to rest things she had long puzzled over.
The interest of others certainly refuels you when you are wilting and my still hanging on to the war memorial research owes more than a nod to her ongoing interest in it. We both relished the additional information I received and the contacts with descendants, some from very far afield, when stories eventually found their way to the blog. After the Great War, there came a period called The Great Silence, so, for some, this is often the first time they discover the stories of family members about whom they, as well as their parents, had been told perilously little.
That I had opportunities to chat at length to Eileen is thanks to the tolerance, warmth and hospitality of Judy and Phil and their family, and on one crucial day, also to the patience of Skye, the family’s dog, when we were recording our conversation.
My sincere condolences go to her children and grandchildren on their loss. I am sure I am only one of many friends and acquaintances who will also miss her. I certainly feel, as the song goes, ‘you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone’.
Frederick Morffew, Eileen’s grandfather
‘Frederick George Morffew’,
https://petershamremembers.wordpress.com/2013/10/18/frederick-george-morffew-1878-1917/, accessed 5/1/2018.
‘A great-grandson pays his respects at Talana Farm’,
https://petershamremembers.wordpress.com/2014/10/28/a-great-grandson-pays-his-respects-at-talana-farm/, accessed 5/1/2018.
Mager, W., ‘The untold stories of deaf people in WW1’, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-ouch-29846154, accessed 21/1/2018.