Thomas Herbert Mapson was my Auntie Betty’s father. (Strictly speaking, she wasn’t my auntie–being my great-grandmother’s niece–and her given name wasn’t Betty–they were Jenny Alice May–but “close enough for gubmint work,” as they say.
He was born and baptized in Bilston, Staffordshire in the UK, on July 4, 1878. Given what I’ve found out about my ancestors, and the often several-month lapses between birth and baptism, I wonder at their both happening on the same day, and whether he was, perhaps, a sickly infant who wasn’t expected to survive. I don’t expect I’ll ever know.
Still, survive he did, and he and his family, including his older brother and younger sister, children of “John Mapson, Chemist and Druggist,” seem to have prospered through the final years of the nineteenth, and the early years of the twentieth, centuries.
On December 27, 1905, Thomas Herbert married Jenny Hallett, Great-Granny’s sister. (The epic story of Aunties Maud and Flo–part of the same brood–and of their creative solution to the problems they caused themselves by getting each engaged to the wrong ‘un of a pair of brothers, ought to reassure those of you who are preoccupied with my sometimes transgressive points of view that I come by them honestly, and largely through the example of a couple of Victorian great-great-aunts.)
Just over six years later, on January 23, 1912, Thomas Herbert and Jenny’s only child–Auntie Betty–was born. By that time, Thomas Herbert was the manager of a Birmingham pawnbrokers, and the little family lived with their lodger, Mr. Wigley (really, I couldn’t possibly make this stuff up), a jewelry manufacturer.
Six years later, their family life, and Betty’s idyllic childhood, came to an end when Thomas Herbert–by then an almost 40-year old with a promising family and a young daughter, was called to serve his country, a country so desperate, at that point, for cannon fodder that it was digging ever-deeper to find it.
He didn’t last long, and on April 10, 1918, just seven months before the Armistice, Thomas Herbert Mapson, a Private in the Worcestershire Regiment, Third Battalion, was killed in Flanders, at the Battle of the Lys. His headstone (at the top of this post, in a photo taken by my brother, who took particular pains to find it), says “buried near this spot.”
I know what that means.
Thomas Herbert Mapson was, although not by a long shot the last of my family to serve in the military, the last of my family to die in battle.
Once the dust had settled, his widow (who was my Great-Great-Aunt Jenny) was given his personal effects at the time of his death, which numbered the princely sum of £4-19-2 (four pounds, nineteen shillings and two pence–about £336 ($400) in 2022 currency.) It looks, from this recounting, as though she was also awarded an almost exactly similar amount a year later as a “war gratuity.” Generous of them.
Additionally, Jenny and her young daughter received a ‘pension’ from the War Office of “twenty shillings” (one pound) a week, from November of 1918 forward. I’m not sure if this award survived Jenny’s death, just six years later, when her daughter was twelve.
I don’t know much about Thomas Herbert from the recollections of his descendents. But I knew Auntie Betty. And I suspect she was a chip off the old block. And that she’d have made her Daddy proud. From the post I wrote upon her death:
At the outbreak of World War II, Betty joined the Royal Signals Corps and learned Morse Code. She worked all over England as a decoder of German messages and in 1941 was posted to London, working underground at Whitehall, where she remained for the rest of the war. She loved her job, and the sense of camaraderie she felt with all the other members of the Corps.
One Sunday morning in 1944, Betty missed Chapel devotions in Wellington Barracks because she had worked the night through and had been sent home to rest. The Chapel took a direct hit from a German bomb during the service, and 121 people were killed. Betty never forgot.
Early in the war, Betty met Stefan, a Polish flyer who had escaped Poland through France, and who, like hundreds of his compatriots and fellow flyers, had come to England to join the RAF. Before he left Poland, Stefan’s wife had been rounded up by the Nazis and sent to a concentration camp. He heard that she had died there.
Stefan and Betty fell in love. Betty’s family, and their friends, expected them to marry when the war was over.
Finally, the war was over.
And Stefan learned that his wife had survived the concentration camp. Although terribly damaged in both body and spirit, she was now free.
Soon thereafter, Stefan and his wife left England to begin a new life in Canada, and Betty never saw him again.
She never married.
Here’s a poem from Rupert Brooke. No, not that one. But one I love:
These hearts were woven of human joys and cares,
Washed marvellously with sorrow, swift to mirth.
The years had given them kindness. Dawn was theirs,
And sunset, and the colours of the earth.
These had seen movement, and heard music; known
Slumber and waking; loved; gone proudly friended;
Felt the quick stir of wonder; sat alone;
Touched flowers and furs and cheeks. All this is ended.There are waters blown by changing winds to laughter
And lit by the rich skies, all day. And after,
Frost, with a gesture, stays the waves that dance
And wandering loveliness. He leaves a white
Unbroken glory, a gathered radiance,
A width, a shining peace, under the night.
Not all those who died in war were heartbreakingly young. Not all those whose lives and spirits were destroyed by war died on the field of battle.
But all those who died, and all those who were destroyed by war were–heartbreakingly–alive and normal before the fall.
Thank you, all.