The Other Side of the Family Tree

I started writing the recent series of blogs on my Dad  in the wake of the anniversary of his death, so I thought it would only be appropriate for me to do the same for my Mum given that this is the anniversary of her death on 19th October, 1991. I had planned to start them in a slightly less ghoulish fashion on the anniversary of her birth, last Thursday, the 17th October, but my Dad’s blog’s over-ran, because they weren’t entirely planned out, and I had to go back to make corrections and add further information.

These pieces on my Mum aren’t particularly planned either. They are simply a gathering together of a bit of what I know about my Mum and her family. The sad thing is that little of this I got from my Mum herself, despite the fact that I probably spent more time with her than my Dad. Partly that is because she didn’t tend to talk about herself or her family much, but also because she died before I had wit enough to ask. I did however eke some stuff out of her as I collated the photos that have peppered the blogs about my Dad and will also illustrate these couple of blogs.

My grandmother, Ellen Porter,
15th June 1946
Her family background was complex enough, and untangling it was not helped by her reticence in talking about it. Her Mum, my Grandmother, was born Ellen White, in Letterkenny, and was one of those 9 counties unionists who left the new Irish Republic upon partition, carrying her belongings in a handcart. This experience left her with a fierce Unionism that she passed on to my Mum and the rest of her family. My Grandfather who was a supporter of the Northern Ireland Labour Party, was still away on active service when the 1945 election took place, and so my Grandmother voted for him, but voted for a Unionist, telling my Mother that she took great pleasure in depriving the Labour candidate of another vote.

My Grandmother moved initially to Derry, where she worked in the local asylum, before moving to Glasgow to do the same work. There she met a Belfast man, Jim Kerr who was working in the shipyard and they got married and settled in Greenock. Jim had been married previously, and it is still uncertain how many of the children they raised were his by a previous marriage, or were borne by my Grandmother.

Aunt May, 1943
Certainly it seems now that it is unlikely that my Aunt May was actually a blood relative. She was an exotic creature from my childhood, who lived outside Kingston on Thames and worked Bentalls, the department store there, returning to Belfast annually like lady bountiful with amazing gifts. She had actually falsified her age on marrying a much younger man my Uncle “Sam” Samson in England, with him also making himself seem older than he was to make the age difference seem less scandalous. This had the side effect of obscuring the fact that she couldn’t possibly have been my Grandmother’s daughter. This lack of blood relation did not lessen the strong affection she and Sam had for us and us for them, with some of my more memorable holidays spent with them.

The next oldest was Jim,who went on to be a veteran of Dunkirk, where he rescued one of his mates from the waves as they tried to board one of the “little ships.” He was then part of the D-Day invasion force, and the faded photo here is one of him in the shadow of a tank during the Boccage struggles in Normandy in 1944. Jim died before I was born. 

Aunt Lily, 25th March 1944
Then came my Aunt Lily. We’re still not sure if she was a blood relative of my Mum but she was the ubiquitous maiden aunt that every Belfast family seemed to have in my childhood. What I  never realised was why that was. She like many others was a woman  who had been engaged to a man who had gone to war in the Second World War, but never came back, and she never married again. She like her two sisters May and Mable had gone to Birmingham for war work, but Lily returned home, broken by grief. Lily became a surrogate Mum to both my older brothers, taking them to the cinema and getting up to all sorts of mischief with them. For me and my younger brother she was largely someone who visited on a Saturday for lunch, frequently bringing with her whatever they had been making on Blue Peter that week. She would watch the programme on a Monday afternoon after returning from her work in the Ropeworks or later as a cleaner in Gloucester House, then would get the bits needed to make whatever it was, be it a house for Action Man, or a Garage for our toy cars or a stable for our toy animals. She would then shout at the wrestling on ITV (she loved Kendo Nagasaki and Big Daddy and hated Giant Haystacks and Mick McManus), before falling asleep in front of whatever movie was on BBC2 (waking up if we tried to turn it over saying “I was watching that”), then watching the videprinter results of her childhood home football team Greenock Morton, or as she always referred to them “Poor ould Morton.”

The fourth member of this “first family” was Mabel, who like May and Lily had gone to Birmingham during the war, but she, like Lily, didn’t return and also settled outside London. However there was some sort of a falling out and we never really knew her. Lily kept in touch but my Mum didn’t and we only met her a short while before her death when she returned to Belfast for a brief visit, presumably to make her peace.

Mum with Uncle Warren in Dublin 1947
during  my parents' honeymoon
After what must have been a relatively short marriage, Jim Kerr died, and shortly after, my Granny met my Grandfather, William Porter a native of Derry, who had just been discharged from the army in Glasgow.  They married and moved to 75 Island Street, East Belfast, with the 4 Kerr children coming with them. As is often the case the relationship between these children and my Grandfather wasn’t what it might have been, but then that could also be said of his relationship with his own children. They first had a son Richard, named after my Grandfather’s father, but he died in infancy, then they had another son William Warren Porter, who grew up to be a Presbyterian Minister (via training for the Church of Ireland in Dublin and the Free Church  of Scotland in Edinburgh) and has, frankly, probably been the single biggest influence on me within my family apart from my parents and eldest brother.

My Mum and Granny Easter 1947
Then on 17th October 1928 my mother was born: Margaret Kathleen Porter. She went first to Belvoir Hall Junior Primary Elementary School then three years later to  Mersey Street school (my eldest brother Robert was to follow her to both schools later), and while she was regarded as a good pupil by her teachers, she said she hated it. In the newspaper clipping at the top of this piece, the only photo I have of her at school, in the Belvoir Hall JPES Choir,  she certainly looks miserable. She's the one in the middle with the paper flower in her hair. But she always told me that she wasn't feeling well in this photo. I later learned that it was taken either immediately before or after a bout of scarlet fever. She never talked about that. Neither did she talk about the fact that the same bout of scarlet fever actually took the life of her younger sister, Valerie. Indeed it was only long after my mother’s death that I even learned of Valerie’s existence... 

Shalom

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