Mary Catherine Vose
21st Sep 1914 - 28th Nov 2004
21st Sep 1914
Born in Little Crosby.
7th Jun 1941
Married Antony Anniss Drewry in Manchester.
14th Dec 1992
Death of Antony Anniss Drewry in Birmingham.
28th Nov 2004
Died in Birmingham.
Mary’s life spans times of incredible change. She liked to say that she lived through History. One of her earliest memories is the Russian Revolution. Another early memory is the pain she caused her father, Edward Vose, when he returned from the Great War and she walked past him without recognising him.
Mary was born in 1914, in a small, remote, almost forgotten village called Little Crosby, in Lancashire. The village was owned by the Blundells, one of the great catholic families from pre-Reformation days and was 100% Catholic. Her father worked for squire Blundell.
"The village is perhaps the oldest extant Roman Catholic village in England, the squires being the notable recusant Blundell family. The village character has changed little from a 17th-century description that 'it had not a beggar, ... an alehouse ... [or] a Protestant in it...'" [source]
During her childhood the village was reached by little more than a track. Mary and her sisters would run barefoot in the road and count cars. If they saw five in a day it was a good day. In the distance she could see the masts of ships on the Manchester Ship Canal. The children learnt to identify different ships coming into Liverpool by the sound of the sirens.
The house Mary grew up in may once have been a pub. It was a long building split into three dwellings.
The part she lived in had a cellar. The part her grandmother lived in had a very large kitchen. (The third part of the house was occupied by 'maiden ladies').
(I believe the drawing on the right shows part of the house.)
Mary had a happy, healthy country childhood with her sisters Theresa and Kitty and her brother Tom. The family didn't have much in the way of possessions or shoes for the children's feet but the food was fine country fare, including from time to time the odd brace of pheasants. On Thursdays someone would go to Liverpool Docks to pick up large slabs of frozen beef that fell off ships from Argentina.
The central figure of Mary's young life was her grandmother, Mary Latham (whom she called Mary Wharton), the Hatcher and Dispatcher of the village - the midwife who brought the babies into the world, and the undertaker who laid the dead out to leave. Mary Latham had no medical training but had 12 surviving children (out of 14) which no doubt was qualification enough.
It was Mary's grandmother who persuaded her to become a nurse. Mary left school when she was 12. Mary got a fine, if brief, education from teachers who were French nuns - all well taught daughters of probably aristocratic families.
When Mary was in her early teens the family was given a new semi-detached. house, no. 2, Dibb Lane, shown as it is now, in the picture on the right. (The house was built in 1910 by Squire Francis Nicholas Blundell. His initials and the Blundell crest and shield are on the front. There are only the two semi-detached houses in Dibb Lane.)
Mary was destined in all probability for a place as a servant in the manor, or an early marriage, but what she wanted was to leave the village. To start with she had to get permission from the Squire’s wife. (Eerily reminiscent of Majorin Elizabeth's having to get permission from the authorities to leave the slave colony of Suriname.) And then there was a lot of family opposition – particularly from her mother. In the end the only way she got permission was to train in a hospital run by Catholic nuns.
Mary became a nurse - SRN
At sixteen, Mary got permission from Theresa Blundell, the squire's wife to leave the village to train at the Providence Free Hospital in St Helens. (Many years later, one of Mary's grand-daughters would be given the same name as Theresa Blundell's daughter.)
"The Providence Free Hospital was founded by Mother Magdalen Taylor and her community of religious sisters calling themselves 'The Poor Servants of the Mother of God’. She had served as a nurse in the Crimea, working with Florence Nightingale." [source]
During training her wages were £1 a month, with one Sunday off every four weeks. On her day off she would visit her Gran and take her a warmly received a packet of 10 Woodbines.
Mary used to delight in telling all sorts of stories about this period of her life. The first time, as an 18-year-old, she had to visit the morgue by herself, one of the bodies, due to some latent muscular movement, sat up! She ran from the morgue screaming.
Another trainee nurse who had job of putting each patient's false teeth in a glass of cleansing solution at night, thought she might save time by putting them all in a single bowl - with a terrible time the following morning matching up teeth and patient.
Mary’s best, and lifelong friend, Molly McGurk, who trained with her at the Free Providence Hospital came from Dublin and had been brought up as a very innocent young girl. On her first day in the maternity ward she cheekily informed the doctor that one of the women couldn't be pregnant. When the doctor aked why, he she told him that the woman was a Miss and only married women could get pregnant. Molly worked during WW2 in Ethiopia andgot to know Haile Selassie. She eventually became a matron (similar to a 'clinical nurse manager' in the US. In Mollie's day the virtual hospital boss!)
One night in her early twenties, Mary was on duty in a ward, having a supper of fish and chips when she noticed an advert in the newspaper wrapping her chips - for a nurse to take responsibility for the hundreds of girls and women working in the Dunlop factory. As a newly registered nurse she was a bit cheeky applying for a job which would, and did, attract many senior nurses, some from her own hospital.
Despite the competition, Mary got the job. She put it down to being a young, bright, wholesome country girl who didn't wear the caked, mask-like make-up which was the fashion then. She also said that as a young innocent with a very moral upbringing she found herself thrown in a lion’s den. Although in her later days rather Conservative, her experiences as an industrial nurse made her, like millions of others of her generation, sympathise with the communists.
Tony, her future husband also worked at Dunlops, a very shy young trainee accountant. At the time Marie was earning more money than Tony. Dunlop employees would organise weekly rambles and Mary and Tony would meet at Manchester railway station where their courtship began - Tony the intellectual who had been accepted for Oxford (but refused the funding by his father), and the rosy cheeked girl from the country. The first present he bought her, in 1939, was a pocket Oxford book of poetry.
A marriage made in heaven
Tony's life-plan was to develop his career and get married when he was 40. Mary, with some help from Hitler and the German army, changed his mind. Mary also claimed that Tony had to marry her to get his radio back! They married in 1941. A total mismatch: he an intellectual from a line of extreme Protestants, she a peasant girl from a 100% Catholic village passed over by the Civil War. Both sets of parents were against the match; her parents refused to go to the wedding. A marriage made in heaven.
During the war, Tony was in barracks all round England and then posted abroad. Mary lived some of the time with, and looking after, her parents-in-law. On her days off she would go for cycle rides with her father-in-law, Alf. On more than one occasion pinching a cabbage from a farmer’s field. Although Alf hated Catholics a love hate relationship developed, Mary looking after him for the last 10 years of his life.
Mary was in Liverpool during the bombing. The first night she ran down to the cellar trailing her knitting behind her and getting covered in soot. After that whenever the sirens went off, she would sit under the table in her flat with a cooking pot on her head.
Unfortunately the baby she was knitting for was a stillborn, perfectly formed, boy. Mary never forgot his birthday.
Towards the end of the war Mary bought or rented a flat in readiness for Tony’s return, possibly while she was pregnant. The flat was above a secondhand shop, and through her friendship with the owner Mary developed a lifelong love of antiques.
After the war
After the war Mary made up for lost time, and in four years produced four healthy sons.
Tony went to India for Dunlops in 1947 to Calcutta to be followed by Mary and her one month old child. Their friends thought they were stupid as it was the year of partition between India and Pakistan. (Tony had to oversee the separation of Dunlops between the two communities.) Actually, it was an excellent place for a mother and child. Mary escaped wartime rationing and lived in the Grand Hotel, Calcutta, with an ayah - a Nepalese man - to look after the child. The child was weaned on curried chicken and rice served on a silver tray. While they were in India Mary and Tony rode on elephants, lived through partition, Gandhi's assassination, and saw the sun rise over Everest from Darjeeling. They left India on a plane to London which took 24 hours. Mary was pregnant with her second child.
On return to London the second and then a third son arrived in quick succession. While Mary was pregnant with the third child, Tony gave her a mackerel to gut while she was in bed. The blood and guts brought on the birth and Mary reckoned that's why that boy became a fisherman and loves to eat fish.
In 1950, the family sailed to South Africa, again escaping rationing. Another son was born in South Africa. Returning to England three and a half years later, the family spent some time in London before moving finally to Gordon House in Sutton Coldfield on the edge of Birmingham.
Mary had a sixth child in 1959, but she was still-born.
As her sons grew up Mary returned to work as a part-time nurse.
Amongst her many talents, Mary became a Cordon-Bleu chef and did a pottery course. In her later years she did a cryptic crossword each day.
Mary and Tony were remembered by their friends as excellent dancers.
They travelled widely once their children had grown and left home.
There is a story that somewhere in the Vose' history is a child by a (French or Italian?) sailor who came ashore from an Armada shipwreck. In 1588, the ships from the Spanish Armada escaped by going up the east coast of England and around the north of Scotland where many ships were lost to storms.
Any sailor shipwrecked on the West coast of England will be the survivor of a terrible journey, and will have been very fortunate to find himself in the village of Little Crosby, which was a small all-Catholic village that had not been touched by the religious and political strife of the time.
The history of the Vose family is closely linked to the Blundells, the village squires, for whom many generations of Vose men have worked. It is possible that the original Vose (perhaps Veaux, or Vaux) was a French mason brought to England by the Blundells, who had estates in, and links with, France (and Ireland).
Or perhaps the original Vose was the shipwrecked sailor mentioned above.
(Coincidentally, Mary's mother-in-law's family, Anniss, may also be descended from a shipwrecked sailor from the Armada.)
A Thomas Vose died when a convict ship sank in Table Bay in 1842. [link now dead]
Sisters, Friends and Neighbours