Ann or Liz?

Stainburn School featured in the Yorkshire Evening Post, 30 November 1959. Own collection.

Some people know Mum as Ann, others as Liz. Mum’s quite happy to be called either; the only time she grumbles is when someone spells Ann with an “e.” The story as to why almost perfectly captures Mum’s early life. 

The young Ann Barrett was a shy girl brought up by parents who were always deferential to those in authority. Fortunately, the local primary school in Stainburn was tiny, just seven pupils and one of those was Ann’s big brother, Richard, who could look out for his little sister. Faced with a diverse selection of ages and abilities Miss Littlewood used nature walks and local history projects to engage the children and ensure they all developed the basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic.

Ann thrived.

In the last year of primary school came the eleven plus exams to sort the children between the rather imposing and ancient Prince Henry’s Grammar and Otley Secondary Modern, built to contain teenagers who were felt unlikely to pass GCEs. Richard had cheerfully headed off to the latter where he quickly established friendships which were to outlive him. However, young Ann was bright and Miss Littlewood’s teaching effective. Suddenly she was faced with prospect of a new school without her big brother there to protect her.

Having transitioned from a school with twenty-six pupils to a school with sixteen hundred I have some sense of how intimidated my Mum must have felt. And, although Harrogate Grammar was a comprehensive by that time, it had retained the buildings and traditions from an earlier age. I knew just one person in my year, and she had been placed in a different class. I, too, was on my own. It was daunting.

Had Ann ever seen that many people in one place before? The noise must have been deafening to the quiet child brought up on a remote farm in the countryside. Having finally found the right classroom Ann was ready for her first ever class register. The form teacher called out for Elizabeth Barrett and Ann may have looked around at first to see who else had the same surname until it dawned on her that the teacher was referring to her. For our Ann’s first name was Elizabeth. And that was the start. Too shy to correct the teacher it was by Elizabeth that she was known as by her fellow students.

Deference to teachers was to prove a positive force In Mum’s life when, a few years later, another teacher asked: “Which A-levels are you taking?” and then a couple of years after that “What universities are you applying to?” For Ann or indeed Liz had not thought of A-levels and certainly would never have considered studying for a degree in Mathematics at the University of Manchester.

After university Mum started work at Midland Bank in Otley and of course many of her customers and colleagues knew her as Liz, so Liz stuck. Yet family and friends from home continued to call her Ann. It’s such a strong divide that it’s easy to know when and where Mum met certain of her friends from the name she is called.

Something of that dual nature was gifted to me. Named Jenny Natasha and called Jenny for the first six months of my life, I still get confused when the doctor calls for Jenny Clayton. But I am not the shy eleven-year-old country girl facing her stern schoolteacher in the grown-up school….

Postscript: after sharing this blog with Mum I discovered the only reason she was called Ann in the first place was because big brother Richard, who was just two when his sister was born, struggled to pronounce Elizabeth. Faced with the prospect of a third name “Lilibert,” Nana & Grandpy wisely chose Ann instead!

The tank in the woods

The post landed with a loud thump. It was a package from my sister containing two old issues of “After the battle.” Why was my sister sending me thirty-year-old magazines on the machinery of war?

The tank in the woods, with my sisters & I. Own collection.

This picture above provides the connection. My sister had been walking the paths close to our childhood home and remembered the decrepit but much loved tank in the woods. “I was thinking about my connection to the area, and the land, and the top land, then the area round it, and we walked that way, and I was telling […..] about it. Then I was thinking it would be great if we could find the spot where it was.”

The tank in question was a Churchill Mk II. Once belonging to C Squadron, 9th Battalion, Royal Tank Regiment and she had become bogged down on Stainburn Moor in 1941. In the 1950s the Forestry Commission planted the area with spruce trees and the tank must have slowly been forgotten by everyone but those who lived close by. People like us for whom the tank was like a piece of playground equipment in the middle of the woods.

After the battle – issue 35 – featuring our tank on the cover. Own collection.
After the battle – issue 46 – describing the tank recovery. Own collection.

When a local resident sent a picture into “After the battle” in 1982 our tank became a cover girl. Someone, somewhere decided she was worth saving and by 1984 the tank had been recovered and taken to the Museum of Army Transport in Beverley. When that Museum closed in 2003, she was moved to the Tank Museum in Dorset where she remains to this day. As the only Churchill Mk II in the country, she even has her own YouTube video. Tank Chats #112 | Churchill Mk I and II | The Tank Museum.

“Our” tank, on a family trip to the Museum of Army Transport. Own collection.

Today was a wonderful reminder of the many strange paths family research takes you down. With much gratitude to my sister Helen for researching this lovely snippet of our family’s history.  

A postscript

Paul Towers is my third cousin through Amelia Bradbury & Michael Houseman, my Grandma’s paternal grandparents. We now know we are relatives through at least two other branches and, as Paul grew up in Leathley, he also knew my Houseman Uncles from school. Yet it took a myheritage DNA match for us to connect as fellow family history geeks. In the last six months I’ve learnt how much his commitment to sharing family history has helped me with my own. Thanks to my sister’s own research I can start to return the favour because, as it turns out, Churchill tanks & Bovington tank museum link directly to his father, Bob.

Bob Towers at Bovington. Paul Towers photo.

I knew my dad had been in tanks during the war but he never, ever spoke about it. Then, the Washburn Heritage people got in touch for a story about locals who had served for their oral history project. I think it was this that opened him up. He knew he was in the twilight of his life and he told me he wanted to go to the Tank Museum at Bovington, Dorset. I booked a local pub and we went down for a couple days. He took some of his photos and papers from the army for them to copy or keep. On meeting the curator he was extremely grateful. Dad had been in the 7th Royal Tank Regiment and the museum had no artefacts regarding them at all. The attached photo is him standing next to a Churchill similar to the one he was in. The following summer dad said he wanted to go again, so I booked the same pub, but this time I rang the museum and spoke to the curator. When we got there he was waiting for us, he gave dad a transcription of the 7RTR war diary and took us to the display where dad’s memorabilia was on show. I swear he was close to tears“. 

Who could have asked for a more perfect postscript to connect the past to the present?