From British Columbia To New South Wales - The Aftermath, 1919 -1939
Fate was not finished with the Christie and Stobart families as they have yet to confront and survive both the Great Depression and the outbreak of World War II. When the 'kidnapped' grandaughters set out to reunite with their maternal grandparents it was fate that once again stepped in to irrevocably change the course of events that would lead to New South Wales and Wagga Wagga.
In my Aunt's words the story, again, continues.
The Lady Of The Black Horse - Mabel St Clair Stobart
The Aftermath 1919-1939
There are two icons in the Stobart family. The first of these is THE PAINTING. this is a large oil approximately 20" x 30" called "The Lady Of The Black Horse" executed in 1916 by George Rankin, which shows Aunt Mabel in true Byronic style leading her Corps through the mountains of Montenegro. The original is now situated in the red Cross Museum in Guildford (near London). There are a number of copies - Uncle Eric's is with his grandson, Eric St. Clair Stobart, in Wimbledon Village, Uncle Lionel's is in the Ashcroft Museum - improperly captioned according to my brother, Reg. Joanna Stobart Crichton has one in Wareham, her daughter, Pippy, has one in California, and she has given one to me and one to her granddaughter, Lindy Crichton Roberts, in Australia. Thus, copies of the painting are hanging in four countries.
The second icon is KNAPWYND and perhaps I should include this with THE GRAVES. Knapwynd is a country house and garden purchased in 1912 by Aunt Mabel as a holiday home for herself and her family. The name means "windy hill" and, indeed, if one is in the high garden one has a wonderful view of the Downs stretching down to the sea. It is situated in the Dorset vilage of Studland on the Isle of Purbeck (a peninsula not an island) on Studland Bay, on the south coast of England between Poole and Swanage. The whole area has a fascinating history, including as it does the village of Corfe, dominated by the ruins of Corfe Castle, dating back to Saxon times. The Graves lie in the churchyard of the lovely little Norman St. Nicholas Church, Studland, and contains remains of the Stobart family including those of Uncle Lionel and Aunt Phyllis. Joanna and Eric Stobart can watch over them by waling the very short distance from Knapwynd. But Studland has many places of importance and memory for us all. How to create Studland for the reader? - It's impossible.
Knapwynd has been in the family now for five generations. For a brief period it was out of Stobart hands, but thanks to the dedication of Eric Stobart, it is now reinstated. Because of the inevitable aging of the old home, Eric and his wife, Ginny, have torn it down and in the nineties have bult a new Knapwynd, modern but with the ambiance of the old retained.
To return to 1919, - when my father arrived in England with the two coffins, he was greeted by the Stobart family which besides Aunt Mabel and Eric, included a large extended family. Eric had recently become engaged to his first cousin, Claire Laing, daughter of Annie Stobart Laing (S. Clair's sister) and George Laing.
The Laing family was also suffering from World War 1 losses as two sons, Uncle Harry and Uncle Gilbert, had been killed in the navy and the army. There were three surviving children - Claire (b.1892), Cicely (b.1896) and Philip (b.1898).
These young people were called upon by the Stobart family to entertain "poor Gerry Christie" who had been through such a dreadful time, partly on their behalf. They congregated at Knapwynd. So my father, Gerry Christie, and my mother, Cicely Laing, met there and seemed to have courted on Studland beach.
By this time, Gerry Christie was employed as a land surveyor with the Canadian National Railway. He returned to Canada after a brief stay in England and a courtship of two weeks. In November 1919 my mother followed him to Canada and they were married in Vernon, B.C. on November 28, 1919.
The two little girls, Phyllis and Joan, remained in England under the legal guardianship of Aunt Mabel and when not at school lived with her and the Judge at Turner's Wood, Aunt Mabel having given up her plans fo a politacal career for their sakes. She proved to be a loving grandmother, remembered with great affection by my cousing Joanna. Joanna also recalls Judge Greenhalgh as a likeable and kindly man.
In September 2000, his grand niece Pa Heseltine, who had been staying in Corfe, came to lunch with Joanna having looked her up after seeing an article about Aunt Mabel for which Joanna had been interviewed, and I was introduced to her. There are also many members of the Stobart family whom the girls knew, although just names on the family tree to me, especially aunt Beatrice Boulton Galpin, Aunt Mabel's sister.
When my grandparents returned to Canada and decided to live in Vancouver, they, with my parents, bought a small acreage which is now the block bordering on Granville St. between 47th and 49th Avenues. The Ted McLorgs came to live on the south end of this, and my grandparents, over time, built several houses on what became a large city block.
It was on this land in South Vancouver, that I and my two brothers, Reg and Don, grew up. We are Jean (b. 1922), Reginald (b.1923 and Donald (b. 1926).
I now realize my birth, just five years after the end of the war, occurred under the shadow of these sad events. I suspect from the perspective of mature years that there was a lot of unresolved grief surrounding them. It was a time when people were taught or encouraged to be brave and turn away from their sorrow. How else did one survive the horrendous experiences confronting one?
Note: Wherein my aunt was born five years after the end of WWI, I was born six years after the end of WWII, the eldest of four children.
It was a good thing the McLorgs were part of our lives - for we were pretty cut off from the Laings and the Stobarts. How different it would have been if Uncle Reggie had survived to marry and have a family - how different if Uncle Lionel and Aunt Phyllis and the girls had been here in B.C.
My grandparents were wonderful grandparents and I am sorry for people who have not had their grandparents in their lives. How courageous they were! They had a flair so were never dull. There was always a fascinating goal ahead. latterly, they owned a little 1938 Ford, "The Arizona Kid", which took them south to California in the winter and to the Okanagan Valley in the summer. They were generous to us children in time and money and made summer holidays possible at a time when the Great Depression was at its height.
Meanwhile Uncle Eric and Aunt Claire, living in England, had four children - Anne, David, Diana and Robin. I remember Uncle Eric faintly from a short visit to us. Then he died of cancer in 1927 - Aunt Mabel had lost both her sons.
Perhaps prompted by this new tragedy my mother returned to England in 1928 for a six month stay, taking me, a six year old with her.
In those days, England was almost a mystical place, expensive in time and money to reach - a week across Canada and a week on the Cunard liner across the Atlantic. How vividly I remember this, my first of five (up to now) visits to England. These memories became a part of me, so that when I returned many years later, and looked about me, it seemed as if my inner self had suddenly surrounded me externally. the smell of freshly ground coffee will always remind me of Eastbourne where my Laing grandparents lived and a field of English bluebells means for me the home of Aunt Claire and my cousins at Dormy Cottage in Sussex. We spent august in Studland, walking down Watery Lane to the beach, searching for cawrie shells special to that beach, walking across the Downs to Old Harry rocks and sliding down the steep outer bailey of Corfe Castle on a tea tray. I met my cousins - Phyllis, Joan, Anne, david, Diana and Robin. I experienced the austerity of visits with Aunt Mabel both at Dormy Cottage and Knapwynd, and acquired an English accent much to the amusement of my father.
In the thirties, resentments between the grandparents diminished to a large extent and actually I suspect they respected each other quite a bit. Aunt Mabel had become very interested in spiritualism and lent her forceful personality to that pursuit. In late 1939 the two girls arranged to visit us all in Canada. They were in their early twenties and m brothers and I were in our teens. They sailed from Southhampton on the "Athenia" in September. GREAT EXCITEMENT!
No sooner had they departed than war was declared. The Athenia became the first British ship torpedoed by the Germans in World War II and the girls ended up in a lifeboat instead of Vancouver. Joanna has vivid memories of this awful crisis. As it turned out, they both had young men in the background - had they reached Canada they would have had to stay through the war - a very different life experience. As it was, they both remained in England for the rest of their lives so the chance to see my grandparents again was gone. My grandfather died in 1942, aged 77, and my grandmother in 1947, aged 82.
In our age of high technology and available maternity wards, we must remind ourselves to pay tribute to the fortitude and strength of these pioneers like my grandparents for whom hardship was a way of life. They did not survive to enjoy the age of the aeroplane which has kept us all together - Christies, Laings and Stobarts.
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