Sunday, 9 October 2016

George goes to see the King

When George and Louisa Smith moved to Grand Coulee in 1907, there were still two sons and four daughters with them, all of whom were old enough to take on a good portion of house and farm work.  And from at least 1911 on, George also had three hired hands living at the farm.  So perhaps he started to take things a little easier himself.   In 1911 when he was 60 years old, he took the first long holiday that I know of.  It was the year of King George V's coronation, and George apparently felt a hankering to go back to England for this event.  Louisa, however, wasn't a keen traveller, and didn't want to go - so he went alone (1).

Tracing this journey is a little tricky, but I believe I've found him on the 'Lake Champlain' travelling from Montreal to Liverpool in May that year.  By that time, his parents and at least four of his siblings had passed away (perhaps five - his brother Richard dropped off the radar in 1871).  Two brothers, Alfred and Frederick, were in Australia, so the only siblings who I'm sure were still in England were Lucy, in Somerset, Mary Ann in Devon, and John and Clara in London.  I have no evidence that he got in touch with any or all of them, but I feel sure that he did.  He seems to have stayed in England for a few months, so it's likely that he spent a good part of that time with Cockram family members (and no doubt he told them why he changed his name!).

George may have been among the crowds of people who lined the streets of London on the 22nd of June to see the new king and queen go to and from Westminster Abbey.  And he certainly visited the Festival of Empire, a grand exhibition which ran for months at the Crystal Palace to celebrate the coronation.  The festival's souvenir brochure declared the aim of the event:  it was ‘a Social Gathering of the British Family’ to encourage the ‘firmer welding of those invisible bonds which hold together the greatest empire the world has ever known’. (2)

It was a huge affair covering a vast expanse of grounds, with an elaborate pageant, sporting events and exhibitions of products and inventions from the countries of the British empire, displayed in three-quarter size models of their parliament buildings erected in the grounds.


As far as I can tell, George came back to Canada in November, at which time the Quebec ports would have been closed due to ice, so the ship docked at Halifax, and George travelled from there to Grand Coulee by train.

One memento he brought back with him, which is still in the family, was a pocket watch - a Waltham, made in the United States in 1907. Its open face (i.e. there's no cover over it) is in Roman Numerals with 24 hour markings, with a second hand is in a circle at the bottom. It's a lovely timepiece as it was manufactured, but George enhanced it significantly - and at what expense, I wonder - by having the back engraved with an elaborate arrangement of his (assumed) initials - GTS.  I've doctored one photo to make it easier to see the intertwined letters.  Some years after George bought the watch, he added a coin to the chain - a 1925 King George V two pence piece.  Perhaps this was to forever associate the watch with the occasion on which he bought it.

It's nice to think that he used this watch for the rest of his life, but I don't know if he did or not.  When he died in 1943, the watch came into the possession of his youngest daughter Audrey, and in 1958, she gave it to one of George's great grandsons, my cousin Dick, who was six years old at the time.  Dick still has the watch, and he tells me that 109 years after it was manufactured,  it still keeps perfect time.

1) As told by Prue Wanamaker to my cousin Donna.
2) 'Souvenir of the Pageant of London', with several pictures and great detail of the events that took place. Online here

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