Ellen Ann Fraser MacNiven Michie (1896-1947)

'Root person' for the Michie family history - Generation 2.

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Family Tree
Family Tree

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Family Group
Family Group

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Marriage, 1919
Marriage, 1919

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Lane Family, 1940
Lane Family, 1940

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Ellen and Henry, 1920
Ellen and Henry, 1920

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Ellen was the first of six children born to her parents, and for the most part was raised in Inverness, the capital city of the Scottish Highlands, located 569 miles (915 kilometers) north of London.

 

At the time of her birth, her father was employed by the Highland Railway Company as an engine driver, the ‘plum job’ on the railway during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Although a well-respected occupation, it could be perilous as was evidenced by the death of her uncle George Begg Michie in mysterious circumstances while driving an engine in 1901. Her brother Charles Michie also had an untimely death in 1943, when his head came into contact with the wall of a tunnel as the train he was driving entered it.

 

Ellen spent her teenage years and early twenties living with her widowed grandmother Ellen Ann Fraser in Inverness, following the deaths of three of her siblings:

 

In 1904, when Ellen was 8 years old, her sister Jane Metcalf Michie died from pneumonia aged 1 year and 5 months.

 

In 1909, when Ellen was 13 years old, her brother Thomas John Michie died from pneumonia aged 10 days.

 

In 1910, when Ellen was 14 years old, her sister Jessie MacKeddie Michie died from tuberculosis aged 12 years.

 

Her strict but kindly grandmother, took her in at the request of her grieving parents, and guided her through this terrible time.

 

It was her grandmother who ensured Ellen’s courtship with a handsome young sailor named Herbert Alfred Lane, was conducted with the utmost propriety. The couple first met at a dance during Herbert’s posting with the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve (R.N.V.R.) at South Kessock in Inverness, during World War I (1914-1918).

 

After marrying Herbert, Ellen had a comfortable life until the high level of unemployment brought by the Great Depression (1929-1939) left him struggling to find regular paid work, despite being a highly skilled carpenter. During this decade, her family’s fortunes declined rapidly, until they found themselves living on the breadline in a municipal tenement house built in 1899.

 

This economic recession began in the United States of America (U.S.A.) on 29 October 1929, following the 'Wall Street Crash' (American Stock Market collapse) and soon spread to Europe and the rest of the world. The financial instability which preceded it, was caused by the debt many European countries had accumulated during World War I.

 

Aside from her financial troubles, Ellen was deeply saddened by the loss of her father in 1930, and of her much-loved grandmother in 1936.

 

From 1936 onwards, the British Government followed a policy of mass re-armament to counter the threat from Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist German Workers' ('Nazi') Party in Germany. This provided the economic stimulus which finally ended the Great Depression ahead of the outbreak of World War II (1939-1945).

 

After struggling through the interminable years of the Great Depression, World War II brought further hardship for Ellen’s family.

 

For Britain, this war began on 3 September 1939, as a conflict between Germany and the combined forces of France and Britain, and eventually included most nations of the world before it ended on 2 September 1945. The loss of life and material destruction was the greatest of any war in history. An estimated 30 million civilians and 25 million military personnel were killed.

 

Inverness, where Ellen and her family lived during the war years, was typical of the smaller cities in Britain, in that it was not specifically targeted by German bombers. However, its population was subjected to the same wartime regulations and restrictions (including rationing and the 'blackout') as the rest of Britain. The hardship suffered by Ellen’s family, was caused by their poverty and inability to afford the commodities they needed, rather than the devastation caused by German bombing.

 

This conflict parted Ellen from her much beloved son Henry Austin Lane for 4 years and 11 months, while he was incarcerated as a Prisoner of War (P.O.W.) in Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia. She had been so against him being sent overseas, she altered his birth certificate in a naïve attempt to stop the inevitable.

 

With the majority of young men serving in the military, the General Post Office (G.P.O.) called for ladies to volunteer as postwomen. Although initially, these positions were considered to be temporary, the women proved themselves to be dependable and reliable, so they were retained on a more permanent basis. Ellen became one of 100,000 postwomen employed nationwide.

 

The benefits of this paid occupation were relatively short-lived as Ellen became ill with breast cancer, and died 2 years after the war ended. Until the day he died, her son Henry was convinced that the heavy mail bags slung across his diminutive mother’s torso, caused her cancer. He bitterly regretted the circumstances which had kept him away from home when his mother needed him most.

 

Following Ellen’s death, Herbert moved with his youngest children to Reigate in Surrey to be close to the surviving members of his birth family.

 

Ellen’s children are her legacy. Collectively, they have given her thirteen grandchildren, many great-grandchildren and a smattering of great-great-grandchildren.  

Proud Postie

 

Ellen’s parents didn’t know what to do

when she lost two sisters and a brother too,

Her grandmother stepped into the breach

and into Ellen’s heart did reach.

 

Ellen and Herbert became one

after the First World War was won,

The Great Depression took Herbert’s job away

and Ellen’s role as a postie saved the day.

 

The Second World War brought little joy

as Ellen saw her eldest boy,

Captured as a Prisoner of War

in a land beyond Britain’s shore.

 

After much suffering and grief

Ellen’s career as a postie was brief,

As cancer stole her final breath

and left her family stunned by her death.

© Mel Hamson, 2021

 

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