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Ellen Ann Fraser MacNiven Michie (1896-1947)

'Root person' for the Michie family history. Mother of Henry Austin Lane - Generation 2.

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Ellen was the first of six children born to her parents. She and her siblings for the most part, were raised in Inverness, the capital city of the Scottish Highlands, located 569 miles (915 kilometers) north of London. At the time of her birth, Ellen’s father was employed as a railway engine driver, the ‘plum job’ on the railway during the late nineteenth century. 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 in charge of an engine, and of her brother Charles Michie whose head came into contact with the wall of a tunnel as the train he was driving entered it.


Through her lifetime, Ellen endured the loss of many members of her birth family:


  • 1904: Her sister Jane Metcalf Michie died from pneumonia at the age of 1 year and 5 months.

  • 1909: Her brother Thomas John Michie died from pneumonia at the age of 10 days.

  • 1910: Her sister Jessie MacKeddie Michie died from tuberculosis at the age of 12 years.

  • 1930: Her father Charles Mitchell Michie died from cardiac failure at the age of 61 years.

  • 1943: Her brother Charles Michie died while in charge of a railway engine at the age of 43 years.


After marrying Herbert Alfred Lane, Ellen had a reasonably comfortable life until the high level of unemployment brought by the Great Depression (1929-1939), left Herbert struggling to find regular, paid employment despite being a highly skilled carpenter. From around 1936, Ellen and her family 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 (1914-1918), the conflict in which Herbert fought with the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve (R.N.V.R.).


Overseas customers for British produce had been lost, especially in traditional industries such as textiles, steel, coal mining and ship building. British industrial output and exports during the 1920s ran at about 70% of their pre-World War I levels, so there was little chance of Britain being able to amass enough capital to restore her overseas investment position. As demand for British products collapsed, the effect on traditional industries was immediate and devastating.


By the end of 1930, unemployment had more than doubled from 1 million to 2.5 million and exports had fallen in value by 50%. ​Those areas reliant on textiles, steel, coal mining and ship building were hardest hit. From 1936 onwards, the 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).


This war began on 3 September 1939 as a conflict between Germany and the combined forces of France and Britain and eventually included most of the 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.


It was caused by the rise of totalitarian military regimes in Germany, Italy and Japan. In Germany Adolf Hitler head of the National Socialist German Workers' ('Nazi') Party, became German Chancellor in 1933, shortly after which he assumed dictatorial rule. Hitler broke the Treaty of Versailles which had ended World War I by proceeding with a massive build-up of Germany’s armed forces with a view to creating the Third Reich (3rd German Empire) and a German 'Master Race' through the conquering and subjugation of as many countries in the world as possible. By the end of the war, the United States of America (U.S.A.) had become the most powerful nation in the world and the possessor of atomic weapons. This war also increased the power of the Soviet Union (Russia), which gained control of Eastern Europe and part of Germany.


Inverness was the town in which Ellen and her family lived during the war years. In many ways it typified the smaller towns and cities in Britain, in that it was not specifically targeted by German bombers, but its population was subjected to the same wartime regulations and restrictions (including conscription, rationing and the 'blackout') as the rest of Britain. The hardship suffered by Ellen’s family, was in the main caused by their poverty and inability to afford the commodities they needed. It also parted her 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 even altered his birth certificate in a naïve attempt to prevent him from being sent overseas.


Ellen worked as a postwoman during this war. With so many men serving in the military overseas, the General Post Office (G.P.O.) just before Christmas 1940, called for 8,000 ladies to volunteer as postwomen, an opportunity she took advantage of. These positions initially were considered to be temporary, however, the women proved themselves to be dependable and reliable, so the decision was taken to retain them on a more permanent basis, and by November 1941, 100,000 postwomen were employed in both permanent and temporary positions nationwide.


The benefits of this 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 along with poor nutrition caused her cancer. He bitterly regretted the circumstances which 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 closer to the surviving members of his birth family, and more easily find employment. Ellen’s children thrived and have collectively given her thirteen grandchildren, many great-grandchildren and a smattering of great-great-grandchildren.


Note: In line with National Genealogy Society guidelines, personal information about living ancestors has not been revealed on this website.

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