Monday, 22 September 2014

Recalling the Unstoppable Ethel Shorthouse

It is fifteen years since I transcribed the pages of the Australian Journal of my great aunt Ethel Lees Shorthouse, and viewed the postcard correspondence between her and my grandmother, her younger sister, during the years leading up to the voyage to Adelaide in 1913. Since that time I have frequently mined her writings as sources for college and university assignments, slowly building up a body of research, and have tried to tease out Ethel’s motivations for her big pre-war adventure.

I met Ethel only once, when I was a teenager, and probably not long before her death in 1966. At that age I had little interest in this outwardly timid woman who, I was told at the time, had undergone horrifying privations and deportation during World War Two at the hands of occupying German forces in her home of Jersey, the Channel Islands. What an opportunity I missed then! But teenagers live in the moment, with little thought for past or future. Maturity eventually brought me to ‘connect’ with this extraordinary and long-suffering woman. I learned to empathise with her as a mother, and to appreciate her strength in trying to keep her family together.

Now my sister Terri has also drawn on Ethel’s experiences to inspire a piece of glass sculpture for her end-of-degree exhibition at Sunderland University. The amount of data available on the internet during the fifteen years I’ve worked on Ethel’s Journal has expanded enormously. Terri and I have benefited from the new resources available to ordinary, not just academic, historians to expand sketchy family history, and produce validation of and insight into Ethel’s life. Although this volume only covers her emigration to Australia, and its effects on her life between the two world wars, I hope it will provide new insights into her character, and fill in some ‘blanks’ left in her Journal.

No comments:

Post a Comment