23 February 2012

'George Thomas and Ethel May in Saskatoon', by Robert Hughes

George Thomas went to Canada in 1920 in the hope of a better life.

He had been a vacuum-cleaner salesman in Walsall in the West Midlands of England according to the 1911 UK census, and there are letters from the time when he was serving in the Army in India, (dated in the late 1890s).

He married Ethel May Morris in 1906, and their only known child was George Albert, born in 1915 in Coventry. Elsewhere on this blog is an account of George Albert's tragic participation in the Spanish Civil War: he was 'missing in action' on the memorial of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion, which in the context of that war means he was killed.

Above is the obituary notice for Ethel May Thomas, inserted in the Star Phoenix newspaper of Saskatoon by relatives or friends, which tells us that she died on February 16th 1971.

She had been a matron at the YMCA for 37 years until her retirement in 1958, which means she took the post very soon after arriving in Canada. They had first gone to Wolseley, Saskatchewan, to join George's brother Frank, and it could even have been Ethel May's appointment which took them into the big town of Saskatoon.

Ethel May Morris was born at Holt, Wiltshire. Her father was born at Farleigh Hungerford, and at her birth he was a gardener on a large estate in the area. Ethel May started her working life as a housemaid, (1901 census), and later went to work in the Midlands where she met and married Samuel Thomas, who was by that time universally known as George, (but not on his marriage certificate of course). Samuel bore the name of his father (Samuel Thomas 1835-1912), and grandfather (Samuel Thomas 1807-1878); so it is easy to imagine why, for the sake of simplicity, he was accorded a different forename! 'George' was so fashionable then anyway: students of the Thomas family tree will see that Lilas Thomas (c.1868-1949) married a William Warwick, but he also preferred to be called George!

George Thomas predeceased Ethel May and died on 18th February 1946, when he would have been 73: a respectable age but not approaching that of his siblings Irza, who died at 92; Francis (Frank), who is said to have died at over 90 although this is as yet unconfirmed; Rosa (later known as Rose) who made it to 93 albeit having had 57 years in mental hospitals; Florence who died at 92; and Newton who died just nine days short of his 92nd birthday.

Many another woman would have crumpled under the weight of the loss of her husband and her only son, but Ethel May continued to work as Matron of the YMCA for twelve more years, and even after retirement she was active in fund-raising, bowling, and as a member of St John's Cathedral in the city.

She and George are buried in grave 99-L108-N1/2 in Saskatoon's Woodlawn Cemetery.

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