Saturday, December 27, 2014

MY MOTHER'S STORY (continued)

In our last episode we had mum working at the British Oxygen Company and in a typing office.  It was wartime and she continues her story as follows: (this would have been ca 1916)

Excerpt from 'THE CLOCK OF TIME' by Gertrude Ruston (pp26-29) (pictures provided by me to add to the story)

"Unexpectedly I was offered a job as confidential secretary to the Manager of the newly formed Royal Commission on the Sugar Supply, and, as this was a government service, I decided to sever my connection with the typewriting office and V.A.D. and throw everything into what was undoubtedly of great importance to the community and war effort.

My chief's name was Mr Julius Joseph Runge.  The family was of German origin, but they were all British born and had carried on an important business as sugar brokers in Mincing Lane for generations.

The Commission was formed to safeguard the supply of sugar to industry, the community and the armed forces, and was vital to the war effort.  Practically all staff members of the Commission were recruited from the sugar trade, many from Mr Runge's office.   Some of them had joined Kitchener's army, but, if they were not A1 healthwise, or considered to be more valuable at home than in the fighting forces, they were released from the army and put to work where they could be of vital importance to the war effort.  It was from these men that the Commission drew its staff, all of them having spent many years in the trade.

The members of the Commission were outstanding people like Sir Robert Park Lyle, Bart., (Lyle's Golden  Syrup); Sir Joseph White Todd; Sir Henry Primrose; Captain Charles Bathurst (who later became Sir Charles Bathurst; then Lord Bledisloe and, finally, after the war, Viscount Bledisloe of Lydney, Gloucester and Government of New Zealand).  (Note:  Sadly Sir Henry Primrose took his own life in 1923 at the age of 76.  He was a chronic insomniac and in later life had suffered from depression.  As mum at that time was in Australia she may never have known of this tragedy.)

Direct telephone lines were put through to my office from Sir Robert Park Lyle and the Admirality, necessary to keep us informed hourly of the sinkings of sugar boats or their safe arrival.  By this time it had become necessary for our cargo ships to be made up into convoys escorted by naval vessels but, despite this, many were torpedoed by U-boats.

 Food was rationed, and wholesalers and manufacturers were only given a proportion of the sugar bought by them during a former fixed twelve month period.  They had to produce their accounts for the year in question or were refused supplies.

Many small business people who had destroyed their receipts were desperate as it meant the end of their businesses.  I was put in charge of these difficult cases and had men and women break down when telling me of their difficulties.  Sugar brokers dealt only in sugar so, by recourse to cheque books and consultation with brokers to whom the cheques had been sent, I managed to solve a large number quite legally, and the people concerned were truly grateful.  One of these, a Jewish woman cool drink manufacturer, brought me in a beautiful umbrella as a gift of appreciation, but I was unable to accept it as it might have been considered bribery and corruption.  However, she was determined to show her appreciation and had it delivered later to my home anonymously as a Xmas gift.

 Supplies of damaged sugar also passed through my hands as well as golden syrup and molasses.  In dealing with the I was amazed to learn the many uses to which it was put, including the manufacture of boot blacking and the silvering of mirrors.  At 19 it was a heavy responsiblity to take on, although at the time I thought nothing of it.  I have since marvelled at the amount of confidential knowledge and trust imposed in me.

Supplies of sugar were a constant worry and, at one time, there was only sufficient in England to last two weeks, but people were quite unaware of the situation.  Just in time the navy managed to bring supplies safely to port to the great relief of us all at the Commission,

Neutral countries were used by both sides to obtain food supplies, and I remember hearing that we purchased supplied of beet sugar from Germany through a neutral country, and supplied butter for our enemy through the same middle source.  In this way neutral countries frequently make huge profits out of war.

By this time Amy's husband had been recruited into the services, trained at Cambridge University as an officer and had been sent to France.  News from France was terrible and the poor old "Contemptibles" (the Kaiser's name for our little army) were being slaughtered.  Day after day the names of people we knew appeared in the casualty lists, and to be an officer seemed almost a sentence of death.  (This is a group of the Old Contemptibles)

 As the war continued my duties became extremely heavy, and as I was still confidential secretary to the Manager, and often called upon to undertake confidential work for members of the Commission, I as frequently working until midnight and at weekends.

It was then decided to bring a man in to handle part of my work, and he was given that dealing with golden syrup and molasses.  I was most annoyed to learn that he was to receive £800 a year (a large salary then) to do only part of my work, while I had been receiving £250 a year for coping with the lot.

Special applications were made to Treasury on my behalf, but I was refused an increase as I was being paid the maximum possible for a woman without a university degree.  My assistant, who also did not have a university degree, was eligible for the larger salary as he was a male.  There were so many anomalies in government service, but pressure for equal pay has now resulted in better conditions for women.

My service with the Commission was really the crowning point of my career in England as, by having achieved such a position at the age of 19, which covered confidential services to the government, a department of my own, control of a pool of about 40 typists, as well as the opportunity to work directly with the members of the Commission and my close association with my immediate chief, there was little more to which I could aspire.

At about that time the Secretary of the Commission, Mr C. S. Rewcastle, who was a barrister, needed a secretary, and I advised my sister of the vacancy and suggested she apply if she wished.  My brother-in-law was overseas in France, my mother was able and willing to care for their young son. so Amy applied for the job and obtained it by her own efforts.  I did not attempt to introduce her or put her name forward, and it was a long time before anybody learnt that we were sisters as she was, of course, engaged under her married name.  In addition, were were not physically alike as I was very fair and rather like my mother in features, while Amy had dark hair and a bright colour rescembling our father.  In temperament also we were very different.

Some time after this the British Empire Medal was introduced to be presented to people giving outstanding service either at home or in the field.  A number of men in the Commission were given the M.B.E., possibly because they had been withdrawn from the army and were giving essential service.  (This is the MBE as awarded in 1918)

At this time my sister collapsed with a nervous breakdown due, no doubt, to worry over her husband in France, where things were going badly, and pressure of work at the Commission.  She was sent away on leave and her boss recommended her for the M.B.E.  (Note:  I have often wondered why mum was not also recommended for an M.B.E. considering the type of work she did at the Commission.  She received one many years later in Australia for the social welfare work she did in the community.)

Here I will leave mum's story and continue next time with another quite important change in her life.


  1. Not only is this your amazing Mum Mimsie, but the history contained within is astounding!
    May you and Phil enjoy and peaceful and healthy new year Mimsie dear.

    1. Thank you Rose and I am glad you find the history as interesting as I do. Although mum often spoke through the years of the things she had done I have always been glad she wrote it down for the rest of her family to read about it.
      I hope you and your family also enjoy 2015 with health, happiness and fun.

  2. Your Mum's story is fascinating Mimsie. Absolutely incredible the wide differences between male and female salaries also. Happy New Year to you and Phil :)

    1. Yes Denise it is fascinating. She was fantastic the things she did in her lifetime.
      I think there are still some discrepancies between male and female wages and always will be for various reasons.
      I wish you both happiness and good health in 2015. May the year be kind to you.

  3. Your Mom led such an interesting life and saw so many changes in her lifetime.

    1. You are right Delores, she saw many changes; many more than we've seen in ours in lots of ways although of course in our lifetime it is technology that has changed so much.

  4. She led such a full and varied life, and made the most of it. No wonder you are so proud of her.

    1. I think the later years of her life were even more full but that is much later in the story. We all consider her as something of a wonder woman.

  5. Hari Om
    My, but the equality has come on leaps and bounds... and yet still there are disparities. Then again, that your mother was working as she did, was quite an achievement for the times... thank you for continuing to share her life with us Mimsie! YAM xx

    1. I think mum definitely had a lot of her father in her and one reason I feel was she was always trying to prove herself to him, trying to be the son he had always wanted.
      I am encouraged by people seemingly enjoying mum's story so will continue while that happens. Thank you. xxx

  6. Difficult to remember that sugar was so severely rationed when these days we are practically over run with the stuff. It is in almost everything we eat or drink, unless you are living on water and meat. Fruit and vegetables of course contain their own sugars, so no added sugar is there, but read the ingredients list of everything else and you'll find some kind of sugar. diabetic foods would be the exception, but even they have some sort of sweetening.
    Interesting to read the uses spoiled sugar products was put to. Boot blacking and silvering of mirrors. I never would have connected either of those with sweet stuff.

    1. Hi seem to be really enjoying mum's story and I'm glad you are as it makes it worthwhile me continuing. Thank you.
      I too was amazed about the boot blacking etc. The things we learn eh?
      Even diabetic food contains sugar of one kind or another and now we are told that perhaps sweeteners are not all that good either.

  7. I've never liked artificial sweeteners, they are chemically produced and I prefer to use the natural sugar. There are several plants now that have been found to be naturally very sweet, Stevia is one, and sugars are being made from them, but people are using them thinking that they are cutting back on sugar, when really they are only substituting one form of sugar for another. The difference I suppose is that these newer forms are supposedly much much sweeter so only a fraction of the amount is needed. But I looked on one of those packets and it doesn't specify how much of the product would equal a teaspoon of regular sugar, so I didn't buy any to try.
    My mum discovered at some point that she could eat quite a lot of regular foods in small amounts, only jam was to be avoided as it spiked her blood sugar, even weight watchers and other diabetic forms of jam caused the spike. Probably the naturally occurring fruit sugar was the problem.

    1. There is a lot of controversy these days about diabetic diets and it is changing constantly. My endocrinologist (after I asked him about low carb diets) said my blood glucose would go down if I ate less carbs and yet diabetic dieticians constantly tell us we must eat lots of carbs. You work it out 'cos I can]t. If you try to change your eating habits too much you then have to try to balance your medication and insulin intake which is not always easy to do.
      As far as sugar is concerned I eat fruit and normal jam but have to avoid pasts and rice and so does Phil I don't use sugar in coffee or tea and don't drink soft drinks. The only sweets I eat are pepperments (a couple a day) and occasionally small quantities of dark chocolate.
      I don't trust a lot of these new 'wonder' foods and feel that recently I caught a healing that said some of them could be injurious to health so there you go.
      Who and what do we believe? Using one's common sense I think is the only way to go.