Wednesday, 11 May 2016

The Diary of Eda Kathleen Biddlecombe

Original post: ww1greenwichwomenatwar.org/2016/05/11/eda-kathleen-biddlecombe-well-hall/


It is wonderful to have a diary of a fourteen year old living on the estate giving an insight into
daily life. The diary of Eda Kathleen Biddlecombe was donated to the Greenwich Heritage Centre in the 1970s. Eda’s family came from Totnes but moved first to Bexleyheath and then to 6, Cobbett Road during the war. Eda Kathleen herself was born on July 3rd 1903, her sister, Eileen Violet A, in 1901 and her brother, William Holman Elmes (who seems to have been called Tom in the family) was born in 1905.
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Well Hall Estate c1920



Their parents, Eda Kate Ewens and William Henry Ewens Biddlecombe married in 1895 in Totnes. Eda also refers to her baby sister Mary in the diary. She was born on 30 March 1914.
Her little diary for the first six months of 1918 reveals lots of things about her life and the life of her family. It stops rather abruptly in June. On the personal side it reveals that she took a size 4 in hats, 4.25 in boots and 9.5 in gloves and we learn she was important in carrying out family and household chores because both her parents were working and there was a baby and younger brother to look after. The family still had links with relatives in Dorset, and there was contact with the older sister Eileen although we can’t tell where she was living. Eda’s mother was working at the Arsenal in the fuse shop and it is likely that her father who she called Dada, was there too as he was working shifts. However when they had first moved to Bexleyheath he was a tanner.
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Eileen and Eda 1903. By kind permission of Karen Hansen.
Eda didn’t have to go to school. With a school leaving age of 12 at the time she might have been out of education for two years and so she stayed at home and seems to have looked after her siblings, but especially the baby, and to have done the household chores of cleaning, cooking and shopping.
She doesn’t refer to the necessity of cleaning the windows once a week as originally specified in the Tenants Book, but she cleaned inside the house: bedrooms, a passageway, scullery, bathroom and the stove are mentioned. She mentions her own cooking occasionally – boiled fish heads and rissoles made of fish heads – and also making pancakes and having a fine roast beef meal which made life worth living!. She could salt beef and make jam with locally picked fruit. 
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Tom, Eileen and Eda 1906. By kind permission of Karen Hansen.
Of all her chores shopping is mentioned the most. Food shortages at the beginning of 1918 had got quite serious and queuing for some things might take two hours. Many items are in short supply but the lack of bacon, margarine and cheese was a problem. To help with this brother Tom was kept off school but that led to trouble. Mother got a letter from the authorities and had to appear in court because of Tom’s repeated absences. The case was dismissed on April 23rd perhaps because by then he was 12. Food was bought in Woolwich market and also locally. Once rationing was introduced on February 25th 1918 it seems as if queuing was less of a problem.
To help with the supply of food their family in Dorset sent them sacks of vegetables and there are comments about the things that would be grown in the garden. Flowers (roses, lupins, chrysanthemums, pinks) – yes, but also potatoes like King Edwards and parsley and radishes are mentioned The family’s diet was also helped when Dadda learned to skin rabbit. Clearly however, Eda’s help was vital in allowing both her parents to work.


 

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