Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Finding Harry

A Letter from the Infirmary

I remember when my aunts Margaret and Eileen became interested in the Chinery family history, they would mention they thought there may be one child left unaccounted.
I would imagine this was based on conversations with the previous generation; but as we all know, they were a tight lipped lot.  My great grandparents William Henry Chinery and Lydia Matilda Boreham were a blended family.  They had both lost their previous spouses.  He brought, what is now known, 5 children into the relationship; she had at least 3 children with her previous husband Henry Flack.  Then William Henry (known as Harry as well) and Lydia had four additional children together.  One of the additional children was my grandfather, Arthur Chinery.
As you can imagine, with 12 children of potential aunts and uncles to account for, it could have been easy for the next generation to lose track.  My aunts felt that there was one boy missing.  They had heard the name Harry mentioned in past conversation but could not find any account of him.  When my great aunt Ethyl died, my aunts had access to her collection of family mementos.  They finally started find traces of a young boy of named Harry.

Letter from Harry Chinery to Lydia Chinery,
5 May 1915, p1 of 4
Birth and death documents give very sterile information, so it is especially enlightening when you gain possession of an ancestor’s own writing.  101 years ago today, 5 May 1915, little Harry wrote a letter to his mother.  It read;

Male Infirmara[y]
The Balcony
May 5 1915
Dear Mother Am writing to you as you told me. I forgot to tell you I had not got any envelopes and I had this give to me. perhaps you will be able to bring me a few up. I t[d]o not want many as I do not have many letter to write. It is so hot today. We have all the windows open but is still hot. There dosent [sic] seem hardly any wind out. it makes us so uncomfortable. I dont think there is anything else I can tell you to bring up. I did not mean them sort of rusks the ones what I mean were not toasted and not as hard but I do not want to trouble you to[o] much. but if you dont know what I mean do not thouble [sic] bring me what you like. I think I am getting a little nuicance[sic] to you. but I know you dont mind I know you like me I liked the Bananas as they looked so nice and yellow I really do not know what I do want I dont want any more sweets I havent eat them what you brought me I had a letter from Gladys she did not seem very frightened at the raid. she got up and went to look at them I would have rather have kept inside wouldnt you. she say they (they) did not do any damage that is a good job. Ill send you her letter she sent me two stamps and Uncle Jacks photo she couldnt send me hers as it did not come out properly I should have liked to have seen it. I dont remember seeing Uncle jack before. I dont think I can say any more so will close with best love from Sonie – XXXXXXX[1]
Harry is just 11 years old when he writes this letter.  From the header you can see he is in an infirmary.  He is trying not to be a bother to his mother who has 3 children under 5 at home.  It is during the Great War, and I believe her husband, my great grandfather, is away at war, possibly in Egypt.  Further evidence suggests her older children are with relatives.
Besides for his requests for “rusks”, no more sweets, and his obvious fascination with bananas, he states that thinks he is becoming a nuisance but he knows “you like me.”  How sad for a little boy tucked away in an infirmary to say this to his mother. 

In subsequent posts, I will explore a little bit more of what we know of Harry, and some of the contemporary events that he leave clues to in his letters.

[1] Norman, Ethel May (Flack). Private Collection. 1952 – 1997, “Sonie” [Harry Augustus Chinery] to “Dear Mother” [Lydia Matilda (Boreham) (Flack) Chinery], Letter, 5 May 1915.


  1. Love the letter! My heart goes out to that little boy. I'm glad you are finding this boy who was "lost" to your family. So, how did you know Sonie was Harry? Do you know why he was in an infirmary? Or what a "rusks" are? And, would love to learn more about Gladys and the raid. Anyway, love the letter & the post. Hope to learn more!

    1. Hi Dana. Thanks for the message. Rusks are a dry hard biscuit. Growing up a few years in England, I knew what they were. Never seemed appetizing though! Regarding how I knew Sonie was Harry, and what Gladys witnessed, I plan for my further posts this month. That is what I loved about this letter. I gave me just enough clues to go looking for more. Stay tuned.