Charles Gordon Goodwin "Pat" Davis was my great-uncle, my Grandma Grace's younger brother, who sadly died at the age of 47 on November 6th, 1969 from medical complications of his injuries in World War II. He left behind a wife and six children. Below is his account of his experiences during the war, shared with me by my cousin, Dena, whose father, Arnold Davis, served valiantly in North Africa and Sicily, and Italy. This Remembrance Day, I remember them.
After graduation from high school in 1939, I worked on the farm until December of 1940. In December of 1940, I went to Malartic, Quebec where I became employed as a Ballmill helper and a Filter Operator. At this time, I enjoyed good health and had successfully passed the physical examinations that were required by the Department of Mines in order to be employed in the mill.
On January 5, 1941, I proceeded to North Bay, Ontario, which was the closest R. C. A. F. Recruiting Centre and joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. I was accepted for air crew training and was dispatched to Manning Depot at Lachine, Quebec. Upon completion of our training at Manning Depot, we did a tour of ground duty at Rockcliffe, Ontario.
From Rockcliffe, we were posted to Belleville where we took our initial training. From Belleville, we were posted to No. 4 Elementary Flying Training School at Windsor Mills, Quebec, for training as Pilots.
At Elementary School on September 2, 1941, I was forced down due to bad weather and, in landing in a grass field, hit a hole which I could not see, and the aircraft turned over and was a complete write-off. I was injured slightly in the arm only. I successfully completed Pilots Initial Elementary Training Course on September 23, 1941, and was posted to No. 8 Service Flying Training School at Moncton, N. B. I successfully completed the Service Flying Training Course and was graduated as a Sergeant Pilot at the end of January 1943. From No.8 S. F. T. S., I was posted to No.1 G.R.S. in Summerside, P.E.I., where I successfully completed an extra navigation course on April 18, 1943. We ere then posted to Halifax and proceeded overseas in the first part of May 1943.
Upon arrival overseas, we were posted to Bournemouth. England which was a holding depot for the R. C. A. F. overseas. During the first part of July 1943, we were posted to No. 18 Advanced Flying Unit.
After completion of my course I was posted into the Reserve Flight for testing aircraft for use by other students for night flying duties. On September 12, 1943, I again had a flying accident in which, while testing an aircraft, we lost one engine on approach and were unable to recover and, as a result, we crashed short of the airfield - wiping out the aircraft and giving ourselves a thorough shaking up.
On September 14, 1943, we were posted to No. 9 Operational Training Unit at Crosby-on-Eton. Here we underwent a conversion course on Beauforts and thence to Bullfighters. We completed our Operational Training Course on the 11th day of the 11th month, 1943.
I had volunteered for service in the Middle East and received a temporary posting to 204 Squadron at Port Ellen in the Hebrides. On the 7th of January 1944, I took off from Port Ellen and proceeded to Portreath and we spent several days in Portreath due to bad weather.
We finally left Portreath for Rabat Sale in French Morocco on the 14th of January, arriving Cairo West on the 18th. We again went into a holding unit at 22 P. D. C. at Elmaza outside of Cairo. During the early part of 1944 was posted to Heliopoulis and assigned to do test flying on aircraft that had been in for major maintenance repairs. I continued to fly in this test flight until the early part of April when I was posted to R. A. F. Shallufa at No. 5 Middle East Training School for a Refresher Course on Rockets. On completion of this course I then was posted to No. 3 Aircraft Disposal Unit out of Oujda in French Morocco. Our job was to pick up aircraft in Rabat Sale and transfer them throughout the Middle East. I joined 252 Squadron about June 15, 1944 and flew with them until being shot down on August 1, 1944.
The following is to the best of my knowledge and recollection the detailed events leading up to my capture and subsequent imprisonment by the German Forces during World War II:
I. Events Leading up to Capture
As a member of 252 Squadron (Flying Officer) flying Mark X Beaufighters in Coastal Command Middle East, I was assigned along with three other members of our Squadron to fly to Benghazi from Gambit to undertake a reconnaissance of the west coast of Greece. We arrived in Benghazi July 31st, 1944 and were subsequently briefed as to our operation. Take-off was at 4:00 a.m. August 1st, 1944, and all aircraft succeeded in taking off, joining up and proceeding to the search area. The search was to take us far north as the Levkas Canal with a search of all the intermediate harbours, including Pettras, before we returned to base. The Squadron Leader in charge of the flight decided to split the flight into two groups; together with the Squadron Leader I proceeded to search near Cephalonia, while the remaining two aircraft searched in other areas.
We discovered two armed merchant vessels shortly after the other group had broken off. The Squadron Leader decided to attack without waiting for the other element to join us. He requested that I attack the second ship as they were sailing in line astern. I attacked the second vessel as instructed but as our timing was off slightly I received crossfire from both vessels. As my run-in looked good, I decided regardless of the fire to carry on and had my rocket switch set on pairs firing the first pair. Again, because my run looked so good, I decided to set my rocket switch to salvo and fire the remaining rockets at one time. After I pressed the rocket switch and before I could break off I received a direct hit through the windscreen which destroyed the gun sight and knocked me unconscious, wounding me in the head and left shoulder.
Fortunately, I recovered consciousness before we flew into the water and was able to level the aircraft out and try to determine the extent of damage. Because of the hole in the windscreen, debris in my eyes and face, and the fact that my goggles were knocked off my helmet; I had difficulty in seeing my instruments to determine what damage actually existed.
The oil pressure on starboard engine was dropping rapidly and I requested my navigator, Sgt. Waller, to check the engine to see what he could see from his position halfway along the fuselage. He informed me that the engine was on fire and that we were smoking in the port engine as well. In view of the damage I decided that we would be forced to ditch and I so informed my navigator. He sent out an emergency signal, and I proceeded to try and put the aircraft in the water. We ditched successfully and got into our two-man dinghy. We had the option of landing on some nearby islands but deciding the smaller island would not be inhabited, we decided to try for the larger island, Cephalonia, where there would be a better opportunity of contacting the Greek underground. Time was about 8:00 a.m. We were trying to make landfall at night so that we would make land undetected; however, the tide turned against us and we drifted back away from the island unable to make our landfall at night. Landfall was subsequently made late the next afternoon, under the watchful eye of the German Naval Station who took the opportunity to fire at us in the water. A reception committee was there to meet us when we finally made shore.
II. Confinement on the Island of Cephalonia
The Germans, at this stage of the war, were finding it difficult to supply their island garrisons and so life on the islands was fairly rough for the German troops. They, however, as in most cases when you were dealing with the front-line troops, treated us as one of their soldiers as far as food and cigarettes were concerned. They were desperately short of medical aid on the island and were unable to treat my wounds - a first aid man being the only medical assistance available. We were confined in a chicken house under guard, and I had an old iron bedstead with just springs on which to sleep. The second day of our capture, the Germans commenced their interrogation. We were on the island for seven days before we were transferred via ferry to the Port of Pettras on the mainland of Greece.
III. Turnover to the SS Troops in Pettras
The Navy turned us over to the SS in Pettras and we were confined in a political prison where the captured Greek underground members were confined. My navigator and I shared a cell in which you could stand up only, (you could lay down if we positioned ourselves side by side) and there was no light - - - - - - it was considered the "dark cell" treatment. There was one small crack beneath the door to which we laid our noses to get some fresh air.
The door had spikes driven through it with the sharp points on the inside to prevent you from kicking it or trying to draw any attention to any personal need. We were given a bowl of soup and a slice of bread and a cup of ersatz tea every second day. During this time my navigator developed a case of dysentery and he was prevented from using a latrine; therefore, he had no option but to dirty himself, and we lived like this for some eight days.
On the ninth day, they took me into an SS Major who began to interrogate me; he was unable to speak English but he had a Lieutenant with him whose English was impeccable. It was obvious that he was going to try to intimidate me because of the shouting and screaming he engaged in during the initial stages of the interrogation. However, this only angered me and made me more firmly resolved than ever that the information they wanted they would not have. After some two hours of this abuse, I was taken out by an SS trooper and, on my way out, I saw Waller sitting out on a bench in the hall and he was in a very weakened condition; I said to him "don't let the shouting and screaming fool you - - - - this guy has got nothing on the ball", and I received a clout with a rifle butt for my efforts.
We were held in this confinement for a total of ten days before we were turned back to the Airforce. On being turned back to the Airforce, we immediately received better treatment and Waller was actually removed to a hospital because his condition was so severe. I received by first medical attention from a doctor who endeavoured to remove some of the shrapnel and glass from my eye, forehead and shoulder. By this time, my wounds had begun to fester and I began to feel feverish; however, their hospital accommodation was such that they could not take both of us in and I was transferred to Athens the following day. The Athens PW camp mainly contained Italians and there were no other British in the camp at the time when I arrived. My condition worsened and I had a severe fever for some eight days and did not know what was going on around me. There was an Italian doctor in the camp but he had no drugs nor other medical aids. I began to recover and immediately the Germans decided to plant what I am sure were "stoolies" in with me to try and get information from me. These men posed as British Army officers who had been sent in with foe Greek underground and were captured by the Germans. Their questions were too leading, however, and I felt that they were seeking information which would get directly to the Germans. Shortly after, Waller returned and was much improved in health.
The Germans then decided to move us to Budapest to the main penitentiary which served as an Interrogation Centre.
IV. Confinement at the Main Penitentiary in Budapest
At this point I entered the period of time when I received the most severe treatment and abuse.
I received the first interrogation the first day I was in the penitentiary by a man who thought was not a first-class interrogator. He insisted that I must give them certain information in order for the Hungarians to release us to proceed on to Germany. Upon my refusal, the screaming and shouting started and with the threat that before I left there they would have what they wanted.
My first stint was seven days solitary confinement, and during this time there was a guard (whom we called Wimpy) who took every opportunity he could to beat the prisoners and treat them in any way that would hurt them. His favourite trick was to set the daily bowl of soup on the floor after he opened the door and if you made the mistake of taking your eyes off him he would promptly kick you in the head.
After seven days in solitary, I received my second interrogation and the same abuse from the same Lieutenant, who then said "Well, we'll make you talk ------ we have a new place for you to go to", and I was put in the dark cell for seven days. You cannot imagine the mental tortures you go through under this treatment. Again, our food was a bowl of soup, generally watery cabbage soup, with one slice of bread that had margarine on it, and a cup of ersatz tea. Time stops and you must hang on to your sanity by finding even the smallest thing, such as counting bedbugs, nail holes in the wall, cracks in the floor, and recounting them and recounting them, all of which was done by feel as there was no light.
After seven days dark cell, I was given my third interrogation by the same Lieutenant who informed me that he felt that I would now be ready to tell him all that I knew. I promptly told him what he could do, and I received a belt across the head. The interrogation was very short and I was given back into solitary confinement where I spent another seven days.
At the end of this seven days, I was given my fourth interrogation and was subject to the same abuse by the same Lieutenant with the same theme. After working himself into a screaming fit, I was given another seven days in dark cell, and again I went through the mental tortures. I began to worry that as I was gradually becoming physically weak they might be able to break me. After seven days, I was again called in for my fifth interrogation and we went through the same old routine, only this time he had a new wrinkle ---- he said "I have something I want you to watch and I have some of your friends that are going to watch with you" so they took us out into the courtyard where they had three people standing up in American uniforms and they were shot in front of us. The story to us was that these were people who had not satisfied them and that these were the Hungarians who had shot them because they felt that they were spies. However, we had looked at the three victims and decided they were Jewish political prisoners dressed in American uniforms; and further that they were not Hungarian soldiers who had executed them at all, but Germans dressed in their uniforms.
The Lieutenant had one more run at me, but we still were at an impasse, and, at that time, they decided to transfer us to the main interrogation center at Oberursel in Germany.
V. Confinement at the Main Interrogation Centre at Oberursel near Frankfurt am Main
This was the main interrogation centre for Germany where they processed thousands of allied airmen, American, British and other nationalities. They were better organized with a better class of interrogators. They were very subtle in their approaches. They confined us in solitary but they interrogated us quite regularly, generally at two-day intervals.
Food here was somewhat better in that you received an extra slice of bread with jam, and a cup of tea in the evening, beyond the soup (which was a better quality) _and the break and the tea that you received at one other meal. I spent ten days here trying to match wits with a very smart man.
We were then moved into the main compound and immediately we received some Red Cross food, which was most welcome. From here, they moved us to Stalag Luft 7, which was near the old Polish German border near a town called Kreutzburg. This camp was actually under construction at the time and we lived in temporary accommodation prior to occupying the main camp. Temporary accommodation consisted of small shacks that were held together with hooks at the corners. There were no bunks so you slept on the floor. However, here we at least received some Red Cross food which amounted to one parcel divided among four people per week. The German ration was one potato, one cup of soup and three slices of bread per day. During the night, the Germans turned the dogs into the compound. There were no latrines in the little shacks so you had to footrace the dogs to get to the latrine in the main area, and of course you had to race them back again. We were eventually moved into the permanent camp which was supposed to be escape-proof and proved so in our case. Initially the rooms were to have ten men but it was not long until the Germans began to add more bunks to the room and we wound up with 13 men in the space which was designed for 10 people. We had one small stove and one allowance or ration of briquets per day which amounted to two as I recall. We, therefore, tried to cook most of the food on small homemade burners that we made from milk tins. They were quite efficient but very smoky and as a result the air in the room was always very bad. About the time that the additional bunks were added, our rations were cut and we were now only allotted one Red Cross parcel per eight people, and we received one potato every second day, one cup of watery soup per day, and one slice of bread.
In December we found again that our rations were cut. The German ration remained the same but the Red Cross parcels were now cut to one for 16 people per week. It must be remembered that these parcels were designed by the Red Cross as one parcel per one healthy person per week.
Life in camp was a constant war against vermin, lice, bedbugs, and fleas. Shortage of water and fuel to heat the water, especially in the winter months, did not allow us to keep ourselves sufficiently clean nor to keep our clothing or bedclothing clean and vermin free. When the Germans issued Red Cross parcels they always stabbed the meat tins with a knife to ensure that you could not save them; this meant that the meat had to be eaten immediately or it would spoil. Practices such as this, along with the fact that it was difficult to keep clean, led to serious bouts of dysentery and other forms of disease. Notwithstanding, each man-made every effort to try and keep himself as physically fit as he could because he was not sure of what the future held and what we would be called upon to face. Probably one of the largest hazards to health was one's mental health. It is difficult to describe the effects of being a prisoner without actually having experienced it. The constant surveillance, the constant searching, rousing you at two or three o'clock in the morning to carry out searches, the threat of machine gun fire always pointed in your direction - - - - all of these things added to complete frustration.
We did have news service in the camp from a radio, however, unfortunately for us, in January it broke down and we were without news for a period of four or five days. During this time, the Russians broke through and were rapidly approaching the Polish-German border. We were totally unaware of this, and the only thing that we became aware of was that at three o'clock one morning the Germans moved in and roused us from our beds, told us to dress, bring what we could with us and that we were leaving the camp. They did not give us any chance to organize any form of resistance or any plans to hold up on marching or any other form of thing. We were completely ignorant of the military situation. After much standing around and hollering and shouting, we finally left the camp about 5:00 a.m. and this was, to my knowledge, about January 15, 1945.
VI. March to Cross the Oder River
As I have said, we tried to keep ourselves in reasonably good physical condition; however, we were not prepared to face the rigors of an eastern winter and we certainly were not clothed for it. We now know that the German plan was to force-march us to cross the Oder River so that we would be behind their new planned line of defence. The attempt to force-march men who were not equipped - through blizzards, without proper footwear, without food - was insane; however, under the press of their rifles we marched on. The second threat which forced us on was the fact that the SS were mopping up in the rear and we had reason to suspect that a lot of the POW's who could not any longer walk were done away with by this mop-up crew. These people had no scruples. It is impossible to describe the hardships because you become sort of numb, things do not register, days run into one another, and you are cold, hungry and you don't give a damn.
Occasionally the Germans found shelter for us in barns and this gave us another problem. Cattle were being fed sugar beets - the sugar beets had been stored in the fall and the tops had begun to go bad but, in their great hunger, these were eaten by everyone, including myself. The resultant dysentery further weakened us and left us in terrible condition to continue the march. However, we were forced on until we had crossed the Oder and had gone several miles beyond, to a railhead, the name of which I have forgotten but I believe it was Goldenberg.
Because of the condition of the men and their being unable to move further, the Germans then decided to throw us on board cattle trains, to try and move us further west.
VII. Train Journey by Boxcar
We were loaded sixty men into boxcars, or cattle cars, which were meant for ten horses or forty men. This meant that there was not enough room for everybody to lay down or to sit and, as a result, we worked in shifts on standing while others lay and others sat. Ventilation was provided by two small windows in the upper part of the car. As I have related, nearly everyone had dysentery, including myself. The Germans would not provide a latrine in the cars nor would they allow us out of the cars to be able to help ourselves. The horror and nightmare of this period will long be remembered by anybody who had any part of it. By this time we were so weakened that we had very little control over ourselves.
As I recall it during this period, there was no food made available to us and we had no Red Cross food left. We, therefore, existed on some water that they occasionally brought to us but otherwise we remained for hours and hours on end in sidings waiting for trains,, waiting for engines, or waiting for them to clear the right-of-way from bombing and strafing done by our own aircraft. It was difficult to have them remove the people who had died during this time, but under great argument they finally removed the bodies. In this miserable condition we finally arrived at Stalag III located at Luckenwalde which was southwest of Berlin. The Germans put us through a delousing shower and weighed us. My weight at that time was 124 lbs. (at the time of capture my weight would have been approximately 175 lbs.). We were turned loose into a big barracks with no bunks, and straw on the floor, for which we were extremely grateful.
We started with 1700 men from Luft VII, and we arrived with something in the order of 900.
The total rations issued by the Germans amounted to one and one-half pounds of margarine, three cups of soup, and three loaves of bread. Now this was to have lasted us a month. The thing that allowed us to survive at all was the amount of Red Cross food that we were able to pack with us out of the camp.
VIII. Life at Luckenwalde
Luckenwalde was apparently established as a camp for the sick and wounded with the more able shipped to other camps. The move to Luckenwalde was not, however, for the care of the disabled but only to keep them from causing interference to the other men.
More men died after we arrived in camp, but we were unable to determine the number because the Germans kept these facts from us. We lay in the dirt and filth on the floor, we were too weak to help ourselves, and there was nobody there to help you. The German rations were extremely low. By this time there was never any meat in the soup, it was generally a cabbage or green leaf soup, and you got a slice of bread, and ersatz tea. We were unable to recover on this.
During the time that we were at Luckenwalde, (estimated) from February 24th to April 20th, we received one Red Cross parcel for sixteen men. The warmer weather helped us to some degree, we suffered less from the cold in the latter part of March. We were able to get our clothes and blankets out in the sun which helped us to control the bedbugs, lice and fleas.
On April 20, 1945, a Russian armoured car and tank appeared at the camp. By this time the Germans had pulled back and had left one old man as a guard at, the camp. We had been warned by broadcast from London not to leave the camp under any situation. Officially, we were liberated.
IX. Life Under the Russians
On liberation, our food situation did not improve. In fact, it worsened. For a few days there was nothing to eat at all. Eventually the Russians decided to supply us with some food but they, in turn, were short of rations as it was their practice to live off the land as they passed through German territory. They would not recognize the Italians and Poles and some of the other national groups in the camp, as allies, and only would supply sufficient rations for Americans and British troops. As a result, we had to share and, again, food shortage was ever apparent. A few days later a group of four American newsmen arrived through the hook-up at Wittenberg and were on their way to cover the fall of Berlin. They radioed back to the base and informed the Command of our dire needs and, in particular, those of our wounded and sick, and requested emergency aid in the form of ambulances and doctors to be brought in immediately.
The Russians in the meantime more or less ignored us. The American ambulances arrived and in two days were successful in evacuating many of the sick and wounded. The Military Advisor from the American forces came in with the ambulances to try and organize the removal of the remainder of the allied prisoners. The following day a fleet of American transports arrived and the Russians allowed them to load and then, for some reason, surrounded their transports and made everybody dismount. They informed us that they would evacuate us in their own time and it would be through Odessa and back through by Cairo, the Middle East and thence to the U.K. Undoubtedly this was done in order to give them a chance to screen the different people in the camp to see that there were not some political prisoners there that they were interested in. The American Captain in charge of the transport advised that he would pull down the road some eight or nine kilometers and that he would wait until 1:00 a.m. and any person who could make it, he would be very happy to take them back. I, along with a group of four others, decided that we would make the try. At the back of the camp there was a swamp which paralleled the road down which the American transport had gone. We, therefore, tried to walk through the swamp in the dark far enough to get beyond the guards which the Russians had posted. However, we must have made enough noise to sound like a large tank because when we finally cut out to the road we walked into the arms of Russian soldiers. They returned us to the camp and informed us that they were going to throw us in the brig but after some negotiation with a couple of cigarettes we were successful in having them return us to our barracks. We decided that we must get out and that we would make another run at it about 4:00 in the morning. This time we walked in the swamp until noon, paralleling the road, and cut out to the road beyond the outer ring of Russian guards. At the time there were thousands of refugees on the road trying to make their way back west and to the Allied Armies. By mingling with them we were able to hide our identity. We made for Wittenberg. When the Americans had reached the Elbe, they had bridged the river and established a small bridgehead on the east side of the river. We contacted the American soldiers in this bridgehead and they provided us with transport across the river to a place called Schonebeck, which was an evacuation centre for POW's. By this time thousands of prisoners were arriving by various means and it seemed to us that the evacuation was going to be a slow process. After three days of good food and rest we decided that we would continue on hitch-hiking across Germany and make our way back to England ourselves. We eventually arrived at a city called Osnabruck. Here, a Colonel in charge of American Transport informed us that the R. A.F. were just completing their evacuation of POWs out of Hildesheim, but he knew there were two aircraft coming in the following day to pick up the spare parts they had stored there. He felt sure that he could get us on these aircraft and so we took the offer of transport to Hildesheim and were successful in getting a ride back to England.
Canadians have memorialized November 11, 1918 for the signing of the armistice that ended the Great War, a four-year conflict that devastated nations and slaughtered as many as 19 million people. Over half that number were young men who perished in horrific battles, mowed down by machine guns or asphyxiated by poison gas, while famine and deprivation claimed millions of civilian lives.
That date also marks a personal tragedy in my family, not as a result of the war but from an even more calamitous event. Researchers today estimate that the Spanish Flu snuffed out between 50 and 100 million lives, primarily the young and healthy, in only a few short months. Pregnant women or women who had recently given birth were especially vulnerable, such as my great-grandmother.
Daku Lujza was born on a Friday, August 13th, 1897, to Kaponyás Terézia and Daku András in the village of Bezdéd near the Upper Tisza river, in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. She was the family's youngest child and only daughter, with four older brothers: Sándor (b. 1880), Elek (b. 1884), András (b. 1887), and Lajos (b. 1890). Her father's family had lived in Bezdéd for centuries and she had countless cousins throughout the several small villages in the region. Seven days after her birth, Terézia and András bundled up Lujza and carried her to a Reformed Church, where the ordained minister christened her in a basin of water and recorded her birth.
As a baby, Lujza may have worn a little shirt sewn from her father or brother's worn underwear, decorated with a pink, hand-crocheted collar and a crocheted bonnet decorated with a pink ribbon. For the first few weeks, cousins and neighbors would have brought Terézia and her family food while she recovered from childbirth and nursed her newborn. Since work never ceased, after a few days Terézia bundled her baby up tightly and tied her into a pillow, the arms and legs straightened and restrained, so she could keep the infant safe and nearby throughout the day. As Lujza grew older, she likely toddled freely around the house and yard while Terézia cooked the meals, washed the clothes, tended the vegetable garden, and hand-churned the milk into cream and butter.
The household was very formal and puritan. András addressed Terézia as "Dakuné asszoney" and Terézia addressed her husband as "Daku úr", or essentially, "Mrs. Daku" and "Mr. Daku". They gave Grace at every meal, attended church on Sunday, observed the Sabbath and read the Bible repeatedly. There was more to their culture than just religion, however. The Daku family were literate, about half of Hungarians in region were at this time, and they composed poetry, played music, and danced in their few moments of leisure.
Sándor described their home in Hungary: "Our father, while at home, was a member of the old guild of bootmakers and, because of this, until the time I was big enough to hold the handles of a plough, mother operated the small farm. In accordance with the prevailing practice of the time, father started work at six in the morning and continued until eleven or twelve at night. This he did also because of the tradition of the women of the community by which they would do their spinning in the long winter evenings in the bootmaker's workshop.
Also, the farmers used to call in to discuss politics and other public affairs. It was there that I heard, for the first time, about the brilliance of Louis Kossuth, the rest of the heroes of the War of Independence, and its events. It was there that I was first told by the pious peasants that war was in the offing. In the first instance, because very many young men had been called up and secondly, because Louis Kossuth had returned from Italy in disguise, in order to visit every community and call upon the people to rise again and fight for freedom."
On those long winter evenings, with her mother spinning flax into linen in the workshop and father and brothers stitching pieces of leather together into boots, Lujza may have played at their feet, listening to the news of the village. This talk of war certainly helped push the Daku family out of Hungary but other considerations may have been rising land prices from the population boom or falling prices for goods and produce driven by rapid industrialization, Regardless of what pressures motivated the family, they began to consider leaving Hungary and they were not alone.
The Magyar Diaspora
Terézia had been born in Záhony, 6-kilometers north of Bezdéd and although her parents had passed on she still had family there, including an older sister, Kaponyás Rebeka, who had married Czeto Istvan. In the late April of 1900, Istvan and Rebeka departed Hungary for Canada, along with their son, Sándor, and his wife, Maria, and their other children, András, Rozália, Anna, and Julia, and grand-daughter, Rosa.
A year later, in April 1901, 3-year-old Lujza may have accompanied her family to the Royal Hungarian State Railway station. On that day, the family bid farewell to her 20-year-old brother, Sándor, who took the train south and west to Budapest and north, out of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, to the German city of Bremen, where he boarded the steamer ship, S.S. Karlsruhe. On March 4th, 1901, Sándor may have been standing on tiny portion of the deck permitted to steerage passengers to view the Statue of Liberty as the ship steamed through New York Harbor towards Ellis Island, where he was examined, cleared, and entered the United States of America.
Once he was settled in America, Sándor wrote home encouragingly and Lujza soon said goodbye to another brother, Elek. The 17-year-old departed Europe from the German port-city of Hamburg aboard the steamer Furst Bismark and arrived in New York on September 20th, 1901. At home, 14-year-old András and 11-year-old Lajos would have had to pick up the slack for their missing brothers.
Sándor and Elek found work with the Carnegie factory in Duquesne, Pennsylvania and wrote home about how they were well-paid in gold, which enticed other young men in Bezdéd to leave for America. Perhaps they two young men expected their parents to be excited by the news as well and to join them there but it appeared that Terézia and András wanted to be farmers, not factory workers, and they wrote back about a small farm for sale near Bezdéd. However, then a new opportunity arose.
Austria-Hungary had banned pamphlets and advertisements promoting emigration to Canada; the Empire was simply losing too many workers. However, nothing prevented people from receiving letters from family abroad. Rebeka and Istvan Czeto had settled in the Whitewood area of the Saskatchewan District of the Canadian North West Territories, alongside some families from Bótrágy, a village which lay 25-kilometers west of Bezdéd. One of those settlers, János Szabó, established a Protestant, Hungarian Colony south of Whitewood named Bekevar, intended for about 200 settlers. He and his compatriots began a letter writing campaign home to attract fellow Bótrágians but were unable to attract enough families. It is possible that the Rebeka heard about the nearby colony and wrote home to her sister.
Regardless of how they learned about Canada and Bekevar, András and Terézia learned that Canada offered a quarter section for only $10 and that they would have the option of buying a neighboring quarter section once they had sufficiently improved the land. Moreover, they already had family in the region and more from Bezdéd intended to join the colony. The deal was far too attractive to resist. They sold their property and tools, and prepared to leave their home forever.
Canada offered $5 for every immigrant delivered to the Canadian West so German steamship-line agents skulked across the Hungarian countryside to spread word of Canada and offer to arrange transportation. András and Terézia may have contacted one of these agents, who organized passage by train to Hamburg, where they would rendezvous with another agent, who would assist them in boarding their steamship.
A Journey of 11,000 Kilometers
In early June 1902, András, Terézia, András Jr, Lajos, and Lujza made their way to the train station one last time. Following the standard advice sent back from friends and family, they likely disposed of much of their personal property and now carried only a few possessions with them, intending to purchase most of what they needed in Canada. Still, their backs likely bent with the weight of trunks filled with clothing, feather-beds and household utensils. The Daku family did not travel alone from Zahony on their trip to Bekevar, several families also traveled the same route, although most were bound for Winnipeg, not Saskatchewan.
The Royal Hungarian State Railway transported the family south from their small village of a few hundred people, past the small, neighboring villages of Tüzér and Komoró and then around the much larger towns of Kisvárda and Nyíregyháza and out of the Szabolcs province, which was probably farther than any of the family had ever ventured.
After a few hours of bumping, lurching travel, they turned west through Debrecen and Karcag and across the Carpathian Basin to Budapest. rumbling down the tracks at 50 kph, stopping at small train stations across the Hungarian kingdom. With the stops, the journey likely lasted throughout the day and night and into the next day, finally delivering the Daku family to Nyugati Pályaudvar, one of the main railway stations in the city.
The railway station was at the centre of this city of almost 800,000, near the Danube River, by far the grandest sight of human civilization that Lujza and her family had ever beheld. From there, they would have boarded another train to Hamburg, a journey of a few days, which took them through Vienna, the capital of the Hapsburg Empire, a magnificent imperial city of 1.7 million people, the 6th largest city in the world.
The family was to depart Europe from Hamburg aboard the S.S. Armenia, a 399-foot long, single-stack steamship built in 1895 and operated by the Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfahrt-Actien-Gesellschaft (Hamburg-American Packet Travel Actien Company or Hamburg-America Line for short). The Hamburg-America Line transported such huge numbers of East-European emigrants that the company constructed BallinStadt (Ballin City) in 1901, named after the director-general of the company, a facility with a dozen living barracks, a dining hall, a synagogue and two churches. In 1902, BallinStadt housed up to 1200 emigrants at a time, who might stay as long as a few days waiting for their ship to depart.
A Hamburg-America agent would have met the Daku family at the train station, examined their papers and then guided them to BalinStadt. The staff would have then required the family to bathe while they disinfected all their clothing and belongings with carbolic acid. Afterwards, they were assigned bunk beds within a ward, which they would have shared with three or four other families, whom were likely also Hungarian and Protestant. However, Lujza and her family would have been exposed to multicultural life during meals and recreation, as their fellow emigrants included Galacians, Hungarians, Russians, Germans, Romanians, and Bulgarians. The family took their meals in the dining hall, where they ate plenty of bread and meat and they may have attended a dance on the evening before their departure.
On May 31st, 1902, Lujza and her family boarded the S.S. Armenia with almost a thousand other passengers, which included 254 children under 14 and 82 infants. Carrying their belongings, the family walked up the gangplank onto the ship and then immediately climbed below to the steerage deck. The family would have chosen their tiered cots and settled into to their small corner of the ship, as more and more passengers shoved in until there was little room to move about.
The deck was freshly scrubbed but there were few windows and little fresh air. With the smells of smoking, cooking, perspiration, bodily waste, and seasickness, the air became awful to breathe and passengers fought to take a turn on the tiny portion of the upper deck reserved for steerage passengers. The crew fed passengers meals of pigs feet and rancid herring from huge kettles, which they served into dinner pails along with bread that was so uneatable that some simply threw it into the ocean in protest.
Although it was unlikely Lujza could witness the passage from her place on the steerage deck, the S.S. Armenia steamed up the Elbe and out to the North Sea, then down the English Channel to Boulogne-sur-Mer, France. At that port, even more passengers joined the ship: over 140 Syrian men, women, and children bound for Montreal.
At last, the S.S. Armenia steamed out into the Atlantic. After leaving Hamburg, Lujza and her family would spend almost two weeks on the ship. They were fortunate that there were no major storms during their passage, although that didn't mean they may not have encountered rough weather from time to time. A wave that rocked the boat could easily send people tumbling from their cots and scatter belongings across the deck.
During the passage, Lujza would have heard the chatter of a dozen different languages and listened to songs and music from several cultures. There would have been people dressed in more modern 20th century garb and others dressed in peasant attire and sheepskins, the men with long hair greased with lard, the women bundled in patterned shawls.
The S.S. Armenia arrived at Halifax on June 13th. The steerage passengers, clean and well-scrubbed at the beginning of their voyage, stumbled off the ship in a bedraggled state. They underwent a cursory medical examination and immigration and Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) agents directed them onto waiting colonist cars, which would take them west.
Before their departure, András and Terézia likely had to buy sufficient food to last them the several days of the trip to Saskatchewan. Once on the colonist car, they sat on the hard rowed bench seats, possibly padded with blankets and pillow brought with them, and took turns with other families to sleep on the fold out bunks in the back. They would have shared a single stove in the back of the car for cooking and 2 toilets with the other passengers.
Accustomed to the well-cultivated and populated landscape of Europe, András and Terézia may have been dismayed at the raw and rugged state of the Canadian wilderness through which they passed, Even the cities and towns were rough and small compared to the large, stately cities that they had seen on their trip across Europe. Whether the young Lujza was entranced by these sights or merely bored with yet more travel is a mystery. When the family finally passed from the vast forests of northern Ontario onto the enormous, seemingly endless grasslands, they may have felt terribly isolated and realized the conditions in which they were going to live.
Most of the Hungarians and Galicians disembarked the train at Winnipeg, a respectably large town of over 40,000 people. However, the Daku family continued their journey for one more day, stepping off the train at Whitewood. The Hudson's Bay Company had established a trading post here in 1891 and by 1902, the town's population had climbed to 400.
András and Terézia were fortunate compared to many other settlers. With family and fellow Hungarian colonists already here, they likely already knew of a good claim and may have even been met by a friend or family member to guide them to their new home. András likely rented or purchased a team and wagon, bought the supplies they needed to survive on their isolated homestead. and headed south down whatever rudimentary track that the previous settlers had manage to carve out.
András and Terézia were fortunate compared to many other settlers. With family and fellow Hungarian colonists already here, they likely already knew of a good claim and may have even been met by a friend or family member to guide them to their new home. András likely rented or purchased a team and wagon, bought the supplies they needed to survive on their isolated homestead. and headed south down whatever rudimentary track that the previous settlers had manage to carve out.
After selecting their land and traveling to Regina to stake their claim, the family wrote to Sándor and Elek to join them in the colony. Since every man over 18 could stake his own claim, the two sons quickly rejoined the family. Upon their arrival in Canada, Lujza became Louise, András became Andrew, Terézia became Teresa, Sándor became Alexander, András Jr. became Andrew Jr, Lajos became Louis but Elek remained Elek.
For the first several months, 5-year-old Louise and her family likely lived with several other families in a makeshift log building. With help from fellow colonists, her parents quickly built a log house of their own but Louise still shared a single sleeping room with her parents and brothers, although they now had a separate kitchen. Shortly after, they likely added a small upper floor. By 1903, Bekevar consisted of 45 homesteads.
To claim their land, Andrew and Teresa needed to accomplish several milestones, as set out in the Canada Dominion Land Act:
Louise's first chores were to collect any strayed livestock, although she would soon be put to work to feed and milk the cows and take them out to pasture before she left for school. Although men and women had a clear division of labor, with so much to do and so much land, Louise likely helped her brothers pick stones from the fields while her mother joined her father behind a plow to break the tough prairie sod.
On August 25th, 1904, Andrew filed for a homestead in Township 12, Range 6, Section 36, which he successfully patented. Since every 2nd quarter was CPR land and available to purchase if he successfully patented his first homestead, he purchased an adjoining 160 acres. By 1920, his sons, Alex, Andrew Jr, Elek, and Louis also claimed homesteads as well as purchased additional quarters. Surrounding the Daku homestead were several families with whom their children would intermarry: Debreceni, Kimeri, Fonagy, and the other Daku family.
In 1907, the Canadian Northern Railroad built a rail line close to Bekevar and in 1908, they constructed Kipling Station, named after Rudyard Kipling, who had visited Regina in 1907, which made it far easier for the local farmers to get their crops to market; some even drove their crop to the station by truck. A town of the same name quickly grew around the railway station. Kipling soon became the predominate commercial hub for the region and, as elderly Hungarians retired in town, more of the Hungarian social and religious life relocated there.
The community petitioned for a school in 1905 and in 1906 the government built the Magyar School for the 20 school-aged children. Louise was about 9 when she first attended school in Canada and since her teachers were English-speakers, they provided her first formal English education. The school also served as a prayer-house and the family would travel there every Sunday before the Bekevar Church was completed in 1912, when Louise was 14. With no Hungarian Reformed Church in Canada, most of the Hungarians joined the Presbyterian Congregation, although many would become Baptists.
When attending services at the Bekevar Church single men sat in the choir, single women sat downstairs on the left, married women sat on far left and married men sat on the right. Louise may have been one of the first to have been confirmed in the Presbyterian faith at the Bekevar Church, after which she would have sat in the back with the single women.
Courtship and Marriage
After services, the young people played games and walked home together in groups. It might have been then when Louise first became interested in Lawrence Debreceni, the son of József Debreczeni and Juliánna Jonás. In 1912, Lawrence was 19 years old, almost 6 years older than the 14-year-old Louise. His family was from Karcag, a much larger and more cosmopolitan town than the tiny village of Bezdéd. Lawrence’s family was the wealthiest in Bekevar and had migrated to Canada through New York in a 2nd class cabin, avoiding the purgatory of steerage. They had arrived with $4000 cash and instead of constructing a rough log house, they hired craftsman to build them a proper framed home. However, like the Daku family, they were bookmakers who had worked their way up from peasantry.
Groups of young men would commonly call on families with daughters, allowing the young people to mix under the supervision of the parents. However, at this time Louis's oldest brother, 32-year-old Alex, also courted Lawrence's sister, 28-year-old Maria Debreceni so the families may have been mingling on a social basis. Regardless of how their courtship began, Lawrence would have then began visiting alone, signaling his intention to court Louise.
Louise may have also attended the many dances in the community, which usually followed weddings or were sometimes organized by word-of-mouth after church services. And there was a whirlwind of weddings, as Louise’s brothers and cousins all married, as well as many other young people in the community. Her brothers Alex, Elek, and Louis regularly played at these events as the Daku Band, where they earned $1.50 each plus 3 glasses of wine or brandy. Starting at 8 in the evening in a log barn, they would play the Csárdás, a traditional Hungarian folk dance, or waltzes until the morning. Louise would have worn her Sunday dress and Lawrence would have invited her to dance with a bow, and a formal invitation of “may I have the pleasure”?
In early 1913, Lawrence asked Andrew and Teresa's permission to marry Louise, which he granted, and then informed the minister, who announced the engagement on 3 consecutive Sundays in Church. As the wedding day neared, the couple's Vőfély or Master of Ceremonies donned a bright ribboned hat and rode about Bekevar in a decorated buggy to invite everyone to the ceremony. On the day of the wedding, Andrew and Teresa hosted a dinner for family and friends, after which the bride and groom left separately for Bekevar Church, where they were married. After the wedding, everyone traveled to the groom's house, where the women of the community hosted an elaborate dinner, followed by dancing, music, poetry and other festivities.
About the same time Louise and Lawrence married, their older siblings Alex and Maria also wed. Not long after their own wedding, Alex quit the Daku Band at the urging of Maria. He had played the cimbalom, an Hungarian instrument popular among the gypsies, but Maria complained that there was too much drinking at the dances and he was staying up far too late, which interfered with his farm-work.
A New Family
Lawrence and Louise would farm a quarter-section that lay between their two families and begun by building their new house together. Like her mother, there was too much work for a strict division of labour, and she would have harnessed up horses and helped in the field as well as fed the animals, milked the cows, cared for the garden, cooked the meals, laundered the clothing, and cleaned the house. Louise would spend much of her time hand-churning the milk into cream and butter. Then, once a week, she would harness the horses to the buggy and drive into Kipling, where she would sell her dairy goods for enough money to cover the weekly grocery bill.
These responsibilities were soon even more challenging as the 16-year-old Louise became pregnant and delivered a baby girl, Mary, in late 1913. A few months later, she was pregnant again, and added a son, Joseph, to the family on October 27, 1914. As with her own birth, the women of the community brought meals to the family and helped with the chores while she recovered from childbirth. She would have baptized her children at the Bekevar church and since religious observance was so important, continued to attend services and breast-fed her infants under a cloth during the long sermons.
The joy of the birth of her second child was soon mingled with grief, however, as her Aunt Rebeka died only a few days before Christmas, on December 19th, 1914 at the age of 61. Tragedy would strike even closer to Louise’s heart when her mother, Teresa, died less than a year later on November 14, 1915, at the age of 58. They buried in the Bekevar Cemetery. Andrew Sr, would live with his youngest son, Louis, and his family until 1933, when he would pass away at the age of 79.
In 1914, a world war erupted. As a member of the Commonwealth, Canada was automatically at war against Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Louise’s many cousins back in Bezdéd would have been conscripted into the army to fight against Russia, Britain’s ally in the war. Her parents fears of conscription finally came true, although much later than they had expected.
Although urged by Britain to not act against former subjects of Austria-Hungary, Canada viewed them all with deep suspicion and invoked the War Measures Act to restrict their movements. This did not overly affect the Hungarians at Bekevar, although the hostility of their government and possibly some neighbours may have created worry and tension. Those affected were mostly ethnic Ukrainians from the Empire. Canada arrested almost 8,600 unemployed young Ukrainian men who attempted to cross into the U.S. to find work and sent them to one of 24 concentration camps.
Life went on, of course, and Louise was soon again pregnant. Her daughter, Julia Debreceni, was born on November 1st, 1917. The 20-year-old young woman had 3 children under the age 4 and a farm to run so life must have been a challenge, to say the least. However, times were also good. Between 1915 and 1918, the price of wheat almost doubled and with butter and cream covering most household expenses, the growing family prospered and must have been hopeful for the future.
The Spanish Flu
In June 1918, the Regina Leader-Post published only a few stories of the Spanish Influenza. However, the epidemic was happening far away and the newspaper even portrayed it as a good news story; a flu that was doing its part to help the Allies to win the war effort.
On July 27th, the Leader-Post published another story about how the Flu rapidly spread through the German Army, to the point where it postponed an offensive action. On July 6, the paper further reported the Spanish Influenza spreading throughout the German civilian population. On July 9, the Flu was hampering the German army across the whole front. On July 11, the paper reported that even Emperor of Germany and his staff were down with the disease.
By August, the Spanish Flu had crept closer to the Canadian Prairie but the newspapers still reported it lightly, perhaps to not distract from the war effort. A story announced new health measures in New York City, including a caution to avoid kissing, under the playful byline "Someone's always taking the joy out of life".
Then in September, the papers published far more serious stories. The Prime Minister was Great Britain and his staff were very ill. There were seventy deaths in twenty-four hours in New England. Five hundred U.S. soldiers were pulled from transports, sick with the Flu. Nine sailors stationed in Quebec died. Then, after declaring the Flu almost over, the U.S. army reported 3,000 new cases among it's ranks with 112 deaths. By the end of September, the U.S. army reported that over 29,000 men had been afflicted and there had been 530 deaths. However, perhaps deliberately, the U.S. Army had significantly under-counted the number of soldiers afflicted. By the end of 1918, over 45,000 U.S. soldiers had died of the disease.
By October, the Spanish Influenza had made it's way to Saskatchewan. Predictably, businessmen would attempt to make a little money from the growing anxiety before the full force of the Flu hit the region. The newspapers ran advertisements for products and services that claimed to prevent the flu, including eucalyptus oil, menthol bags, and fumigation services. Business would later include notes in their advertisements that they were safe to visit because they regularly disinfected or ate onions as a preventative.
On October 2nd, sick passengers were pulled off a train that arrived in Regina and quarantined. On October 7th, the newspaper reported that the Flu had appeared in the town of Willow Bunch. On October 8th, four cases were reported in Saskatoon. However, despite a few cases now showing up in Regina, doctors decided not to close public places, such as churches and schools, and urged the public not to panic.
The Flu's first victim in Regina was Robert Callander, a local drayman. His symptoms began with a high fever, headache, aches, and chills. Although not reported in the newspaper, he likely died from pneumonia, and the newspaper under-stated the true horror of the disease.
“When first seen, the patient’s face was flushed, the nostrils blocked, the tongue heavily coated with thick whitish fur at the edges with a brown centre, the lips blue, the throat dark red, the skin hot and moist, the temperature 103 or 104 degrees ... As time went on, quantities of blood-stained expectoration or nearly pure dark blood was expelled, respiration became laboured, face and fingers cyanosed [turned blue], active delirium came on, the tongue became dry and brown, the whole surface of the body blue and the patient died from failure of respiration.”
On October 8th, the government of Saskatchewan declared that the Spanish Influenza was a "reportable disease", which meant that existing regulations would apply to the epidemic for the control, notification, prevention, isolation, quarantine, placarding, and disinfection of contagious and highly infectious diseases. At the same time, the Regina general hospital opened an emergency isolation hospital. Despite these measures, the hospital board stated that the Flu was no more dangerous than previous years' flu and that there was no reason for panic.
However, despite several days of stories describing the mounting toll of the disease, Saskatchewan refused to close the schools with the statement that children were largely not susceptible to the Flu. Indeed, stories from various newspapers continued to report that the elderly were most susceptible and ignored the mounting evidence that it was the young and healthy that were the most vulnerable. Moreover, although the Spanish Flu was a reportable disease, some physicians deliberately did not record the real cause of death when a person died from the Flu. A quarantined house meant that people could not leave to work, which would have created severe hardship for many families.
The Hungarians in Bekevar may not have been fully aware of the impending epidemic. Few would have read English-newspapers. Although as people in Saskatchewan began to die of the disease, they certainly would have heard about it through word-of-mouth. Whether they were worried or felt safe on their removed farms, the daily toil of day-to-day life likely gave them little time to dwell on it.
November 10th, 1918 was cool and dry. The temperature was barely above freezing as Lawrence and Louise bundled up their 3 children, harnessed the horses to the buggy, and rode to the Bekevar Church. As was the custom, Louise sat on the left side of the church with Mary, Joseph, and Julia, who had just celebrated her first birthday days earlier, while Lawrence sat on the right. The sermon would have probably been long, as usual. Julia may have fussed and Louise breast-fed her underneath a blanket. A neighbor, friend, or even family member in the church may have been coughing and sniffling with a bug that they had picked up on a recent trip to town. After the service, Mary and Joe may have run around with the other young children while Lawrence and Louise caught up with family and friends.
That afternoon or evening, Louise would have begun to feel poorly. She likely had the chills and her cough began to rapidly worsen. By the next morning, she may have been too sick to rise from her bed. During night or at least the next morning, Lawrence rode for the doctor but there was nothing anyone could do. Louise died on the afternoon of November 11, 1918, at the age of 21, leaving behind a husband and 3 very young children.
Louise's family buried her near her mother in the Bekevar Cemetery. She was only one of the 55,000 Canadians killed by the Spanish Flu.
Aftermath and Legacy
Left with 3 young children, Lawrence turned to family for help. Alex and Maria Daku had no children of their own and took in their 2 nieces and nephew. In April 1920, Lawrence boarded the train for Halifax, where he embarked on the S.S. Canada bound for Liverpool on his way back to Hungary. He stayed a few months in Budapest, where married Julia, a 25-year-old Roman Catholic Hungarian from Szimo, which the Allies had separated from Hungary as part of Slovakia.
Months after Lawrence and Julia returned to Bekevar in late November 1920, Mary and Joseph returned to live with their father and new step-mother but Julia remained with the Alex and Maria, who raised her as their own daughter. Lawrence was active and served as a curator on the Presbyterium, partnered in a Kipling implements store in 1921, and served on the Kipling Colonisation Board in 1926, which worked with CPR to settle Hungarian immigrants in the community. Lawrence Debreceni passed away on January 19, 1939 at the age of 46.
Mary Debreceni married Frank Fónagy on January 14 1932. They were married 49 years, until Frank's death in 1991, and had 6 children together. Mary passed away in 1995. Joseph married Olga Toth on June 1, 1939, and they were married 48 years until his death in 1997. Alex and Maria Daku saw their daughter, Julia, marry Bálint (Ben) Daku on January 20th, 1939. Ben and Julia were married for 73 years, until her passing in 2011 at the age of 93, and had 7 children and 14 grandchildren.
Alex Daku coached his granddaughter, Eileen Daku, on her confirmation vows in the Hungarian language and on May 7 1959, he and Maria watched her confirmation in the Bekevar Church, where her grandmother had been confirmed back in 1912.
Kovacs, Martin Louis. Peace and Strife: Some Facets of the History of an Early Prairie Community. Kipling: Kipling District Historical Society, 1980.
Hollos, Marida. “Families Through Three Generations In Békévar.” Bekevar, n.d., 65–126. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt22zmdsq.6.
Kresz, Mária. “Békévar, Children, Clothing, Crafts.” Bekevar, n.d., 127–66. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt22zmdsq.7.
Vintze, Etienne. “Békévar, Yesterday and Today.” Bekevar, n.d., 257–302. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt22zmdsq.10.
Berton, Pierre. The Promised Land: Settling the West, 1896-1914. Toronto: Anchor Canada, 2002.
Steiner, Edward Alfred. On the Trail of the Immigrant. New York: F.H. Revell Company, 1906. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/40887/40887-h/40887-h.htm#page_030
I recently corresponded with a 5th cousin, a descendant of John Simpson, the brother of my 3x-great-grandfather, Clement. John and Clement moved out of Delaware about 1818 and headed west for Ohio, although they may not have moved straight there, according to the research done by my cousin.
Interested in Clement and Ohio again, I was poking around in various records in a completely random and unfocused manner, my most effective research habit, and stumbled across a small collection interesting memoirs of Circleville in Pickaway County, Ohio. They were not written by any of my family but they do reflect the conditions and way of life in the region.
Clement and Minty Simpson lived only a few miles north of Circleville in Harrison Township. On the 1826 tax list, Clement was taxed in Harrison township but in 1827 and 1828 he was taxed in Madison Township before he returned to Harrison Township from 1829 to 1836. On the 1830 Census, Clement lived next to Enos Cutler, who was recorded as having lived in section 25, which bordered on Madison Township.
While Clement and Minty did not own land, they owned a few horses and cows, suggesting they rented their property, which may have necessitated some moving around. Clement may have also worked as a "mechanic", which at this time was a tradesman or manual worker, so the term could apply to a blacksmith, tailor, leather worker, or farm laborer.
Clement may have moved his own crops or crops he helped to harvest down the canal to the large gristmill just past Millport, on Walnut Creek. Other goods and milled flour may have then been hauled south down the canal ten miles to Circleville for sale and distribution or twenty miles north to Columbus.
Between 1830 and 1840, Circleville grew from 1136 to 2330 inhabitants. By 1843, the town had 3000 inhabitants, two hardware stores, two stove stores, two drug stores, three printing offices, two confectioneries, two groceries, nine warehouses, six churches, an academy, a female seminary, a jail, eight hotels, a bookstore, and many mechanics shops. From the port in Circleville, merchants shipped large quantities of flour, pork, bacon, lard, butter, tallow, wool, wheat, corn, and clover seed.
While the Simpsons may have traveled to Circleville on occasion, it was not the closest village. South Bloomfield would have only been a mile or two away and had more than 150 people, along with two taverns, one store, and several mechanics shops. South Bloomfield also had a stop for the stagecoach route, which went from the state capital at Columbus through Circleville to Chillicothe. Also nearby, within sight of Bloomfield, was Millport, population 98 in 1844.
The Simpsons were Whigs, opponents of Andrew Jackson and his Democratic Party. Clement died in 1838 and Minty and the family relocated to Tippecanoe County, Indiana by 1840.
In 1885, G.F. Wittich wrote a memoir of his experiences in Circleville 60 years earlier. Below is an abridged version.
The sheep were sheared in the spring, the wool washed, picked and carded by hand, and spun on the big spinning wheel, and woven into cloth on hand looms for winter clothing for both men and women. Wool picking was done by inviting the women to spend the evening, which took the place of the party of today. Refreshments or a regular supper of flannel cakes, stewed chicken, store coffee, warm ginger cake, &c., were served. No angel food or pound cakes were to be found in those times.
For hats for men and boys we depended on the hat manufactories of the town. We had fur hats for the men and wool for the boys. The measure of the head was taken and we waited for the hat to be made. For shoes (no boots in those times), the leather owned by the head of the family was taken to the shoe shop, where each member of the family, boys and girls alike, went to have their feet measured to have shoes made for winter. No shoes were worn in summer by boys particularly; usually only the girls had shoes in summer.
Clothing, such as it was, was also made at home. There were no clothing stores, no hat stores, no shoe stores, no stores to sell groceries exclusively, no queensware stores, no furniture stores, no stores for hardware exclusively. The so-called stores then kept groceries, queensware, and a general assortment of goods with usually a bottle of whisky on the counter for such customers that wished to help themselves.
All dry goods and articles brought from the east were hauled over the mountains in large wagons drawn by six large horses, which were generally provided with bells. There were no railroads anywhere in this country at that day. No cooking stoves in those days. In their place were the large fireplaces in the kitchen with cranes for pots, and the tin reflector to set before the fire to bake the bread. Wood only was used for heating purposes and cooking, the fire being covered at night to be rekindle in the morning, and if the fire went out someone was sent to the neighbors for a coal. Failing in this, the steel and flint to strike a fire were resorted to. We had no matches in those days.
The culinary department of a household was not then as now. No fruit was put up in cans in their season, but fruits of all kinds were dried and preserved. Tomatoes were not known as an article of food, but were known as Jerusalem apples and were set on mantle-pieces as ornaments only.
For school books we had Webster's spelling book, Murray's grammar, Smiley & Pike's arithmetic, Olney's geography, and the Bible and New Testament were used as readers. For books to read at home by the fireside in winter we had Scottish Chiefs, Thaddeus of Warsaw, Children of the Abbey, Alonzo and Molise, Charlotte Temple, Robinson Cruse, Lives of Washington and Marion, &c.
For currency there were six and a fourth cent pieces, called fips, twelve and a half cent pieces, called nine pence, and a quarter half, and whole dollars. We had no five or ten cent pieces. Money of all kinds was so scarce that a half-dollar looked to almost any one as large as a cart-wheel.
In those days a large part of the mechanics of the town would go to the country in harvest time to help the farmers reap their wheat as nothing but sickles were used for cutting. We had no wheat cradles and no reapers and binders in those days. Fifty cents per day was paid for a day's work, for a full hand, twenty-five for a half hand. The writer then made a half hand, coming home from a full week's work Saturday evening with six bright quarter dollars jingling in his pocket.
We had no buggies or carriages, no livery stables. We all went horse back or in common road wagons. On Christmas our stockings were hung up with the prongs of a fork and filled with gingerbread, mint candy, and nuts. An occasional concert was given with such songs as Pretty Polly Hopkins, How do you do. My Long-tailed Blue, Jim Crow, Coal Black Rose, Barbara Allen, etc.
Y.H. Yerington wrote his memoir in 1887, about his experiences fifty years earlier. Below is a very abridged version, focusing on general life, rather than the particulars of the town and its residents.
At that date there was not a railroad in Ohio, all the produce was shipped by canal, and all the goods were brought here by the canal or by wagon. All the traveling was done by stage. It took two days and night to go from Columbus to Cleveland, and then often the passengers had to get out and pry the stage out of the mud. After the National road was built, our merchants went east by that route, goods were generally sent by rail to Cumberland, and from thence to Wheeling by wagon; if there was plenty of water in the Ohio river, they were put on a steamboat to Portsmouth and from thence to Circleville by canal. If the Ohio river was low they usually wheeled them clear through.
I recollect, one spring D. Peirce, the veteran merchant had his goods wagoned from Cumberland, one wagon carried ninety-six hundred pounds. It was a large Conestoga wagon, four inch tire, six horses, bells on each horse, driven by a single line, and the driver rode the off horse, and when the wagon was backed up to the pavement in front of his store, the team reached across the street.
The merchants carried everything, hardware, glassware, queensware, earthenware, boots and shoes, hats and caps, groceries and liquors. It was a very common thing but it was thought no disgrace then to get drunk, everybody drank, and if you went to a farmer's house, the first thing he would do, would be to hand out the bottle, and if you did not take some he would consider it an insult. Whiskey was cheap.
Money was very scarce and not much in circulation, and what was in circulation was paper money. There were plenty of banks throughout the state which issued their paper freely, and their standing was not the best. Most all the business was done by trading. If any body wanted to go to house-keeping, the merchant would give them orders to the furniture store, to the stove and tin shop, or if he wanted a saddle or a set of harness, the merchant would send a clerk or an order and get them and the manufactors would pay his employees by giving them orders on the store.
That fall [of 1840] was the great campaign when Harrison ran against Van Buren for president. Dr. Olds being a strong Democrat [the party of Andrew Jackson], and believing that Van Buren would be elected he offered to sell, and did sell, quite an amount of goods, at double price if Van Buren was elected or nothing if Harrison was elected. The result was that he supplied a good many Whigs with dry goods for nothing.
I shall never forget the exciting times during that campaign. The political meetings were immense, with their long processions. Everybody seemed to be fully aroused and excited and to see the log cabins, coonskins, strings of buckeyes, and hard cider, was wonderful. On one occasion I remember seeing a very large wagon made for the express purpose, filled with men, drawn by thirty-six yoke of oxen.
General Harrison came here one evening, the people build a temporary platform around the sign post that stood in front of the ("Ohio House" I think it was called then) and he made a speech from it. During that season we had some of the most able and talented speakers in the state, such as Thomas Ewing Sen., the old salt boiler, Thomas Corwin the waggoner boy, Henry Stansbury and others.
Circleville Reminisences: a Description Of Circleville, Ohio (1825-1840), Also an Account ... Of the 115-year Old Sister Of Commodore Oliver Haz; Chillicothe, Ohio : D.K. Webb; digital image; Internet Archive (https://archive.org/details/circlevilleremin00webb)
A brief history of Pickaway County, to accompany Wheeler's map; 1844, Scott & Teesdale's press; digital image, Internet Archive (https://archive.org/details/briefhistoryofpi00circ)
In 2013, a DNA test revealed that my wife was 1/8 Jewish. A little digging quickly led me to her mother's mother's mother, Mildred Tabor, who was likely 100% Ashkenazi Jewish. Ninety years ago, my wife's great-grandfather, Russell Tenure, served five years in Sing Sing for the crime of bigamy, remarrying without first obtaining a divorce from his wife. On his prison admittance record, he claimed that he had left Mildred and his children because it had been a forced marriage and that he discovered that she was a Jewish girl.
But we had a mystery. That whole maternal line was Lutheran, not Jewish. I was very curious to when and why the family had converted. This line was straightforward to trace back to my wife's 2x great-grandparents, Sadie and William Tabor. However, Sadie and William had appeared out of nowhere on the 1900 census and I couldn't find any trace of them on earlier records. But I did find that William had another name: Isidor Waldman Tabor. If he changed his given names, might he have changed his last name too?
Religious conversions, name changes, families appearing out of nowhere... what was going on here? Well, it took over 5 years of digging but finally, I might have an answer. In late 19th century New York, there was a tale of illicit romance, desperate marriages, hiding out in Mexico, and music. However, this document really isn't about telling that story, only proving it.
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