Emily Butcher: The Survivor

There is an irony to life, chiefly visible to those that look back, and I suspect that Frank Butcher didn’t want the loss he experienced in 1854 to be repeated again. No child should have their mother ripped away from them, especially not by a cruel disease like cancer. To watch the woman you so profoundly rely on slip away. How did it affect your father? Would it make him closer to you being able to step up to the mark, or would it make him distant, unable to process a rather sudden or perhaps more drawn out loss? The family group would be irreversibly affected, regardless of circumstances.

Frank’s mother’s death certificate

I wonder if Frank worried about this when he married Eliza Jackson in 1874? Or each time a new child was born? The couple ended up having three lads and five girls, the second youngest of the lot was born in May 1887 and was named Emily. She would later become my Great Great Grandmother.

But as mentioned before, there is an irony to life, and when Emily was aged six, a similar age to her dad, who was about five when his mother passed, she lost her mother to the effects of childbirth. Eliza’s cause of death was recorded as ‘placenta praevia’, which perhaps would indicate she was pregnant at around the time of death, but no record seems to suggest so, and I am certainly not an expert.

St. Paul’s Church, Hanging Heaton where both Frank and Eliza Butcher are buried

Regardless her childhood was affected irreversibly, and her family changed forever. To what extent and in what ways is debatable. Frank never remarried and passed away in 1906, aged 57. He died out of what was once known as ‘Bright’s Disease, and his passing wouldn’t have been nice to experience, but his son Percy was present at the death, so he wasn’t alone. What caused his death is unclear, but there is a chance he may have turned to alcohol when Eliza passed or perhaps he was simply unlucky and inherited it genetically.

Emily now was without a mother or father, but she still very much had a family. She likely lived with her sister Annie after her father’s death. I cannot be exactly sure, but in 1911 the other remaining Butcher siblings lived with her and her husband, Walter Hall. He is quite important as he was the son of William Henry and Eliza Ann Hall and brother of Ernest James Hall, Emily’s future husband.

Ernest James Hall, circa 1910

It is likely the latest date they could have met would have been Walter and Annie’s marriage in 1901. It doesn’t really matter how they met as they married in 1908 at Batley Parish Church and moved into the local Providence Street to raise their family. First came my Great Grandfather Percy in 1908, then Evelyn in 1910, and then Marion in 1913. What could go wrong for the young couple? Their lives had just begun.

Emily with Evelyn, circa 1910

War is merciless, and at some point after the birth of their daughter Phyllis in July 1915, Ernest went off to fight in the First World War. I dread to think what Emily felt watching her husband leave her; I suspect she was proud but also profoundly worried and petrified. How did she cope watching her children wave goodbye to their father? It is unthinkable.

Ernest survived the war and was ostensibly unscathed, barring a slight injury to his eyesight. Unfortunately, this wasn’t entirely true. The trauma of the war deeply affected Ernest, and he became what was known at the time as ‘Shell Shocked’.

There wasn’t a great dealing of understanding of the condition at the time, and men were just expected to return to life as normal. Imagine trying to settle back into life after fighting a brutal war, and you couldn’t find work as unemployment was rampant, whilst also being shunned as “personally weak” for suffering mentally. The treatment of these veterans by the establishment was disgusting, but my personal feelings on the matter are irrelevant, and for Ernest and Emily’s case, life went albeit different.

Proud? (Portrait taken circa 1915)

I do not know to what extent and exactly how Ernest’s trauma affected him, but it did. Was it nightmares? Near perpetual anxiety and bouts of shaking? Was he okay one moment only to opposite the next? Furthermore, it is absolutely unknown as to how Emily felt about this and how she dealt with it. Nonetheless, as a couple, they continued in life.

They moved to 99 Whitely Street, Daw Green (in the modern Westtown area), Dewsbury by 1920 and in 1921, Ernest was working as a Fettler at Alexandra Mills in Batley. More kids followed, and by 1927 the Hall family was finally complete. Emily arguably had kept the family together and likely provided Ernest with enough support to keep him going.

She raised quite a glamorous daughter in Phyllis and also a daughter who was good at acting/singing in Evelyn. Evelyn acted in some plays and was very enthusiastic about it, even being ‘spotted’ by an individual who wanted her to come to London. However, Emily told her no and that she had to go work in the mill to earn some money.

Evelyn Hall on her wedding day with her parents Emily and Ernest, 1939

By 1939 two daughters and a son had left home, and the family had moved to 32 Commonside, Hanging Heaton, and I suspect both Ernest and Emily felt powerless as they watched another generation sent off to war. Their son Frank served in the Royal Navy, and their son Jack also likely served.

It is hard to imagine Emily waving to her children, just as she had done to her husband a mere twenty-five years or so ago, as they went off to serve their country.

Throughout the war, Emily’s first grandchildren were born, all boys. Phyllis had Brian, my Great Grandad Percy, who likely stayed at home due to his reserved occupation, had John in 1942, followed by my Grandad Richard in 1944. Despite so much conflict, hardship and strife, another generation had been born.

The next generation?
Left to right: John Hall, Edith Annie Hall, Percy Hall, my GG, Richard Hall,my grandad

Another grandson recounts only ever meeting Ernest once, and even then, he went to the other room away from everybody. Obviously, even then, nearly three decades after his war service, Ernest was still affected by his trauma, and Emily also was by default.

She soon became ill with cancer and on 6 June 1948 passed away aged 61. Her daughter Marion registered her death and was present at her death as I would like to think most of her family, and at least both Marion and Ernest. She was buried three days later at the local St. Paul’s Churchyard at Hanging Heaton. She wouldn’t remain separated from Ernest for too long as he passed away suddenly of a heart attack about eighteen months later.

Both of them were finally able to rest together in peace.

Grave of Ernest and Emily after I had marked it

I wanted to find their grave for a long time and failed to do so until August 2021. The grave has sunk with time, just like both Ernest and Emily’s memory – fading slowly away. Both their legacies are complicated, with one of their daughters remarking that her father should have never had kids. Perhaps that was true to an extent, but both Ernest and especially Emily are awe-inspiring figures. Both clearly had guts and were able to endure and stick together to make sure that, no matter what, in spite of everything, both themselves and their family would survive.

Rainy selfie

To say they died nearly sixty years before I was born, they both mean a lot to me. Both their stories are remarkable but so ordinary, and I hope that as one of the many carrying their ‘Hall’ name, I can live up to their grit and courage.

Rest easy, Ernest and Emily.

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