Saturday, November 27, 2010

Biography: Rosanna (Shepherd) (Fraser) Renshaw



These are the points of interest in my life. I was born in Mitcham, Surrey, England to Captain George Shepherd, M.C. and Rosanna (Staines) Shepherd. I have a sister, Eileen and a brother, Edward George. We grew up on London Road Mitcham. A butcher shop nearby (above which Blanch Shepherd and her husband Wilfred Baden Bradford and their two children Gill and Roger lived) had all these the poor animals outside waiting for slaughter and was such a sad experience that I have been a vegetarian all my life.

The butcher, Stanley Birch, must have been a kindly man because Dora Shepherd married him and they lived above the shop for many years before buying a house in Mitcham.

My parents were married on May 21, 1918 moving into "The Star" public house where my mother still lived with her parents. I don't know just when we moved to London Road, except that my sister Eileen was born there. Maybe dad was not discharged from the army until then. The "flat" where we lived had two rooms above the Barkleys Bank, a kitchen and a "front room" which was only used on special occasions, although the piano was in there, where I use to practice my scales. I only took lessons for a year or so, I found the scales pretty boring. There were two large bedrooms upstairs and my first real memory is of my dad carrying me upstairs to bed with a candle in one hand and of how comforting the smell of the candle was. In the winter the room was heated with a Valour Perfection lamp and our bed was heated with a brick, heated in the oven and wrapped in a towel. There was no bathroom but a "potty", a jug and a basin were at our disposal for necessary purposes. We did have a flush toilet but it was downstairs and outside. On one fine day my mother restained the toilet seat but forgot to tell dad who sat on it while it was still wet and mom had to use turpentine to clean it off his bottom.

Back in those days there was no electricity and I loved to sit in the window in the front room and watch for the lamp lighter to come along to light the street lamp opposite, and beside the Pawn Shop, with it's three brass balls hanging beside the door. When my brother Ted was born and Eileen and I were a little older, my dad divided our bedroom into two rooms so that Ted had a little room of his own.

I do remember one day accidental walking in front of dad who playfully slapped me on the head causing me to drop my doll with the china head and it broke. I was heartbroken and dad was very repentant. One of my fond memories of dad was going periodically to the River Waddle to catch "tiddlers". They never did last very long, neither did the polliwogs that we caught. They never reached the frog stage.

I was reading a novel recently in which the characters move to Bundaberg, Australia. One character asks another what there is in Bundaberg, and is told that it was the home of the famous aviator Bert Hinkler. The name leaped off the page at me, because I had met Bert. Twice a year my family would go to visit cousins Henry and Maggie Staines (on my mother's side of the family) in Lympne. They lived in a bungalow named "Ingleside" next to the airport and Bert Hinkler use to room with them. When he wanted to go flying, he would just jump over their backyard fence and walk across the field to his plane. I was about 5 years old at the time and Bert had the first radio I had ever heard. You had to wear ear phones to hear anything and he would let the children listen. Bert was famous as the first man to fly from England to Australia. He died a few years later, in the mountains around Florence Italy, attempting to recreate the trip. Henry had quite a bit of money and owned a town car. He had many properties and would take Ted, Eileen and myself with him as he went around on the weekends collecting rent. He was a a very affable man, but deaf. Maybe that's why he tolerated the children so well! His wife, Magie had no teeth and trouble with her feet. When she would buy new shoes she would give them to my mother to wear-in for her so they wouldn't hurt her feet so much. Henry and Maggie had a daughter, Eva Staines, who emmigated to Australia in the late 1930 or early 1940. Whether this was because she had met some Australian soldier or not isn't known.

Eileen, Ted and I use to play "up the yard" where dad, Grandfather Shepherd, and uncle Fred worked. I bet they use to get tired of three youngsters underfoot. The forge in the blacksmith hop was lovely on a cold winters day, especially where we were old enough to jump up and reach the bellow's handle. I do not remember this but the story goes that Grandfather had just finished painting the shafts of a Gypsy Caravan with red paint, when I followed up with a handful of dirt and sprinkled it on. He was NOT AMUSED!

On one occasion, we three children played "wedding". Lanna wore a white lace curtain, Ted was the groom and I played the horse who pulled them in a wooden wagon that dad had made for us. Incidentally, many, many years later, I "developed my female anatomy" that my siblings called me "three brass balls". I admit I was well endowed and my mother put me in corselettes when I was 13. Fancy playing net ball and high jump in school wearing that torturous garment! Another nickname in school was "steamroller", I'm told. I was a pretty good student and became head prefect for a couple of years.

I first attended Gorninge Park School, then St. Marks, then (at age 11) the New Weston Road Secondary School. Because of my love for children, upon leaving school, I trained as a "Well Baby Nurse", at the Manesfield Sunshine Nursery in Sussex for one year. There I receive room and board and the meager sum of 1 pound per month. The children ranged from birth to 4 years of age and were mostly illegitimate children of actresses and wealthy people.

After graduating, I worked as a Nanny for a family named Mizen in Carshalton. However I found life boring and wanted to travel, so I applied to the Nursery Information Bureau in Kensington, London requesting only a position which would include travel. After many unsuccessful attempts, I was finally hired by the wife of an English Major (who was captured two weeks after war was declared). She was very "upperty" and the cook told me that she had had two "nannies" leave her employ in 18 months. From necessity I stayed with her, caring for her two little boys, David and Michael. We moved from Essex to Devonshire then to Hindlhead to escape the bombing. The house(small cottage) in Hindhead was in the grounds of Amesbury Boys Private School. Peter, the son of Field Marshall "Monty" Montgomery attended Amesbury School and on one "Field Day" Monty attended and I got to meet him as well.

The wife of the Gym Instructor at the school was a daily help at the house. She had two daughters, Chressie and Pat. Chressie was in a body caste--she had a T.B. hip. Her 16th birthday fell on my day off and her mother asked me if I would like to help make sandwiches etc. at her home, which I did. She had opened her home to some Canadian Soldiers and five of them were there that day. That was where I met Bill. She told me that she corresponded with some of their wives, so when Bill asked me for a date, I refused, thinking he was married. Six weeks later, Pat, the 12 year old daughter, asked me why I wouldn't go out with him, as on his day off he used to sit at their window to watch me go by with my "children". When I said I wouldn't go out with a married man, she soon put me straight and our first date was at a wedding reception for a comrade of his who was marrying an English girl in Hazelmore.

On my next day off, he said he couldn't take me out as he was to be Best Man at the wedding of a friend. Turned out to be Al and Phyl!! However, we did date from then on. That was October, and he wanted to marry before Christmas, but I felt that was too soon so we settled on April. Bill introduced me to Al once prior to then and Al was Best Man at our wedding. Actually Bill had been the first one to ask Phyl out on a date but couldn't keep the appointment. Al happened along and asked her why she was "all dressed up" and when she told him the story, he offered to take her to the "show" and their romance started from then on. Fate has a strange way of working, hasn't it!

We went to St. Albans on our Honeymoon and it so happened that Al and Phyl were also staying at the same hotel! Coming out of the bathroom, that evening, I found Bill on his knees saying the "rosery" . He, of course was Catholic, and I was Protestant, so I had no idea what he was doing. When I asked him he said he was doing his penance for having married me! I threw my slipped at him!

Barry was born a year later, and after Bill, Al was the first to see him.

A few weeks later the 15th General Hospital was sent overseas to Africa. Then to Italy. Bill broke his ankle and was sent home to recuperate, then off to Holland for about six months. Barry and I came to Canada in 1946 to join Bill who had been dischared earlier. We resided in East York where John, 1948, Malcolm, 1950, and Keith, 1953, were born. We then moved to West Hill where we were blessed with three granddaughters, Katherine, Heather, and Sherrie (all of whom have become veratarians as well) and a grandson, Mark (who carries on the family name).

I didn't meet Al again until we brought 107 Meighen, our first home in Canada. Our front door needed fixing, so Bill phoned Al who came along and did the job for us. We visited him and Phyl a couple of times when he lived on Faulkland Rd. but when he brought a farm in Peterborough, we mainly corresponded at Christmas. Al, Phyl and Norman lived with us for a few months when they were househunting in the Scarborough area. We did visit them in Peterborough a couple of time, once with all the children, then in later years when we were "empty nesters."

It had been thirteen years since I last saw Al when he attended Bill's funeral. When I arrived at the funeral parlour that afternoon, Al and Phyl were standing beside the casket and I noticed how smart he looked and thought how lucky they were to still have one another--not knowing that Phyl had cancer and would "pass away" a few weeks later. Al wrote telling me and I sent a sympathy card. He wrote back saying "write again", which I did. John and Rita were taking a day trip to Peterborough and offered to take me along. I asked if we could stop off to see and old friend of ours to which they agreed. At that time I don't think any of us realized what the outcome would be. John and Rita were having a "garden-party" in July and I asked Al if he would like to attend, so he came for the week-end and we really got to know one another and our "Fate was Sealed". We were married on September 3, 1988. We had several trips to England and almost yearly to Prince Edward Island. I guess our "Guardian Angles" were pulling strings up above, for Phyl use to tell Al not to live alone too--just as Bill had told me!

Rosanna Renshaw
Rosanna with her family on her 80th birthday, 1999