Het at 18

Harry and Henrietta's lives were shaped by the events of the times a little more, perhaps, than the average person's. In her childhood and early womanhood, Het lived the same life that generations of her family had, with all the family helping out with the shoe and boot making trade. Her marriage to Henry James Cooley in June 1898 made her acutely aware of the wider world. She was always very close to her slightly older sister, Alice Mary. "As they grew up they both loved pretty clothes and dancing. They were very pretty girls and never lacked partners. The big event of the year was the Rifle Volunteers Ball, always held the night after the Hunt Ball so that they could use the same decorations. In later years Het spoke with nostalgia of the dresses she and Alice had one year, one cream and one pink, made of 'nun's veiling', a very fine woollen material which hung beautifully. When the girls were 17 and 18, Alice met George Cooley, a soldier in the Royal Field Artillery; they were married the following year, 1897.

At the wedding, Het met George's brother Henry James (Harry), also in the RFA and recently returned from India. The following year, 1898, on June 2nd, they were married at St Giles church in Colchester. In those days a soldier could not marry without his Commanding Officer's permission and this was seldom given before the soldier was 26. Harry was 21, so they married "off the strength", which meant there were no allowances and certainly no chance of a married quarter" (Diana). Nevertheless, life was, at first, pretty much all that a young couple could wish for: able to live cheaply with Het's parents, they had the social life of the Artillery Barracks and - we assume - young love. Within 18 months much of that had changed, as they must have known it would. In April 1899 their first child, Hettie Louisa, was born, although not baptized until late October that year. Harry was away periodically; a few weeks in Okehampton ... some time in Trowbridge, but mostly he was at home in Butt Road.

Your Loving Husband Harry

The big change came when Harry embarked in RMS Cymric on New Year's Day 1900, bound for South Africa and the Second Boer War. Het stayed in her parents' home, although they were no longer in Butt Road but had moved to Essex Street. Harry and Het would have known that she was carrying their second child and, probably, that it would be some time before Harry would meet his second-born. Het would have gazed very fondly on the photo from her 'loving husband Harry' when it arrived in the post.

The baby, Harry Robert (probably pictured below on Het's lap), was born in early July 1900, no doubt to the great joy of the young family, despite their separation. A short-lived joy, however, as the baby died of meningitis early in 1902, before his second birthday. "Het was distraught and, although she went on to have 8 more children, she never really got over it and wept at the mention of his name even forty years later". (Diana)

"Because Harry was on active service the army now recognised the marriage and Het and Hettie were "on the strength". Harry survived the South African War totally unscathed but, instead of returning to England, his battery was drafted to India. He at once applied for Het and Hettie to join him and on January 30th 1903 they set out. For a girl as little travelled as Het this was quite an undertaking...I remember her telling me how they went aboard a ship tied up at the quay at Tilbury. This, she assumed, was the ship to take her to India, but it turned out only to be the lighter to take passengers out to the liner, SS Egypt, lying out in the Roads....she stood on the deck and looked up to see a great black wall rising in front of her - the side of the Egypt". (Diana) Het loved every minute of the voyage. Harry met them at Bombay and they all travelled by rail to join the 79th Battery RFA in Lucknow.

Tennis dress 1903

Maud tells us: "The family spent about five very happy years in India, living in luxury with servants: a bearer (cook) an ayah (children's nurse) a syce (groom) a dhobi (washerman) and a sweeper. Mum had a lovely life there, servants to do the chores; tennis in the afternoon - she learned it then. I think before that she'd never seen a tennis racquet - and they played in those lovely long skirts with frills and blouses with high necks and lots of pleats and insertions. She was always describing the beautiful balls she went to there"

The family went to the foothills of the Himalayas each summer: "In the hot weather wives and children were sent to 'the Hills' (in an oxcart, according to Dorothy) to Chaubattia, about 1000 feet higher than Ranikhet. The men were left behind to swelter on the plains." (Maud)

"Husbands joined them for short periods whenever possible. These hill stations were set in glorious scenery and the smell of woodsmoke or sun on pine trees would bring them back to Het in later years. However, life had it's more exciting moments as, for instance, when Het was expecting her third daughter, Victoria Maud. She was expected towards the end of September. Harry came up to Chaubattia about mid-September to find that the hospital there was closing down for the winter. After examining Het, the MO told Harry that she probably had about another 10 days to go, so there was plenty of time to get her down to the plains, to go into the hospital at Bareilly. The only way to get down to Bareilly from Chaubattia was by mail tonga - a small vehicle drawn by either one or two ponies, driven invariably at full gallop down precipitous roads with a sheer wall of cliff on one side and a precipice (the khud) on the other. They spent at least two nights in rest bungalows, or dhaks, so the somewhat breathtaking journey must have lasted some time! However, they made it and Victoria was born on September 25th 1906." (Diana)

Vashti Esther had been born in November 1904 and had been christened at the Memorial Church in Kanpur (the memorial to the women and children who had been killed in the Siege of Lucknow, which was still well within living memory), so the tonga would have held not only Harry and Het but 7 year old Hettie and 2 year old Vashti as well.

"On another occasion Het and her three children came down from the Hills, alone this time, and by train for the last part of the journey, to a station to which the Battery had only recently moved and which Het had never seen. They arrived at about midnight, which seems to have been par for the course, expecting to be met by Harry, but there was no sign of him. As the platform cleared, the only other person in sight was a perfect stranger, who came up and asked if she was Mrs Cooley. On hearing that she was, he said Harry had been knocked out, playing hockey that afternoon, and was in hospital and the stranger had agreed to go and meet Het and take her to her bungalow."(Diana)

"I should think we had four rooms, with 'cuscus tatties' (bamboo blinds) and a 'chokra', a boy to throw water on them, on the outside. And they had 'punkas', a fan that was a rush mat the width of the room with a chokra pulling it with a rope attached to his toe until he went to sleep, and then it got so hot that everybody shouted at him to wake him up and get the punka going again.... Daddy had an old-fashioned bungalow in Jhansi with punkas, but we had electric fans".(Maud)

It was back to Colchester and reality in the spring of 1907. There was still the Regimental Ball but it must have been a very rude awakening after the pampering and 'accelerated advancement' of British India. Let's hope that being close to family again was compensation. In the summer of 1908 Harry went with the Battery to Fermoy, Co. Cork, but as Het was near to term with the next baby she stayed in Colchester. Charles was born in August 1908 but was not baptized until mid-October in Fermoy, after an appallingly rough crossing of the Irish Sea that left both Het and Charles unwell. She was, understandably, afraid that she was going to lose her second son as she had the first, but all was well.

After less than 18 months they returned to England, to Ewshot, near Aldershot. "Ewshot was only a tiny village so the Battery wives were taken into Aldershot once a week in a horse-drawn Black Maria to do their shopping!" (Diana). Dorothy was born in December 1909 in Ewshott, followed by Frank in 1911 and Hal in 1913. The 1911 census is a reminder that, even when Harry was away, Het was not alone - she was in a community of women of about her age, all with small children, so there would no doubt have been good mutual support. Even in that list of wives and children, however, Het was winning by one child! The children "were all born in the Louise Margaret Military Hospital in Aldershot. In those days women stayed in bed for a fortnight after the birth of a baby and Het said that those periods in the Louise Margaret, being waited on hand and foot and in pleasant company, were real holidays once the trauma of actually having the baby was over". (Diana)

Harry and the children c1912

For the time in barracks at Sheffield that came next, Maud (on the right in the photo) has painted a vivid picture of family life: she and Charles (centre, on horseback) getting dirty and into scrapes, Vashti (left) suffering from another headache and sitting on her father's knee.... and a frazzled Het smacking Maud for frightening the life out of her! (In the photo Frank is on Harry's knee and Hettie is holding young Dorothy). The newest baby slept with Het until the next one came along, Maud remembered. "Our quarter was in a stone building made of big blocks with a pitted surface, grimed with soot and the whole barracks walled, with sentries at the gate. You went up steps to the parade ground". Alice Mary was born in Sheffield in early 1914. While Het was expecting the baby, Harry had been on manoeuvres in Wales. After his return a letter had arrived for him with a lover's knot drawn on the envelope. Het opened and read this love letter but never gave it to him or told him she had read it. However, when the baby was born and the names agreed upon, Het said, "...but she will be known as Dilys". (This version of the story of Dilys' name is from Nik - and seems preferable to the one that has Harry insisting on calling the baby Dilys.)

The family moved to Colchester at the beginning of the Great War, where Het's younger brother Tom and his wife Maude were able to let them live in their house at 49 Morant Road. Tom and Maude moved in with Het and Tom's recently widowed father in Winsley Square. "Up until then, when the Battery moved a special train was laid on. Someone would be there to check that everyone who should be there was there, and when everyone was aboard, the train left. This time, however, there was no Battery train - the two families [going to Colchester] were catching the London express. No sooner were they on the train than, naturally, several of the older children needed to go to the toilet. This was long before the days of corridor trains, so Het got off the train with assorted older members of both families and took them to spend their pennies. They were still in the cloakroom when the train left! Fortunately there was another train about an hour later, but it was all a bit nerve-shattering. It was bad enough for Het with the older children - history doesn't relate how the other woman coped with the assorted smaller ones, including Dilys, a baby of five months!" (Diana)

We don't know how quickly Het was told about Harry's injury and his arrival in London. It is to be hoped that someone was able to look after the children to allow her to visit Harry in hospital in London from August 1915. It must have been a dreadful time for Het; her husband severely wounded and with communication difficulties (even after the aphasia had gone, he stammered very badly for several years), her children being called "nasty little soldiers' trollops" at school and all of them squeezed into a small house. As if this wasn't enough, "Harry's last visit home before he went to [Belgium, in January 1915] had left Het again pregnant, but this time she had a miscarriage which nearly cost her her life. Hettie did some of the nursing but was working during the day and it must have been at this time that Vashti, aged about 10, moved into her position as 'second Mum', which she continued to occupy even after she was married". (Diana) Once Harry was at least temporarily out of hospital they found their own, larger place in Colchester, at 39 Shrub End Road, where they lived from 13th January 1916 until moving to Pond Hall in December 1917. At Shrub End school things were improved as it was only army children and this was "rather a 'better class' area, hence the larger houses, and Het suffered agonies of embarrassment because of her brood of highly individualistic children, who were not unduly bothered about 'better class areas'. Fortunately they soon became acquainted with another large and like-minded family, called the Longstaffs, who were a considerable asset". (Diana) They also had friends called Bennett: Mrs Bennett was Diana's godmother and Lena Bennett was Hettie's friend until Lena died in the 1940s.

The family in about 1923 Things got worse. After Diana's birth in 1919 - a joy in itself - Het suffered from a severe case of post-natal depression with suicidal tendencies. "I remember coming home from a party at Kate's Hill given by a friend. It was dusk when we got home and found Dad roaming the grounds and he told us he couldn't find Mum and wanted us to help. This was the worst night of my life up to this time and in fear and trembling we went down to the bottom orchard and found Mum sitting on a log beside the stream. She said, 'Go away. I'm going to put my face in the stream in a little while'. Vashti and Maud tried to persuade her to come home and at last she consented when Vashti told her the baby was crying and we all needed our mother. After this Mum stayed in her room with the baby and wouldn't talk to any one when we took her meals and frequent cups of tea. It was a very subdued family for several days with Vashti coping with cooking and all the rest of us being helpful". (Dorothy)

As has also been mentioned in Dorothy's story, Diana's full name was Diana Cecilia May, named at Harry's request after two WAAC officers who were billeted at Pond Hall for a short while. Diana and Cecilia Haward were both pretty and vivacious and brightened Harry's, if not Het's, life.

(Almost certainly Mary Diana Haward and Cecilia Victoria Dorien Haward, sisters born in 1896 and 1897 respectively, in Samford, Suffolk. Their father, Cecil Haward, was a farmer at The Grange in Little Wenham, Samford. He was born in Chattisham in 1867 and his wife, Diana, was born in 1872 in Long Sutton, Lincolnshire. In 1901 they had a governess for the girls and two servants; a cook and a house maid. Cecilia Haward married a Mr Clemson in 1922 and, according to Het's 1965 diary, her sister married a Mr Somerville and boarded a dog with Hettie).

Another 'billetee' was Captain Lloyd of the Royal Flying Corps. "This was a pleasant interlude for Het, because he had a batman called O'Rourke, who not only looked after the Captain's two rooms but helped her a lot and used to bring her little delicacies filched from the Officers' Mess. He also made her laugh a lot and she always remembered him with affection."(Diana)
Diana mentions Harry's youngest brother, Evelyn, visiting them at Pond Hall at about this time but this could not have been so, as he was killed in 1916. Perhaps he visited them in Colchester, while Harry was still in and out of hospital.

The family in about 1941

Whatever the tensions in their marriage, Rosy recalls that every day Harry would peel and core an apple and pass slices one at a time across the table to Het. It seems a tender image. Not only is the past a different country (apologies to L P Hartley for making free with his words), such a large family would force one to 'do things differently'. Even while maintaining a genteel front, a deal of pragmatism must have been necessary.

Harry was an accomplished violinist. "I know that because I was quite a good boy soprano (sang solos and things) in the Hadleigh Church choir and whenever we visited Pond Hall, he would get out his violin and I would have to sing; it used to terrify me". (Tom, seen on his mother's lap in the 1941 picture at left, and sporting a flag and a mischievous grin in the 1944 photo on the right)

There was, it seems, much music at Pond Hall in earlier days, with (at least) both Dorothy and Diana playing the piano.

Rosy muses: "what a hard life he had: terribly wounded, when he came out of hospital he was consigned to the depths of the country where he knew no one, and this was a vigorous, young man. At first he had a 3 wheel car, a Morgan, but later a tricycle with a shelf for his bad leg. He pedalled it with the other leg. This, or walking, was the connection to Hadleigh. Later there were bicycles and Hetty had a horse, Major, and trap in the war.

Harry and Het in 1949

What I saw was a grumpy, unfriendly man who said 'no' whatever you asked. He didn't like mummy and he didn't like us . Probably not surprising because we descended on him every summer and then I was left there when my parents and Felicity went to Holland.

But he was amazing. He kept a lot of hens, sold eggs, incubated chicks, and grew vegetables on that large plot of land, stumping round with his paralysed leg. He also knitted the kids' stockings on a knitting machine.

The only time I got a positive response from him was when I had to write a detention essay "On Carelessness". I wrote about not being careful enough, and then about being free of care. I was frustrated at school and seized the chance to widen the concept. He read it and was very pleased. I think he liked the breadth but also the fact that I added a positive version, also a kind of defiance. I think he might have been clever, and frustrated in that too. Poor man".

Diana wrote, "...his nerves were so bad that if a stranger suddenly came into his presence he would burst into tears. On his doctor's orders he took up smoking in an effort to calm his nerves and this certainly helped a certain amount. The smallest amount of alcohol had a terrible effect on him, sending him into a violent temper, so there was never any alcohol in the house.

On Het's side, she was thoroughly run down from years of coping single-handedly with a large family, from the miscarriage, from which she had never had time to really recover, and from having yet another baby at the age of forty. I have often thought she must have suffered torments of frustration at that time; penned up, miles from anywhere, with an almost impossible husband and a crowd of unsympathetic, wayward, self-willed children. Her one comfort, I think, was Vashti, who alone of us saw her as a person, instead of just Mum."

The photo shows Het at Pond Hall in 1930

"Gradually, as Harry recovered from his wounds and settled into a pattern of life at Pond Hall, and the children grew older and became more fun and less of a burden, Het became devoted to Pond Hall and the life there. She loved the garden and although she enjoyed a trip into Ipswich for the cinema or shopping, and the occasional walk down to Hadleigh, she certainly would not have wished to live any nearer a town. When Harry died in 1950, the family tried very hard to persuade her to move into a modern bungalow in Hadleigh but she would not hear of it. Het died of a stroke in 1969.

Harry and Gay

Tyrant though he undoubtedly was, I loved him dearly." (Diana)

Or, to give the last word to Gay (playing with Harry's medals in the photo); "My hero!"