In 1927, my granny (my dad’s mother) broke several records at the tender age of 19 months. This is the story of how she came to be on the front pages of several Canadian newspapers, and what happened next.
The story begins with my great grandmother, Annie Margaret Munday. Annie was born in Aylesbury, Bucks, England, in 1895, to Joseph and Louisa Munday. Joseph, a pub landlord, had a huge family – three children by his first wife and fourteen with Louisa, his second wife. Annie was the fourteenth of seventeen children, and eleven of them were living when she was born (ages 1-26). Sadly, when Annie was between 10-12 years old, three of her siblings died, aged 13, 16 and 19. However, even after that, Annie was still one of twelve. It’s not surprising that in 1911, Annie, with two of her younger siblings and a cousin, lived with her grandparents. At 15 years of age, Annie was working as a servant.
Perhaps it was because the family was so large that some of Annie’s brothers and sisters moved far away from the area in which the Munday family had lived for centuries. Annie’s older brother Alfred went to Edinburgh before WW1, where he became an orchid specialist at the Royal Botanic Gardens. In 1911, her oldest (full) sister Sarah moved with her husband and two young children to Ontario, Canada. Annie’s oldest brother Will and his wife followed them there in 1913. In 1921, both families lived in Wentworth, Ontario.
The next few years of Annie’s life are veiled in mystery. Sometime between 1921 and 1925, after both her parents had died, she also went to Ontario (unfortunately the searchable online database for Canadian immigration only covers 1925-1935). Our family doesn’t know if she intended to emigrate, or went to visit. All we know is that by 1926, she had met a man there called Walter Raby, and at the age of 30 became pregnant with his child – my granny.
What happened next is also very hard to decipher. Annie returned to Aylesbury, England in time to register the birth of my granny, Delia Raby Munday, in February 1927. Perhaps when she left Canada she did not know she was pregnant. Then, in September 1927, Annie headed back to Ontario on the Cunard ocean liner RMS Antonia, taking 7-month-old Delia with her.
Did Annie intend to try to get Walter to marry her? If so, was she unaware that Walter had quickly got married in November 1926, after responding to a newspaper ad from a lady looking for a husband (!) … and that Walter and his new wife had had a baby, a half-sister to Delia, in May 1927, only six months after the marriage and just three months after Delia was born?! According to family gossip, Walter may not have been the father of this ‘legitimate’ child, since his wife had reputedly placed the newspaper ad out of desperation, finding herself pregnant by her boss! Walter’s actions in marrying a woman, possibly pregnant by another man, rather than Annie, who was carrying his child, are impossible to explain.
The story then gets even more mysterious. In September 1928, after less than a year in Ontario, Annie obtained a passport for Delia, and on Friday 14 September, when Delia was one year, seven months, 11 days old, she was put on a ship back to England, on her own!
We have several fragile newspaper clippings about this extraordinary event that must have been cut out by Annie. According to the articles, ‘Little Delia Munday’, ‘a young Hamilton lady’, was going to Aylesbury, Bucks, England to visit her aunt and uncle, Mr. & Mrs. A. Read. However, since her parents weren’t mentioned, and it was unprecedented for such a ‘tiny tot [to] travel alone’ to visit relations, I’m sure many people would have read between the lines, and guessed that she was an illegitimate child going to live with family in England. According to the articles in The Hamilton Spectator and Toronto Daily Star, Delia’s trip, ‘unaccompanied by relations or friends’, would break five records, as she would be ‘the youngest to book through the Heming Bros. [local steamship agent] office, the youngest to travel alone on the Cunard or any other line, the youngest Hamiltonian to cross the ocean unescorted, the youngest Canadian to leave these shores alone, and the youngest person to land in England unaccompanied by parents.’ The previous youngest unaccompanied traveller had been three, and the ‘company steamship people do not encourage voyagers of such tender age as a year and a half.’
Delia’s ticket was for the Cunard ocean liner Ausonia (a sister ship to the Antonia). She was to be ‘taken to Montreal and placed on the boat by her mother’ and would cross the Atlantic in the care of the ship’s nurse. The son of a WW2-era crew member has created a website packed with history and memorabilia about the RMS Antonia. From his website I’ve learned that she was an ‘A Class’ steamship launched in 1921, which accommodated about 1500 cabin class, third class, and tourist class passengers, plus 270 crew. Amenities on board included a children’s nursery, decorated with murals of Alice in Wonderland. The Children’s Room had miniature furniture and was filled with toys, such as teddy bears, dolls, games, swings and a wigwam. However, I’m not sure if this was available to all passengers. I wonder how exactly Delia was cared for by her nurse chaperone throughout the journey.
At the end of the voyage, which would take about a week, Delia was to be met by her aunt and uncle, Charlotte and Arthur Read. Charlotte Louisa Read née Munday was Annie’s older sister by nine years. She and her husband, Arthur Goodgame Read, had been married since 1909 and apparently weren’t able to have their own children. When Delia joined them in 1928 they were in their early forties. This type of informal ‘open adoption’ between relations was not uncommon. In this case, it allowed a childless couple to raise a child, a single mother to avoid stigma and financial crisis, and an illegitimate child to be raised in a more conventional and financially stable two-parent family.
My granny always called Charlotte and Arthur ‘Auntie’ and ‘Uncle’, but they were like parents to her. However, her mother Annie continued to be closely involved in her life as well. I don’t know when Annie returned to England, but we have a charming photograph of them together, in which Delia looks about three-four. Delia also had lovely studio photographs taken with her aunt and uncle at around the same time. In my opinion, my granny looks shy and uncertain with her mother – understandable for a child who may not have seen her mother for months, or more.
In 1939, when the National Register was taken, Charlotte, Arthur, Annie, and Delia were all living together. Annie was working outside of the home in Domestic Duties (probably in a hospital canteen). Their cohabitation surprised my dad, who only knew that his mum had grown up with her auntie and uncle. We have no idea how long this arrangement went on for.
Annie never married, and Delia continued to live with Charlotte and Arthur, who gave her everything they could afford. Arthur was a machine mender’s assistant, and they lived in a tiny terrace house with a scullery and outside toilet, yet Delia had piano lessons, and took a piano exam at the Trinity School of Music in London when she was 11. Delia also did well academically and excelled at sports.
When Delia married in 1947, a photograph of the bride and groom’s parents included her mother (centre) and her aunt and uncle (right).
My dad remembers visiting his nan (Annie), but he saw Charlotte and Arthur, who he also called ‘Auntie’ and ‘Uncle’, far more often. Annie and Arthur passed away when he was a boy, but Charlotte was still alive when I was born, and my dad remained very close to his kind and generous (great) auntie until she passed away in 1981.
My granny never spoke of the mysteries surrounding her childhood. Illegitimacy was hugely stigmatised when she was younger, and it was never discussed. Children did not ask their parents personal questions in those days. When we asked her questions, such as why she was sent back to England, she would simply say “I don’t know.” We have been able to uncover many facts, records, and even photographs of Walter Raby and his ancestors in recent years. However, the truth of what transpired between Annie and Walter was a well guarded secret, never intended to be revealed.
It’s very sad that single mothers found it so hard to keep their children, and I can’t help wondering how my great grandmother felt about giving up her daughter. I also wonder how my granny felt about having been sent away from her mum at such a young age. However, it seems that she had a very happy childhood, and had three parent figures who loved her. In her last years, she wrote, poignantly, that ‘I have enjoyed every moment of my life.’
In Part 1 of this post, I shared the story of Ida Gifford – another ancestor who was also raised by an aunt and uncle while her parents were still alive. Although Ida and Delia’s circumstances were different, I see common threads between their stories. Both had opportunities as children that they might not have had living with their parents, especially as girls. I will never know the motivations or emotions experienced by the people involved, but I believe that in both cases, the parents did what they thought was best for their child.