Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Remembering Great-Uncle Fred

Frederic Mason Ridley was born in Lucknow, India in 1890 to thoroughly British parents Matthew Ridley (employed as Superintendent of Parks and Gardens) and his wife Lucy (nee Hodgson).  In those days it was common practice for children of the Empire age 5 and up to attend boarding schools in England. Fred and his seven siblings were sent off to Dunheved College in Launceston, Cornwall, and somehow coped with prolonged separation from parents, lengthy train trips and rough sea voyages, bouts of homesickness and anxiety that were considered necessary parts of growing up as British colonial subjects. They became good letter-writers.  Living outside of India during the formative years was thought to be better in the long run; to ensure good physical health, a decent education, solid moral values and an elevated social status.  A set of strict Victorian guidelines clearly divided the privileged Britons (us) from the Indian population (them) and good parenting meant instilling a sense of superiority in young minds.

"If children were educated in India they were deemed likely to acquire cultural traits such as a "chi-chi" accent that increased their resemblance to mixed-race persons.  Furthermore, boys later found themselves ineligible for the higher sectors of state and commercial employment for which examinations in Britain were long crucial criteria for entry..."

"Leaving the subcontinent enabled children to benefit from exposure to Britain's climate, culture and schooling provisions, factors that, taken together, inculcated highly coveted forms of cultural and career competence connoting whiteness and respectability."       
  -  Elizabeth Buettner, "Empire families: Britons and Late Imperial India"

WWI recruitment poster

Raised in an era of expansive British colonialism, when individual acts of sacrifice and service were essential to the making of an empire, Frederic Mason Ridley was prepared to answer any military call of duty.  When it came in 1914,  he was living in Leeds, West Yorkshire with his widowed mother and two older siblings and was employed as an electrician.  (His father Matthew had died in 1904 in India of kidney disease, just prior to retirement, according to an obituary published in the Kew Guild.)  

Fred Ridley in the cavalry, 4th Dragoon Guards (Royal Irish), Tidworth, 1914
Fred Ridley, with his stiff upper lip, flawless English accent and excellent equestrian skills acquired on the polo field, was no doubt an asset to the battalion.  He fought in Belgium and France, joined the Machine Gun Corps, cavalry division and rose from the rank of Private to Sergeant. He was awarded medals honouring his service:

This combination of three WWI medals was dubbed "Pip, Squeak and Wilfred"

 Most impressive is the fact that he survived the Great War.

A certificate from Hawarden, Wales dated September 21, 1918  records the marriage of Frederic Mason Ridley (soldier) and Lilian Kathleen Haswell (schoolteacher).

 As far as I know, Fred and Lilian did not have any children.  Fred Ridley died in Hawarden, Wales in 1944, age 54.

Fred during happier times at home in Lucknow, India