‘She had never married. Nearly fifty years after his death she still has a photograph on her dressing table’

editorial image

My name is Joy Boyd Colhoun.

Boyd is a family name. My grandfather’s sister, Susan Boyd, married Thomas Henry Thompson.

Three of Susan and Thomas Henry Thompson’s sons - Victor, Norman and Thomas perished in the First World War.

The eldest of the three boys was Norman who was killed on March 22 1918. In the 1960’s, we found out that he had been engaged to a Miss Pollock, whose family owned Pollock’s shoe shop on the Strand Road.

An aunt of mine was friendly with Miss Pollock and occasionally went to visit her in Portstewart where she lived out her retirement. One day my aunt glimpsed a framed photograph of Norman on Miss Pollock’s dressing table.

She had never married. In some ways I felt sad that, in the mid 1960s, nearly fifty years after his death, she still had a photograph of Norman poised on her dressing table.

Norman’s brother Victor, the first of the three brothers to die, was killed in October 1916, during the First Battle of the Somme. I remember my father saying that the Thompson family had heard that Victor had been killed by a sniper.

It is said too that he was last seen carrying a wounded comrade. Victor’s name is recorded upon the Thiepval Memorial.

My father often used to speak about their deaths. Young Tommy Thompson, the third brother, was drowned when the RMS Leinster was torpedoed.

According to my father, my grandmother, Isabel Boyd, had a terrible nightmare the night the RMS Leinster was sunk. She dreamt that she was on board a ship, that there were fierce black dogs on the ship and that they had begun to devour.

My grandfather’s sister, Susan Boyd, married Thomas Henry Thompson. Three of Susan and Thomas Henry Thompson’s sons - Victor, Norman and Thomas perished in the First World War.

She dreamt that she was on board a ship, that there were fierce black dogs on the ship and that they had begun to devour William Street.

The business was owned by Muriel Thompson (Winifred’s sister) and her husband. Muriel was wheelchair bound and Robbie Hamilton was in charge of the shop.

One day my father was in the back store at Porter and Roulston’s and saw what looked like a large coin lying on the floor. He asked “What’s that?” and Robbie said “That’s one of those … medal things”.

My father looked at it and he couldn’t believe it. It was the Death Penny for Tommy Thompson. My father’s name is Thomas Thompson Boyd.

He thought it was an awful shame to see this memorial discarded in this way. Robbie said “Take it with you - it’s no good to me” - that’s how we now have it in our family.

My father really valued the Death Penny and had it cleaned up but my mother wouldn’t hang it up on the wall. She gave it to me, when my father was still alive, and I remember how delighted he was when I hung it up on my wall.

The Thompsons were very good to my father’s family and also Winnie Thompson gave me voice training. I knew her from when I was about twelve or thirteen.

I was singing in the children’s choir at that stage in the church and I remember Mrs Frame, who was the wife of the headmaster of the Model School, put myself and a couple of other girls into the Feis.

I don’t know who told Winnie but she met my father one day and said “I hear you have a daughter who sings”. He hmmm-ed and hah-ed “Well…you know…” and she said “Send her to me and I’ll tell you if she can sing or not”.

She owned a fine house in Crawford Square. The first time I went there I remember I was so frightened, when she opened the big door. She had very white hair. I was twelve or thirteen and in awe of this woman at first but grew to love her dearly. As far as I remember, I sang a verse of a hymn and she asked when could I come for lessons and that was the start of it.

Winnie never talked to me about her brothers. She must have talked to my father though because it was Winnie who gave him the photographs of the brothers that I have now.

I just don’t know why she never mentioned them and I never mentioned them to her. I know that the Thompsons were devout Christians and their faith would have strengthened them through their terrible loss.

Maybe too there was a different attitude towards death when there was a war on. People just got on with life because there were so many deaths all round them.

My father kept the photographs that Winnie Thompson gave him a long time. I have them up on my wall now. Winnie lived alone in Crawford Square.

She relied on my father quite a bit in the latter years of her life. He used to go down and do odd jobs for her. I remember one time Winnie showed me round her house.

She took me into her drawing room which had beautiful furniture and antiques, all from Melrose Terrace. After she died, everything was auctioned, her jewellery - everything.

She never married. She was so musical and never passed her gift on.

Postscript

My father left me a signet ring that belonged to Thomas Henry Thompson. I took it to a jeweller to see how old it was and she dated it around 1890.

My father didn’t wear rings himself but he used to look at this ring and say “That ring was on that man’s finger when he got the word about his sons”.