Today’s hero, Emily Cameron was submitted by her granddaughter, Debbie Cameron. Emily Cameron was a brave First World War widow who worked tirelessly to provide for her four sons after her husband Thomas was killed in the early stages of the conflict.
Emily Cameron was born on February 2nd 1877 in Lambeth, London. She was born into a poor family and her father’s occupation was described variously as general labourer, green grocer, costermonger and hawker of fish at different points in time.
Emily’s future husband Thomas was born in 1874 and worked as a moulder at Royal Doulton in Lambeth. Following a row with his foreman, Thomas quit his job at Royal Dalton and joined the navy on Boxing Day 1893. After Thomas left the Navy in 1905, the couple married and settled in Kennington where Thomas worked as a Railway Porter until the outbreak of war in 1914.
As a member of the Royal Marine Reserve Brigade, Thomas was quickly called up and sent to France. He took part in the defense of Antwerp during the ill-fated siege that saw a combined British and Belgian force completely surrounded and cut off by German troops between September 28th and October 10th 1914. During the siege Thomas went out on patrol and was shot in the head. He survived and was brought back to England but sadly passed away on his 40th birthday on October 20th 1914. Tragically, Thomas would never have been called up had he not volunteered for the reserves on account of his age.
Shortly after he had died, Emily received a letter that Thomas had written whilst in hospital. Receiving the letter must have been particularly heartbreaking as Thomas had written that he believed he would soon be transferred nearer to home. His funeral was covered by the local papers as the deaths of soldiers were still deemed newsworthy at this early stage of the war.
Emily was left with four young boys to care for, the eldest of whom was 8, the youngest 5. She took a job in a laundry and set about raising her sons as a single mother, a daunting prospect for any woman in 1914. She would work in the laundry by day and briefly return home to feed her boys before going back out to scrub floors by night. Emily’s frantic schedule meant that she would often put the boys to bed in their school uniforms as she would not be there to prepare them for school.
“I find the thought of her day to day struggles unutterably sad. Thomas was a really loving husband and father – you can see that by his postcards and letters home; he had been on the way up in his employment with the railway (earning 26 shillings, from 20 shillings at first) and she had such things to look forward to with him. He even bought the boys musical instruments to play as he wanted them to get as much culture as possible. All that changed. The instruments were sold. The lads had to work as well when possible – though one son – James –got a scholarship to Emmanuel College in London. How did she manage it?! The four boys were devoted and looked after her when they were young men. They all played a lot of sport, read and got on as best they could. They were all a credit to her, having families, doing well in relatively low paid, but secure jobs – sadly James died at El Alamein, a fact that was kept from Emily just before she died.”
“There were no medals or citations for Emily but she was a truly wonderful, remarkable, uneducated but lovely lady. Thank you to the grandmother I never met, but whose hard work helped me become who I am (one lucky lady!)”