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May Wallace Wood
Full name of worker at H.M. Factory Gretna (and any other names they are known by):
Mary Wallace Wood, known as ‘May’ and ‘Auntie May’ (married surname Watson)
Date and Place of Birth: 1st January 1898 at Fowler Street, Cellardyke, Fife. Source: Mary Wallace Wood Birth Certificate, Scotland’s People
Date and Place of Death: 10th August 1941 Source: Headstone, Plot A1 W, Anstruther Cemetery Gravestones, recorded by Sonny Corstorphine.
May wearing her ‘ON WAR SERVICE’ badge
Childhood: May was the second child of Davie Wood and Mary Wallace and was born in January 1998 into the close knit, hardworking fishing community of Cellardyke, in the East Neuk of Fife, Scotland. She had four sisters (Helen, Bella, Jeanie and Davina) and a large extended family. Source: Census records from 1851, 1861
By the age of three, May and her older sister Bella, aged seven, and their parents were living in Aberdeen at 187 Victoria Road. Source: 1901 Census
May’s mother was expecting baby Jeanie who was born later in 1901, and she was May’s only sibling to be born in Aberdeen. Source: 1911 Census
By 1911 the family is living in Cellardyke again and sharing a house, 30 West Forth Street, with another family of four. May is aged 12 and a scholar, as are her younger sisters Jeanie aged 10 and Davinda aged 5. Their older sister Bella is aged 17 and is an ‘Ossel Maker’ working at the Net Factory. By 1918 the family home is still 30, West Forth Street, Cellardyke and May is still living in West Forth Street in 1925. Sources: 1911 Census; Bella Wood &David Watson Marriage Certificate; May and Bill’s marriage certificate.
Parents: Father – David (Davie) Wood; Mother -Mary Ann Wallace Source: Marriage Certificate of David wood and Mary Wallace, 15th September 1895
Parent’s occupations: May’s father Davie (b.1871) was born and brought up in Cellardyke, Fife, being the third son of David Wood (b.1840) and Helen Birrell (b.1870) Sources: 1871 Census; Helen Birrell’s Birth Certificate. May’s father was a ‘well to do’ fisherman, who was the owner of the steam liner ‘William Tennant’ from 1902 up until the start of the First World War. During WW1 he served in the R.N.R.T as a skipper. Sources: Bella Wood &David Watson Marriage Certificate; p62 ‘History of Steam and the East Fife Fishing Fleet’ which also shows a photo of May’s father Davie Wood on board ‘Stella Aurora’. May’s sister Bella had, in 1918, married owner James Watson’s (Star Jeems) son, David Watson, who by the age of 25, was highly decorated for valour shown at sea in WW1. Sources: 1871 Census; Bella Wood &David Watson Marriage Certificate; Harry Watson’s Kilrenny & Cellardyke book, p188.
May’s mother Mary Ann Wallace was also born and brought up in Cellardyke, Fife. She was the daughter of Robert Wallace, Fisherman and Isabella McRuvie, who married in 1862. Both had been born in Cellardyke, and both their fathers were also Fishermen. Source: Marriage Certificate of Robert Wallace and Isabella McRuvie.
As a fisherman’s wife, May’s mother would have had a busy life which probably included mending the fishing nets. Source: p155, ‘Memories and Reflections’
Schools / universities attended and years of attendance: unknown (most likely Cellardyke Burgh School until about age 14).
Occupational history (previous jobs in their career): Unknown
Occupation: Unknown, (but it’s most likely that May worked at one of the local factories, sewing Oilskin clothing for Fishermen). At the time of her marriage in 1925, her occupation was given as ‘Sewing Machinist’ and she was living in West Forth Street, Cellardyke, possibly still at number 30.
Place of residence at Gretna: Unknown, (possibly Stevenson House, with her friends – Nellie Watson and Alice Bett).
Job title at Gretna: Unknown (possibly a housemaid, like Nellie and Alice).
Marital status: May married William Watson (Bill) in September 1925, at Canongate, Edinburgh. Bill was Nellie Watson’s younger brother so he was a native of Cellardyke, but was living at 20 Jackson Street, North Shields at the time of their wedding. The witnesses to the marriage were Thomas (Tom) Watson, who was Bill’s older brother and Davina, (Vina) who was May’s youngest sister. Source: Mary Wallace Wood/William Watson Marriage Certificate
Spouse name (including male name): William (Bill) Watson
Date of marriage: 11th September 1925
Place/Parish of marriage: Darling’s Hotel, Waterloo Place; Canongate, Edinburgh
Travels: After their marriage May and Bill probably went to live in North Shields where Bill was already employed. Bill hadn’t followed his father into the fishing trade but was an Engineer Fitter at the time of their marriage.
In 1939, May and Bill were living at 100 (?) Bill was still employed as an engineer fitter and was working at a shipyard. May was a housewife, doing unpaid domestic duties.
Source: 1939 England and Wales register
Awards/recognitions: In the photograph of four young women with soldier, May is wearing her triangular ‘ON WAR SERVICE’ badge.
Trivia / any other information:
May’s paternal grandmother Helen Wood, (who was present at May’s birth) resided at 21, Rodger Street, next door to where May’s friend (and fellow Gretna worker) Nellie Watson was born in 1895, making it likely that May and Nellie’s friendship grew from a young age. Source: Helen Birrell’s Birth Certificate.
May can also be seen with friends and a few of her extended family in several group photographs. In the photograph showing May wearing a hat, a family member noted: “The group of friends all made their own hats prior to a girl’s holiday in Abernethy”. Source: p125, ‘Memories and Reflections’
May looks as if she took pride in her appearance.
Books published (Title, year of publication, publisher):
Books written about the individual or mentioning the individual (Title, year of publication, publisher):
- Smith, P. (1998) ‘History of Steam and the East Fife Fishing Fleet’, Leven, Corstorphine.
- Watson, Harry D. (1986) Kilrenny and Cellardyke, 800 Years of History. Edinburgh: John Donald
- Watson, N. (2019) ‘Memories and Reflections’ An East Neuk Anthology, Second Edition: Compiled by Alison E. Humphries. Gloucestershire: Alison E. Humphries
Further links, notes, and comments:
Three Research Clues:
The ‘clue’ that someone called ‘May’ had gone to work at HM Factory Gretna with Nellie Watson and Alice Bett was in words on the reverse of a
family photograph, written by Alice’s daughter Joan: ‘Auntie Nellie, Alice Bett (mum) working as housemaids in the hostel where the munition girls
lived. Auntie May went too. They made their own outfits’.
The next ‘clue’ showing that May might be William Watson’s (Bill) first wife was in my handwritten family tree, gathered from living relatives memories in
the 1960’s. Unfortunately May’s proper name wasn’t included, and there was another ‘May’ – who also had to be researched.
The final ‘clue’ to May’s name and the date of her death, was found via an old letter from Nellie Watson to her niece Joan. The letter mentioned
having been taken to see her brother Bill’s (William Watson) headstone. The headstone was found – as was May’s proper name – at last!
May’s niece Mary was born to May’s older sister Bella Wood and David Watson in 1919. As was the custom she was named Mary after her grandmother, May and Bella’s mother, and possibly after May herself. Mary Watson, this niece, is the only descendent found, so far, from the five siblings.
Helen Birrell Wood (1895 – 1919) Bella Wood (1896 – ) Mary Wallace Wood ‘May’ (1898 -1941) Jeanie Wood (1901 – ) Davina wood, ‘Vina’ (1905 – 1931) Sources: Helen Birrell Wood death certificate; Davina Wood death certificate; 1901 Census, 1911 Census
May’s father’s liner ‘William Tennant’, was a boat named after a local person: William Tennant was a poet and Professor of Oriental Languages at St Andrews University (and also a distant relative of Nellie Watson!)
William Tennant KY 472, 89’1″ – 93GRT- 34HP Built of wood in 1892 by William Jarvis, Anstruther, Cellardyke owner 1914 D Wood lost off the Humber 1918
References to William Tennant KY472: see pages 24,25,51,62 and 64 of ‘Steam and The East Fife Fishing Fleet’ by Peter Smith
Researched for The Devil’s Porridge Museum by Alison Humphries, 2021. Alison is Joan’s daughter; Alice and Tom’s grand-daughter; Nellie, Lizzie, Annie, Mary, Bill’s – and also May’s – great niece.