NB This page is intended to complement Gilbert’s story, not to replicate it, so where some of the events or documents relate to Gilbert and Harriet together, these are all described in Gilbert’s page and are not duplicated here.
Background: Harriet Bebbington was born on 20th February, 1889, at Over, a village just outside Winsford in Cheshire. Her father was William Bebbington (born 1829) and her mother was Hannah (born Hannah Darlington in 1849). She had an elder brother Thomas, and 2 sisters, Annie (b. 1892) and Charlotte (b.1895).
By 1911 the family had moved a few miles south to 2 Mellor St Crewe, but Harriet was by then working as a domestic servant in a house at 37 Washway Road Sale, near Altrincham, also in Cheshire. Her employer was a Miss Mowbray (who lived there with a younger companion, a Miss Ellis).
At the same time, Gilbert’s sister Lizzie was working, also as a domestic, in Hale nearby. The photo of the large house which was in Harriet’s collection has not been identified but is typical of some in the Altrincham area, so might be where either Harriet or Lizzie lived & worked.
Meeting the Todhunters: It seems likely that Harriet and Lizzie met, and Harriet was introduced to Lizzie’s family, especially her sister Aggie (who by this time worked with the Salvation Army in Holywell North Wales), and her brother Gilbert.
Harriet clearly formed a lasting relationship with the three, which took on a romantic flavour when she agreed to emigrate to Canada with Gilbert and to marry him there. Gilbert embarked in 1911, and established himself in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Harriet & Aggie followed together a year later on 3rd May 1912 aboard the SS Empress of Ireland (left) from Liverpool to Quebec, en route to Winnipeg. (The Empress of Ireland sank the following year, as a result of a collision in the St Lawrence Seaway, Canada).
Just before embarking, Harriet’s photo was taken in a group (right) showing, clockwise from top, Lizzie, Harriet, Margaret (Lizzie’s mother), Aggie, a cousin, and two friends. On the back of this photo is written, in Harriet’s hand, “This was taken at Keswick just before we – Aggie & me – sailed to Canada”.
Marriage & life in Canada: On arrival in Winnipeg Harriet & Aggie met up with Gilbert, and Aggie stayed with them for a short while – possibly acting as chaperone for Harriet until their marriage – until being sent by the Salvation Army to serve elsewhere in Canada.
On 18th May 1912, at the age of 22, Harriet and Gilbert were married at St Matthews Church Winnipeg, and lived at 550 Polson Avenue, also in Winnipeg. On the following 19th March Harriet gave birth to a baby boy, Mowbray, named after her employer back in Sale. Mowbray was baptised at St Matthews on 18th June 1913, and was enrolled in the Cradle Roll at St Matthews’ Sunday School. On the following June 19th, Mowbray received a birthday card from the Cradle Roll, but sadly little Mowbray died soon after, on 18th July 1914.
Gilbert at war: Gilbert had to leave Harriet (by now expecting their second child) in Winnipeg, first for training in Canada, then to sail for England for further training there.
On or before his voyage back to England, Gilbert had accidentally broken his arm, and had to get a colleague to write to her on his behalf. On arrival (in Liverpool), Gilbert wrote to her from Liverpool, in his own hand now although still suffering some discomfort from his injured arm, hence the scrawl. In this letter he mentions the sword he is about to buy from a Liverpool maker. Gilbert also suggested that she travel to England to stay with his family while she had the baby and he was away at the war, and put forward the need to find a good nursing home for the birth of their baby.
Return to England: By November 1914 Harriet had indeed come to England, having left the Winnipeg address and shipped their belongings back. Aggie was by this time based in Estevan, a small town in Saskatchewan, so Harriet left her address as a forwarding address in Canada for her and Gilbert.
Harriet went to stay with Gilbert’s sister Lizzie, now living at 7 Etterby Road, Carlisle, and the baby Eileen was born in Carlisle on 20th December 1914. By now, Gilbert’s arm had healed and he was able to travel from Salisbury Plain, where his training continued, to Carlisle to see his new daughter and to stay with the family over Christmas & New Year. He returned to camp during January 1915 but was able to get back again for a few days in February to see his mother, who was very ill, so he was able to spend some more time with Harriet & Eileen again before returning to Salisbury Plain.
In March, Gilbert and his troop moved to Folkestone to await deployment to France, but was still able to get back to Carlisle for a few days at Easter, this time to attend Lizzie’s wedding.
On April 9th Harriet and Eileen were able to visit Gilbert at Shorncliffe Camp, Folkestone, following which she travelled to see her parents in Crewe so that they could meet their new grand-daughter. She would have been there on 17th May when Lizzie wrote to her with family news including that Gilbert’s mother was on the road to recovery from her illness.
Gilbert’ death: Harriet & Eileen’s trip to Folkestone in April was the last time they were to see Gilbert, however, since he sailed for France on 27th April, and was tragically killed by shellfire only three weeks later, on 20th May 1915.
While Gilbert’s belongings were collected up by a member of his team, Private E.Ellis, with the intention of returning them to Harriet, the British & Canadian authorities immediately took steps to notify Harriet of her loss, initially by telegram. Unfortunately this was subject to delay, because the first notifications were sent to Aggies’ address in Canada, and to Lizzie’s address in Carlisle, so we don’t know how long it took for Harriet – still in Crewe – to receive her devastating news.
On May 24th, assuming she was still in Canada, the Adjutant General in Ottawa sent the first telegram (via CPO) to Aggie’s Estevan address. Aggie received the news first, and on the same day forwarded the telegram to Harriet c/o Lizzie’s address at 7 Etterby Road Carlisle, together with her own letter of loss and condolence. In this she offers help and also enquires about Jack.
Then, following the official notifications of Gilbert’s death, Harriet received many expressions of condolence, both formal and informal, as set out below.
Private Ellis wrote to Harriet as early as 21st May, expressing his regret and admiration for Gilbert, and promising to return his belongings to her.
R.L.Borden (the Canadian Prime Minister, Sir Robert Laird Borden) sent a CPO telegram to Harriet (in Esteven) on 25th May, expressing his sympathy and that of his colleagues.
The Canadian Minister of Militia & Defence, Sam Hughes, wrote to Harriet on 25th May, c/o Estevan, expressing sympathy & regret.
On May 28th Sam Hughes wrote again to Harriet, still c/o Estevan, with sympathy & condolence.
Gilbert’s C.O., Lt.Col.Guthrie, wrote to Harriet on 29th June offering Harriet the sympathy of the signalling section of the 10th Battalion, describing how well regarded he was by his colleagues and how deeply his loss was felt. He apologised for the delay in writing to her but explained that they had been “heavily engaged recently”.
The Amalgamated Society of Carpenters & Joiners of Winnipeg wrote to Harriet on June 6th, to express sympathy and condolences.
A Dr Secord of Winnipeg wrote on June 12th to Harriet at Etterby Rd Carlisle, in response to a letter from her, expressing sorrow and providing assistance with her insurance claim. (Dr Secord is also pictured in Harriet’s scrapbook, on p.20, but with no explanation).
A GPO telegram was sent on 15th June to Harriet c/o Etterby Road Carlisle by the Private Secretary at Buckingham Palace, expressing the King & Queen’s sorrow; a sentiment echoed in an undated note from Lord Kitchener.
On 10th July, Private R.Mayson of Field Ambulance Unit Canadian Division, a friend from Keswick & Winnipeg, wrote to Harriet expressing sympathy and promising also to write to Gilbert’s mother.
Mrs A.M.Fraser of Winnipeg wrote to Harriet on July 16th, expressing her sympathy (this letter is as much of a challenge to read as it must have been to write, since Mrs Fraser was clearly determined to use every inch of the page in different directions in the face of wartime restrictions on the use of paper).
Gilbert’s C.O. Col.Guthrie’s office wrote on June 30th 1916 to Harriet c/o Winnipeg giving details of Gilbert’s death and initial burial place, including a sketch map.
Back to Canada: On 7th July 1916, Harriet travelled with Eileen from Liverpool for Montreal, and re-established a home for them at 325 Furby Street, Winnipeg. They had sailed aboard the Canadian Pacific liner SS Missanabie (right): – Incidentally, the Missanabie was sunk by a U-Boat off Ireland in 1917.
An officer of the Salvation Army in Winnipeg wrote to Harriet in February 1917, promising to pay some money (in instalments) for “value received”.
Still addressed to her via Etterby Road Carlisle, Harriet received an undated card from S.M.Fox of Portinscale near Keswick, thanking her for the return of a book he had lent Gilbert some years ago, and expressing the scouts’ sorrow at his death.
The Adjutant-General Canadian Militia wrote to Harriet on March 1st 1917 at her new Winnipeg address, containing copies 1 & 2 of a burial report, Gilbert’s body now lying in Festubert.
It seems likely that while back in Canada Harriet made contact with Aggie again, and it may have been during this period that she was influenced like Aggie to join the Salvation Army. Having tied up her affairs in Canada, she and Eileen then entered the USA at Buffalo New York in 1918, to start a new life there with the Salvation Army (see below).
At some point, probably in late 1920, Harriet and Eileen returned to England to visit her family in Crewe, and it was probably then when they also travelled by train from London to Amiens via Boulogne, presumably to view Gilbert’s grave in France; see tickets (below).
The Militia & Defence Dept. in Ottawa had still written to Harriet c/o Etterby Rd Carlisle on December 17th 1920, acknowledging receipt of a form regarding Gilbert’s estate, duly completed.
Harriet & Eileen then returned to the USA, sailing into New York on 8th January 1921 on the Celtic from Liverpool. The Celtic was a vessel of the White Start Line; Harriet kept an unused letter card from that line, possibly as a souvenir if she hadn’t intended to use it.
The Adjutant-General, Canadian Militia in Ottawa wrote to Harriet again, on February 23th 1921, stating that Gilbert’s grave had been further relocated, and enclosing a new burial report.
The Imperial War Graves Commission in London wrote to Harriet on 22nd April 1921, still c/o Etterby Rd Carlisle, with the precise location of Gilbert’s grave after relocation, in an envelope also containing a diagram of the original location at Festubert.
A leaflet from a Capt. M.Cockerell, of Somme France, headed “Armistice & Xmas” offering to place a wreath in a Military cemetery for 10 shillings, and to provide an album showing photos of the grave with the wreath.
Correspondence from the Canadian Minister of National Defence enclosed Gilbert’s entry in a Cemetery Register.
A Memorial plaque for deceased family, (popularly known as a “Dead Man’s Penny”), accompanied by the King’s illuminated scroll and a covering letter. (Harriet apparently kept these documents but gave the plaque itself to Gilbert’s sister Lizzie, who eventually passed it on via her daughter).
As a War Widow, Harriet also received a Great War Memorial Cross on purple ribbon, engraved “LIEUT.G.TODHUTER” on reverse, in black case.
The Imperial War Graves Commission in Ottawa wrote to Harriet on July 21st 1927 confirming the inscription she wished to be engraved on Gilbert’s headstone – “Faithful unto death” – and the cost, $1.65. A receipt for this amount was also issued.
Two memorial services were held in honour of the Canadian war dead, one at the Canadian Houses of Parliament in Ottawa on 3rd August 1927, with an illustrated booklet in which Harriet had preserved a sprig of heather. This service included a Dedication at the Altar, for which a separate booklet was issued.
The other memorial service was held in London for those fallen in the war, for which a booklet was also issued. The presence of these booklets suggests that Harriet may have attended both of these services.
In October 1929, Harriet received further correspondence from the Imperial War Grave & Cemetery Album (but only this envelope remains). This was addressed first to her in Kentucky but forwarded to a Brooklyn address. These addresses were both related to her work in the USA with the Salvation Army (see next section below).
In due course, Harriet compiled the collection of Gilbert’s items and documents upon which this website is based, and kept some of the smallest items in a sweet tin (below right).
Note that this is of a similar size, shape & design to the well-known metal gift box distributed to the troops by Queen Mary, but this one is dedicated not to Queen Mary but to Princess Alexandria and is made of painted tin not unpainted brass. It would have been sold to the public on a commercial basis to contain sweets, not the tobacco, chocolate and other gifts contained in Queen Mary’s box.
Harriet also prepared this scrapbook of Gilbert, the war and his role in it, showing photos of Gilbert and his officer colleagues, reports & obituaries from Winnipeg & Keswick papers, the CO’s account of the battle of Festuberg where Gilbert died, the CO’s letters to Gilbert’s father George, other Canadian reports of the battle, and other pictures poems & prayers, etc. The contents of this scrapbook are shown in a separate page – see “Harriet’s Scrapbook”.
A new life with the Salvation Army in the USA: Harriet and Eileen had entered the USA in 1918, but it is not known exactly when she first became a member of the Salvation Army (SA), although it seems likely that Aggie (who died in 1919) would have inspired her to do so.
On 25th June1923, by which time Eileen would have been 8 years old, Harriet was accepted as a Probationary Captain in the SA Training College based at Philadelphia Pa. This (left) is her first official photograph, taken at the time.
She achieved the full rank of Captain a year later, on 25th June 1924, and was assigned to the Fresh Air Camp at North Long Branch in New Jersey. Shortly after, on 15th September 1924, Harriet went to work in the SA Home & Hospital in Greenville Southern Carolina.
The next move was to the SA Hospital at Covington Kentucky, on 8th September 1926. Working in the SA Settlement at Brooklyn NY followed on 2nd April 1928, and in the April of the following year she moved to the SA Hospital, also in Brooklyn. Promotion to Ensign followed.
On 29th July 1929, she was pictured (left) in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 5th September, with a group of orphans from a nursery in Brooklyn heading for the SA’s Fresh Air Camp at Ashport Hills, Yonkers (right). Harriet is standing at right of the photo, holding a little girl.
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle of May 13th 1931 also named her in the guest list of an event for the officials of the Brooklyn Nursery and Infants Hospital (right). Another event this paper reported on November 16th 1931 was a visit to the Free Kindergarten School of three Alumni, at which the blessing was invoked by Harriet.
On 2nd October 1933 Harriet was promoted to Adjutant. On 16th November, the Daily Eagle reported (left) on a dedication of a children’s camp in New Jersey of the Womens’ Auxiliary of the Brooklyn Nursery and Infants’ Hospital, which Harriet attended on 24th May 1935; this event was also arranged to bid farewell to Harriet as she was due to leave to take over the children’s home in Philadelphia, Ivy House, where she moved on 30th May.
On June 11th 1936, yet another report in the Daily Eagle saw Harriet as a guest at a picnic lunch at the new nursery home of the Womens’ Auxiliary of the Brooklyn Nursery and Infants’ Hospital. Further promotion was awarded, this time to the rank of Major, on 30th June 1938 (right).
On 20th February Harriet was pictured (right) in the Reading (Pa) Eagle knitting socks for the war effort in WW2. Headed “Knits as She Waits”, the text beneath reads:
“Maj. Harriet Todhunter, Superintendent of the Salvation Army Children’s Home in Philadelphia, knits a stocking for someone in England as she waits for sessions of the Pennsylvania Conference on Social Work to begin in the Berkshire Hotel. Major Todhunter took up army work when her husband was killed in France during the World War”.
The 28th June 1944 saw Harriet move to the SA Settlement in Boston Ma, then on the following 5th February she moved to the Evangeline Residence in New York city. On 3rd September 1947 Harriet moved back to Boston, to the SA Home & Residence, where she stayed until her retirement, not long afterwards. On 31st December 1948 Harriet was admitted to the SA Long Service Order, denoting her service of more than 25 years; and on 1st March 1949 was officially retired from service.
It appears that Harriet went to live at some point in West Hartford, Connecticut, where Eileen had settled; her last copy of the US SA “War Cry” magazine was addressed to her there (see War Cry address label for 78 Montclair Drive, West Hartford Connecticut).
Harriet’s Death: Harriet was “Promoted to Glory” on 16th November 1979. She had still been living at West Hartford, although she actually died at Asbury Park, New Jersey. She was survived by her daughter Eileen, three grandchildren, her sisters Annie & Charlotte, and “numerous nieces and nephews living in England”.
Her obituary (above) appeared in the New Britain Herald and also in the War Cry, and a laminated bookmark was made with the obituary on the front and The Lord is my Shepherd prayer on the back (below).