The following account of one woman’s life as both a daughter and a wife of men serving in the Trinity House lighthouse service was published in the April and July editions of Flash magazine in 1961.
This fascinating recollection was written by Aurelie Trezise, wife of Cyril Trezise BEM. Cyril (b.1900, d. 1970) joined Trinity House as a Supernumerary Assistant Keeper in 1919 and retired in March 1962.
Part 1 of Mrs. Trezise’s story can be read here.
Part 2 of Mrs. Trezise’s story can be read here.
Part 3 of 4: 1926 – 1929
“Some months later in May 1926 my husband had orders to transfer to Flatholm Lighthouse, then classified as a land light, but which was on an island in the Bristol Channel – a station which was considered by the keepers in those days as the worst land light in the Service. At this time my husband was off on the South Bishop Lighthouse, so the news of my husband’s transfer was brought to me at my house by a keeper sent from the Neyland Depot. This was at the time rather amusing for the keeper said that he had some bad news to tell me, I asked “Whatever can that be?”. He replied “You are being transferred to Flatholm Lighthouse” so I said “That’s a land light, isn’t it?” “Yes”, was the reply, “Well” I said, “you could not have given me any better news.” I had to laugh to see his expression, he was absolutely dumbstruck. “Well, well” he said, “you are the first person in the Service I ever heard say they were pleased to go to that place.”
Flatholm Lighthouse and Fog Signal House
As I have mentioned before, in those days we had to do our own packing, and being used to it needless to say I started packing right away. When my husband came ashore from the Rock he was surprised to see that almost everything was packed ready for moving.
In due course we arrived at Flatholm Island via Cardiff having been taken to the Island with our furniture by THV Triton. At this time Flatholm Lighthouse was a three years station.
At first we were nine adults only on the Island including the resident caretaker and his wife who looked after an Isolation Hospital there. We soon settled down on the Island and in all we were a very happy community. Most of the young people made the best of things in spite of the solitude.
The caretaker of the Island was also the only boatman and of course was recognised by the Service for bringing our main and food stuff etc. from the mainland which was once per week weather permitting.
My husband was allowed ashore once a year on three weeks’ annual leave taking me with him, of course, so you can imagine how delighted I was to set foot on the mainland if only for a brief period each year. This annual event being the only time I could visit the shops for buying many personal necessities to take back with me to the Island, and naturally as far as funds would allow in those days I always enjoyed our annual holidays, sightseeing and shopping sprees.
The crossing to and fro from the Island could be very tricky at times, as the tidal currents were very strong around the Island. The boatman’s boat was only a 16ft sailing boat and run single handed. Many a time the boatman on his weekly trips to Cardiff would, owing to bad weather, be delayed several days at a time, both from the Island and at Cardiff, so one had to put up with many disappointments but these were soon forgotten when the boat arrived with our mail etc.
I shall always remember my first winter on the Island, as the weather was unusually severe. The boatman went ashore to Cardiff on the 16th of November and did not return until 23rd January owing to continuous gales. The first three weeks we did not mind so much, but with Christmas drawing near we were all getting very concerned whether we should get a boat with provisions and mail for Christmas. Our stock of perishable foods was very low and we were also right out of cigarettes and tobacco.
There was now a baby on the Island who was being fed on Nestles milk. We all gave our tins of milk to the keeper’s wife with the baby, so now the rest of us were all out of milk. At the time I also had a mechanic lodging with me. Christmas came and went and still no boat as the weather continued to be very bad. We had, by this time, run out of perishable goods, such as butter, bacon, yeast etc. We now had to make baking powder bread, for fresh meat we managed to catch a rabbit now and again. On the night of January 22nd all on the Island got together and had a talk about the food situation. It was then decided as the baby was now left with only two tins of milk we should have to inform the District Superintendent via Penarth Coastguard station by Morse lamp of our plight, but during the evening the wind seemed to moderate so that the Principal Keeper decided to wait until the morning before sending any message. All on the Island were up bright an early the next morning. The wind and sea had gone down considerably but we were still doubtful whether a boat would make the crossing. Suddenly, one of the keepers shouted out “I think I can see our boatman coming out of Cardiff harbour.” Fortunately the wind and sea was moderating all the time. Everyone was excited now looking through our glasses watching the boat coming. The boat was being tossed about quite a lot, but once it got near the Monkstone [beacon] we knew the boatman would make it to the Island’s landing beach. Realising this the men went to get the donkey and cart to carry the provisions etc. from the landing to each house, this being the only means of transport on the little Island.
The other keeper’s wife and myself hurried indoors and made our fires up in readiness to cook ourselves what, we called afterwards, “a smashing dinner”. Everyone was on the beach to meet the boat – you can imagine how it did our eyes good to see all the provisions, parcels and mail. What a day that was, everyone smiling and looking more cheerful than we had for many days. After we had had a good cooked dinner, the rest of the day was spent opening Christmas parcels, reading letters and all of us enjoying a jolly good smoke.
Another little episode I experienced at Flatholm gave me at the time quite a big headache – I was now the oldest woman on the Island being 22 ½ years old. I was living at the cottage by the Fog Signal House four minutes’ walk from the Lighthouse Tower. Early one morning at 4 a.m. I was awakened by a loud tapping on the bedroom window. I asked who was there, the other Assistant Keeper of the station answered and said would I come at once to his wife as she was very ill, I replied “You get back to her, I’ll be up to her as soon as possible.” On arrival I found his wife was in bed on the verge of having a miscarriage. I attended to her to the best of my knowledge, and informed the Principal Keeper that a Doctor was needed. The weather was very bad at the time and a message had to be signalled ashore for the Doctor. In the meantime I had the Keeper’s wife on my hands for three days and nights, trusting to providence I was treating her rightly. The Doctor eventually arrived and how relieved and pleased I was to see him. Anyway, the patient though ill was fairly comfortable and the Doctor seemed pleased and complimented me on the way I had looked after her. After this event, life for me went on very happily and peacefully for a few months and the came another worrying time.
The boatman’s wife was taken ill and I was sent for. I did all I could for her that afternoon and night but in the morning she was so poorly that she had to be taken ashore in her husband’s 16ft boat to Cardiff with myself in attendance. I accompanied her to her flat and sent for the Doctor and arranged to leave her in the good hands of relatives. Fortunately the weather was fine and I returned to the Island the following day with the boatman. After landing he informed me that he would be returning to Cardiff the next day and asked me if I would look after his place for him. I replied, yes certainly, but I was wondering how I would get on looking after all his chickens, 60 in all, with quite a number of them nesting, six goats to feed and milk daily and to cap it all a lady dog which was soon to have puppies. The best of it was I had never milked goats in my life. Oh what a game I had trying to get milk from them the very first time. I tried on the eldest nanny first. It took me an hour struggling away before I managed to draw any milk. Eventually I got the knack of it and managed to do the other five goats. I often have a good laugh to myself when I recall to mind these little incidents. Added to all this the other Assistant Keeper’s wife became poorly again, and went ashore with her baby to see the Doctor. Within two days the boatman returned with the Keeper’s wife and baby and a mechanic for the station, but the Keeper’s wife had only returned to collect together some extra clothes as she had to return to Cardiff again and remain ashore at least four months as another baby was coming along and things were not going too well with her, and would I look after her baby whilst she was ashore. To crown it all I also had to lodge another mechanic. Well, well, I thought, here I am only just 23 years of age and not so very long married myself. What worried me most was I never had any experience with the handling of babies before, I really thought I should go grey overnight.
I was now the only woman left on the Island, the boatman’s wife being still ill on shore. Her husband, the boatman, remained ashore whilst his wife was ill and only visited the Island at weekends to bring our mail and provisions and to take our mail, and grocery orders by return for the following week, weather permitting. What with looking after my husband, lodger, baby, the boatman’s house and all his farm family of chickens, goats, dogs with puppies, and donkeys and in addition with the men on the Island often visiting me to tell me of all their little troubles, I sure had a hectic time of it. But with it all the men were very good to me and assisted all they could in one way or another. In fact I think I had more jolly good laughs at the time than I ever had before or since listening to their jocular remarks and advice on how to do this or that, but oh how I wished sometimes for another woman’s company. I was the only woman on the Island for four months before the other Keeper’s wife returned to the station with her second child – one can imagine how pleased I was to see her.
The following 12 months passed away more or less uneventfully excepting for the occasional overdue boat to which one got accustomed. We were a small community on a very small island, but we were all a very friendly and jolly crowd making our own amusements with the usual game of cards of an evening and often picnicking in the centre of the Island, all joining in the fun and making life as pleasant as possible. But sometimes I would look across the channel to the mainland rather pensively watching the trains and cars travelling to and fro along the coastline and the lights of the towns twinkling away at night made one wish one could walk ashore whenever one felt like it.”
Mrs. Trezise’s story will continue in the very near future.