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  • Writer's pictureWendy Percival

Propaganda & Mystery

I found an odd – and slightly disturbing – postcard amongst my family history collection this week while searching for something else. I also discovered yet another mystery aunt! (see Who's the mystery aunt?) This time, though, I was able to identify who she was, I’m pleased to say.

My granddad – Ernest George Shelley born in 1897, never known as Ernest, only ever as George – was for a time in the Boys Brigade – the first voluntary uniformed youth movement in the world, according to their website. It was established in 1883 and is still active today.

I have this photograph of George, resplendent in his Boys Brigade uniform (on the left). The photo is undated, unfortunately, though I guess he’d be in his early teens.

At some point George changed his allegiance to the scouting movement, as indicated by the right hand photograph of him in his scout uniform. Although, I suppose it’s possible he was a member of both organisations at the same time.

The postcard which I came across had a drawing on the front of a young man dressed in scouting uniform, similar to that of George above. It was addressed to Master George Shelley and signed, Auntie Annie.

The only Auntie Annie I knew about on this side of the family was my Great-aunt Annie, (Mary Ann) the eldest sister of my grandmother Edith, George’s future wife. So it clearly wasn’t her!

George’s father, also called George, was illegitimate and was brought up as an only child (it’s not quite as straight forward as that, but let’s stick with it for the purposes of this story) so my granddad had no aunts or uncles on his father’s side. On his mother’s side, however, there was potential.


My grandfather’s mother Jane was born Jane Williams in 1861 in Little Witley, Worcestershire, before her mother Eleanor married Jane's step-father James Hick (sometimes recorded Hicks). Jane took on the surname Hicks at some point and I’ve always suspected James may be her biological father, as he was the family lodger at the time she was born. But that's an investigation for another day!

I’d never researched Jane’s siblings (or perhaps I should say half siblings, until I’ve proved my theory about James) and wondered if there was an Annie amongst them. There wasn’t – her only sister had been named Eleanor, after Jane’s mother. But Jane did have three brothers – James, Ernest and Josiah. Mmm…just a thought... Was my grandfather named after Jane’s brother Ernest, I’m thinking? I’ve always wondered where the name came from. But I digress…

Extract from 1871 census of Little Witley, Worcestershire

Back to finding Auntie Annie…

To cut long story short, I tracked Jane’s youngest brother, Josiah, to Hyde Park Gardens, London, where he was working as a groom. And discovered that in 1893 Josiah got married – to Annie Dean. Tah-dah!

So, let’s return to the postcard and Auntie Annie’s message, which reads:

Dear George, I hope you are well. I suppose you have turned into a soldier and if you have I wish you the best of good luck and a jolly Good Christmas. Auntie Annie.

You may have spotted the post mark date, 24th December 1914. Now take a look at the words underneath the image on the front!

Annie seems to be teasing “Master George” (who’d be 17 years old in December 1914), suggesting he saw himself as a soldier because he was a boy scout. Given what we know now of the horrors which were to come, her jovial tone feels a little uncomfortable. But perhaps she was still under the misapprehension that the “little skirmish” with the Germans was going to be “all over by Christmas”? (Unlikely, given it was already Christmas Eve!)

George did join up and become a soldier, but not for another 4 years, towards the end of WWI, serving with the Sherwood Foresters and South Staffordshire regiments.

And I’m sure Auntie Annie would have been as relieved as the rest of the family when her soldier nephew returned home safely.



Wendy Percival
Wendy Percival
Mar 20, 2021

I suppose your dad had thought the tide had changed, Joanna, when you’d followed the scout/guide route. No wonder it was a shock when your daughters changed allegiance. 😂 Our family was definitely in the scout/guide camp - if you pardon the pun! My dad joined the scouts in the 1930s and it was a major part of his life. He went on to become scout leader, district commissioner and county commissioner, earning scouting awards for long service. My mum was a Tawny Owl and then Brown Owl. Me and my sister were Brownies and then Guides. Though I did eventually reach a certain point in my teens when I decided I’d had enough. Not surprisingly, Dad didn’t take my decision…


joanna heath
joanna heath
Mar 19, 2021

Love this, my family are divided between the brigades and scouts/guides. My mother was in Girls Brigade, but my father was an enthusiastic scout and a cub leader and I followed on the brownie, guide path. Dad was horrified when my daughters joined the Girls Brigade!

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