Remembering Auntie May


Today is November 10. Which means tomorrow is Remembrance Day.

It seems the perfect day to recount the story Mother told me about her aunt, my great-aunt, Melville May Sanderson, aka Auntie May.

Mum’s generation seemed much less awe-filled about the topics of war, perhaps because, in Britain at least, it was such a fact of life, and EVERYONE had to get on with life.

This means the point of her story was more to throw some mockery at a wealthy, fairly high-ranking man of Britain’s upper class.

Auntie May was a cook for this family of ‘high-ranking’ status. Story has it the woman of the house was quite pleasant but her husband is alleged to have been a snob. So, it was with all the pomp and bluster he could manage that he prepared for his dinner with the King, an invitation-only affair to recognize some of the heroes of WW1.

I have no information about the events of the evening, however, when this gentleman returned home at the end of it, he was in a complete rage. He screamed, he berated, his indignation at his treatment in front of the King rained down upon his entire household.

It was probably his wife who settled him enough to find the source of his rage and learn the events that had so inflamed him.

Apparently his indignation was framed thus (poetic license here as Mum did enjoy mocking the Upper Crust) Never, in his entire life, had he suffered such humiliation as to arrive to dinner with the King than to find he was seated in a lower position than… are you ready for it? his cook!

Let me explain.

Auntie May was one of a number of sisters who had come from a hard-working line of women – Mum’s Mum’s sister. When the QMAAC (Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps) was formed she joined up.

[from Wikipedia: On 31 March 1917, women in the WAAC were first sent to the battlefields in France, just fourteen cooks and waitresses.]

Auntie May was one of those cooks.

Notes from family research read as follows: She joined the QMAAC during WW1 serving in Flanders and France as a forewoman cook in the kitchens behind the trenches producing hot food for the soldiers in those trenches.
She also helped rescue some French soldiers when the premises in which they sheltered was shelled or bombed.

That evening, at a dinner hosted by King George, her service and bravery were acknowledged and she was awarded the OBE, a rank that placed her higher in prestige (and seating) than her affluent employer.

And that was why he came home that evening outraged at his perceived humiliation.

And that is why, 100 years later, I am Remembering Auntie May… and all the other brave women who have been the unsung heroes of our lives, and our world.

PostScript to this story includes research done by some of my cousins in England: Auntie May actually received three medals – the OBE (a military version), the British War Medal and the World War One Victory Medal. Her OBE is Described as a lower order connected with the Order, it consisted originally of a Civil Division, but a Military Division, distinguishable only by the ribbon was added in December 1918. […] Auntie May received the military version, although the QMAAC was officially a civilian organization. The order was established by King George V in 1917. The medal awarded to Auntie May was among the first to be awarded.

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