Diaries of Ethel Eva Brander, nee Conybeare, 1891-1965

My grandmother was an accomplished woman: a scholar, a musician, a nurse in World War One, mother of two. One of the few colour pictures I have of her, probably 1960-ish, age 70.

She was the daughter of Charles Frederick Pringle Conybeare, a businessman of some note, supporter of the Anglican Church and pillar of the Lethbridge community, the town's first lawyer. (Indeed, the second lawyer in all Alberta, James Lougheed being the first.)

He was involved in the start of a number of companies that exploited colonialism's newly-aquired lands, had a huge house for the time, sent his three children to the best schools out East.

Her diaries start, her just eighteen, going on her "polishing" tour of Europe. They don't offer much "history" in the sense of her meeting famous people or witnessing famous events. But you do get a picture of the comfortable life in upper-class Canada in the early 20th century.

She dutifully goes to those good schools in Toronto: Havergal, then the tour of Europe, then Toronto Conservatory of Music, which she finishes in 1912. No husband seems in the offing, and she's back in Lethbridge, where little happens through 1913. But then World War One starts, and she gains great purpose, volunteers as a "Red Cross Nurse", which was not registered, was similar to today's orderlies, doing the cleaning. She meets my grandfather in Volume 6, in 1916, and he survives to go back with her to Lethbridge and raise my father and aunt.

The diaries came into my father's care when she died, almost fifty years later, and he kept them in a trunk for another 40, and now myself for 15 more. They are nine volumes, most of them hardback notebooks with letters-to-home pasted in for the WW1 entries, though the "Big Europe Trip" in the first two volumes were written right into the books. They are rich in pasted-in postcards, and home photos, as you can see in the examples below. Sometimes she does amateur art to show a map or floorplan.

As the story goes on, the horrors of World War One are seen at a remove: the wounds she dresses, the friends and relatives she loses, the political issues of the day she argues with her more-British-loyalist father, born in England: she is intensely proud of her Canadian "colonial" identity.

Just a duty to family at first, copying these diaries so we can present them to the Galt Museum and Archives in Lethbridge, the story drew me in.

Scanned Diary, Volume 1: March 23 - July 5, 1910

The entire volume is a travelogue of a trip across the Atlantic on the "Carpathia", the Cunard liner that was to rescue the Titanic passengers two years later. Then, it's straight off to Italy, the Amalfi Coast, Pompeii, the Vatican, Florence, and Venice.

Ethel is with Mother and her sister, and they cross paths with many friends from their social class.

It is interesting to compare the very early tourist experience, when there were just a few tourists in places like Rome, to the crowds of today. On Sunday, being Anglicans, they felt quite comfortable attending Catholic Masses, so they just went down the street to a Catholic Mass - at the Vatican, pausing to admire the Sistine Chapel ceiling. You just wandered in and out of the place, at the time.

But, a tourism industry there already is, including guys who will help you walk up Vesuvius, by pulling you with a strap you hung onto, behind them. It's mostly by motorcar, in 1910, but they have various expeditions by horse-cart in Italy, which is still switching over.

Scanned Diary, Volume 2: July 1910 - November 1912

The European tour is completed with a long visit to England, where they stay with many other Conybeares, all of whom seem to have houses with names.

They then return to Canada, and the rest of the volume is two years of education at London Conservatory of Music, following high-school at Havergal, which she continues to visit. Nearly all of the volume just recounts the many, many concerts and plays she went to. A frequent date named "Roy" is never given a last name, or description, and it doesn't seem to have been at all serious. The sinking of the Titanic goes unnoted, as does any other political or social news. Just friends, parties, concerts. The carefree life of the upper class before 1914.

There's no question in my mind, that her real job in Toronto was to get an, ahem, "MRS" degree, to find a nice guy among the wealthy of central Canada. There's no mention of any career at all in the cards. Her mother's career is certainly "society dame" to the extent that was possible in Lethbridge, population 9200 at the time. Ethel seems entirely unconcerned with the future.

Scanned Diary, Volume 3: November 1912 - September 1915

Volume 3 takes us from the socializing of 1912, to being a nurse in England, just about to start her first training day at the hospital.

Her brother Bruce, 20, in London Records Office of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, looking for a commission from Maj-Gen Sam Steele. I'm fairly certain that's his picture at left, from inside the back cover.

Scanned Diary, Volume 4: September 17, 1915 - January 8, 1916

Volume four sees Ethel through her preparation to begin nursing, her visits to relatives that turn out to still have Wikipedia pages for their liberal activities for Women's Sufferage and striking Irish farmers. Then her training and work begin, in Westminster Hospital, across the street from the Abbey, and her residence at "the Home", 27 Queen's Gate, now an expensive flat next door to the Iraqi Embassy - about 5km west of the Abbey.

The sketch at left, page 90, is of her view from it, of all the belching coal smokestacks.

Scanned Diary, Volume 5: January 14, 1916 - April 30, 1916

Volume 5 is just a few months long, consists almost entirely of letters to home that were pasted-in to the book, after the war. Interspersed, the photographs and postcards and mementoes she sent along with them. Her mother, Ida Attwood, seems to have done much of the pasting and construction of the volume.

At left, from scan 103, one of her own photos, but with her as the nurse in the picture, ministering to tuberculosis patients that were sent to her somewhat informal hospital the Red Cross parked her in while she waited for a promised posting to Egypt. The Boxmoor hospital in Hertforshire, was private project by the wealthy Bouwens family, where she had mostly light duty.

This volume contains more about her friendship with Florence and Augustus Conybeare, her father's cousins, and the devastating surprise loss of Florence at age 44. It ends with the loss of another cousin, Ted Conybeare, the second son the family of her uncle Maynard Conybeare to die in the war, her Aunt Amy losing both sons, and her husband, over a matter of months.

Scanned Diary, Volume 6: May,5 1916 - December 10,1916

Across 1916, Ethel is working at a Military Hospital in Warminster, near Bath. This is where she meets my grandfather, ambulance-driving and getting work as some kind of "adjutant" to "green colonels".

Web Links to Related Historical Documents

Here is Ethel's entry at "Find a Grave". (cached copy)

Her husband, Alastair Ian Brander, grave at "Find a Grave". (cached copy).

The War Records of Alastair Ian Brander, my grandfather, whom she meets and marries in the diaries. (cached copy)

Charles Frederick Pringle Conybeare, her father.

Picture and small bio of her mother, Letitia Ida Attwood, thanks to Lethbridge's Galt Museum and Archives (cached copy).
Letitia's Entry at "Find a Grave", showing the headstone for herself, CFP, and their grandson by Bruce, Maynard, and his wife Edith (below). (cached copy).

Charles Augustus Vansittart Conybeare, her father's cousin, visited often in the diaries.

Florence Annie Conybeare, wife to Augustus, above, the two were a liberal, suffragette "power couple", both famous activists.

Florence was a good friend to my grandmother, helped her become a nurse in Vol IV. Then dies, tragically, at 44, in Vol. V.

I found an archived magazine with Florence Annie Conybeare's most-famous suffragette article. Page 1, Page 2 , Page 3 .

The War Records of Henry Bruce Attwood Conybeare, her brother, born 1895, mentioned often throughout. (Ethel writes in 1915, that he was trying to get a commission, using a letter saying he had 2.5 years at Western Canada College and 6 years at Upper Canada College. Do the arithmetic: CFP shipped his one son off to residential school at 11. Different times.)

The Memorial page for Captain Edward Bruce Conybeare, her cousin, mentioned at the end of Volume V as killed in action. (cached copy).

Memorial page for Major John Alexander Ross, her friend "Oly" and a (cached copy).

The Memorial Page for Lt. Maynard Henry Crawford Conybeare, another cousin, and elder brother to "Ted Conybeare", above - killed a year earlier. (cached copy).

Obituary for her son, my father, Robert Conybeare Brander, 2007. (cached copy)

Obituary for her daughter, Eildon "Penny" Brander Kondaks, 1997
(cached copy) - copy also contains text file about an academic paper written about Penny's letters home to Ethel from WW2.

The family's last Conybeare connection came to Dad's wake in 2007. The widow of Maynard Conybeare, son of Ethel's brother Henry Bruce, above. Edith Conybeare died 4 years later. The Obituary of Edith Conybeare, 2011. (cached copy) The obit notes the names of many descendants. Bruce has five great-great grandchildren in Alberta, fifth-generation born there. (I note Edith here, as hers will be the last descendants of the Conybeares in Alberta, my two brothers' children having moved out. Her grave is shown in the "FindAGrave" for Letitia, above)

The private hospital at Boxmoor from Volume 5, has a memorial page run by amateur historians in Hertfordshire. (cached copy).