NOSTALGIA: Historic postcard helps solve family mystery after 90 years

editorial image

Robert Oldroyd had always been intrigued by the disappearance of his great grandfather, Christopher Russell, in 1929.

He described the story of the Corporal, who abandoned his wife and 10-year-old daughter to run away with the family nanny, as “a family mystery that has haunted us for many a year.”

It was something of a shock for Robert when, in August, he stumbled on a photo of a postcard, written by his long lost relative and addressed to Alice Birley, the woman he had disappeared with.

In the postcard, believed to have been sent between April 1915 and March 1919, Christopher wishes Alice well, and asks her to “take a bit of my love yourself.”

The postcard had been collected by Andrea Hartley, an amateur historian who shared her purchase on The Ossett Fallen Facebook page.

Inspired, Robert shared the story of his family mystery, where it caught the attention of Alan Howe, an amateur local historian.

“It was a challenge, but I’m very interested in local history, it’s my hobby,” he said.

“On quite a few occasions we’ve come up with really interesting stories and this was one of them.”

Christopher’s family had always suspected that he and Alice had left the country, but Alan could find no record of this, and decided to search a little closer to home.

He said: “The 1931 census was destroyed in World War Two, so that couldn’t help.

“There was no clear sign that the couple had emigrated, so I figured that if they were still in the UK they would have changed their names.”

Alan began the slow task of searching the National Register, an official document which listed the personal details of every civilian living in Great Britain in 1939.

Guessing that the couple would not have changed their first names or dates of birth, Alan searched the register online, and was shocked to find that Alice and Christopher were just 100 miles from their Ossett home.

“That moment when you actually discover in the register those two birth dates and the first names Christopher and Alice, that’s quite a moment,” he said. “What’s interesting is in my head he just got a map one day and thought ‘Where’s 100 miles away?’”

By 1939, a decade after their disappearance, Mr and Mrs Lawson, as they were now known, had settled in Newcastle-under-Lyme.

The couple lived peacefully in the Staffordshire market town until March 1957, when they died on the same day.

A coroners’s report lists the cause of their deaths as self-administered carbon monoxide poisoning.

For Alan, the Lawsons’ deaths mark the end of a great love story.

He said: “By then, they had known each other for almost 45 years and their true love story had come to a tragic, but moving end.

“I think there are victims of this story, people who lost someone they loved, but there’s true love in there as well. It’s difficult to be dispassionate about these circumstances. It is immensely moving.

There is no doubt in my mind that Christopher and Alice were as much in love at the end of their time together as they were at any other time. They were kindred spirits.”