By Jullie Anne Allison (Public Speaker/CPD Trainer on Trauma and Diversity)

The woman I am dedicating this to was known to most as “Annie”. Despite hearing so many stories as a child, it was only in the last two years I came to appreciate the stories and the untold stories behind them.

It was in 2020 when I was reunited with some family photos and paperwork that the emotional impact of those stories really hit me. This was not only due to once again seeing items I hadn’t set eyes on since childhood, but also seeing everything now as an adult with insight and experience of the realities of the world. The discoveries I made highlighted the plight not just of women and girls all over the world, but that history too often repeats itself. 

The name Annie seems nondescript and ordinary, but names convey so much of so many peoples across geography and time. Annie, I discovered, as with the names of her parents, her father in particular, later on in his life, was a name that made it easier for “others”, allowed a little acceptance and saved the extended explanations over spelling and background.

I recalled stories from my grandmother of her mother’s anger whenever Annie’s brothers came home having gotten into a fight or some sort of disagreement and the sort of things her brothers would get up to. On the face of it, the stuff of everyday families. Nonetheless, these were the stories that reflected being the children of immigrant refugee parents living in the communities in which they were placed. The challenges of being that girl and young woman born and raised on safe British soil whose parents spoke limited English, looked different and were mostly referred to collectively in slang terms.

Not only have I appreciated the difficulties of integration into a society under such circumstances and at a time in history when travel was for the few, but those faced by children like my grandmother and her brothers who were considered the offspring of the “Letts” (Lithuanians) and obvious targets for locals to pick a fight with or blame.

As the pictures above show, Annie always had a smile on her face, but further sadness came Annie’s way. Aged just 17 her dad, known as Stan, passed away having spent his last few years out of the family home and in a TB sanatorium. Once resident in the sanatorium, Stan, perhaps of his own volition or for ease of transcribing a name, became “Frank Brown” formerly “Kostantinus Miskeviezia” (one of many variations of the actual family name). And just two years later her mum, known as Mary, born Maryona, died of breast cancer. 

I had never given a thought to my Gran’s childhood, family life or anything of her life beyond me. To have grown up in a working community on streets essentially designated for “the Poles”, as Lithuanians were commonly referred to, and particularly, to be left without mum and dad as a teenager with only three brothers of a similar age, and a fourth one who had “died young” as she described it, must have been a series of heartaches she carried with her for the rest of her life. Despite this she worked, married, had two children and always had a smile to share with the world. Perhaps it was masking pain as is often the case. Perhaps she just had the strength from her experiences to find the inner peace to live and be the best she can be. She certainly was the best grandmother anyone could have had and I miss her.

I recently visited a small Scottish island I’d often heard her and my grandfather speak of. It was an emotional trip and as I looked across to the mainland I could almost feel her presence. I am unsure if she ever in fact made it across the water but it felt like a tribute to her to make that short ferry trip and see what she - hopefully - had seen, or at least see it for her.

As for a nondescript name, it transpires that “Annie” was in fact “Antonia” or as christened, “Antanina”.

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