Today, I’m remembering my Hungarian Grandma, Emelia, who was born 4th March, 1894.
‘Nagymama’ as I remember everyone calling her, which is Hungarian for Grandma, was a midwife, a nurse, a courageous woman, a single mother and wife. I am proud to call her my Grandma.
Here she is in Sept 1918 working in the military hospital in Bozen, on the Italian front. The one below was taken at midwifery school. Emeila is on the back row, second from the left.
Here’s a beautiful photo of Emelia and my Dad together when my father, Miklos, was 4 years old.
We’ve recently discovered more of Emelia’s story. When Emelia was pregnant, one of her friend’s (who was also a nurse) and whose parents were in their late 30’s and without a child, agreed to ‘adopt’ my Dad, as it would have been difficult for Emelia to keep him and carry on working. So, he grew up with his new family in Miskolc and Emelia would see him whenever she could. Later, he would spend his school holidays with Emelia and her new husband, Gergely Szabó, and his step brother, in the village of Vatta.
In 1946, my Dad, who was by then a DP (displaced person) left Hungary for good. He’d come to ‘Sunny England’ as the poster had described it, to work on a European volunteer worker scheme, EVW. The scheme was aptly named ‘Westward Ho!’ but that’s a story for another day.
Dad wrote to his Mum every week, telling her about his new life and family here in England and he sent her a little money wrapped in silver foil. He kept every letter and photo and documented his entire life as it was then. But the one thing he couldn’t do was travel back to Hungary.
By this time, Dad’s English was very good. I still have his diaries, where he wrote everything down to learn the language. Emelia spoke no English and in December 1961, she travelled across Europe by train to spend her first and last Christmas with our family. As my Dad said, they didn’t fly in those days! With her cases overflowing with Hungarian gifts, Emelia set off knowing that she hadn’t seen her son since he left Hungary in 1946. My Dad travelled to London to meet her off the train and it’s difficult to imagine a more emotional reunion.
Six weeks later, in February 1962, my Dad received a telegram to say that she’d passed away and sadly, as he wasn’t yet a UK citizen, he wasn’t able to travel to attend her funeral. She had cancer.
When I was clearing out Mum’s flat five years ago, I remember opening a tiny envelope which was hidden amongst other letters and found it contained photos of Emelia’s funeral. They did that in Hungary! I told my Mum who said she’d never seen them before. They’re not easy to look at for lots of reasons so they’re safely stored away in the Szabo family archive, that is my Dad’s extraordinary life.
My Dad adored his Mum, as he did his new family. However, I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to spend a lot of their lives apart. There’s a lot more to this story and a lot of reasons ‘why’… but I treasure the memories and photographs that I have of this very special and courageous woman.
I may not have known her but I am very much like her 🧡 I’m 50% Hungarian and definitely a Szabó at heart, even though I never knew my Hungarian Szabó Grandad, Gergely. After 3 years working in the north of England, my Dad moved to Wolverhampton to work on the trolley buses in the early 50’s and it was there that he met my Mum. She used to travel on ‘his bus’ and the rest, as they say, is history!
Click back to discover my connection to a beautiful piece of gold jewellery that Emelia bought for me