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Emilie Alice Collet......or. 'Nanny'


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Emilie Alice Collet was my Grandmother, within the family she has always simply been "Nanny". We had other Grand-parents, three others in fact, or seven if you count all of the Grandparents of my generation. Despite this there has only ever been one Nanny, there were various Grannies, Grandmas, NaNa's, Grand-Dads  and even a Grandy or two but only one Nanny. To clear up one point, her full and correct name was Emilie Alice Collet, the spelling of Emilie is not a typo mistake, it is the German / Swiss version of Emily.  In her life EAC,. was called Alice, the Emilie only being seen on official documents, even then it was frequently Anglicised to Emily, by clerks who assumed that she didn't know how to spell her own name.  The same error can be seen on her Grave-stone.

When she died in 1972 I was 16, and even though I would normally only see her for two stays each year, her death left a huge hole in all of our lives. Not just Nanny had died, so to had the link to Chapelton, or so we thought at the time. To be fair whilst we all loved her dearly, we were all terrified of her, she was in retrospect a bit of a cold un-emotional woman. I mean that not in a nasty way, she just wasn't very Granny-ish. Spoiling her Grand-children was not a weakness that she allowed in herself, in fact any sort of weakness was just not her, she was Queen of Chapelton and life was easier if you just accepted that. Like the rest of us she was a product of her up-bringing and early life, this had not been easy.


Kenneth St Inverness2.jpg

Kenneth St Inverness, Where Alice lodged

on her first arrival from Switzerland in 1915.


Sadly I have been able to find out very little about her background and early life. She was Swiss, having been born in 1891, presumably somewhere in Switzerland to Arthur Collet and Margaret Muller, Margaret Muller may have been French. When I say she was presumably born in Switzerland I am not being flippant, I simply don't know. I remember once being told that she came from Constance and once, when on holiday in Austria, we made a trip to Constance because of some connection to Nanny. That is the sum total of what I know about her, and I believe as much as my Mum knew about her. Her past was a closed book, and if Nanny closed a book, then if it knew what was good for it, it stayed closed.

In 1914 when she was 22 she was working as a Ladies-Maid in a wealthy family who lived in Lucerne. In those far off pre-WW1 days a holiday in the Scottish Highlands was still the fashionable thing to do if one was suitably wealthy, allowing enjoyment of the Hunting, Shooting and Fishing. This being the object, their trips would tend to be later in the summer / early Autumn, as the shooting season would only open Mid August.


The usual arrangement was that a farmer & family would let their house for all or part of the summer, they would move into a cottage or "Bothy" on the farm and the farmer's wife would cook and keep house for the guests. Suitably aged farm children would help out around the house if needed but the guests would bring any personal maids or Valets with them. The farmer would be expected to house them to somewhere out if sight but close to the main house.

Emilie Alice Collet.

At Marguerite's wedding in 1948.

Alice with daughter Marguerite

at Chapelton around 1948.


The family who employed Emilie Alice took Chapelton for the summer for the last 3 or 4 pre-war years, presumably getting to know each other to some extent. Certainly Alice got to know John Cameron, the 23 year old son of the farming family. In 1914 their visit was doubtless cut short by the outbreak of war,If they were all Swiss then as Neutral aliens they would have had to register but could not be interned. Any of their party who may have been German would have been at risk of being interned or deported, though in fact none were until May 1915 after the Lucitania was sunk.

In February of the following year, 1915 Emilie Alice left the family's employment and travelled alone, with little English and a strong German / Swiss accent, all of the way from Lucerne to Inverness. Quite how she managed this I have no idea, once she reached the UK it must have been awful. The trains would have been full of troops and a young woman on her own can not have had an easy time, especially as, to the average Joe on the Clapham Omnibus or Tommy on the slow train, she would have sounded German.

However arrive she did, and one can only assume, arrived reasonably intact. on arrival she rented a room at 25 Kenneth St Inverness, she lived there for the required four weeks and then on March 24th she and young John Cameron were married. The extent to which this was pre-planned on her visit the previous year I have nit idea, equally how much his Mother Elspet knew about their plans I have no knowledge.   Planned or otherwise there was certainly a good reason for her epic journey, other than love.


After they returned to Switzerland in 1914, Alice (as she was known ) would have discovered that she was pregnant, putting her in a difficult position. As a mere maid her employer would in all probability have given her the push when her pregnancy became obvious. Not waiting for this to happen she somehow made her way alone back to Chapelton and her man.


On 18th of July 1915 my Auntie Elsie was born.  Now this pregnancy would seem on the face of it to be unusually brief, a mere 16 weeks from their wedding.  This does raise the possibility that she could have already been pregnant when she and John married, ( Hey.. no shit Sherlock!!!) 34 weeks by my calculations.  This could of course explain why they had a civil wedding in Inverness rather then the more traditional wedding in the Church in Boat-of-Garten, where the Minister who would have known John all of his life would doubtless have been delighted to marry them.

After her death nearly 60 years later when clearing the house, a cache of the most passionate love letters turned up. Dating from this time they were well hidden and revealed a side of their parents that none of their three children had ever suspected. I wonder what happened to them ?

Having enjoyed only the briefest of married lives, later in 1915 John got marched off to war.  Statistically his chance of ever returning were slim, fortunately they did not know this at the time.  Poor Alice having trudged half way across Europe to be with her man, had him snatched away again.  This left her with a poor command of English, at the mercy of her Mother in Law and pregnant.  Not the best of prospects, especially as she had no idea if or when she would ever see her husband again.  


From what I pieced together over the years I believe that Alice and Her Mother in Law Elsie, got on well and became quite close.  Elsie had not had an easy time of it herself when she was younger. The fact that she was not married to, and did not want to be married to her son John's father, did not go down well with the local gossips.  Whilst just about every family had at least one bastard in their midst, everyone pretended that this was not the case and that the unmarried mum down the road was the ultimate prostitute whilst drawing a discrete veil over their own daughter's equally loose reputation !  Whatever was thundered from the pulpit, it happened, it happened a lot and they all knew it. Especially in times of war (like most of the 19th Century) was a soldiers sweetheart going to tell him no, on what may be the last time that she saw him alive ?

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