Nellie Thomas (nee) Cottingham


1923 - 2013




 Nellie aged 15


Nellie was born in Halland Farm House on Christmas Day in 1923. Her mother Ada (nee Colbourne) and her father David must have had a very busy and tiring Christmas.


Nellie's dad David had been married before (his first wife died) Nellie had an older half sister "Lil", Lilly Mary and and two older half brothers "Jim" (Percy James) and William David as well as an older sister Kitty.  "Little Flo" another half sister died very young before Nellie was born. Photos can be seen by following this link.


Nellie spent all of her young life, throughout her schooldays and teenage years living and working on the farm. Nellie always considered herself a "country girl" despite living 58 years of her 89 in a town. It is difficult now-a-days to imagine living without central heating, constant hot water on-tap and light and power available at the flick of a switch. None of these "luxuries" were available to Nellie. Life was quite spartan for Nellie in her early years. 



Below is Nellie's first school photo.




An early East Hoathly School photo (below). Nellie is standing in the back row third in from the left.




Nellie’s earliest group school photo


Back row, left to right

Margaret Staplehurst, Stanley Cull, Nellie Cottingham (Mum), Arthur Somerset, Doris Goldsmith, Neville Ballard, Hazel Finch, Bill Ray, Eva Bevan, Bobbie Shaw, and on the end the teacher Miss Colebrook.


Middle row, left to right

Dorinda Stevens, Peter Hamett, Ena Hann, Ellis Pillinger, Daphne Cruttender, Ronnie Eade, Elsie Gurr,

Cecil Barton, Joan Heasman (Mum’s best friend), Robert Moad, Betty Buckley.


Front row (sitting) left to right

Gladys Stevens, Dorothy Barton, Doris Cull, Eileen Cruttender, Olwy Evender, Maisie Smith, Joan Parks,

Edna Bishop, Ethel Mary Holecroft.


Front row (cross legged) left to right

Tommy Flint, Eric Gould, Bertie Hylands.




Nellie led a fairly strict up-bringing and was bought-up in a family where religion featured as a large part of daily life. On one of her Sunday School outings she is pictured below, in the same photo is her future husband Frank! Nellie pictured directly below wearing a cloche hat with what appears to be a light coloured "bow" with dark centre on the front. Frank is sitting bottom centre wearing a very large flat cap.




Nellie kept some of her school reports. Below is a copy of her Summer School report (29th July 1937). The comment written by the Headmaster Mr J G Morgan says "Nellie's work this trem has been of a high standard." In the remarks column it states "Nellie has done really good work in all subjects. She is an excellent worker and can always be relied upon to do her best."




Nellies last report shows her skills with English, for Literature she scores 49/50 with the additional brief comment of  "Ex" (excellent) and Composition she scores 95/100 also supported by "Ex". Nellies final leaving school report is complimentary, Mr Morgan the Headmaster concludes by commenting "A high standard in practically every subject. A fitting ending to her stay in this school. 22nd December 1937." Note the date of leaving, 22/12/1937. Nellie's birthday is the 25th December, she actually left school when she was still 13! She started "work" immediately after leaving. She had been working on her father's farm for a number of year's while attending school. No gap years then! 


Nellie was very keen on sports at school and was Captain of the Stoolball Team. The reverse of the photo below states "East Hoathly Stoolball Team 1937 Captain Nellie Cottingham". No other girls are named. Nellie is standing in the centre at the back. What is "Stoolball"?




Nellie's father David Cottingham died relatively young in 1941 at the age of 63. Nellie was only 17, she had already been working on the farm for 3 years as she left school at 14 as the majority of pupils at East Hoathly school did. Halland was only a small village and didn't have even a primary school.


I remember well Frank recalling a story about his early courting days with Nellie before it became known to her father. Nellie's nick-name was "Jack" and Frank and a few of the Halland lads used to congregate, in the evening, out side of a central focal point of the village, the phone box! The light bulb was sometimes taken out so as not to illuminate things too much! Nellie (Jack) was talking to Frank and some of the other boys by the phone box when David (Nellie's dad) came out to see if Nellie was there because it was getting near time for her to go inside. "Has anyone seen Jack" asked David, quickly forming a circle of boys around the box so Nellie's dad couldn't see her inside the box, they replied in chorus, "we haven't seen her, but we will go and look for her and tell her to come in". This allowed Frank a few more minutes with Nellie! The photo at the top of the page was taken when Nellie was 15, about the time of the phone box incident.


Nellie worked on her Dad's farm until the time she was called-up. A letter was written to the "Land Army" and permission given for Nellie to work at Crockstead instead of joining the Land Army. During the war years Nellie worked at Crockstead Farm. Below are some photos taken while at Crockstead.



Above Summer 1942 Crockstead, Phil Starnes on the left, Land Army girl middle, and Nellie right.



Nellie (left) Philip Starnes (right) July 1943 Crockstead.

The reverse of the photo records that Nellie is holding "Snowball" and Phil is holding "Winkle".


While Frank was away at war Nellie's mum Ada must have been staying with her sister and wrote a letter to Nellie, the letter is shown below.




The "Bartons" mentioned in the letter above rented Ada's bungalow. Although not dated the letter was sent after Frank left for North Africa in late 1942 and before he was demobbed on 12th April 1946.



Nellie pictured in what seems (by the number of photos found) to be one of her many bridesmaid's roles. This one is at Crockstead during the war when Wilfred and Jane were married. Nellie is standing the other side of the groom from the bride. More information about Nellie's ancestors is available by following this link. More photos of Nellie as a Bridesmaid can be seen on her photo page.


There are many more photos of Nellie on the Gallery pages use this link to view them.