Fragile Hope Fractured – Mary Lucy Byrne – Part 26

How could that be? January brought the chill. Their little cottage was ill equipped to deal with the consecutive days of cold. None of the family was acclimatized to the cool nights. Even the sun failed to provide much warmth during the day and Kathie and Maggie developed chest coughs. Mary fetched some honey from the local market and dosed the girls with warm water mixed with the sticky syrup to coat their throats. Then May developed a high temperature, followed by baby Willie. Thinking back on the times when her mother ministered to her siblings, Mary relied on broths for the girls and they soon were on the mend. Little Willie flayed his fists as he tried to rid himself of his discomfort. Mary nursed the little ones with the help of her Ayah. She held Willie close and rocked his little body, her hand cupping his tiny head.

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She leaned in to whisper, there now my son, you are so strong, and you can be well again. Willie’s body was burning hot, and his breathing was as raspy and as laboured as a man near the end of his long life. Mary could feel his life force fading and then, pneumonia snuffed out his light. The family walked to the military chapel on the morning of February seventh. Jimmy held little Willie wrapped so carefully in the soft shawl Mary had created before his birth.


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Mary carried little May and led the older girls, Maggie and Kathie, along the path. The party arrived at the church to find Father Sebastien standing at the entrance. He reached down to place his hand on the head of each child, murmuring a blessing in a solemn voice. He reached over to touch Jimmy’s arm, guiding him to the front of the church. The family gathered around as Father Sebastien led them in prayer. For a fleeting five months, William James Joseph had brought great joy to the Doran household. Now he was in the arms of the Lord Jesus.

Doran, WJJ,Death 1888 (BL_BIND_005137682_00059-1)

Death Record, William Doran Feb. 7, 1888

The girls were devastated. Mary fell again into a state of despondency, but the one who suffered the most was Jimmy. His faith was shattered. Mary felt deeply concerned as she watched her husband retreat into his grief, spiraling further from her, further from the girls, and even further from himself.



Begin Mary’s Story Here – The Prologue


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Decisions, Decision – Mary Lucy Byrne – Part 25

Monsoon season predictably descended the following June, and continued for ten weeks until the sky seemed to have emptied itself of all its moisture. The cycle repeated as the pools of water were absorbed by every living thing, and all traces of water disappeared. arid-calamity-crack-632252

Unfortunately, Jimmy had been infected by by a mosquito-borne disease. He fell ill with malaria in late autumn, and by mid-December was hospitalized overnight. His course of treatment included five daily doses of quinine to control the ague. Now Jimmy faced ongoing risk of complications as malaria had settled in and would stay dormant in his body, always lurking, and prepared to strike when resistance is lowered. Disease was a common issue facing the military in tropical India.

Mary, relieved to have Jimmy’s health restored for their Christmas celebrations, made the modest preparations to mark this Holy time. She read the story of the birth of Jesus to her older daughters. Maggie and Kathie were mesmerized by the three kings, walking for days, following the star to reach Bethlehem.

desert during nighttime

Photo by Walid Ahmad on

Mary finished up reading the verses and placed her bible on the writing desk. She glanced over to the portrait of her parents that she brought from home. Beside that cherished frame she had placed the most recent family portrait of herself and the three girls; May poised on her lap, with Maggie J. and Kathie seated beside her.

The Doran family sailed through 1887 in Nassirabad in the Bombay Presidency. Jimmy approached Mary before the monsoons arrived to talk about their future. In September, he would complete his twelve year mandatory term with the military, and so they would face important decisions.

“What do you think, Mary?” he asked.

She appreciated Jimmy had come to consider her thoughts on this matter. She would support her husband no matter what was decided. She considered the alternatives. “If we returned home, where would we go? Have you any idea what you might do, there?” she queried. Mary would have another child in just a few months. There would be four little ones to care for, and they could not call upon their family back home to help them get on their feet, particularly since her father had remarried last year. He and his new wife, Jane, had their hands full enough with Mary’s young siblings still to raise. In Dublin, Jimmy’s family, also had much to cope with, and opportunities for work in Ireland were still scarce.

“That’s the thing. What I know best is soldiering. If I re-engage I can stay on here, and we would have another nine years before I could retire and receive my pension. Until then, we would be obliged to continue to move around with the regiment.”

“The girls are happy, Jimmy. I cannot see our place in Ireland or England at the moment. You know I am close to Lizzie, but who knows what life has in store for her. It might be best to continue here.”

And so it was decided. Jimmy re-engaged to extend his term to twenty-one years. Barely six weeks after that commitment was sealed, the couple welcomed a son.

Doran_William_James_Joseph_BIR_1887“Oh he’s a fine lad, Mary. The Doran name will carry on.”

“He is that,” Mary agreed. They named their son William James Joseph. A few days later, as Willie was sleeping peacefully by her side, Mary took a long look into the mirror. Since her marriage, eight years ago, she had brought five children into the world. Today she marked her twenty-sixth birthday. She could see the signs of her maturing figure, the lines of experience etched on her face and her parched skin. The dampness had unleashed her hair into wild abandon. Her Ayah had brought Mary some neem oil to tame her curls. Mary liked the smooth texture as she worked the oil into her scalp. She picked up her brush and glided the bristles through her tresses, working the oil to the tip of her dark brown hair.

“Well little man, I wonder what kind of woman you will find in your life. Will she work so hard for you?” Mary looked over towards her baby. As he slept, he looked like an angel sent by God. “I pray the Lord will keep watch over you, my sweet.”

Days passed into weeks and soon the family celebrated their third Christmas in Nassirabad. A rare amount of time for being fixed in one location. The stability was so good for the entire family. The three girls adored their baby brother Willie. They constantly tried to persuade their Ayah to let them rock his cradle or wave some bobble to distract him. Jimmy was more settled as well. Around the holiday he brought home the welcome news of his third good-conduct pay packet.

Mary and Jimmy reflected on the past year agreeing that 1887 had been a blessed year for them. In fact, life had never been better for the Doran Family.

Begin Mary’s Story Here – The Prologue

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Reprieve in Nassirabad – Mary Lucy Byrne – Part 24

Mary welcomed the end of 1884 as the difficult year fell behind her. In December that year, their battalion, The Lancashire Fusiliers, moved some 800 km or so towards Bombay to Nassirabad in Maharastra. Perhaps the new environment would, yet again, offer new beginnings for Mary. She wept bittersweet tears leaving her little angel forever resting outside St. Anna’s Church. The priest assured her the babe was safe in the arms of Jesus. Mary looked out over the churchyard. Life is so unfair. How could He break her family in such a way?

Jimmy felt the relocation might, in some way, help Mary to gently heal her sorrow. He understood time helped people overcome their losses, but he hoped the move would blur the painful memories from their time in Mount Abu more quickly.

The landscape in Maharastra was more vulnerable to volatile weather. Between the extended arid periods were the annual monsoons. All the rain for the year fell between June and September. In January, a cool spell triggered temperatures to drop when for a period of about six weeks, the nights would hover around 10 C. The summer months, by contrast, regularly saw the temperatures rise to 40 C.

Mary could not forget her losses, but she did ease herself into acceptance. She was not the only mother to lose a child. She had two beautiful, healthy girls and now there was another life growing. Their family would expand again sometime in October.

Monsoon rain was unlike any weather Mary had experienced. It couldn’t even compare to Ireland where the rain fell almost daily. The water poured from the sky as if God decided it was time to flood the world once again. The monsoon would begin with huge drops randomly bursting on the parched dirt; each thud sending a pouff of dust into the air. It looked like an artist gone mad; throwing the paint from his brush in all directions — splotch, splotch. The volume intensified like a piece of music beginning its crescendo. Slow, deliberate stacatto notes, splat, splat, splat, then faster splat-splat, splat-splat and within moments a full orchestra; rain hitting the dirt, the leaves, and the roofs, in a cacaphony of sound. At the onset the locals gazed towards the sky. They knew what was coming and did not delay. They scurried for cover as the noise intensified and the single drops merged into steady streams of water. The land was hard packed from months without rain and the first drops collected then simply rolled along gathering dust. Gradually the volume of water increased to form ripples of thick mud sliding along the surface of the earth until the volume of water rose to create flowing rivers where streets had been. The downpour was welcomed by all as it signaled the end of nine months of virtually no precipitation.

The children were all tucked inside the cottage thanks to the knowledgeable Ayah who decided it was better for them to be indoors, and soon enough Mary concurred. The shutters were drawn on all the windows, and the noise sounded like drums beating an alarm as the rain pelted on the roof. Mary thought, well, at least we might have some relief from the heat. Little did she know, the rain simply turned the heat into a sauna and the monsoon would last for several months.

Days melted into other days and weeks turned into more weeks. The monotony of it all drove her to distraction. Every trip to the commissary, or to the church meant she would be drenched within minutes of stepping outside. No covering could protect your clothes.

The children were beside themselves with boredom. The regiment decided it should have a fete in the mess hall. The parents were relieved to allow their bundles of energy let off steam and Mary enjoyed being in the company of the other mothers. The older children were organized into games of tug-of-war. The younger ones were happy to run with the other children. It lightened Mary’s mood to see the joy as everyone appreciated the break from the boredom.

The rains lasted until the end of August when the sun reappeared. Between the intense rain, and the heat of the sun, nature exploded in a variety of vegetation. Some of the vines became the envy of Jack and his Beanstalk, and Jimmy delighted in telling the tale to his little girls.

By the middle of October, 1885, when the monsoon rains were finally over for the season, Mary and Jimmy welcomed another daughter into the family. They baptized her Mary, but she became know as May. She had delicate features and soulful eyes right from the very beginning.

The land around them responded to the endless sun. Lizards lay on rocks soaking up the heat. The children turned a golden bronze despite Mary’s attempts to keep them shaded; hats were often flung down and left by the door. Jimmy was promoted to Lance Corporal in April of the following year. Mary’s heart had warmed. How could it not? Three lovely girls and Jimmy seemed content once again.


Mary Lucy Byrne DORAN with baby May, Maggie J and Kathie India – 1886


She decided to have a family portrait taken. The photographers from Lucknow and Naina Tal would produce a professional image. Mary sat with May on her lap. The photographer handed Margaret a wicker basket to keep her hands occupied, and Kathie sat straight up in the high-backed chair fixing her gaze directly at the camera. With a simple click, the photographer captured this moment in time, somewhere in India, in1886.


Begin Mary’s Story Here – The Prologue


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Loss Follows Loss – Mary Lucy Byrne – Part 23

Mary leaned heavily on her faith over the summer. She made a daily pilgrimage to St. Anna’s Church where she found a small oasis of security within its walls. Her mother’s rosary became her own as she worked the beads through her fingers, layering in her own essence of jasmine.

She thanked the Lord for her Ayah. Every morning she would find the children already dressed and seated for their breakfast of fruit and bread. The Ayah watched over the children like a broody hen.

Mary took time with each of her three children as they finished their meal. She sat beside her eldest daughter, Kathie, and looked at her directly, “What plans have you for the day, Miss?” Kathie’s eyes lit up, “Mama, we are off to pick some flowers from the garden.”

“Oh, perhaps you will find some fairies and have a tea party.” Mary stroked Kathie’s silken brown curls.

“Will you bring us some cakes for our tea today, Mama?” Kathie looked at her mother with an ever hopeful smile.

“We shall see. You be a good girl Kathie, and help Amah watch over the others.” Mary turned towards her little angel, “And you my precious one. What will you be doing today?

Climbing onto Mary’s lap, this little feather-weight stared up at her, “I want cakes too, mama.”

Finding it difficult to resist those beautiful brown eyes, Mary’s face reflected true joy. “I will see what I can do. Watch over baby Maggie, won’t you?” The response was sincere as the little angel nodded then scampered off to play. Mary stood and went to her youngest, Maggie. She bent over and raised her daughter up high. “You stay out of mischief, you little monkey.” She set Maggie back down to continue her adventure, then Mary turned to gather her things.

KAMROODIN MAHOMEDALLY, MHOW, 23091916, Regimental Bazaar

Typical Regimental Bazaar – INDIA

Even in the heart of India, British women were expected to dress in elegant English attire. Her dress of striped silk, adorned with discreet tucks, came in at the waist. The

bodice buttoned up to the collar, and the skirt fell to the floor, rustling as she moved. Mary always wore her hat outdoors to shade her face from the sun, and she carried a parasol to minimize the intense heat. She collected her cotton gloves, and then checked her bag for her rosary and a few coins. Mary thought, I do hope they have a few sweets at the market. The children would be delighted.

M.-Abu St. Ann's RC Church

St. Anna’s Church, Mount Abu


Mary used the daily vigil to clear her mind. She walked from St. Anna’s Church to the commissary before returning home. There was no mail this morning, but she was able to select a few cakes for teatime. Lizzie wrote often, and she lamented the twist of fate in her sister’s circumstances. Mary contemplated how life had changed for her sibling and she worried. At the end of August Lizzie would turn twenty-two, poised at the threshold of her life. Now,

circumstances had bound her to the task of household management; raising their four siblings, ranging in age from ten down to four, who were still living at home.

Mary approached her cottage. It was mysteriously quiet. She stepped over the threshold and heard distressed murmurs coming from the other room. She removed her gloves then set them down along with her bag and parcel of sweets. Mary quickened her step.

She walked through the door to the sleeping quarters. Kathie and Maggie huddled were huddled in the far corner, confused and whimpering. Her Ayah, crumpled on the floor beside the bed, moaned in agony. Under the sheet on the bed was her little angel, limp and pale. Mary rushed forward, “What! What is going on here?” The lifeless body was already cold. There was no breath. Mary felt emotion burst from her soul. Tears gushed as she sobbed, “No, no, oh no. Please not this Lord. Why have you taken my angel?”
Her Ayah rocked back and forth. “So fast Ma’am, sick so fast,” she sighed an agonizing groan. Her wailing was heard long into the night.

Begin Mary’s Story Here – The Prologue

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Tragic News from England – Mary Lucy Byrne – Part 22

High in the sky, the sun shone an intense light down over the lush green forest surrounding the barracks at Mount Abu. Mary heard the children playing among the chiding calls of their Ayah. The birds were quiet in the heat of the day, but the insects buzzed around attending to their busy work. Mary had just set aside some mending to watch her children from the window. They seemed content. A subtle perfume of jasmine mixed with rose wafted in to greet her. Maggie toddled on her chubby legs chasing the end of a piece of silk cloth her Ayah was waving in the breeze. The older two children were busy exploring and chasing little bugs that scurried up and down the plant stems. Mary thought one would think they were a pair of monkeys, for goodness sake. At least they are bright and curious.

“Daddy, Daddy,” Kathie called. Mary looked over to the path to see Jimmy striding along with a parcel in hand.

Oh, what could that be? Mary thought. By now, two energetic bundles had entangled themselves in and around Jimmy’s feet. He cast his beautiful grin at them, giggling and teasing them both.

“Off you go now. I’ll see you later.” Mary went to the open doorway to welcome Jimmy.

“Lovely, to see you home so promptly today,” she smiled at her husband and then glanced at the packet.

“I knew you would be keen to have the post. I came straight away when I picked it up at the commissary.” Mary’s excitement bubbled up as she recognized Lizzie’s penmanship on the paper wrapping.

She was delighted to have news from home. Although she was busy taking care of their three little ones, she still thought of her family back in England. She hoped Lizzie had written lots of news about things at home. It was not unusual for her to receive treasures from Britain as her Ma often tucked a little something into the mail pouch to send to the children. Mary tugged at the string, sliding it through her fingers as she walked to her desk. She imagined Lizzie’s neat fingers taking care to tie the knot and secure the wrapping for its long voyage. Rosary beadsShe peeled open the package, moving aside the layers of tissue, and saw her mother’s rosary; the wooden beads worn to a smooth, polished finish. Mary fingered them and brought them close to her face. aromatherapy-beautiful-blooming-286763She could almost smell the lavender she so identified with her mother. Two letters enclosed in the paper peeked from the brown wrapping. The first envelope written in her father’s distinct bold lettering simply said, ‘MARY’ The one below was obviously written in Lizzie’s hand. She used a decorative style with the delicate, yet elaborate, curves. The way she distinctly formed the letter ’M,’ stood out with scrolls marking the beginning and the end of that first character. The letter ‘y’ extended in an elegant set of ellipses underscoring her name as if she was thoughtfully sending her love. Still clutching the beads, Mary sensed something was not right. She glanced up to see Jimmy looking at her; his head tilted and eyes curious. Mary lifted her shoulders in response, as if to say, “How strange!” Then she set the brown paper packet on the desk, gathered her skirt, and sat down in her chair. The rosary was still intertwined between her fingers as she reached for her letter opener. Which to open first? She decided the smaller envelope, the note from her father. Her hands trembled as she tried to place the tip of the blade into the small gap, and pry open the seal to reveal the folded note.

May 3, 1884
My Dearest Mary,
Our heavy hearts send you news of the tragic death of your Ma. Taken to be with God, a few days ago, long before her time. Such a God-fearing woman – a good woman, your Ma. Surely you know how she will be missed. She loved you, Mary, and wanted you to find your happiness. She would want you to be strong and keep your faith. I am sending you her rosary. I know she would want you to have it. Keep your Ma forever in your prayers, Mary.
Your loving Pa

Mary looked up at Jimmy, still holding the piece of paper. Her face told him the news was bad. “Oh Mary, what is it?”

Mary dipped her chin to gather strength and looked up. Her trembling voice uttered, “It’s Ma. She’s gone.” She glanced again at the date on the letter. “Already six weeks gone,” she uttered. “Pa says she died at the end of April.” The news had taken so long to reach her.

Jimmy stepped forward, and then reached down and pulled Mary to her feet drawing her close. “Oh Mary, my dear thing. I’m ever so sorry.”

Mary shuddered, closed her eyes and inhaled the scent of her husband, fresh from the outdoors, tinged with sweat from his day’s labour. Nothing smelled more comforting at that moment. They clung together in solidarity, then Mary eased herself back into her chair. She reached for the other letter, “This one is from Lizzie,” she said.

Jimmy stepped back. “It’s such a shock. Your mother was a young woman, and strong. Why she couldn’t be more than 45 years old?”

“No, not even that.” Mary turned her attention to the second letter. She caressed the ink with her index finger, and then pried the envelope open.

                                                                                 May 3, 1884

My dearest Mary,

Sadness is bursting my heart open as I share with you my distress. Ma was in that way, once again, but this time, things didn’t seem to be right. She told me so herself. More pain at the outset. You know Ma, never complained, but I could see her struggle. Things became worse, and we had to send for Doctor McLean. Mrs. K from next door came to watch the children. I tried to make Ma more comfortable using cool cloths to ease the fever, but nothing seemed to help. At long last, the doctor gave her some laudanum. It blurred the pain, but also her mind. In the end, we had to send for Father Wincott. Oh, Mary. It was awful. She passed over, finally released from that wretched pain. Dr. McLean told us some blockage stopped the baby from being born. The wee one died with Ma. He told us her death was from mechanical obstruction of the uterus.
Oh Mary, don’t you think she had enough children! I miss her so much, and there was nothing I could do to help her. Now she is gone, and Millie and Frank just keep asking for their Mama. Maud and Jessie cry all the time.
Pa sent for Michael and Paul. They came home for the burial and stayed a few days. They are men now, Mary. I dare say, you wouldn’t know our brothers. Maud and Jessie collected a bunch of violets from the wooded glen. It was a sweet parting gift from them. Daisies danced in the wind over all the fields the day we buried Ma. I don’t think you have daisies where you are, do you? They put me in a cheerful mind even on such a gloomy occasion. It was as if Ma was asking us to give thanks to the Lord and to be strong.
I wish more than ever you were not so far away. I don’t know how I will cope. I guess I am the mistress of the house now. I must have courage, for Ma’s sake.
I miss you more than you can know,
Your ever loving,

Mary stared at the paper letting the words penetrate into her consciousness. She gazed at the determined way Lizzie signed her name. The large letters struck confidently at the bottom of the page as if she did gather her courage to continue. Mary lifted the rosary and held the beads to her cheek. They felt smooth along her skin. “Oh Ma, may you rest in peace.”


Josephine DeBono Byrne (1840-1884)


Begin Mary’s Story Here – The Prologue


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Mount Abu, Rajputana – Mary Lucy Byrne – Part 21

April 1883 fell upon them quickly. Earlier in the year they learned their next posting would be in the state of Rajputana. Located in the Aravalli Range, Mount Abu became a Hill Station around 1855. Since then it earned accolades as one of the best sanitoria in India. Built around the shores of an ancient, mountain-top lake, the Mount Abu barracks were 4,000 feet above sea level.

mhowstation IndiaofthePast

Mhow Station in the early 1900’s showing a Rajputana Malwa Railway train headed by a Class ‘O’ Locomotive. Mhow station looked exactly the same in the 1940’s. Picture provided by Denzil Lobo, currently living in Mhow and author of a book titled ‘A Town Called Mhow’. From Kenneth Staynor’s article.


Once again, rail would be the most efficient way to travel. The Mhow station in Madhya Pradesh looked rather primitive, a simple wooden building with an open-air canteen and two crudely fashioned ticket stalls. Mary stood on the platform with the three children waiting for Jimmy to receive his instructions. The strength of the sun cornered them against the side of the station house where there was still a sliver of shade. Thankfully, Maggie had fallen asleep bundled in her arms. With her free hand Mary grasped one of her toddler’s hands; Kathie did her best to hold the other. Her second child seemed to always be in the middle. “ Kathie, aren’t you a big girl? Hold on carefully now. There are so many people here.” Just three in March, Kathie was already showing signs of taking care of her siblings.

In the distance the loud shriek of the whistle pierced the air followed by the creaking and rumbling along the tracks. The large engine chugged around the bend and approached the station. Billows of steam spewed while the high-pitched screech of the brakes tamed the train and it heaved to a stop. The smell of oil and burnt rubber oppressed the waiting passengers as they bowed their heads away from the gush of air mixed with debris. Uniformed men scattered like fire ants in the heat of mid-day as they rushed to collect their belongings. Jimmy’s eyes gleamed with excitement as he hurried towards his family. Just in time, thought Mary. With these little ones, I need those extra hands to get us all settled. They boarded the train and found bench seats facing each other. The children had taken the places next to the window whilst Jimmy and Mary sat beside the aisle. She could not help but feel content. After the flurry of activity, they could pause. Mary pulled from her bag a lace-trimmed hankie and used it to gently pat her face. She bent down to kiss her daughter and paused briefly to inhale her scent.

The train jolted into motion, straining and lurching to pull the cars into a steady momentum. The whistle sounded again making the little ones laugh out loud as the rail cars forged their way northwest from Mhow. Over the next 350 miles they would pass through many villages where clusters of people gathered. As they pulled into Udaipur, the city of lakes, Mary could hardly move her gaze from the windows. Known as one of the most interesting cities in Rajputana, Udaipur profiled the diversity of the people in India, as well as the novelty of their way of life that Mary so enjoyed. People here were always busy doing something. The aroma of curried stews wafted in from station platforms, and reminded the passengers it had been several hours since their last meal. When the train slowed, the locals hopped aboard to hawk coconuts and other fruit, or fresh baked dough balls. Some of these fortunate vendors earned a few extra pennies for their families before being ousted by the surly staff.

“We’ll take two of those coconuts,” Jimmy said. The man expertly carved openings in the top of the hard shells, and Mary poured the thick milky liquid into their cup. The children took turns sipping while the fellow cracked the shells open to expose the sweet coconut meat. Mary and Jimmy were hard pressed if they spent even pennies, but they indulged the children once or twice along the way. The rail cars were crammed with people and belongings. The air inside the cars was hot and humid. Under layers of travel garments, the simple exertion of breathing caused people’s cheeks to flush. Perspiration gathered into tiny rivulets of moisture which trickled their way down until they were absorbed under the folds of cloth. People fluttered fans in the hope of generating some escape from their discomfort; as desperate moths looking for their path to freedom are drawn to light. Relief from the oppressive heat finally came as the sun dipped in the horizon and the breeze rose across the plain. Cool air flowed through the windows until the brief twilight time descended into utter darkness bringing its blanket of flying insects.

Mary glanced over towards her husband. He was at rest; legs sprawled in front of him as he sat low in his seat with his arm wrapped around Kathie. He cracked his eyes open, and gave Mary a knowing smile. He wasn’t quite sure how to be a family man, but at times like this Mary thanked God for their blessings. Just prior to this move, Jimmy’s brief flirtation with career advancement had collapsed as he was reduced once again to the rank of private. Mary was never certain if the cause could be attributed to Jimmy’s disdain for the military’s rigid structure, or the military’s disdain for her husband. Either way, Mary resigned herself to the choices she made, and prayed for the grace of God to envelope her family.

The Dorans quickly settled into life at Mount Abu Station. The climate was particularly favourable and similar to the temperatures of a pleasant English summer.

M.-Abu St. Ann's RC Church

St. Anna’s Church, Mt. Abu Photo:


St. Anna’s Church served the community faithful to the Roman Catholic doctrine. Established around 1870, the parish gave Mary the support to practice her faith and sustain her courage. Mount Abu attracted mystics over the centuries. Dotted around the crystal blue waters of Nakki Lake were several small Hindu and Jain temples. The whole environment was steeped in religious history.

Thehe soldiers often trained by running four-mile circuits around the lake. Jimmy came home one morning after the Saturday exercises in especially high spirits. “We went around the lake twice this morning. At each of those temples, our group bowed and completed our fitness drill. Did all my prayers for the week, eh, Mary?” Jimmy performed an elaborate bow with his arms spread wide, then rose to face her with a grin stretched from ear to ear.

“How can you say such a thing! You won’t be missing church tomorrow whatever you may think.” Mary shook her head in disbelief. Jimmy could be a scoundrel. She was quite certain he was simply trying to get a rise out of her, but she did not appreciate his humour. Faith was a serious commitment.

In addition to the many smaller temples surrounding the lake, a significant pilgrimage site was located a few miles from their new home.

dilwara-temple, mount abu

The Dilwara Temple, Mount Abu

The Dilwara Temple, which in fact consisted of five temples joined together, was ornately carved from white marble. These temples were spiritual in their own way, and for those faithful to the Jain religion, they were as important as cathedrals were to Mary and Jimmy. Elaborate figures and designs decorated every surface of the holy places. The stonework must have taken decades to complete. Mary thought her father would be intrigued by those structures. He spent his career constructing military fortifications. He would marvel at how the Indian people created these places of worship that had been built close to one thousand years ago. Mary could not imagine how it was possible.

“Let’s take the children up to Sunset Point for a picnic after church,” Mary suggested. We can see Toad Hill from there and have a lovely view of the lake. Around Mount Abu huge granite outcrops, smoothly molded into shapes, stood out above the trees. The locals pointed out Toad Hill where one of the giant rocks resembled a toad overlooking Lake Nakki. “We can buy some dates as a special treat for the children” she added. Date palm trees grew all over the area. The sticky fruit was a popular ingredient in many delicacies. Their little ones adored the sweet treat.

“Mary, ’tis a fine idea. The view is quite something, and we’ll likely find a breeze blowing up there. Shall I collect some dates from the commissary this afternoon?” he asked.

“Yes, that’s a very good idea.” Then she added, “Kathie could use an outing. Would you take her along?”

“I’ll freshen up and change my clothes, then take her while the little ones have their afternoon sleep.” Mary felt blessed to be stationed at Mount Abu, such a beautiful and bountiful place. She had secretly hoped Jimmy would thrive here, and he did indeed seem more content.


Author’s Note: Rajputana is located primarily in the area known today as Rajasthan.

For further reference to Mhow, visit for published photo and history albums.

You can also read a wonderful description of another traveller’s journey from Mhow to Mount Abu here Mhow to Mt. Abu by train (1943) Kenneth H Staynor

Begin Mary’s Story Here – The Prologue

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Welcome Maggie J – Mary Lucy Byrne – Part 20

Margaret Josephine was the reason Mary could not attend the church service that Christmas morning. The child came into their world on the eve of this Holy day. The arrival of their healthy baby girl turned out to be the best gift they could imagine.

“A true marvel, isn’t she,” Jimmy sighed. “Our family has been blessed again. Thank the Lord.”

baby-sweet-happy-human-64236Mary simply gazed at her daughter. She looked up at her husband. “She looks like Lizzie, doesn’t she?”

“Hard to say. All babies look the same to me. She is a right sweetheart, though. Our little Maggie J.” Jimmy replied.

Mary thought of her home in England frequently. It had been four years, though it seemed an eternity, since Mary and Jimmy had celebrated Christmas with her family in Dorset. The first of three banns, announcing their intention to marry, were read at the Chapel of Our Lady and St. Andrew on that Christmas morning in 1878. Snow had fallen softly as the family walked along Grove Road to attend the service. Naturally, the blanket of white didn’t stay very long, it never did in southern England, but Mary recalled the snowflakes as they landed on her eyelashes ever so briefly, then melted and dripped down her chilled cheeks.

They heard that snow came in Northern India, especially in the Himalayas where ice and snow was ever present, but there would never be a chance of snow in Asirgarh. Although the barracks were built high in the hills, the temperature never fell much below 50 F. During the summer months, when the oppressive heat blazed on the Deccan plains, the higher altitude granted them cool relief.

Jimmy turned to his wife, “I’ll bring Kathie with me to the Christmas service, and then we’ll go to the gathering at the community hall. They have plans for the children. I am sorry you’ll miss the fun.”

“Oh don’t fuss about us. Our Ayah is here with us. You know she has always doted on our little angel and that toddler will need extra attention now baby Maggie has arrived. Their middle child had a fragile nature and was often referred to as ‘little angel.’ Their Ayah created a close bond with this gentle soul. As Mary’s time drew near, those two were almost inseparable. Now the Ayah would help introduce the twenty-month-old toddler to Maggie, the new baby of the family. Her loving care helped the transition, as Mary needed to focus on Maggie J.


*********** Two Months Later **********

“Bang, bang, bang,” sounded the spoon as it struck the pot. Kathie drummed away and ordered her siblings to prepare to march!

How appropriate, thought Mary. The oldest always needs to be the leader. The Doran family once again had ‘followed the drum,’ and moved from their lovely cottage in Asirgarh to the garrison in Mhow. Situated in the central part of the state of Madhya Pradesh, the Mhow station rose as an ordered set of efficient operations on a vast plain, like books stacked neatly in a gentleman’s library. Regimental life required precision, and the British excelled at that very thing. Soldiers, and their families, needed a stable base of operations. 250px-British_Infantry_Barracks_Wellesley_MhowThe cantonment at Mhow was designed to do this. Within its perimeter the military provided all the necessities. Outside the depot school, where the older children received instruction, there was a space for them to run and play together under the shade of a few trees. Officers’ children were sent to England to boarding schools to benefit from continuity of instruction; however, that luxury was out of the question for Mary and Jimmy. When the time came their children would have to make do with the station-based learning.

KAMROODIN MAHOMEDALLY, MHOW, 23091916, Cantonment GardensMary held Margaret as she spoke with the caregivers gathered in the square. In the overwhelming heat the women tried to limit all movement. However, the children, whose vigour seemed to have no bounds, sought inventive ways to spend their energy.

A cluster of children gathered in the shade. One pointed to the branches above, ”Look there. Monkeys!”

All eyes squinted up into the tree.animal-india-monkey-3611 The children started cooing, “Ou Ou Ee Ee.” The monkeys responded, screeching and cackling as they swung up in the branches. Back and forth they exchanged sounds. Some children started to stomp and wave their arms. Pretty soon all of them, even the smallest with their wobbly legs, were mimicking the animals.

Later that week, Mary sat down to write a note to her parents.

February, 1883

Dear Ma and Pa,
We are settled at Mhow for a few months, waiting. It is a fine enough place. Well equipped, and our barracks provide suitable shelter. Margaret is a strong little thing with a healthy set of lungs, and seems to be thriving. Kathie has taken to lead the others. She is curious, and I find them all quite amusing. Our little angel, the middle one, is more quiet and sensitive. I am blessed with the help of a local woman. The children call her Amah. We all miss the sweet girl who cared for them in Asirgirh. Yesterday, the children played with others from the regiment. We all watched the antics of some monkeys up in the trees around the square. Sweet little faces, but peculiar creatures. If they weren’t so furry with extra long arms we might confuse them with the children themselves.
I hope all is well in England. Send my love to Lizzie and hugs to all of you. May the Lord Jesus keep watch over you.
Your loving,


Begin Mary’s Story Here – The Prologue

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