My mother, Lily Elizabeth Allen never told me about her Armenian background. Her father, William Henry James Allen (Jimmy) was from Somerset. He joined the British army in 1918 and was posted to Turkey, during the last days of the Ottoman Empire.

At that time, my maternal grandmother, Zarouhi Agopian was an Armenian girl of 19 living in Istanbul. She was the youngest child of Diran Agopian and Elizabeth Samuelian, who ran a drapery business.  Zarouhi met British soldiers there and married Jimmy in 1923 at the local Armenian church.

Returning to England, Jimmy was promoted in the Royal Army Service Corps at Woolwich. My mother was born in 1925 but it must have been very lonely for Zarouhi, being so far from her family and home. Her other three siblings emigrated from Istanbul to France. She was able to meet them there each summer, as well as her elderly mother from Istanbul.

Further army postings followed to Hong Kong, Palestine and Gibraltar and the couple had two more children. However in 1939, war was declared and Zarouhi and the children were sent back to England for safety.

Tragically, four months later, Jimmy died in Gibraltar, aged 39. He had taken his own life – we have no explanation.

It was a very dark time for the family. However, fate played a strange hand when a trainee priest (my father, aged 25) arrived at the church in Taunton. My mother was was only 15 but they had common backgrounds of army life in the Middle East and he took an interest in her.

They married in 1947, and I was born in London in 1950. I remember Zarouhi’s visits to us during my childhood.

Although Zarouhi suffered poor health she faced her declining years with courage and died in 1960.

(Nina Lewis is a UK Armenians & WW1 project contributor, who has kindly shared her family story with us). 

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