AMELIA E BERNING, DIED AUG 29, 1944, 83 YRS, STEPNEY
The ninth name on the gravestone is Amelia Caroline Berning. She was born in Yorkshire in 1862 to parents (Ludwig and Caroline Herman) who were recent immigrants from Hannover in Germany. They had arrived with her older brother, Johann, and joined a thriving German community in Hull.
Within a few years, however, the family had moved to Gower’s Walk, Whitechapel in London’s East End, where the German community was even larger. Her father worked as a bootmaker and Amelia was employed as a dressmaker.
When Amelia was 21 she married Wilhelm Berning who had arrived in London from Hannover at the age of 17. He had been living nearby and they eventually settled in Richard Street, Stepney, near both his and her families. Over the years the Bernings, with their six children, stayed in Stepney but when they moved a few streets eastwards, it was to better housing in slightly more salubrious surroundings.
Their final home was in Cowley Street. That’s where they lived when Wilhelm died in 1926 and that’s where Amelia was at the beginning of the war, having been joined by her old friend Jessie (see part 6 to follow) and, probably, by one of her sons.
Wilhelm (William) Berning. Photo courtesy of Chris Michaelides.
The houses in Cowley Street and Gardens were relatively new.They had been built by the Society for Improving the Condition of the Labouring Classes, based on an exhibit at the Great Exhibition of 1851. Their design would be considered important enough for the houses to be listed in the 1970s .They were subsequently delisted and demolished.
However, the East End’s housing was squeezed between the railways, canals and docks that would inevitably be a target for Germans when the war started. And indeed, the people of the East End suffered. The first night of the blitz saw 5 high explosive bombs land nearby, and the shelters that had been improvised in the area were seen to be inadequate. In 1941 Cowley Street, had a direct hit; one of Amelia’s sons-in-law was injured and died shortly after. In 1944 her son, Theodore, was killed when a V2 bomb hit the Woolworth’s store in Catford.
But what had happened to Amelia Berning? Her descendants, documenting the family history, could find no further trace of her.
In Dinas, Heather Hill’s research into the ninth name on the Nevern headstone, Amelia E Berning, eventually led her to Amelia C Berning of Stepney with a confusion of Emilia, Emilie and Emalia and wrong birth places recorded in official documents along the way. It was impossible to be sure that we had found the right person until we realized that her friend, Jessie, was also named in the graveyard at Nevern. It became clear that Amelia and Jessie had been rescued together from the bombing of the East End by the Salvation Army and given sanctuary at Llwyngwair. And it was good to hear that in the stress of evacuation from the crowded streets of London to the relative quiet of Llwyngwair, Jessie and Amelia had each other’s friendship for comfort and support.
I’m very grateful to Chris Michaelides, great granddaughter of Amelia Berning for the photos, family information and East-End history that she has sent us. Being able to tell Chris and her family of Amelia’s final years and place of burial was one of the many rewards of this project.