Emily Crowhurst was the daughter of Thomas Hughes.
Born in 1888 at Stockton’s Crisp Street, when he was 18 years old Thomas joined the Durham Light Infantry. Not long after the outbreak of World War One he was killed, in September 1914, aged 26. He left behind his wife Elizabeth and two-year-old Emily.
Just days before his death Thomas wrote to Elizabeth, sending the letter as a message in a bottle.
His letter read: "Dear Wife, I am writing this note on this boat and dropping it into the sea just to see if it will reach you.
"If it does, sign this envelope on the right hand bottom corner where it says receipt. Put the date and hour of receipt and your name where it says signature and look after it well.
"Ta ta sweet, for the present. Your Hubby."
He placed the letter, with a cover note, in a green ginger beer bottle sealed with a rubber stopper, and dropped it into the sea.
The cover note said "Sir or madam, youth or maid, Would you kindly forward the enclosed letter and earn the blessing of a poor British soldier on his way to the front this ninth day of September, 1914. Signed Private T. Hughes, Second Durham Light Infantry. Third Army Corp Expeditionary Force."
After his death Elizabeth and Emily moved to New Zealand.
Thomas' letter stayed in the sea for 85 years, before being recovered from the River Thames by fisherman Steve Gowan. With both the letter writer and its intended recipient now dead, Steve managed to track down Emily.
Steve made arrangements to travel to New Zealand and in May 1999 delivered the letter to 86 year old Emily.
Steve delivers Thomas' letter to Emily
On receiving the letter Emily said "It touches me very deeply to know ... that his passage reached a goal. I think he would be very proud it had been delivered. He was a very caring man.”
Speaking in 2011 Emily recalled her childhood: being part of a close-knit loving family, the fire always burning in the hearth and how they would gather together on cold nights at Christmas time.
After Thomas' death, Emily's mother had to return to in-house service, meaning that Emily was brought up by her maternal grandmother with the assistance of her father’s parents. Needless to say, they doted on their son’s only child. Both these grandparents were only children of only children, and with their son being an only child too, it’s easy to understand just why and how much Emily was loved.
Sadly, this close bond came to an end when her mother and new stepfather decided to emigrate to New Zealand in 1922. The whole family was bereft at this separation and the grandparents begged, to no avail, for Emily to remain with them.
Sailing off on the ‘big adventure,’ she was not to see her homeland until 77 years later. She remembers being so excited on board ship and celebrated her 10th birthday during the voyage. However, this sense of excitement and pleasure proved short lived, for on settling down in Auckland, at a time of economic depression, she, and her family, were shocked to find themselves being classed as ‘dirty Pommies’.
This abuse affected Emily's stepfather particularly badly. Working as an engineer at a milk treatment plant, he developed mental health problems and eventually became a voluntary patient at Oakley Mental Hospital, where he died a few years later of pneumonia.