Billie Teague

(1899-1953) – Breach of promise case

Returning wounded in February 1919 with a silver discharge badge, the last thing Billie Teague (left back row) had in mind was marriage. His fiancée Lily Gay had other ideas and threatened to bring a breach of promise case against him. The marriage took place, two sons were born, and they lived unhappily ever after.

Credit: Gerrans Heritage Centre

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William 'Billie' Teague was born 12th March 1899 and joined the Machine Gun Corps in January 1917, having previously worked as an agricultural labourer. Before he enlisted Billie promised Lily Gay, whom he had been courting, that he would marry her upon his return.

Lily Gay, who was born on 29th January 1902, waited for Billie to come back from the war. On returning to the village, like many men who had seen the wider world for the first time in their life, Billie no longer wanted to marry and settle down. Lily, who was 17 and not at all happy with this turn of events, threatened Billie with a breach of promise court case if he refused to marry her. She had waited ‘four’ years and expected to be married as planned.

With the threat of court hanging over him, Billie decided to marry Lily. They went on to have three children (one of whom died in infancy). Relatives have revealed that the marriage was not at all happy, and that Lily could be a difficult character at the best of times.

Billie and Lily are buried together in Gerrans churchyard. The family plot purchased by Lily on Billie's death is for four people, but two of the plots remain empty as their two sons wished to be buried elsewhere.

From the medieval period to the early 20th century a promise of engagement was legally binding.  Breach of promise also known as ‘heart balm’ or breach of promise to marry, however, did not include cases like this where the people concerned had not reached the age of majority, then 21.  The local Gerrans coastguard was also forced to marry and there may have been a third breach of promise case threatened or brought in this parish as a result of the war.

Credit: Gerrans Heritage Centre