All posts by Marian Bulford

A History of Plymouth Gin

…or, to be historically correct “The Black Friars Plymouth Gin Distillery” however, we locals just call it Plymouth Gin. I was born in historical Plymouth at the end of WW2 and among our history lessons was, of course, the history of England and Plymouth in particular. (1)

Plymouth’s history goes back to very early times. In 1866 several caves were discovered in the Plymouth area, containing the bones of animals that no longer live on these Islands. along with the human remains were the bones of a lion, hyena, cave bear and rhinoceros, which show man lived in this district as far back as the early stone age. Saxons settled in the area and by 926 AD ruled the whole of Devon.

Plymouth was attacked, raided and ruled, by others many more times…but that is another story, this story is about the Plymouth Gin Distillery, the oldest working gin distillery in England.

In the 13th century, friars arrived in Plymouth. Friars were like monks but instead of withdrawing from the world, they went out to preach and help the poor. There were also Carmelites in Plymouth, known as White Friars and Franciscans or Grey Friars. During the middle ages, because the Dominicans wore a black ‘cappa’ or cloak over their white habits they became known as the ‘Black Friars’

The Friar is still used somewhere on every bottle of Plymouth Gin today

The Plymouth Gin distillery building dates back to the early 1400s and was formally a monastery inhabited by the Black Friars. The most intact part of the distillery is the Refectory Room a medieval hall with a hull-shaped timber roof built in 1431 and is one of the oldest buildings in Plymouth.

In 1536 the time of the dissolution of the monasteries, the former home of the Black Friars was put to a variety of other uses including the first non-conformist meeting place, a debtors’ prison, a meeting hall and a centre for Huguenot refugees who fled France and came to Plymouth.

In 1620 It has been suggested that the Pilgrim Fathers spent their last night in England in the distillery and they made the short walk down to the harbour to set sail to America on the Mayflower, where they founded a new Plymouth.

Plymouth Gin Bottle

The original distilling business was owned by Fox and Williamson and in 1793 when a certain Mr Coates joined the establishment, Plymouth Gin started being distilled and soon the business became known as Coates & Co,. until March of 2008, when the French Pernod Ricard took over the company.

My three miniature souvenir bottles from my last visit to Plymouth – Empty!

Some of the many fascinating botanicals that make up the unique taste of Plymouth Gin are Juniper berries, Coriander seeds, orange and lemon peels, angelica root, green cardamom, and orris root. Its gin is also ‘Appellation Controlee’ meaning it can not be made anywhere, except Plymouth, Devon, England.

Made with single-origin juniper, picked on a single day, from a single mountain location in Frontignano, Italy, only one batch will ever be made.

One of the oldest continuous buyers of Plymouth Gin is the Royal Navy. Almost all Navy Gin is linked to Plymouth thus Plymouth and the Royal Navy have a long history. The Royal Navy’s ‘rum ration’ or ‘tot’ was usually rum for the ratings but the officers drank Gin.

Spot the Friar

This was a huge business for British distillers. By 1850 the Royal Navy was said to be buying over 1,000 barrels of Plymouth Gin a year, and during the Napoleonic Wars, Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson ordered barrels of Plymouth Gin for his officers. However, on the 31 st July 1970, that tradition ended. Modern Naval ships carry sophisticated weaponry where a push of the wrong button or an unsteady hand could result in WW3, so it was decided to end the daily Rum ‘tot’ that the ratings had been drinking for over 300 years!

On that day, sailors, drinking their last free ration of rum, wore black arm bands, drank their tot and threw the glasses into the sea. I have no idea what the officers did with their Gin! (2)

The Mayflower ship forms Plymouth Gin’s trademark label today. Black Friars is indisputably the oldest working gin distillery with records of a ‘mault-house’ on the premises going back to 1697. Today, Plymouth Gin is known worldwide. Just the other day, to my surprise, I heard VPR – Vermont Public Broadcasting Service – advertise Plymouth Gin on its station.

At the moment, no doubt due to the Covid delays, it is hard to find Plymouth Gin in Montréal, as the SAQ (Société des alcools du Québec or Quebec Liquor Corporation) where I usually buy it, is sold out!

Today, Black Friars offers a range of tours, ranging in price from a 40-minute, £7 inspection through to an in-depth, 2.5-hour “Master Distiller’s” outing (£40) where visitors get to create (and take away) their own bespoke gin. The distillery complex also has its own cocktail bar and brasserie. (3)

SOURCES

(1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plymouth_Gin

(2) https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/magazines/panache/how-pussers-rum-became-the-official-drink-of-the-british-royal-navy/articleshow/66196337.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst

(3) www.britainallover.com/2015/11/black-friars-distillery-plymouth/

The YouTube link below is a tour with the Master Distiller.

Granny’s Ornament Part Two

Kenneth Victor O’Bray aged 10 months May 1923

My Mum and her brother, Kenny c. 1932 my Mum would have been about 9 and Kenny 11 years old.

Two years into Uncle Ken’s apprenticeship, his life takes another turn…

A few days before Christmas, a neighbour visited Granny and saw her putting Holly branches around the fireplace and remarked “You should not put up Holly, it means a death in the family’ Gran chose to ignore this ‘old wives tale’

The United Kingdom declared war on Germany on the 3rd of September 1939, after Germany invaded Poland. France also declared war on Germany later the same day. The state of war was announced to the British public in an 11 am radio broadcast by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. (1)

Most of the country was in shock. Kenny as my grandparents always called him, was 17 years old that July 31st, and I have no doubt that he would have signed up as soon as he was 18 years old.

On about the 20th of December, Kenny complained of a tummy ache, so he stayed home from work. The pain got progressively worse, so the family doctor was called in. This was before the National Health Service was formed in 1948, so all house calls were to be paid in cash.

Because Kenny was feeling so poorly, Granny put a stool next to his bed, piled it up with books and put his food and drink on it, so it was eye level and easy to reach.

When the doctor arrived he examined Kenny and said it was nothing just an upset tummy. My Mum also had the same stomach pains so the doctor thought it was this. Days later, he worsened and the doctor was called in again.

By this time, my gramps was very worried and asked for him to be taken to the hospital as the pain was getting worse, but the doctor refused to admit him saying” With all those books piled up next to him, he can’t be that ill’

The next day, 23rd December and again, Gramps called the doctor in. This time he examined my Mum and left some mixture for her to take. Mum told me, that she refused to take it, because he had a strong foreign accent, and she was certain he was a ‘spy’ and the mixture was poison! Kenny worsened on the 23rd of December.

My mum remembers her parents and neighbours at his bedside, whispering ‘Is he still breathing?” Get a mirror and hold it up to his mouth’ Mum was in the bedroom next door worrying and in pain herself. Kenny died that evening. He was 17 years old.

Once again, the doctor was called and Gran and Gramps made him examine Mum at the same time. She was admitted to the hospital immediately with the same symptoms as Kenny had.

She had appendicitis and was operated on that day, and she recovered. Kenny meanwhile was autopsied. They discovered he had peritonitis. A ruptured appendix spreads infection throughout the abdomen. it requires immediate surgery to remove the appendix and clean the abdominal cavity or death occurs.

Mum was lucky her appendix had not yet burst. Kenny was not. My Granny and Gramps were so upset they tried to sue the doctor. I read Gramps’ diary of these events leading up to Uncle Ken’s death and wept.

My Gramps was not successful in suing the doctor although he tried very hard. Granny told me of her visiting the cemetery after Kenny’s burial and sitting on his gravesite and weeping, every day.

Plymouth was one of the most heavily bombed British cities during World War Two. The first bombs fell on the city on 6 July 1940, with the heaviest period of bombing occurring in March and April 1941. (2)

Many years later when she related this sad family history to me, we were at the cemetery visiting Uncle Ken’s grave. I noticed a large chip in the granite headstone and pointed it out to Granny. ‘Oh, yes” she replied, “I remember that!” She continued, “One day when I was visiting the cemetery, sitting on the edge of the grave, when the air raid sirens went off. I just carried on weeping and shouting to the sky ‘Take me now! I don’t care!” when a large piece of shrapnel hit the side of the headstone!

I asked her if she was afraid but she said ‘Not in the least!” and told me, that she continued to sit there and cry and shout, all whilst the air raid roared and blazed around her. I think this was her expressing her grief in a most dramatic but cathartic way, and was probably a good thing to do.

Grief can drastically alter a person’s attitude to life and I know families who lose a child never really recover from the shock. My grandparents, whilst not always talking about Kenny, did answer my questions and let me look through all his sketches and drawings they had.

My Mum was affected by her brothers’ death. Her parents were strict she said, timing her outings and expecting her home at a certain time, if she was spotted talking to boys she was called into the house.

She was constantly “kept an eye on” not allowed much freedom, or chance to meet people, and consequently, married far too young and too fast. However, I believe that they were afraid that they would lose her too, especially during the war years with constant bombs and air raids.

When her brother died and Mum’s infant son, my baby brother Christopher, died at three days old and she thought they were ‘cursed’ I must admit when my own son was born, the thought did cross my mind that the boys of the family did not live for long….. but I quickly quelled that thought! (3)

Today, my two ‘boys’ are healthy happy men and I am grateful.

October 1938. A sketch by Uncle Kenny of the Barbican where the Pilgrim Fathers sailed for America on the 16th September 1620
August 1939, This was taken four months before Uncle Kenny died. He is 17 years old, and it was taken at the Whitsands Beach, near Plymouth Devon.

The above photo was the one that I always remember, it is hung on the wall when I lived with my grandparents and is still there today. Below is Kenny’s Death certificate. The cause of death reads: “Perforated appendix generalised peritonitis Certified by W. E. J. Major Coroner for Plymouth after post mortem without inquest”. Because there was no inquest, I believe this is why my grandparents decided to try and sue the doctor. There should have been an inquest, so they could express their outrage, grief and sorrow at the behaviour of the doctor.

A few days ago I received an email from HM Coroner’s Office in Plymouth Devon. I had inquired about obtaining the Post Mortem report.

OFFICIAL: SENSITIVE

Good Afternoon

Thank you for your email and for updating the information provided.

I have made enquiries with our archivists and unfortunately, they do not hold any Post Mortems reports for 1939. Unfortunately, we are unable to assist with your enquiry any further.

Kind regards

Debbie, HM Coroners Office 1 Derriford Park, Derriford Business Park Plymouth PL6 5QZ

I had hoped to obtain them to add to this story. It was not to be. Perhaps, in the future, I may be luckier. I am sure they are held, just not digitized yet.

A Brief Note on Holly Beliefs in the West Country of Devon, England.

It was always considered terribly unlucky to bring holly into the house before Christmas Eve and even more so to leave it in the home after Candlemas Eve (1st February)“.

SOURCES:

(1) https://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/sep/06/second-world-war-declaration-chamberlain

(2) https://www.plymouth.gov.uk/newsroom/plymouthnews/plymouthblitzremembered

(3) https://genealogyensemble.com/2018/01/14/my-brothers-keeper/

Read Part One of ‘Granny’s Ornament” here:

https://genealogyensemble.com/2022/02/23/grannys-ornament-part-one/

Granny’s Ornament Part One

Noun: ornament; plural noun: ornaments
A thing used to make something look more attractive but usually has no practical purpose, especially a small object such as a figurine
Noun: figurine, plural noun: figurines statuette, especially one of a human form. The photo above is the ornament.

The underside is printed “Suvesco Foreign”

Granny always called it Ken’s ‘ornament’ so, for the purpose of this story, ornament it is.

Further searching tells me it was made in Japan in the 1930s and is in the style of ‘Art Deco’ (1)

When I lived with Granny and Gramps in the late 1950s there was not much colour around her house or indeed anywhere. We were still rebuilding our city after WW2 and things were still rather bleak.

However, I do remember in Granny and Gramps’ bedroom, on the shelf above the fireplace, a small lady holding out her colourful skirts, with her head on the side, she was the only bit of colour in the house. I often admired the pretty pastel colours and ‘the ladies’ pose.

Many years later, when I was visiting Granny, she must have been in her late 90’s, she took it from her cabinet and gave it to me! She said, that she knew how much I had admired it whilst I lived with her and she knew I would appreciate it. She was right! I was thrilled!

As I grew older, I kept Granny’s ornament in my cabinet and I admired the pose and colours. Much later in life, when I was taking art courses, I painted it and called it ‘Dancing Lady’

Dancing Lady

Living with Granny and Gramps, I one day asked if the lady was old, and where and how Granny got it, she was silent for a moment, and then told me the story.

Her eldest son, Kenneth, had bought it for her with money from his very first job. I knew who Ken was, he was my Uncle the older brother by two years, of my mother. I had always seen his photo on the wall in their house, at the bottom of the stairs, a dark-haired young man, looking similar to Gramps in his first – so Gran told me – pair of long trousers! At the beach, barefoot and leaning against a cliff in shirtsleeves.

Uncle Ken about 16 years

Uncle Ken was apprenticed to Mr Henry Mallett Osborne on the 27th of October, 1937, from the age of 15 years until he was 21 years. He was to “Carry on the art trade of business of a House and Decorative Painter Glazier and Paperhanger at 20 York Street City of Plymouth”

I know this because I have Uncle Ken’s Deed.

Gran told me he was so excited and the business of “THIS DEED” gave him a feeling of being, at last, a grownup.

The Deed was large and cannot be shown in full here, as the document measures 41cm in length (16 inches) and 27cm in width (101/2 inches). However, I can show the top of the Deed and the bottom with the signatures of Gramps, his son, Uncle Ken and the ‘Master’ Mr Osborne.

Frontpage of the Deed

First Page of the Deed.

Included in the ‘Deed’ are these words…… “he will faithfully serve ‘The Master’ until the full end and term of six years shall be fully complete and ended. (Such term to expire on the 11 September 1943)

Who could have known, that full out war and destruction would have been wreaking havoc all over the world for four years by then? The United Kingdom had declared war on Germany on the 3rd of September, 1939, two days after Germany invaded Poland.

One interesting note in the Deed was Kenneth’s salary which says:

……the Master does now or shall hereafter use and practice the same and shall and will pay or cause to be paid to the Apprentice during the said same wages at the rates and in manner following (that is to say) the sum of six shillings and sixpence per week during the first year of the said term and sum of eight shillings per week during the second year of the said term the sum of nine shillings and sixpence per week during the third year of the said term the sum of Eleven shillings and sixpence per week during the fourth year of the said term the sum of Thirteen shillings and sixpence during the fifth year of the said term and the sum of Sixteen shillings and sixpence during the sixth and last year of the said term”

The last and
Signature Page

So, with the handsome salary of six shillings and sixpence, (worth approximately $2.50 in today’s Canadian dollars) during the first year of his apprenticeship, he bought Granny the lovely little lady.

Granny said that Kenneth was keen to learn the signwriting part of the Apprenticeship as he was quite a good artist. Granny kept all his paintings sketches and drawings between two large pieces of cardboard. I often got them out and looked at them. I could spend hours looking at his art.

Whilst I was still at school, I had to do a project on the City of Plymouth History. Granny let me have the Royal Coat of Arms, painted by Uncle Ken to put on the front of my project book, I was thrilled and still have the project book and Uncle Ken’s painting on the front.

Uncle Ken’s painting of the Royal Coat of Arms – not finished.

The picture below is the present Royal Coat of Arms, with the crown of Queen Elizabeth II.

The motto at the base reads: ‘Dieu et mon Droit’ (‘God and my Right’) and the shield bears the motto Hon soit qui mal y pense (‘Evil to him who evil thinks’ (2)

Two years into Uncle Ken’s apprenticeship, his life takes another turn which will be told in Granny’s Ornament Part Two.

(1) When did Art Deco start and end?

Art deco (c. 1908 to 1935) Art deco began in Europe, particularly Paris, in the early years of the 20th century, but didn’t really take hold until after World War I. It reigned until the outbreak of World War II

Of course, Art Deco covered a great many items including homes, buildings, clothing, home furnishings and sculptures.

If you Google ‘Art Deco Ladies’ many of the ladies are in similar positions and colours. Some just marked ‘foreign’ and some made in Germany and Austria.

I have no idea of value, but to me it is priceless and I hope when I have shuffled off this mortal coil, one of my sons or grandchildren will treasure it too.

(2) This symbolises the Order of the Garter, an ancient order of knighthood of which the Queen is Sovereign. Uncle Ken’s painting shows the crown of the then-King George V

Memories of A 1950 British Christmas

I was reminded of the city I grew up in when images of the tornado that shattered the towns in Kentucky were shown on TV and online recently. Our city after the blitz looked exactly like that…. and it was not until I was a teen that the city workers had finally cleared away the last of the debris and rebuilt our city completely.

Plymouth, England, After A Raid – 1941

Plymouth Reduced to Rubble after A Raid – 1949

This was bad, but after London, the worst bombed city in England was Liverpool.

Christmas 1950 was still bleak, I was five years old and Christmas that year was to be austere, to say the least, but I was not aware of that at the time. It is only with age that I remember and think wow! That was hard.

WW2 had finally ended in November 1945 the year and month I was born. Our city of Plymouth was battered and bombed, and by the time I was born, rationing and shortages were still all over the country which lasted until I was nine years old!

I often think, as so-called ‘victors’ in the War, shouldn’t we have been better off and not ‘on the rations’ until I was nine years old?

One person’s ration for a week.

There were few Christmas trees or decorations, At our primary school, we cut up strips of newspaper, glued them together to make paper chains to hang in the classroom.

We did the same at home. Occasionally, if you were lucky we could buy coloured strips of paper but mostly it was the newspaper chains. Dad would go out and find some Mistletoe and Holly to put around the mantlepiece.

We did not have a tree at home, but we all had fun at school, making the ‘decorations’ we sang Christmas carols and exchanged homemade cards coloured with old, worn down crayons. We always had a Carol Service at school before we finished for the year.

We had no books or school library but our teacher read out loud to us each Friday and she finished the book the last Friday before we broke up for the Christmas holidays. I remember the book, it was called ‘ Pygmalion’ by George Bernard Shaw. (1)

Back to Christmas 1950. Below, is a photo of me, Dad and his mother, Emily Marion. It always makes me laugh as I am wearing my ** National Health Service** free glasses- hence the gawky look! (I hated those glasses with a passion and once buried them in the garden!) (2)

In this photo, we were shopping in the Nissan huts, temporary metal huts set up for various bombed-out shops until re-building could commence in our blitz-wrecked city. and I was meeting Santa.

Looking at this photo now, I see that I was not exactly dressed appropriately” for the weather. Severe shortages were still in effect, and although I was warm I do remember my legs always being cold, after the fashion of those days!

The photo below was taken in 1943, The Nissan huts were still in use in my photo above.

A view of the busy Market Hall in Plymouth, showing that Woolworth’s has opened a large stand in the market. The main F W Woolworth & Co. Ltd. store had been severely damaged during an air raid.

There was not much available for Christmas foods, but my Dad would go late in the evening, as the stalls were closing, to get the cheap ‘end of the day goods’ like apples that were slightly bruised, or some pieces of holly or mistletoe or a few small oranges which only appeared at Christmastime.

Nuts were popular but we would see them only at Christmas and they were very expensive, so it was traditional to put a few nuts in childrens’ pillowcases along with a small orange. We usually had two or three big walnuts, still in their shells in our pillowcases. There were no ‘stockings’ to hang up. We put pillowcases hung over the bedknob at the end of the bed for our gifts and I carried on that tradition with my children.

Most of the gifts were either homemade or knitted and always wrapped in newspaper. We did not care what it was wrapped in, we had presents! I do not remember feeling deprived of anything.

That year, 1950, only certain meats were off ration such as reindeer, horse, rabbit and whale meat was also on offer. If I ate them, I cannot claim to have a memory of it! If we had a chicken or duck we were very lucky or rich. Usually, it was lamb or pork.

1949: Workers rolling out the whalemeat roll from a conveyor belt at a Slough factory. Whalemeat will soon make its bow to the public and it will be unrationed and off points. It can be served as luncheon meat, warmed in a frying pan as a breakfast food or served cold with a salad…..Yum!!

Three years after the War ended, restrictions on food were gradually being lifted. Petrol rationing, imposed in 1939, ended in May 1950. . Flour was ‘off ration’ on 25th July, followed by clothes on 15th March 1949. Although on the 19th of May 1950, rationing ended for canned and dried fruits chocolate biscuits treacle, syrup, jellies and mincemeat. In September 1950 soap was off ration and became a very popular Christmas gift!

We were still having to queue for food, and often it was sold out, by the time we reached the head of the queue, so our Christmas pudding and cakes had carrots added to them, to sweeten and bulk it up. Even when I was older in the early 1960s, and learning to bake and cook at school, we still added carrots to our Christmas cakes and puddings. (3)

We all ate a lot of ‘organ meats’ such as liver and onions and occasionally, when they could be picked in the fields, with mushrooms too. Today, we would add bacon to the liver and onions. Steak and kidney pies were and still are, a favourite in England. I do remember eating calves’ brains – on toast!

Liver And Onions

(Photo from https://foodimentary.com)

Oh, and ‘Brawn’ or ‘Braun’ made with a whole pigs head, when you could get one. Tongue, ears, brain, eyes. Boiled for hours with various herbs and spices cooled, and then everything was removed from the head then pressed in a mold overnight.

Sliced and served cold in a salad, on a Summer day it really was delicious. I believe it is known here, in Quebec, as ‘headcheese’?

Brawn

Tripe and onions were very popular too. Tripe comes from the stomach lining of farm animals and, I remember Granny telling me, it was a wonderful source of protein and would make my hair and nails grow. Still served in many countries around the world, I think in the UK it originated in the county of Yorkshire.

Tripe Before Cooking in Milk, Herbs And Onions

I ate it all. What did I know or care, what I was eating?? I had a full tummy. Today, I do not take Christmas for granted even with all the goodies available because, although austere bleak and not much around in Christmas, 1950 I do not remember ever being hungry. Plus our dietary restrictions were not a bad thing for our health. As a five-year-old, I was frequently cold, yes, but hungry? Never! I was a lucky one.

SOURCES

(1) Many years later on 25th December 1964 when I was 19, the movie ‘My Fair Lady’ came out. I remember sitting in the theatre watching it and thinking “I know this story”….of course, it was based on the book Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw that teacher used to read to us every Friday.

(2) Before the National Health Service was created in 1948, patients were generally required to pay for their health care. Free treatment was sometimes available from charitable voluntary hospitals. Some local authorities operated hospitals for local ratepayers (under a system originating with the Poor Laws).
History of the National Health Service – Wikipedia

(3) http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/july/4/newsid_3818000/3818563.st

A short video of Plymouth after the Blitz Raid, 1941. https://www.facebook.com/ForcesTV/videos/plymouth-marks-80-years-since-1941-blitz-raids-in-ww2/140680627959404/

The first items to go on points rationing were tinned meats, tinned fish and tinned beans; later, points rationing was applied to most tinned goods, dried fruits, cereals, legumes, biscuits, etc. When points rationing was first introduced, everyone had 16 points per person every four weeks. British Wartime Food – CooksInfohttps://www.cooksinfo.com › Cuisines

The RAF Administrative Apprentice

The internet and social media have changed our lives, allowing us to connect to new friends and reconnect to old ones to celebrate our victories and lives. I recently experienced this first-hand.

Last September, I received, out of the blue, an email message from a complete stranger because he read a few of my stories on Genealogyensemble.com about my time in the Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF).

George Cook, an archivist for the Trenchard Museum, which is based at RAF Halton was gathering information on the MTE – Medical Training Establishment – and happened upon the story of my time there. He recognised the man in one of my photos that went with the story.

“Purely by chance, I had the opportunity to read “Dear Miss Bulford” and I was compelled to follow up on Marian’s story of life in the RAF in the 1960s,” he said in his email.

‘You will appreciate my surprise when on reading part 4, I recognised the young gentleman who became her husband. John and I joined the RAF in September 1964 as admin apprentices at RAF Hereford. Not only did we do our square bashing together for 12 months but we were both posted to RAF North Luffenham in Rutland in 1965”

So, of course, I had to find out more. Let’s begin at the beginning of this intriguing tale, as told to me by George in his letter and by my very surprised husband.

At the end of August 1964, my husband John Clegg was only 16 years old. He says he remembers standing on Liverpool Station on Lime Street England, waiting for a train to Herefordshire. He had left school in July 1964 and was headed off to join the Royal Air Force at RAF Hereford to enter a one-year Administrative Apprentice training course as part of the 301st cohort known as an ‘entry’ (1)

A week later, on the 2nd of September 1964, he took the Oath of Allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen.

The Oath of Allegiance

This committed him to serve 12 years in the RAF. One small point not clearly explained to an eager 16-year-old was that his 12 years of service wouldn’t start until his 18th birthday, meaning that the RAF had him for two extra years (14 in total)!

The boys in the administrative programme numbered approximately 40 per entry and were divided up into two dormitories of 20 per room. The training period consisted of daily classes for administrative procedures which would, on successful completion, quality John as an Administrative Secretarial Clerk. In addition, he learned personal discipline and stories about life in the RAF, including its history.

At that time, students were also taught to type on mechanical typewriters. John says that that training prepared him for the future introduction of computers John can still type 55 words a minute, the speed the boys were trained to do. George sent us this photograph of the typewriter they learned on.

The Typewriter the Apprentices Trained On


George Cook also apprenticed at RAF Hereford and he and my husband were alphabetical order billeting, which meant they ended up in the same room. They became friends.

John remembers George as a wonderful artist. He told me, that one drawing, in particular, stood out. It was a haze of charcoal until you stepped back and there appeared the face of Dusty Springfield a very popular singer in the England of the 1960s. John always remembered that drawing and the quiet talent that was often on display from George.

Whilst there, John and George made many friends with boys from different parts of the UK and from different backgrounds. After a year of close contact and demanding discipline, they forged friendships and operated as a group. At the end of the year-long course, trainees graduated as Senior Aircraftmen and had their passing out parade then they were posted to their stations where they became part of an administration team. Afterwards, they were to be posted to different parts of the country. Many never saw each other again, but that’s not what happened with John and George.

Invitation To The Passing Out Review.


Instead, they got their first posting together to RAF North Luffenham in Rutland. This area is very ancient and first mentioned as a separate county in 1159, but as late as the 14th century referred to as the “Soke’ of Rutland’, and in the Domesday Book as “A detached landlocked part of Nottinghamshire” (2)
George was in the Station Sick Quarters teaching the Nursing Attendants to type, whilst John’s first assignment at North Luffenham was as a clerk in the Motor Transport section and later to the Ground Radio Servicing Centre. They were responsible for the reparation of Radar and Radio facilities in the UK. At a later point, he worked in the General Office and helped prepare airmen for overseas posting.


After a few years at RAF North Luffenham, John applied for a position on VIP duties, as a clerk on the staff of the Air Officer Commander in Chief at RAF Upavon in Wiltshire England where, shortly after his arrival, he met…….me!


**(Read my adventures and how I later met my husband of 53 years at RAF Upavon  below)


Fast forward 60+ years and George read my story about my time in the RAF. Here’s what he told me about his experience

“During the 2 years there, I also worked in the Station Sick Quarters as the admin support to help the Nursing Attendants learn how to type at the mind-boggling speed of 15 wpm! We went our separate ways when I was posted to Singapore in 1968 but I do recall being told that John had re-mustered in the trade of air cartographer and was serving at AIDU RAF Northolt.

So, how did I come to read Marian’s stories? I work as a volunteer at the Trenchard Museum RAF Halton as an archivist and one of my tasks is to look into the history of the station.

Most people associate the station as the home of Number 1 School of Technical Training and the Trenchard Brats, young engineering apprentices who entered into a 3-year apprentice scheme set up by Lord Trenchard in 1922. What many people seem to overlook is the amazing medical history of the unit particularly the hospital, Institute of Pathology and Tropical Medicine and of course the Medical Training Establishment (MTE) Marian refers to.
Marian, I loved your stories and you have made an old man very happy learning of my old pal John. I hope that you are both well particularly in these troubled times”


I read his email with great excitement. I called my husband to come and read THIS!!!

When he read it he could not believe it was from the same George whom he knew all those years ago when they served together as Administrative Apprentices.

George Cook is now a volunteer Archivist at the Trenchard Museum at RAF Halton and also assists with the guided tours of the Halton House Officers’ Mess. (3) (4)

An exchange of emails reveals that George has led a full and varied career in various positions of leadership in the RAF. John served 12 years and then served many years in the airline industry in Genéva, Switzerland and Montréal, Canada where we now reside.

How amazing is the speed of technology the internet and social media? I will always be grateful that it allowed George to read my stories, and John to reconnect with his friend after so many years.

SOURCES 
(1) https://rafadappassn.org/the-raf-administrative-apprentice-scheme/
(2) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Rutland
(3)https://www.trenchardmuseum.org.uk/
(4) https://www.forces-war-records.co.uk/units/595/raf-halton

Four stories of my adventures in the WRAF – Women’s Royal Air Force.
Part 1 https://genealogyensemble.com/2020/01/02/dear-miss-bulford/
Part 2 https://genealogyensemble.com/2020/04/22/dear-miss-bulford-part-two/
Part 3 https://genealogyensemble.com/2020/04/29/__trashed-4/
Part 4 https://genealogyensemble.com/2020/07/01/dear-miss-bulford-part-four/

British mourning cards and Funeral fashion

As a child in Britain in the early 1950’s I remember the death of our Monarch King George VI on 6th February 1952. I was 6 and a half.

When his death was announced on the radio, my family and grandparents immediately drew all the blinds in their houses and covered all the mirrors and clocks. Neighbours did the same. A black funeral wreath was placed on the front door, and black bands were purchased for the men, these to be worn on arms when outdoors. The family spoke in hushed tones. I clearly remember answering the door to a visitor and whispering to them “The King has died’

Everyone wore black and some openly cried. On the day of the funeral, everything ceased. Transportation stopped, shops closed, the streets were empty. Schools, theatres, movies were all cancelled. The radio was surrounded by family members listening avidly. Newspapers the next day, provided photos.

Citizens reading of the death of the King

During this time of the World wide COVID-19 Pandemic, death has been a constant. There have always been many visual symbols of grief in the World especially during the Middle Ages, when black attire was popular with the wealthy and symbolic of spiritual darkness. Velvet especially was very expensive.

The wealthy classes would show their status in life, through paper products. cabinet cards, calling cards and they were the status symbols for many years. The Industrial Revolution caused a rise in commercial processes, but they were still very expensive in the 1800s

King George VI Death Card

Victorian society was obsessed with death and Queen Victoria and her subjects followed the rules she set. Perhaps the most significant turning point in Queen Victoria’s life was the death of Prince Albert in December 1861. His death sent Victoria into a deep depression, and she stayed in seclusion for many years, rarely appearing in public. She mourned him by wearing black for the remaining forty years of her life. [1]

Death was a frequent visitor in Victorian Britain and planning to die well, started whilst young. Conversations about death were open and ongoing. People knew what their kin wanted for a funeral, and women made their own shrouds and some even included a funeral shroud in their wedding dowries!

Kate Strasdin, a British fashion historian and curator said it was during this period that codes for mourning dress took hold. The modern department store was born of the brand spanking new funeral industry where, in one stop, you could acquire everything for a funeral from stationary and clothing, to mourning jewellery. [2]

An advertisement for mourning clothes for all the family from Jay’s London General Mourning Warehouse. Date: 1888

The following advert in The Illustrated London News, August 31, 1844 shows how people were tutored on how to dress;

MOURNING—Court, Family, and Complimentary.—The Proprietors of the London General Mourning Warehouse, Nos. 247 and 249 Regent-street, beg respectfully to remind families whose bereavements compel them to adopt mourning attire, that every article (of the very best description) requisite for a complete outfit of mourning may be had at their establishment at a moment’s notice.

Widows’ and Family Mourning is always kept made up; and a note descriptive of the mourning required will ensure everything necessary for the occasion, being sent (in town or country) immediately Ladies requiring Silks—either Satins. Satin Turcs, Watered or Plain Ducapes,and Widows’ Silks, are particularly invited to a trial of the new Corpeau Silks introduced at this house, as they will be found not only more durable, but the colour will stand the test of the strongest acid,or even seawater. Black and Grey, and Fancy Mourning Silks of every description.

The Show Rooms are replete with every novelty that modern taste has introduced in mourning millinery, flowers, collars, head-dresses, bugle berthes, trimmings. &c. &c.—The London General Mourning Warehouse, Nos. 247 and 249, Regent-street, near Oxford street.—W. C. JAY, and Co.

Over the years we have again become more open about death, and to tell our families what we want and how we want to be dispatched. The Victorians would have been shocked at how much less formal we are today with our funerals planned as a ‘celebration of life’ or focusing on protecting the environment.

Many of our customs today would certainly be shocking to someone from the Victorian era, as we are generally much less formal. The Victorians would have been aghast at a funeral that was a celebration of life. A green funeral where the focus of the burial is on protecting the environment would have been an outrage. Although we still wear mourning jewellery today it is more likely to contain the ashes of the deceased. (1)

in my family, my Maternal Grandfather Percival Victor O’Bray allowed me to copy some of his families’ mourning cards. I always wanted to know the reason behind these cards why we wear black and how our mourning rituals came to be.

The research has been interesting.

My Great-Grandmother (Front View)
Back View of the Mourning Card

This next family history mourning card is the most heart-breaking in my collection. By the time this death notice was posted in the newspaper, 16 days later my Great-Grand Uncle’s third and youngest daughter had died too.

Newspaper Clipping March 13, 1890
Back View of Mourning Card

SOURCES

[1] https://studioburkedc.com/blogs/news/victorian-rules-for-the-end-of-life-a-victorian-celebration-of-death-mourning-cards-and-funeral-cards-by-studio-burke-ltd

[2] https://lite.cnn.com/en/article/h_d762dee6d1828b37ca55a2ee4892263b

[3] https://www.sparknotes.com/biography/victoria/section5/

The Legend of star gazey pie

Have you ever heard of Star Gazey Pie? Me, neither, but soon after their marriage, my Dad, from Cornwall, asked my Mum, from Devon, to make him a Star Gazey pie. I think it was a sneaky request as she had absolutely no idea what he was talking about and I think he knew that!

The main ingredients are Pilchard – or Sardines – a small, tasty fish high in omega 3 oils. Today we buy them in tins, submerged in water, tomato sauce or mustard. In England, we usually serve them on hot buttered toast.

Star Gazey Pie was created in Mousehole, Cornwall UK, where ‘Mousehole’ is pronounced as ‘Mow-Zul’

A legendary character by the name Tom Bawcock appears to have been a local fisherman in the 16th century, and according to the legend one winter was extremely stormy and the fishermen could not leave the harbour to fish.

Christmas was approaching and fish was the main source of food. The villagers were facing starvation but Tom Bawcock decided to brave the storm.

He safely returned with enough fish to feed the entire village and the whole catch was baked into a pie, which was named ‘Star Gazey Pie’ in his honour, and is now a festival called “Tom Bawcock’s Eve” held on the 23rd of December. (1)

Pilchard, or sardines were fished using ‘seine nets’ all around the coastline of Cornwall and in the early days of fishing the seine nets used were large and very expensive, so they were owned only by the wealthy noblemen.

The shoals appeared in late summer and autumn in North Cornwall following warm currents and planktonic food. The shoals were so huge, the fish could be seen from the cliff tops. ‘Huers’ were employed to keep watch and when the enormous shoals were spotted the Huers would shout ‘HEVVA!’ and alert the village into action.

On Newquay’s Towan Headland, thought to have been built in the 14th century, there stands a huers hut.

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Huers Hut Towan Headland, Newquay, Cornwall

Pilchard seines nets were huge cotton nets with small mesh, in a horseshoe shape and were used in shallow waters. A cox and four oarsmen in 40 foot length rowboats, were used to set up the nets.

Then, the ‘stop net’ was set, this was a smaller wall of net, which trapped the fish in shallow water. This net would be hauled until the fish were now in a smaller, concentrated area. The fish were then scooped out of the shallow water into baskets. (See the drawing below).

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Drawing of seine nets (Image courtesy of John McWilliams ©)

The ‘tucking’ process was very labour intensive and fishermen, boys and women were all involved.

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Tucking of seine nets (Image courtesy of John McWilliams ©)

This way of fishing was used for hundreds of years until the late 1890’s when the fishing industry begun to decline. The seine nets were hugely expensive, and if a fisherman wanted to be his own boss, he used the smaller drift nets, which became the mainstay of pilchard fishing. During the First World War motors began to be installed which was safer and much more practical.

However, by the 1970’s pilchard fishing ceased in Cornwall, until the 1990’s when an enterprising skipper began experimenting with ring netting for pilchards. Others followed and once again there is a thriving industry in pilchards or, as they are now known, Cornish Sardines. (2)

And now for the most interesting bit , a photo of an unbaked a Star Gazey Pie.….

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Here is the recipe and how you make it; go on, have a go!

STAR GAZEY PIE

454 grams (1 pound) of shortcrust pastry.

6 pilchards – or 8 large sardines gutted and filleted BUT with their heads left on and tail fins removed.

171 grams (6 ounces) of brown breadcrumbs

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon allspice

Freshly ground black pepper

One small onion

1 egg

3 hard boiled eggs, chopped

4 teaspoons single cream, and 4 table spoons chopped parsley.

METHOD

Set the oven to 220 C or 425 F

Wash the fish and pat dry then open them out.

Make the stuffing with bread crumbs, cloves spice and pepper mixed with finely chopped onions bound together with beaten egg.

Fill the opened fish with stuffing. Close up, reshape and leave in a cool place.

Grease a flat pie-dish about 25.4 Cm. (10 inches) in diameter. Line with 113 grams (1/4 pound ) pastry.

Arrange the stuffed fish like the spokes of a wheel with their heads on the fin and tails in the centre. Cover with hard boiled eggs, cream parsley and pepper; finish with the rest of the pastry and pinch the two layers firmly together between the heads but roll back the pastry round the heads to reveal their eyes gazing starwards. Brush with beaten egg.

Bake for 15 minutes reduce heat to 180 C (350 F) and continue for a further 20 minutes until the pie is golden brown. (3)

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The baked Star Gazey Pie.

And, no, I have not baked one myself, however, I think I may now have to try. However, when I asked the family, their response was not the most enthusiastic! I wonder why??

SOURCES

(1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Bawcock

(2) Drawing of seine nets Image courtesy of John McWilliams ©

(2) https://www.cornwallgoodseafoodguide.org.uk/cornish-fishing/history-of-the-cornish-fishing-industry.php

(3) ‘Favourite Cornish Recipes’ compiled by June Kittow

Below is a 1943 documentary about pilchard netting and life in Mousehole during the Great War era. (2)

Video: https://film.britishcouncil.org/resources/film-archive/coastal-village

My American Cousin

By

Marian Bulford

Barb and John Mulcahy on their Wedding Day

In a drawer, safely tucked away, is Barb’s locket, shown here in her wedding day photo with John. Much to my regret, I never met my American cousin Barbara Jane Mulcahy in person.

However, we first got together in 2016 via Ancestry where I saw a family tree with three names including my surname, Bulford in it and in brackets (Adopted) I was intrigued enough to email the tree owner and ask how we were related.

Barb emailed me back almost immediately, like me very excited to meet a relative from across the pond, and me to meet an American relative. She sent me an invite to her family tree, and I sent one to her, so we could collaborate on our history. I asked her about the word ‘adopted’ after the names.

Barb told me, that her adopted mother was Elizabeth (Bulford) Smith and Elizabeth and her husband, Ira, adopted Barb soon after Barb’s birth in 1953. Barb’s families, both her adoptive family and her birth family, were very important to her and she told me later, of her excitement when, shortly after our meeting she located some birth cousins too.

She had a George Bulford born 16th of March 1889 in Mevagissy, Cornwall. We were related!

George Bulford was my Great Uncle, born to my paternal great-grandparents and he was Barb’s much-loved grandfather We emailed each other with information and worked out that I was a cousin – one time removed – of her mother Elizabeth, still alive at 96 years old, which made Barb, my second cousin – good enough for us!

George, at the age of 21 on the 7th May 1910, sailed on the SS Canada from Liverpool, emigrating to the USA. He landed in Quebec, on 16th May 1910 and from there, his final destination was Houghton, Michigan. First, he was a miner and later worked for the Ford Motor Company for 5$ a day.

She thought he may have also had some experience in shoemaking, as he had all the tools in his house, and frequently repaired hers and the family shoes. She was right! Uncle George had his occupation on the passenger list as ‘Boot maker’

Passenger List George Bulford, second from the top left

Barb and her husband, John Mulcahy lived on a farm in Britton, Michigan a village in Lenawee County. The population was 586 at the 2010 census. [1] From the photos, it looks like a beautiful spot.

In no time at all, Barb and I were emailing and telling each other about our lives. We both had dogs and sent each other a ‘Bark Box’ for our dogs, full of treats and toys. Barb was a dedicated vegetarian and loved animals and the outdoor life. We exchanged photos and Christmas cards and I told Barb all about my life here and introduced her to Genealogyensemble.com so she could read all about our family and other stories. She loved it!

She told me about the farm she lived on and her dog Missy, a goat named Leo, and two barn cats. They had fruit bushes, trees, and plenty of vegetables.

Barb was also an avid photographer, and at Christmas, I would receive a lovely Christmas card with a photo of hers on the front, like this one:

Winter in Britton, Michigan

Her husband John told me that her hobbies included dancing, wheat weaving, historical reenactment and she had an interest in architecture too. She was a talented lady. John wrote and told me:

When we moved to Tecumseh, in 1991, the first thing that Barb signed up for was a class in agriculture at the local school. She learned how to drive a tractor and saw some things that displeased her, such as a chicken butchering business. One of the projects of the class was to plant pine trees in long rows at the sides of the fields as windbreaks, they are useful around here because it is so flat and open. One day, I came home from work and found Barb lying on the couch. Apparently, her muscles, were all sore from hours of stoop labour, planting the pine seedlings. [2]

John continues: “The house looks nice, and that is Barb’s doing. She insisted on the new siding in 2001, and she designed the bay window you see on the side of the house. The red door was also her idea, a nice punctuation point with the grey siding. Barb was gifted as an architect, though she had no degree. She also came up with the name Macon River Farm when we began selling at the farmers market in Tecumseh.” [2]

Barb and John’s home with the bay window.

The Red Door

Leo The Goat

Via email, I ‘introduced’ her to my cousin Diane – Di – in the UK, and so, the three of us started to email including each other, and we learned more about our ancestors, exchanging information and photos we three had. Cousin Di and I were enchanted with these photos and Di commented for both of us when she wrote:

“John, your home is absolutely lovely, exactly what we Brits imagine a rural American farmhouse should look like, in a beautiful setting. The red door is inspirational, very Barb. It must be both a comfort and refuge for you, but also a constant reminder of your Barb, who put so much of herself into it. We are a crowded island, and you have so much space” [3]

Soon, Barb and I started to Skype too and shared even more of our ancestors’ lives and ours. We had a very good relationship going and we seemed to hit it off from our first emails to each other.

We all felt we got to know each other really well and enjoyed our relationship.

At the end of January, 2020 I noticed that I had not had a reply to a few emails which was not like Barb at all, so I wrote and asked if all was well. It was not.

She apologised for not answering sooner and told me she was making end of life arrangements.

I immediately emailed and asked her for whom she was making arrangements and said that I volunteered at the local Hospice and if I could be of any help, please let me know. Barb responded that she was making end of life arrangements for herself!

The shock to her husband John, her family, friends, and me and cousin Di in the UK, was profound. Even in the midst of all this turmoil, Barb took the time to email me, saying she wanted me to have her gold locket, that Barb is wearing in her wedding day photo.

She told me, that it belonged to her grandparents, and contains photos of her grandfather, George – my great Uncle – and his wife, Elizabeth Jane Curnow. It was a wedding day gift to Elizabeth from George, and she wore it on her wedding day, as did Barb.

Barb wrote that she wanted to keep it in the Bulford family. I was so very touched. After all, our friendship had lasted for only four years, even though it seemed much longer. I reassured Barb that it would be kept in our family, and eventually, I was going to give it to my Granddaughter Molly Marguerite.

Later, John sent her beautiful locket to me. To be honest, I had forgotten about it, so when I received it in the mail, I was very weepy and thrilled, all at the same time. I will treasure it.

Elizabeth Curnow and George Bulford were married on the 20th November, 1915

Our dear cousin, Barbara Jane Mulcahy died on the 15th of May 2020 at 3.40am. She is missed very much by us all, but especially by her dear husband John, who Di and I frequently email, just to keep in touch and for us all to be able to keep Barb in our memories. John very generously shares his memories of Barb with us, and we are grateful.

Rest in Peace, cuz, we love you and will never forget you.

SOURCES:

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Britton,_Michigan

[2] Email quotes and personal photos used with permission of John Mulcahy, with grateful thanks

[3] Email quotes used with permission of my cousin Diane.

The 106 Year Old Postcard

So, just who was the mystery man who sent my Gran a postcard in 1915?  For many years, I have held in a box of family history memorabilia a small item – a postcard.

Life, (bringing up children, and work), prevented me from finding out more about this postcard before now- sent by a stranger to my Gran who, born in 1900 was just 15 years old.  Who was this mystery man, I wondered? Now, in the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have no excuse and plenty of lockdown time.

I had often looked at this flimsy piece of history over the years and wondered… And so, at last, I started my research into Pvt. John Harold Polfrey.

As it happens, all the information I needed was on the postcard that my maternal Gran, Edith Bevan had received  106 years ago.

World War 1 was in its second year and during this  ‘War to end all Wars’ citizens, even children, were asked to send to the soldiers at the front gift parcels of random gifts. So, Edith had sent a gift parcel of cigarettes and tobacco to an anonymous soldier serving with the British Expeditionary Force.

In due course, Gran received a reply to her gift.  It was written in pencil on a flimsy khaki coloured postcard addressed to:

Miss E. Bevan,  29 Elliot St.  Devonport.

No County or Country was added but the county was Devon, in England and on the front of the Post Card, is the Censor’s stamp. The first word is blurred, but I assume it reads ‘READ by the censor. There is no stamp, but it is francked [1]  ‘Army Post Office 33’ and the date is 5th Jan 1915.

 

The message reads:  ‘Dear Madam, I have received your gift parcel of cigarettes and tobacco and would like to thank you sincerely. Hoping your New Year will be as happy as you deserve, I beg to remain yours thankfully

Name: Pte. J. Polfrey No. 10089

Regiment (or ship) A Sqdn. ? Hussars? Calvary Brigade

Black dots can be seen on the postcard, and I believe these are the censor blacking out the number of the Hussars and Calvary Brigade, so you would not know where the soldier was serving.  After scanning the postcard and editing with the photos, I think the numbers are 4th Hussars and 2nd Cavalry.  I thought his name was PALFREY but again, with today’s photo scan software, I was able to read it as POLFREY.

John H. Polfrey was born in Fulham, in the southwest of London, England on the 5th of July, 1894 and enlisted on 20th May 1913. He would have been about 19 years old.

He joined the 2nd Cavalry Depot, 4th Hussars (The Queen’s Own).

The 4th Queen’s Own Hussars was a cavalry regiment in the British Army. First raised in 1685 it saw service for three centuries, including the First World War and the Second World War. The Colonel-in chief was Sir Winston Churchill.  The 4th Hussars deployed from Ireland to the Western Front in 1914, remaining there for the entire First World War (1914-18).

They took part in the Retreat from Mons, the First and Second Battles of Ypres (1914 and 1915) and several other engagements. In 1958 the 4th amalgamated with the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars and became The Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars. [2]

Pvt. John Polfrey would have seen a great deal of action in his young life and was awarded three medals for his services. The 1914-15 Star (or Silver War Badge),  The British War Medal, and the Victory Medal These three medals are also known as ‘The Trio’ **

1914-1915 Star (Silver War Badge)

This collection includes records of British soldiers who survived World War I and were discharged from the ranks for honourable reasons of illness or injury. In September 1916 such men were honoured by King George V with the institution of a special award, the Silver War Badge.  Also known as the Mons Star, the medal is a bronze star with a red, white and blue ribbon, reflecting the French Tricolore. It was issued to British forces who had served in France or Belgium from 5 August 1914 (the declaration of war) to midnight 22 November 1914 (the end of the First Battle of Ypres).   [3] [4]
 
The British War Medal:
The silver or bronze medal was awarded to officers and men of the British and Imperial Forces. [3]
 
The Victory Medal:

The British version depicts the winged figure of Victory on the front of the medal and on the back, it says ‘The Great War for Civilisation 1914-1919’.  To qualify, an individual had to have entered a theatre of war (an area of active fighting), not just served overseas. Their service number, rank, name and unit were impressed on the rim. [3]

 
Some men sent home after sickness or injury came under the close scrutiny of the public since many were perceived to be shying away from their duties to the country and were treated with contempt and sometimes violence.
 
The 1914-1915 Star (Silver War Badge, that Pvt. Polfrey was awarded) was intended to be worn with civilian clothes.  It had been the practice of some women in England to send white feathers, a traditional symbol of cowardice within the British Empire, in an attempt to humiliate men, not in uniform.  [4]

 

Pvt. Polfrey was discharged on 11 December 1917 and although I searched,  I could not access the reason for his discharge, although receiving the British War Medal meant that he was “discharged from the ranks for honourable reasons of illness or injury”.  So, I concluded the records possibly could have been burnt in the London Blitz of WW2.

After the War in the 1939 Register of England and Wales Mr Polfrey was living in Uxbridge, Middlesex, England, (where, coincidentally, I was posted as a Medic to RAF Uxbridge, Uxbridge, Middlesex in the 1960s). His occupation was a Catering Manager.

In addition, on the My Heritage site, there is a family photo of Mr Polfrey, with the caption ‘Pop receiving the OBE with his wife and daughter’ there is no date, but it looks to be the mid-1950’s. I was curious as to what Mr Polfrey had received the Order of the British Empire Medal for, so further searching provided the following information.
 
“1952 New Year Honours (section Officers {OBE]  John Harold Polfrey, lately Catering Manager, Festival of Britain”. [5]
 

After 14 years of war rationing, which did not end until  4th July 1954, the Festival of Britain opened six years after WW2, on the 4th of May 1951. It celebrated the inventiveness and genius of British scientists and technologists probably in an effort to allow the citizens of Britain to feel that life was going to be better. [6]

What a valuable member of society Mr Polfrey proved to be!

Mr Polfrey died at the age of 92 in May 1986 in Torbay, Devon England, my home county.

RIP Mr Polfrey.

Notes

[1]  https://www.britannica.com/topic/franking

Franking, a term used for the right of sending Letters or postal packages free of charge. The word is derived from the French affranchir (“free”). The privilege was claimed by the British House of Commons in 1660 in ‘A bill for erecting and establishing a Post Office,” their demand being that all letters addressed to or sent by members during the session should be carried free.  https://www.britannica.com/topic/frankin

[2] www.nam.ac.uk/explore/4th-queens-own-hussars

[3 ] https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/first-world-war-service-medals

[4]  https://www.forces-war-records.co.uk/blog/2015/12/10/the-silver-war-badge-and-kings-certificate-of-discharge

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Festival_of_Britain

** Acknowledgements

Image of Silver War Badge courtesy of Martin Fore.   greatwar.co.uk/index.htm

https://www.researchingww1.co.uk/ww1-wound-stripes

*** All photos with permission of the Polfrey Family.

An additional informative link:

https://www.researchingww1.co.uk/ww1-wound-stripes

Leaving school at 15 Years Old

Leaving school at 15 was the normal thing to do in 1960’s England.  Unless, at 11 years of age, you passed the ’11+ exam’ and went to a High School or a Technical college, which you attended until you were 16, and then university was offered.

 I can remember the day I took that 11+ exam. in 1956. All these kids, strangers to each other, crammed into a large Church hall from early morning to late afternoon. When we wanted to go to the toilet, a teacher accompanied us. I can recall, picking my way through stones, bricks and rubble, to get to the outside ‘loo’  debris that was still leftover from the war years. England was slow in some areas to re-build, bomb sites were still our favoured playgrounds, and besides, more important buildings were needed, such as homes.

I obviously did not pass the 11+  and now I feel that was probably due to a rather turbulent childhood.  Mum and Dad, although divorced when I was seven, got back together again. However, when I was 11 she met my stepfather and decided to marry him, so once again, we left my father. Nobody explained anything to you in those days and all this was happening whilst I was supposed to be taking a day-long exam – at 11 years old – to determine my future!

However, I did quite well at school usually coming in the first top 10 out of classes of 33 or more. I was 15 years old in November 1960 and still wearing white ankle socks when I left school! That last Friday that our class of 15-year-olds were to leave we had cakes and lemonade in the Church hall and that was that. Goodbye, now go and find a job!

This rather battered piece of paper from the headmaster stuck together with tape, served as a ‘Reference’ whilst searching for a job. The Headmaster could not even spell my first name correctly!

“To whom it may concern Marion (Spelt wrong!) Bulford has been a pupil at this school for the past four years. She is a girl of good average ability, possessed of a quiet and pleasant personality, always polite and extremely well behaved and exceptionally willing and helpful. She can be given some measure of responsibility and is at present doing good work as a House Captain. She has taken part in all normal school activities, and her attendance throughout has been very regular and punctual. Signed George H. Smart, Headmaster.

After Christmas, in January 1961, I went looking for a job. I went into Plymouth ‘town’ as we called it and went into every shop I could see to ask if they needed any help.

One shop asked me to return for an interview. They offered me the job, and so, I started in a shop called ‘The Remnant Shop’  which had bolts of leftover materials, buttons, ribbons all the accoutrements for making your own clothing and for some strange reason, christening frocks for babies.

I worked in their upstairs office with only the boss and me, separated by a curtain. I did the opening of mail, typing, filing, and posting customers’ orders.  In those days, customers would send a letter with money in them, and a request for material. I would go to the shop floor, measure and cut the material, parcel it up and take it to the post office.

One day, after the ‘junior’ on the shop floor left, the supervisor told me, that the junior had left, and so now, I was the junior and I would have to clean the toilets on the main shop floor.

I was horrified! I might be a lowly shop girl, but there was NO WAY I was going to clean toilets. I told the supervisor this, who told the ‘boss’. I had to go and see him.

He told me, that Beryl, the supervisor, had said it was not the first time I had refused to do a job. That was a lie. This was my first job and I was very unlikely to refuse anything asked of me. I told him in no uncertain terms, that Beryl was a liar and I did all I was ever asked to do, but I did not want to clean the toilets.

He responded ‘Either you clean the toilets or leave’

I said, “No, I will not clean toilets, but I will give a weeks notice’

‘No, he said you can leave now’. So I did

. I got my coat and bag, and head high, walked down the stairs from his office, out through the shop floor and away into the crowds of shoppers to the bus stop to go home. I did not know what else to do. I think I was in shock! I had actually refused to do something an adult had told me to do… I was normally such a good little girl!

When I arrived home,  I fell into my Mums’ arms sobbing that ‘I have been sacked’ (The shame of it all!) I was convinced that I would NEVER get another job after being sacked. That day was the worst day of my life. My Mum did not seem as upset as I was and told me it would be alright and not to worry.

Usually, my Mum was not one to fuss over you or listen to your tales of woe, but that day she made me a cup of ‘milky coffee’ a treat for us, known nowadays as a Café au lait and I sat in the sitting room, relaxed and enjoyed the coffee. I was so upset at the time, but looking back, I think now, ‘Good for me”!!

My Dad went into the shop a few days later and demanded that I get paid for the days worked otherwise, I don’t think the shop would have sent me my pay. 

So, thanks to my Dad, this is the letter I received

The “National Insurance Card” mentioned was a card that was carried with you, to each job and stamped every week you worked.

However, the drama of it all subsided and I continued my evening classes where I was taking English grammar,  typing and shorthand. I rather liked the office work. I continued to look for a job and got one within a few days, so crisis over. This one was in a shoe shop. And so it continued for a few years, nothing but dead-end jobs that went nowhere.

However, once I reached the age of 18, I decided to join the WRAF – Women’s Royal Air Force –  I was accepted and life took on a far different life for me. It turned out to be the best thing I ever did!

You can read my four-part adventures in the WRAF, here:

  1. https://genealogyensemble.com/2020/01/02/dear-miss-bulford/

2.   https://genealogyensemble.com/2020/04/22/dear-miss-bulford-part-two/

3.  https://genealogyensemble.com/2020/04/29/__trashed-4/

4. https://genealogyensemble.com/2020/07/01/dear-miss-bulford-part-four/

Notes

In the 1944 Education Act, schooling in the United Kingdom was rearranged so that children would be entitled to free education between the ages of 5 and 15. So children aged 5-11 would attend a primary school, and children aged 11-15 would attend a Secondary school. At this time there were three types of Secondary schools – Grammar Schools, Secondary Modern Schools and Technical Schools or Colleges.

Each school was designed to fit in with the child’s capabilities, so a grammar school would suit those who were academic and wanted to go onto university, whilst a Technical School suited those who wished to pursue a trade, with a Secondary Modern fitting somewhere in between.

All children took the 11 Plus exam in their final year of primary school and based on their performance in this exam, they would then go onto one of these three types of secondary school.  The 11+ exam in use from 1944 until it had been phased out across most of the UK by 1976.

http://www.the11pluswebsite.co.uk/history-of-the-11/