All posts by Marian Bulford

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/

Indexing Is So Easy On Family Search

So, what exactly IS ‘indexing’ for FamilySearch.org? Besides being an interesting hobby it can sometimes be a  surprising one too.

Take for instance my experience.  One day, when I was deep into indexing a batch of ‘US Death Certificates’ I was quite engrossed and had been indexing for an hour or so when I realised I had been entering as the  ‘Cause of Death’  ‘GSW (Gun Shot Wounds) to head and chest’ more than once.  A few dozen times.  I checked again the title of the batch I had downloaded and there it was, “Chicago, Illinois, Cause of Death – 1900 to 1930s! The days of Al Capone and the Chicago gangs. It was at once chilling and thrilling! You just never know what you may find.

As a volunteer, I do the data entry of the original human records worldwide from centuries ago to the present day,  in any language we choose. The data we index consists of births, deaths, marriages, banns, obituaries, christenings, newspaper items, and baptisms, also, historical records and many other interesting items worldwide. These original documents are scanned, then uploaded to Family Search for us to download and index  (type out) what we see on the documents.

After we enter the information and return them it does not matter if we have made a mistake because the records are checked and arbitrated more than a few times for accuracy before being uploaded to the Family Search site.

It is exciting to see documents that are just now seeing the light of day, and will soon be uploaded to Family Search where we all benefit from the contributions of volunteers like me and that I use to find my ancestors.

In 2013,  I helped index the United States 1940 Census. When you first start out searching for your ancestors, usually the first place to go is the Census of that country, area and year in which they were born and lived in. That monumental task was completed well within the time range expected and up and running far sooner than anticipated.

Then, in July of 2014, the FamilySearch website asked for volunteers for two full days of indexing by asking everyone we knew to join in. This, in part, is their response after that weekend.

“We hoped to have an unprecedented 50,000 contributors in a 24-hour period. FamilySearch volunteers excelled, surpassing that goal by 16,511! That’s right—66,511 participants in one day! Incredible!  We are grateful for the patience and persistence of many volunteers who faced technical difficulties due to an overwhelming response.”

We who helped the indexing that day were offered the badge below.

I have been using this site for many years and I feel that by indexing I am giving back for all the free information I have been able to find over the years. I find it is an absorbing and interesting hobby.  I am never bored.

Many more batches of names, dates and historical facts now await for us to index and to provide a name or a lead for someone who is searching for their ancestors.

Just remember, you are helping to add millions of data for us genealogists to find plus as a side benefit, indexing can help you become a better researcher as you become more familiar with the wide variety of historical documents available to you and the type of information each contains.

So, why not give this interesting hobby a try?  Your first step is to log on to the link below for more information and good luck!

https://www.familysearch.org/indexing/get-started-indexer#/web

NOTES

FamilySearch, historically known as the Genealogical Society of Utah, which was founded in 1894 is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (The Mormons) but you certainly do not have to share their beliefs to volunteer to index or have a free account to search for your ancestors.

The site is always in the process of digitizing the bulk of their genealogical records, as well as partnering with genealogical societies to digitize other records of genealogical value. Most genealogical sites have obtained their records from this site.

FamilySearch Hits 8 Billion Searchable Names in Historical Records

FamilySearch subscribers worldwide make family discoveries from its free records online.Nonprofit FamilySearch published its 8 billionths free searchable name from its worldwide historic record collections online. The milestone is even more astounding when you think that each name is someone’s ancestor—8 billion family connections just waiting to be discovered. Read about if here.

https://media.familysearch.org/familysearch-hits-8-billion-searchable-names-in-historical-records/

 

 

 

A Policeman’s Lot Is Not A Happy One.

A policeman’s lot is not a happy one. When constabulary duty’s to be done, to be done, a policeman’s lot is not a happy one, happy one. [1]

 

Francis Bulford (Front row, 2nd from the left) With Newquay, Cornwall Division 1929/30

(I can’t help but notice their enormous feet!)

My Grampy, Francis Bulford, was born in Devonport, Devon, England on 28th October 1884.

In 1905, he was a 20-year-old seaman in the Royal Navy when he decided to join the Cornwall Constabulary, and on the 1st November 1906, he was appointed to the force as Police Constable number 106. He retired in 1936 with 29 years of service.

After reading various newspaper clippings about the doings of my Grampy, I thought of the above verses by Gilbert and Sullivan as his duties were usually routine, but sometimes they were unusual, or even frightening.

His first posting was to Porthleven, a small fishing port not far from Helston. His ‘beat’ included the village streets, as well as the surrounding meadows, beaches and cliffs.

During Grampy’s time on the police force, he and his family lived at a three-bedroom rented property in a street known then as “Little Gue” at either number 14 or 15. My cousin Diane tells me her Mum (one of Grampy’s daughters) identified the building some 35 years ago. It was their home as well as the Police Station and the two small windows at street level were then barred.

This was where the cells were. The property is still standing, and the photo shows the modern window frames.

The house in Little Gue Street

Diane also told me about a time early on in his career when he was tied to a rope around his waist and was lowered down the cliffs to bring up a dead body at a place called Hell’s Mouth, on the north cliffs of Cornwall. Even the name sounds frightening.

It was Monday evening, January 1916 and Constable Bulford was doing his ’rounds’ at 10:30 pm when he happened upon a dead body, washed ashore on the rocks at Breageside, Porthleven.

Porthleven 1906

When PC Bulford was interviewed by the local newspaper, The Cornishman, a month later, he described the bodies as follows: [2]

The first body found was a big body, about 6′ 6″ stoutly built, badly cut upon the rocks with no clothing and decomposed, and headless. PC Bulford sent for a stretcher and the local doctor, Dr Spaight.

The next day, Tuesday, at about 9:30 a.m., a second body was found by PC Bulford on the Sithney side of Porthleven. This body was about 5 feet in height, slightly built, with no identifying marks except cuts from the rocks, decomposed, nude and again headless.

The local doctor examined the bodies, but there was no possibility of identifying them or finding the cause of death.

The newspaper suggested that these were two of the crew of the SS Heidrun, a Norwegian collier ship that had departed from Swansea, Wales with coal for Rouen, France. It was wrecked on December 27th, 1915, four miles off of Mullion, with the loss of all 16 hands.

The crew members whose bodies were found are buried at Church Cove, The Lizard Landewednack, Helston, Cornwall. The church overlooks the English Channel, so it seems this was a fitting resting place for these sailors.

Headstone for the crew of the SS Heidrun

(Photo Credit: https://www.wrecksite.eu/wreck.aspx?181509)

Sources:

[1] https://www.gsarchive.net/pirates/web_op/pirates24.htm Opera, The Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan

[2] “The Cornishman” 27th January 1916. Newspaper cutting in the Bulford Family archives

Notes of interest about Porthleven, Cornwall England.

Porthleven was the home town of the ‘Dambusters’ Commanding Officer Guy Gibson, and there is a road named in his memory.

http://www.helstonhistory.co.uk/local-people/wg-cdr-guy-gibson-raf-vc/

It is a town, civil parish and fishing port near Helston in Cornwall and was originally developed as a harbour of refuge when this part of the Cornish coastline was recognised as a black spot for wrecks in the days of sail.

Porthleven has exploited its location and exposure to powerful swells to become one of the best-known and highly regarded surfing spots in Britain and has been described as “Cornwall’s best reef break”. Waves often exceeding 6.6 feet (2.0 m), break on the shallow reef that was shaped by blasting the harbour. Kayaking is also popular. RNLI lifeguards patrol the beach during the holiday season. The beach is separated from the harbour by a granite pier, which stands in front of the Porthleven institute and clock tower. When the tide is out it is possible to walk east along Porthleven beach for approximately three miles.

Read more about this wonderful part of Cornwall, England here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Porthleven

Two previous stories about my Grampy and his police adventures in Porthleven can be found here;

https://genealogyensemble.com/2018/10/10/all-in-a-days-work/

https://genealogyensemble.com/2018/12/12/plucky-police-constable/

Dear Miss BULFORD – PART FOUR

RAF Upavon Crest

In the first three parts below, of “Dear Miss Bulford” I describe my [1] entry into the WRAF – Women’s Royal Air Force, [2] the basic training [3] posting to a trade training camp, and this part four, my first posting as a trained Medical Assistant.

  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/

Arriving in Salisbury, Wiltshire by train, I made my way to the bus station. wearing my ‘best blue’ uniform.  As I was searching for the camp bus,  two army men also in uniform approached me, and asked if I was going to RAF Upavon? [1] I said yes, so they offered me a lift in their car. They were stationed a few miles from RAF Upavon, at the Larkhill Army Garrison.  I accepted their offer. Something I now think was not too wise, but it was the 1960’s. However, they were very polite and pleasant and I enjoyed the ride to the camp. They said they often came to our mess to dance and drink so I would see them in the future,  which I did.

Arriving at RAF Upavon the Duty Officer at the main gate, directed me to the arrival office where I waited for someone to take me to my new quarters. RAF Upavon was small compared to my last posting. Only one block for the WRAF and one for the men,  each side of a parade square. From the window of my new single room-  wow! this was great- I could spot the mess hall.

The sergeant of our block, two-storied as usual but only three or four to a room, came and introduced herself, and offered to take me to the mess for tea. On the way, she told me about the SSQ (Station Sick Quarters)  I would be working at and who made up the staff. There was a  civilian Doctor, who drove up from the Upavon village each day,  a Sergeant, two Senior Aircraft men, and a civilian nurse who was retiring. I was to take her place.

Next morning, dressed in my nurses uniform, I nervously made my way to the SSQ. I met the civilian nurse, Mrs Bowes who showed me her routine. Unlike her, I would be ‘on-call’ a shared duty with everyone else in the SSQ.  (Which was why I had the enviable single room!).

Me at RAF Upavon SSQ

A few months after I arrived I went to the weekly ‘hop’ a Saturday night dance drinks and general fun. There, I met John, who had only just arrived on camp himself. He was an admin assistant and worked in the HQ (Headquarters) for Sir Thomas Prickett, RAF Upavon’s Commanding Officer. He walked me back to my barracks and we arranged to meet at breakfast in the mess, the next morning. We spent the weekend together, getting to know one another walking around the camp and talking about our lives so far.

Saturday night dance. John on the far left, shortly after we met, with SSQ staff Dave and Mick, and me.

On Monday morning, when I went to the waiting room, there sat John! In he went in to see the Doctor. When he came out, his medical notes said ‘Mononucleosis’ (otherwise known as the kissing disease!). We sent him to sickbay and put him on antibiotics. The male nursing assistant stayed the night with him.

After one night in sickbay, John had not improved and now had a high temperature, so he was sent to the RAF Wroughton Hospital [2] by ambulance.  I accompanied him on the ambulance trip. I told him he would be spending time in isolation at the hospital but that we could meet again when he got back to camp. We had a date that night!

Seven days later he returned to RAF Upavon and we resumed our getting to know each other routine.  We would see each other at breakfast, lunch and tea, so we got to know each other pretty quickly and very well. We would take the bus to Salisbury on Saturdays to shop and come back in time for the Saturday dance.  We babysat for the local personnel on the camp and spent our days off, together. We took leave and went to my home to visit my parents and up to Liverpool where John was born to meet his Mum.

One year later, on the anniversary of the day we met, March 2nd 1965, we got married. in Plymouth Devon. John’s Commanding Officer, Sir Thomas Prickett sent us a Congratulatory Telegram, as was usual in the days of snail mail and telephones.

Wedding Day 2 March 1968

Telegram from John’s Officer In Command,  Air Marshall Sir Thomas Prickett and Lady Prickett.

After our marriage, I stayed on in the WRAF and RAF Upavon. After all, what was I going to do in the middle of Salisbury Plain for a job? Besides, I was enjoying my life at RAF Upavon. Here, I was photographed demonstrating a new lightweight stretcher for the RAF Magazine – so light even a woman could lift it!

It was considered very unusual for me to continue in the WRAF, as most girls got married to ‘escape’ the WRAF.  However, I loved it so we applied for married quarters, completely forgetting that John was not 21 years of age yet, so he was not eligible!  Whilst I was certainly eligible being a little older than John,  nobody had ever experienced a married 22-year-old WRAF applying for married quarters before, so my request was denied. We just took in  our stride, but today I would have strongly questioned it.

So, for a few months, we lived on camp in our separate barracks and looked around for a place to rent close by. We were lucky to find ‘Dairy Cottage’ an early 19th century run-down, thatched cottage but rental affordable in the village of Upavon, just a bus ride from the camp. We lived there, for 18 happy months. We did some house painting and a few repairs on the inside. There were pheasants and various birds in the overgrown garden and we had get-togethers with our friends.

Our first home together, Dairy Cottage

The SSQ I was posted to was small and intimate and I quickly learned the routine. The staff were very helpful. I soon realised that I was the only female nurse at the camp. Soon, everyone called me Florence, as in Florence Nightingale! I was flattered. As the SSQ was right in the middle of Salisbury Plain, I was not too thrilled as I am a city girl and this place was very ‘country’.  Still, I made some great friends and soon settled in.

We treated the RAF personnel on camp and the civilians from the Village and so the daily ‘surgery’ was usually full.  We did all the necessary vaccinations for overseas postings and dealt with minor sicknesses. We took and developed x-rays and had our own dispensary, where we dispensed medicines and pills. We had a four-bed ‘sick bay’ for things like flu or contractible diseases. The RAF Hospital Wroughton was an ambulance ride away for more serious problems.

One night I was on ‘call’ and my first problem was at 9 pm. The Duty Officer called to alert me to the fact two Army men were at the guardroom, injured. I opened up the SSQ and waited for them. Both men had injuries. They had been on night manoeuvres and had fallen in the dark.  They undressed and I examined them. One had difficulty breathing so I diagnosed a fractured rib. The other man had the same problem but head scratches and a bloody nose.

As I was dressing their wounds and binding their ribs two more men showed up! At that point, I called the other two medics on camp with an urgent tannoy (public address system) message and they also arrived to assist me.  We sent them by ambulance to RAF Wroughton Hospital.

After our marriage,  John decided to change trades and become an Air Cartographer, so he was posted to RAF Northolt to learn his trade.  I tried for a posting there, but no luck. However, I did get a posting to RAF Uxbridge in the SSQ in the same area. So here we were, John at RAF Northolt and me at RAF Uxbridge! Once again we hunted for accommodation and a few months later, found a bed-sitter in Uxbridge for rent. Now, John was ‘of age’ for married quarters and entitled to payment of the rent until we could get a married quarter home at RAF Northolt. I finished my 6 happy, enjoyable years in the WRAF and found a job at a doctors office in the area until I became pregnant with the birth of our first son. This year we have been married 52 years.

Post Script:  When I told my family where I was to be posted, my Gramps told me, that in WW1, he had been at RAF Upavon for his training as an air gunner. However, HE was –  in his own words – ‘under canvas’ What a coincidence!

[1] A Short History of RAF Upavon 

The station motto was In Principio Et Semper, and translated from Latin means “In the Beginning and Always”. The station crest had a pterodactyl rising from rocks, which symbolised the station’s connection with the early days of flying, and was also a reference to the location of the station near to the ancient monument Stonehenge.

Smaller camps such as these were fully functioning  RAF Stations with small Medical Centres and a few beds plus an RAF Hospital nearby in case of emergencies. The nearest hospital to RAF Upavon was RAF Wroughton a Royal Air Force airfield near Wroughton, in Wiltshire, England, about 4 miles south of Swindon.

RAF stations in post-war England were many, and quite historical as most were built in the early 1900s. Unfortunately, most of them, have now closed or like my posting to RAF Upavon, taken over by the Army.  The station opened in 1912 and closed in 1993 when it transferred to the British Army and became known as Trenchard Lines.

[2] A Short History of RAF Wroughton

RAF Hospital Wroughton was part of the station and stood near the eastern boundary of the site, about 1 12 miles (2.4 km) west of Chiseldon. The RAF General Hospital (as it was known) opened on 14 June 1941 and by the end of March 1944, its bed capacity was 1,000. Wroughton continued as a General Hospital treating military patients, and from 1958 took NHS (National Health Service) cases as well to relieve backlogs in the Swindon area.  Following a visit to the hospital by  Princess Alexandra on 4 July 1967, the Queen conferred the prefix “Princess Alexandra’s” on the hospital on 4 October 1967.

The hospital was the primary destination for returning casualties of the Falklands War in 1982. When the hostages from Beirut were released in August 1991, Wing Commander Gordon Turnbull, a psychiatrist based at Wroughton, with his team, debriefed John McCarthy, Terry Waite and Jackie Mann and provided the counselling necessary to ease them back into freedom.  The hospital closed on 31 March 1996 as part of the Conservative Government’s defence cuts at the end of the cold war. The hospital was demolished in 2004 and the site, called Alexandra Park, used for housing and a conference centre; a memorial commemorates the former hospital.