All posts by Marian Bulford

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 MIS 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.

DEAR MISS BULFORD – PART THREE

Parades made up a big part of life, while in training as a nursing assistant at RAF Halton.  Every few months, we would have the ‘Air Officer Commanding’ Parade and recruits and trainees like us were roped in to attend.

Everything was expected to be polished and ironed steamed and brushed. Any negative remarks from the parade commander about our appearance was NOT a good thing!! I was always on the end of a parade, due to my height as parades were organised by height smallest in the middle and fanning out to the tallest at the end.

The person on the right of the photograph, jaws clenched, anxiously awaiting the officers’ inspection is me.

The Air Officer Commander Parade –  May 1966 RAF Halton

RAF Halton a large camp included the Princess Mary’s RAF Hospital on its grounds. It catered to the big RAF population on the station and the local civilians. Many babies from the surrounding towns and villages were born at RAF Halton and during our training period,  we spent a few hours a week there to observe and learn.

Christmas 1966 was spent at RAF Halton[1] and what an enjoyable experience. The food, once again superb as you can see from the menu below.  One of our duties as trainees, the day before our Christmas dinner, we had to prepare all the vegetables for the meal. I and another girl prepared mounds of Brussel Sprouts all morning! We actually enjoyed ourselves.

 

The Christmas Menu  at RAF Halton, 1966

In January 1967  our course was over and our results posted. We had all passed!  I cried tears of relief because I never thought I would pass the exams.  We had our official photograph taken with our tutor, Sgt. Constantine in the centre.

I am in the front row on the left of Sgt. Constantine.

The Medical caduseus badges were issued which we proudly pinned to each side of our collars on our ‘Best Blue uniform and on our nurse’s uniforms.

My Medical Pins with The Kings’ Crown, on top.

Our Sgt. Constantine’s had King George VI crowns on his pin signalling he was an ‘old soldier’  At the end of the course, he gave them to me! I still have them. Made of brass, and once again, I had to polish well before photographing!

I started life in the Women’s Royal Air Force, as an ‘ACW’ (Aircraft Woman) however, after this nursing assistant course, I became an LACW (Leading Aircraft Woman) and in the future, I could take additional courses for further advancement. I ended my career as a SACW – Senior Aircraft Woman, nursing assistant.

We had a ‘going away party’ in the local pub with our Sgt. Constantine and the group.  Mrs C is sitting front left and I am on the right, with my hand on Sgt. C’s shoulder.

Now, we waited to be posted to another RAF station and start our careers as nursing assistants. Where we would be posted we did not know yet, so once again goodbyes were said and another wait for our next postings which came a few days later.

I was to be posted to the Medical Centre, at RAF Upavon near to the ancient monument Stonehenge in Wiltshire England.  RAF Upavon was built in 1912, It was a grass airfield, military flight training school, and administrative headquarters of the Royal Air Force. [2] and was where I met my future husband.

My RAF romance will be told in Part Four…

Dear Miss Bulford, basic training in the WRAF, can be read here: https://genealogyensemble.com/2020/01/02/dear-miss-bulford/

Dear Miss Bulford – Part Two can be read here: https://genealogyensemble.com/2020/04/22/dear-miss-bulford-part-two/

SOURCES

[1]  https://www.forces-war-records.co.uk/units/3425/raf-hospital-halton

[2] https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-d&q=RAF+Upavon

A Brief History of RAF Halton

Princess Mary’s RAF Hospital Halton was opened in 1927 as a large military hospital and as an institute for pathology and tropical medicine Before that it was a temporary hospital set up for training nurses during the First World War.  In 1940, it became the first hospital to use penicillin on a large scale soon after its discovery and introduction into clinical medicine by Flemming, Florey and Chain.

In 1945, Howard Florey and Ernst Chain shared a Nobel Prize with Alexander Fleming Penicillin is one of the most important discoveries in medicine. When peace was declared in 1945, the hospital was kept as a training unit using the best facilities and medical specialists. It later became a specialist burns unit, employing the skills learnt to help victims who suffered during WW2 and the medical units grew alongside the main RAF base. 

The hospital closed in 1995 because the MOD (Ministry of Defence) wanted one centralised unit to train military nurses, making the Royal Hospital in Haslar, at Gosport in Hampshire, their main base and the RAF Halton site will be completely closed by 2022.

 

DEAR MISS BULFORD – PART TWO

DEAR MISS BULFORD –  PART TWO

With much excitement, my first posting after basic training was to  RAF Halton near Wendover, Buckinghamshire, the trade training school, called the ‘Medical Training Establishment’ where I would start my training as a Nursing Assistant.  I was now known as “J2844104 LAC Bulford” (Leading Aircraft Woman) and would answer a question put to me with the following,  ‘104 LAC Bulford, Ma’am”.  In 1966  when I was 20 years old, and other girls my age were enjoying ‘Swinging London’ and pop groups, I was marching, shining shoes and making bed with perfect ‘hospital’ corners.

RAF Halton Medical Training Establishment Crest

The camp I arrived at was enormous. In addition to the Medical Training Establishment (MTE) where I would do my training, RAF Halton also had on its property the Princess Mary’s Royal Air Force Hospital, the RAF Institute of Pathology and Tropical Medicine and the Dental Training Establishment, in addition, hundreds of apprentices or ‘boy’ entrants attending the No. 1 School of Technical Training learning to be aircraft technicians, electrical engineering and administration trades.

The handbook below has the crests for these various schools on the cover.  ‘Main Camp’ was where I signed in and then directed to ‘Hospital Camp’ and given an arrival information book (below) with a large map attached to find my way.

After a very long walk to my barracks,  I found the two-story red brick building named ‘Paine Barracks’.  My shared room was on the second floor and again, a long bright room with 14 beds seven on each side. The number of girls who intermittently arrived from all parts of England were all strangers to each other. They were pleasant and chatty, and, after introductions and a sizing up of one another, we started to exchange ideas about what the next stage of our life would be like.

Most of us seemed to be of the same idea;  we came from similar backgrounds after all.  We had left school at 15 years old and wanted to see life and get more education before settling down.   A Corporal arrived to show us the way to our mess hall on the main camp and we all set out for our tea.  Once more, I found the food to be very good, I suppose it does not say a lot about meals at home!   We still had to clean the large dormitory we all slept in, the bathrooms and our uniforms and shoes, but inspections were only once a month and not quite so stringent.

The following day started the next phase of my learning.   We were known as “Course 642, Medical Training Establishment”  We attended the classes every day, once again, marching to and from them.  Our tutor,  Sergeant Constantine,  (Sarge) and various other tutors were assigned different subjects but Sergeant Constantine was our main man.

Sarge taught us anatomy and physiology, first aid, infectious nursing surgical techniques removal of sutures, transfusions,  infusions vaccinations and general examinations. We learned about the body systems, body cells tissues then bones and the skull. Plus, types of wounds the composition of plasma and blood and platelets and the heart and other tutors taught us everything needed to take care of patients, such as care of their body, hair, teeth, intake of food and their general comfort.

With much hilarity, we practised giving each other first-aid, bed baths, and shampooing each others’ hair. Then fittingly,  ‘Last Offices’ were shown and practised. ‘Last Offices’ the laying out and preparation and treatment of the dead. I actually found this very interesting and enlightening, probably because my Granny whom I lived with for a few years had in a no-nonsense way had introduced me to death at a very early age. [2]

We went to the hospital wards a few times a week, to be bullied by the ‘Sisters’ – Princess Mary’s Nursing Sisters were Registered Nurses and officers  – but did they ever teach us well!

In England, in the RAF  all the Senior registered nurses were addressed as ‘Sister’. Not in a religious way, but as a formal address. In civilian hospitals, she would have been called  ‘Matron’ [1]

With our other tutors, we had to learn ‘Passive Defence’  the definition of which is ‘Any action which will reduce the effect of a nuclear biological or chemical attack’  We went into great detail about symptoms and proper treatments.  (Should we be so lucky to survive such attacks!) This was something I had never even thought about, but we still managed to fill whole exercise books of information and treatments and I found this quite scary.

One day, we were taken out to a huge field with bunkers which we were herded into. Once inside this bunker, we were told to take down a gas mask off the wall and put it on.  Sgt. Constantine then set alight a gas bomb. We were ordered to remove the gas mask hold our breath then  – Sgt. Constantine was with us –  walk in a circle three times, before exiting the door.  We did so, but not before some girls were shrieking with fear and crying to be let out! When we eventually stumbled out gasping some of the girls vomiting and with tears falling down our faces we were told this ‘exercise’ was to alert us to a gas attack. Very enlightening. These exercises, we were told, was because should such an event take place, the military would be called upon to assist civilians.

We were taught how to sterilise, prepare and layout numerous treatment trays and instruments everything in those days being metal. In a military hospital, we had reams of RAF forms to learn and ‘civilian’ forms too. Admissions were different for each. We had something called the duties of a ‘Crash Orderly’ Actions to be taken after a military of civilian plane crash, shown in my notebook, below.

I particularly like “Kettle is put on for tea” The panacea of British life!

Many studies for the general care of a patient were performed, and one day, in class, we had a ‘mock’ plane crash alarm in the woods although, at the time, we did not know it was a ‘mock’ It was very frightening and realistic.  Everything we did was recorded in our study books, which I still have. I rooted them out to write this story and I enjoyed reading and reminiscing.  Everything we did I now realise, was extremely thorough, which I will explore in part three.

NOTES

[1] The word “matron” is derived from the Latin for “mother”, via French.  The matron was once the most senior nurse in a hospital in the  United Kingdom before ca. 1972. She was responsible for all the nurses and domestic staff, overseeing all patient care, and the efficient running of the hospital. Matrons were almost invariably female—male nurses were not at all common, especially in senior positions. They were often seen as fearsome administrators but were respected by nurses and doctors alike.

The matron usually had a very distinctive uniform, with a dark blue dress (although often of a slightly different colour from those worn by her direct subordinates, the sisters) and an elaborate headdress.

More recently, the British Government announced the return of the matron to the NHS, (National Health Services) electing to call this new breed of nurses “modern matrons,” in response to various press complaints of dirty, ineffective hospitals with poorly disciplined staff.

Dear Miss Bulford – Part One Basic Training

https://genealogyensemble.com/2020/01/02/dear-miss-bulford/#like-6570

My Brothers’ Keeper – An Early Introduction To Death

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

DEAR MISS BULFORD…

With the following letter, so begins the most exciting period of my life.

It came to a 19 year-year old me still living in Plymouth, Devon England the town of my birth. That version of me wanted something new. Having left school at 15 years and one month hardly qualified me for anything other than low-paid dead-end jobs, until, like most girls around me, marriage beckons.  Such was NOT the life I wanted, so I applied to join the Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF). To my amazement, I got in.

Initially, it seemed a lark and a good way to show off to my friends. Still, joining up offered a chance to leave home with accommodation, a job and an ability to feed myself all at the same time. I had to take the chance!

Soon after the initial interview in Plymouth with Flight Lieutenant W. G. Reeve – above – As the letter states, my acceptance was based on passing a medical examination and a selection interview at RAF Spitalgate, In Lincolnshire. To travel there I was issued with travel documents and a kit list including an apron! Stockings! Suspender belt!.

Travel Warrant and Kit List for the journey. 

I left my home in Plymouth to Kings Cross railway station in London then a 4 and 3/4 hour journey. From there, another train from Kings Cross to Grantham, Lincolnshire railway station to join several other nervous-looking girls. We discovered a phone on the wall with the first order of our careers. It read:

“RAF SPITALGATE

NEW RECRUITS

PHONE FOR CAR”

Once on ‘camp’, our Corporal introduced herself and we were ushered into a room in a large building known as the barracks. This is where we would sleep and live together, for the next six weeks. It was a vast room with 10 beds either side spaced out with a locker and a wardrobe. Once we had deposited our luggage in our space, the Corporal took us to a cafeteria-like place called a mess for our tea and the food was really good!

The next day the medical assessments began. We had medical exams, Xrays, general fitness tests dental examinations and vaccinations. We started out with about 22 girls which whittled down to 17 after that first day. The next day, those of us who were formally accepted began our training. First, we were taught how to make a bed the RAF way, keep our ‘space’ clean and tidy enough to pass inspections every day.

Our bathrooms and toilets were at the end of the room. For many of us, this was the first experience of hot running water, baths every day plus central heating. After a few days, several of us developed sinus problems. Our bodies were used to cold houses, fires and baths only once a week.

We soon developed a routine. Every Wednesday, we deep cleaned in a tradition called ‘bull night’. We pushed a large heavy flat ‘buffer’ side to side to polish the floors, A cumbersome task but good for the stomach muscles! We finished by putting newspapers on the floors because nobody was allowed to walk on those perfectly polished floors! We wanted everything shiny and bright the next morning at 6 a.m. inspection. Despite the hard work and need to adapt to new realities, we managed to have a lot of fun. 

We had parts of our uniforms issued over the next few days, including the laughable ‘passion killer’ knickers. We were each issued three pairs, pale blue, down to the knee and  I don’t think anyone wore them at all, except here, for one night only as a giggle. The photo below shows the ‘buffer’ we used to polish the floors to a high gloss. I’m the one holding the dustpan and a cigarette wearing the pale blue ‘passion killers’

For the next 6 weeks, we learned to wear our uniforms properly, tie our ties, make sure hair was off the neck and how to wear our berets and best blue hats. Most importantly, we learned how to salute an officer. That lead to discovering various badges and who to salute and who not to salute.

We were shown the NAAFI (Navy Army Air Force) shop where we were ordered to buy shoe polish, then taught how to clean our shoes to a very high gloss with spit and polish and repeated for hours on end

We learned how to march together, in order. That’s not as easy as it sounds. A few girls began as ‘camel marchers’  They were girls who just could not march at first. They tended to march with the left arm and left leg together, instead of the opposite.

We marched every day, and everywhere from day one, chanting left-right-left-right, halt out loud as we went! Each day we practised marching on the parade ground for one hour, then off to classes.

In class from 9am to 5pm we learned all about the history of the RAF, and the trades available, which uniforms to wear on which occasion (such as ‘fatigues’ and ‘best blue’) and how to keep our ‘kit’ clean. We had hygiene classes informing us how and when to brush our teeth, take a bath and keep ourselves clean. We had Pt classes to keep fit. It was exhausting and exhilarating. The morning after our first bull night, an officer inspected us the next morning with white gloves and ran her fingers along every surface. We had to stand at attention together, whilst she inspected our quarters. The first few weeks everything had to be ‘done over again’ as she ripped out sheets and blankets and shouted at us saying the beds were not made properly. She complained about the dirty surfaces and how dirty the bathrooms were. We could no nothing right those first three weeks. We had no uniforms yet, so every day we marched in ‘civilian’ clothing with just a beret on. We felt silly. 

It was a great day when we were eventually issued with our uniforms and full kit.

Our best blue uniforms at last! Me on the left.

After six weeks of basic training came our ‘Passing Out Parade’ and the next day, after our goodbyes, we were all posted to our various trade training camps, but that is another story!

 

 

Land Of My Fathers….

Well, the land of my Grandfathers and Greats that is, all the way back to the 1400s.

My maternal Gramps was an O’Bray born, like all his forebears, in West Wales. Pembroke Dock, to be exact.  Welsh is still spoken widely in West Wales and the Welsh name for this area is Doc Penfro, it was originally named Paterchurch and was a small fishing village. Pembroke Dock Town expanded rapidly following the construction of the Royal Navy Dockyard in 1814.

There is some speculation about the original name of my fourth great grandfather, John Barnett O’Bray born in 1792. About this time, the family name was Aubrey but in that century it changed to O’Bray and/or O’Brey. Our ancestors in the Mormon Church in Salt Lake City, Utah, spell it without the apostrophe – OBray whereas my Grandfather spells it O’Bray.

This September 2019 I went to Pembroke Dock, West Wales and visited Pembroke Castle where the Tudor Dynasty started with the birth of King Henry VII. Next door to the castle entrance was a shop called ‘The Hall of Names’ with a database of most names in the world and, for a price, they will research and print out the name, and it’s origins. [1]

They looked up the name Aubrey for me, and all the variations which are characteristic of Norman. Old and Middle English lack definite spelling rules, and then Norman French was added to the linguistic stew, with finally, medieval scribes who wrote names as they sounded, so no wonder I have such a problem. So, I am still none the wiser as to why the change – this is MY brick wall! [1]

I also went to 14 Queen Street East, where third great grandfather John Barnett O’Bray lived in 1841 with his family. The street and number 14, one of a row of houses, are still there but has probably changed a great deal since!

14 Queen Street Pembroke Dock.jpg 2

14 Queen Street Pembroke Dock

 

In the year 1841, our O’Bray/O’Brey family is mentioned in a book called “Pembroke People” by Richard Rose under ‘shipwrights’ but even in this short piece in the book, there are three different spellings of his name!

The heading reads that he was “John Barnett O’Bray or OBrey” A further note in the book mentions a William Aubrey buried at St. Mary’s on 27th September 1817 aged four and the author assumes “He was probably another child of this family” If so, why was he called Aubrey and the rest of the family O’Bray/Obrey? Right at the end yet another mystery as the author states that, when John Barnett O’Bray was buried, also in the register was ‘An Elizabeth Oberry. Buried on 11th April 1841 aged 93.

John Barnett O’Bray was apprenticed on in 1805 at Milford as a shipwright boy. He was earning 2 shillings a day in 1810 and when he was 21 years old in 1812 he became a shipwright and married Eleanor Allen, who’s family also appear as shipwrights in the book.

Their ten children, aged from two years to the eldest aged 25 years include in order of birth, William who  died at age four, Maria, born 1814, George 1815, John 1818, Elizabeth 1820, *Thomas 1821, Robert 1824, *Samuel 1828, Eleanor 1834 and Thomas 1836, who died at age eight.

** Thomas Lorenzo and Samuel William, were baptised into the Church of Latter-Day Saints – the Mormons –  and left West Wales to trek across the plains in 1851 to Salt Lake City, Utah. Two other family members, Maria and George also became Mormon and went to Utah later.

In 1823, John Barnett O’Bray took a 60 year lease of one of the Club Houses recently built in the High Street at a rent of One Pound, Ten Shillings a year. His years’ wages in 1828 were 87 pounds, 19 shillings and one penny.

John Barnett my third Great Grandfather suffered a grisly death.

An Unfortunate and Fatal Accident
Carmarthen Journal Article – 19 Dec 1845

“An Unfortunate and Fatal Accident – An efficient and industrious shipwright, named John Obrey, belonging to Her Majesty’s Dock Yard at Pembroke, fell from a considerable height into one of the building slips and was killed on Thursday last. To mark the esteem in which he was held by the authorities of that establishment the Chapel bell of the Arsenal was tolled during the funeral.

It appears a plank forming one of the stages around the ship’s side had not sufficient hold of the support on which it rested, and the weight tilting it up, he was precipitated into the slip, and falling on his head, his skull so fractured that his brains actually protruded. His wife will, no doubt, have a pension, though the amount must necessarily be small.” [3]

Through research, I believe that John Barnett was also a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (The Mormons), but died before he was baptised.

SOURCES

1. https://pembrokecastle.co.uk/eat-shop-discover/hall-of-names

Richard Rose wrote a fascinating book called ‘Pembroke People’ and is described on the flyleaf, as probably the fullest account was ever written about life in an early 19th-century community. Flipping through this wonderful book, that seems to be true. Every possible trade in the shipbuilding, mariner,  and associated trades were listed, from accountants to wine and spirit merchants even including the local prostitutes and illegitimate children! And yes, I did look to see if any of my family were listed there, but none were. [2]

[3] Carmarthen Journal Article

“My Family History” which includes Thomas and Samuels’ stories can be read here:

https://wordpress.com/post/genealogyensemble.com/610

And you can read Samuel’s story here:   https://genealogyensemble.com/2016/08/17/mormon-history/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Moody Chef

My Uncle was born second to the eldest daughter in a family of 11 in Cornwall, England.

My Dad never spoke of him, and I had no idea of his existence until I started to research the family tree, adding the family and my unknown Uncle.

Who was he? All I had was the fact he was born in 1909.

My parents divorced when I was seven years old, and I had no contact with Dad’s side of the family after that event. However, my cousins, whom I met about eight years ago, were none the wiser although cousin Diane did speak of a family argument and the eldest son leaving the family home never to return or to be heard of again. EVER!

It was still a shocking event in the family.

What that argument was about I will never know. Many of the other children were not even born when he left. Nobody seems to have any photographs of him, either.

After researching a few sites, I found out he was married at 21.  I cannot find any children yet, but Uncle  died on the 13th of June, 1940 at age 30.

I was shocked to find he had died so young. Immediately, because it was the beginning of WW2 in England, I assumed he died in the Blitz, as so many in that area of London had, and his death certificate states he died in Pimlico which I knew was, like many other areas of London, badly bombed.

When I retired, I took the time to find out the reason he died so young. I decided to purchase his death certificate. When it arrived, it stated he had died of coal gas poisoning.

Thinking again of the war my first thought was he had died of gas poisoning. How awful! Then common sense prevailed. Of course not! Gas poisoning only happened in WWI, so I took a few deep breaths, and re-read the death verdict.

‘Coal Gas Poisoning; Did kill himself while of unsound mind’  Certificate received from WB Purchase Coroner for the County of London. Inquest held 17th June 1940.

Ah, so he had actually gassed himself poor Uncle! What on earth made him do it?

Gas was and still is, a common source of heat in England. Most homes including ours had gas fires. The gas then was coal gas, a very dangerous substance. You turned the tap on let the gas flow, and then lit it whereupon there was a loud POP! My Mum was always nervous about lighting it.

You had to be very careful that the fire, when the gas ran out, was turned off before you ‘fed’ the gas meter with shillings to re-establish the gas flow. Otherwise, you had odourless colourless gas flowing into your home and not realising it. Once a month the ‘gas man’ would arrive open and empty the meter and count the coins at the kitchen table. Depending on the amount of gas used, we would usually get a rebate of coins which were then fed back into the gas meter.

Photo Credit: Pat Cryer, with permission and thanks.

Committing suicide with a gas fire was easy, you just turned it on and did not light it. People accidentally died after forgetting to turn the tap of the gas flow off and feeding the meter, thus gassing themselves. Later in the 1950s a safety tap was added.

Because Uncle’s death was unusual a post mortem had to be conducted.

I reasoned that if he committed suicide, then there was a coroner’s report, which would be reported in a local newspaper. After hours of researching the newspapers of the area, I found what I was looking for.

Because this site is a subscription site, I only had access to this page and the text, so I had to re-write the copy [1]

A MOODY CHEF

A Pimlico Tragedy

The Westminster coroner (Mr. Purchase) held an inquiry at the Horseferry Road.

Coroner’s Court Monday into the death of […..]  (30) a chef, 79 Cambridge-street, Pimlico, who was found gassed there.

On Thursday morning. William McColl, 8 Rugby-street said he was a friend of the deceased. “He was in good health,” said witness. ‘and was in work. He was very moody.

Whenever I asked him what was the matter he would say’ Don’t take any take notice of me. I am a funny guy’

He had never said that would take his life and did not look the sort who might. He was in no trouble of any kind.

Faustina Alvarez. 79 Cambridge-street Pimlico said deceased had lodged there for three months.

On Wednesday night last week, he put threepence in the gas. The next morning witness’s wife got worried about him and witness went upstairs and knocked at the deceased’s door. There was no answer.

On opening the door witness saw deceased lying the floor by the gas ring.

PC. Elliott, 4138. who was called, said he saw the deceased lying on the floor with his head resting on a gas ring. He was dead.

The gas tap was turned on, but the supply had been exhausted. Dr. M. Hains, who made a postmortem examination, said the death was due to asphyxiation from coal gas poisoning.

Herbert Rehm. chairman of Rhem Brothers.Ltd., said the firm had eight licensed restaurants in London, […]  was employed at a branch at Buckingham Palace-road.

He was a very efficient employee, but very moody. The coroner said it seemed that in one of his moods, the deceased took his life. He recorded a verdict that the deceased took his life whilst of unsound mind.

When I was told by my cousin Diane, that the family never heard from him again after the death certificate arrived, I let them know of the circumstances of his death and we realised the reason nobody in the family had ever heard from him again. We cousins were sad for him.

‘Depression’ was not a word used in those days but obviously, that is what he suffered from.

One day, I hope to find if there were any children and so, like any genealogist who hits a brick wall, I keep searching.

Sources:

[1] Whether you are a researcher, historian or you simply want to know more about Britain’s history, take this opportunity to search The British Newspaper Archive – a vast treasure trove of historical newspapers from your own home.

Source: A Moody Chef | Chelsea News and General Advertiser | Friday 21 June 1940 | British Newspaper Archive

(2) Gas Meter Photographed in Blaise Castle Museum  https://www.1900s.org.uk/1940s50s-heating-gas.htm

With many thanks to Pat Cryer, whose website https://www.1900s.org.uk is a valuable source of information on the social life of wartime Britain. Pat allowed her photo of an old gas fire, similar to the one in the story, to be used. Thank you, Pat.