Wednesday, 10 July 2013

According to Mum...

 At the beginning of the 20th Century, Mum’s Dad was a Jeweller doing very nicely thankyou.  He had a small workshop in Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter and commuted the 3 miles to a home in the village of Harbourne (not yet part of the city). He lost his business and all his money.  I have since learnt that B’ham Jewellers used to pool together to hire a ship for exporting their Jewellery to America. Unfortunately, their ship was sunk by the 1st Atlantic submarine attack of the 1st World War. They didn’t have insurance in those days, so 94% of Birmingham Jewellery businesses went bankrupt.  Mum’s Dad was directed to war-work - making munitions.

I can remember Aunt Ede (who was my Godmother)  talking about the time when the family had to send her out to work at the age of 18 – making cardboard boxes for Cadbury’s. It was a big shock to her after being brought up to play the piano, paint a little, and do delicate sewing & embroidery.  All the other girls used to sneer at her “People like you’ll be in the offices in 6 months”.  I think she had a difficult time at that point. But the girls were right & Aunt Ede did better once she was in the office.  Cadbury’s had a college doing evening classes which all their employees could attend.  Aunt Ede studied for the Post Office exams and after a year or two went to Pershore as Sub-Post Mistress where she met and married the local Police Seargent, Uncle Chuck, who was a widower with one son.  They stayed there until Uncle Chuck got thrown out of the police service for taking bribes of a rabbit or two from local poachers.  I assume this was during WWII when even wild rabbits were logged and ‘owned’ by the Government due to the severe lack of food. They moved to Sutton Coldfield where Aunt Ede ran the local Post Office & took in sewing to make ends meet; while Uncle Chuck had a small-holding growing vegatables, pigs and hens.

Mum was 20 years younger than Aunt Ede.  The Cadbury’s had kept an interest in Mum’s family.  The factory was run by 11 brothers, cousins and uncles while their women-folk did the social work.  They included trained midwives and nurses. Mum was what was known as a ‘Cadbury baby’.  Cadbury ladies attended Mum’s birth at her cottage with their own coal, water and linen.

At the end of WWI all the men required to work on munitions were sacked. Grandad never worked again.

It must have been after this that Grandma went to the Poor Board for money.  Before doing this, they had to sell all their belongings apart from one dining table, one ‘sit-up-and-beg’ dining chair & mattress for each person living in the house.  But at the Board meeting, Grandma had worn her best hat which she was told to sell – no money!  Grandma wouldn’t – only her best would do for church.

Mum attended the local village school, walking 5 miles to & from school each day. She passed the scholarship to Grammar School, but was not allowed to go because what little money they had had to go towards paying for her two brother’s apprenticeships.

 School leaving age was 13, but her mother “kindly” allowed her to stay on and teach the little ones for a year.  After that, her Mum kept her at home to help with the housework for a year.  By then, Mr Austin had started his car factory at Longbridge and as soon as she was allowed, Mum got a job there.  She stayed there until after the war when she was pregnant – rising to Spare-Parts Clerk over the years.

During her teenage years Mum used to hang around the village green with the boys (including one Peter Jones who later married Ann Haydon) while telling her Mum she was attending Evening Classes.

During the 30s she joined the local Harbourne Tennis Club and went to Health-and-Beauty classes.  One day, a Tennis Club friend asked her who she fancied the most.  “Frank Jones” she replied. He was one of 4 table-tennis players (which also included Bunny Haydon – Ann’s father – and Johnney Spiro) who used to tour the tennis clubs of Birmingham.  A foursome was arranged, and the romance blossomed.  They got engaged before the war – a 7-year engagement because he was apprenticed to a solicitor in Wolverhampton.  If Mum had got married or pregnant she would have lost her job, so they had to wait until Dad was earning enough money for them both.  Dad was a year younger than her.

Mum was adventurous for the times e.g. going on holiday to Switzerland with her friend Dot – no adults to keep an eye on them!  I think that was 1936, the year that Dad won the B’ham Open.

When WWII came, Dad was not required to join the full-time army as he was a student at Birmingham University.  But when his solicitor ‘debunked’ (as Mum put it) to America, Dad was given war-work at Hawker-Siddley.  He had to work 5 days at the factory, and one day at University.  Dad found it almost impossible to keep up with his studies, so decided to take up the Government’s offer and defer his remaining studies to after the war and so put in for the army.  He was called up with 6 weeks notice just before Xmas. So Mum and Dad got married 20th December.  His future didn’t work out as expected, because Dad had missed some lectures during the 6 weeks after ‘call-up’, so the University didn’t have to honour the Government pledge. They refused to take him back after the war on the grounds that he was over 30, which was too old to be able to learn.  Dad never talked about this, but Mum told me he felt badly let down. 

He didn’t talk about the war, either.  He told Mum a fair bit after he came back – just the once – & never mentioned it again.  The incident Mum remembered well was when, in France, he & his corporal were accosted by German soldiers and Dad couldn’t pull the trigger.  He saw the German soldiers as largely just people doing their duty, like he was doing his.  After D-Day, his job was to put an overcoat over his uniform and seek out the French targets up ahead for his 3 tanks to aim at (he was a sargent).  As a consequence, he spent a fair amount of time behind enemy lines with quite a few telegrams of “Missing…” sent home.  Unfortunately for Mum, the army didn’t have Dad as married. The telegrams went to Dad’s Mum, who used to crow that Dad felt his Mum was ‘home’ – not his wife.