1939 and all that

chapel street 43 (640x452)
Rear view of 43 Chapel Street, Brownhills, by Joan Jackson.

A while back I looked at my father’s family as war approached – also 1939 and all that.  Now I visit my mother’s family, name of Brown, who lived at 41 Chapel Street.  Number 41 is the house beyond the hedge on the right of the painting.  The artist was Joan Jackson, who lived later at 43 with her husband Les.  Number 41 was where I spent the first year of my life and where my mother grew up.

I pointed out that searching the 1939 Register, online via Findmypast, can be a frustrating exercise, as the records of many people who are long dead remain locked because they have not been updated to anything like the present.  This time it would be more difficult.  I would have to break in by the back door.

Records in the 1939 register are locked for one hundred years from date of birth, though I have encountered records from the 1870s, and occasionally earlier!  Records can be easily unlocked by forwarding an official entry of death, and I did this for my father.

I ignored a direct search for mother, as her brother is still alive, so, even though her record is revealed, no access is given to the register itself, which, to be quite frank, is ludicrous!  I tried other people that I knew lived in Chapel Street, such as mom’s auntie Gertie, aka  Nurse Taylor.  Gertie had been a nurse at Sister Dora Hospital in Walsall, but, even as late as 1928, married women were not allowed to be nurses, so she had to give it up.  Still, the locals would bring their scrapes and sprains for Gertie to tend.  All my attempts drew locked records and a search simply for Chapel Street was to no avail.

barbara and bill
Barbara Brown, aged about 9 or 10, and uncle Bill, in the back garden at 41 Chapel Street, Brownhills.

Eventually, I found the licensee of the Prince of Wales, via an old news report, and the 1939 register had no locked records.  The news article was about Lance Corporal Ronald Prior, who had been reported missing in action in the Middle East, but was now in custody of the Italian forces.  I met Ron a couple of times in my school years.  He ran a removals business based by the school in Walsall Wood.  I can’t remember which year, but an annual production by Shire Oak School was a revue based on Ron’s wartime experiences.  The Director was Craig Thomas (later best selling author) and the cast included Ron himself and Audrey Simmons, the geography teacher.

I could now move from one page to the next until I found the relevant people. So, who lived in the houses in the painting?

At 43 was Emily Jackson, widow.  She was the grandmother of Les, who would live there later, I think from 1947.

At 45, just off the left, were William “Billy” Taylor and his wife Gertie.  Billy was a master bricklayer and Special Constable.  Gertie did “unpaid domestic duties” and First Aid for the A.R.P. (Air Raid Precautions) – the survey was taken on 29 September 1939, so war had already broken out in Europe, and Britain was already setting up for defence.

At 41 were my maternal grandparents, Edwin “Ted” Brown and Florence (formerly Carter).  Ted was a coal miner.  My mother Barbara Brown was there, not quite eleven years old, and at “OG” [Ogley Girls] School.  Uncle Reg was there, but his record is locked.

During the war Ted continued working down the pit. Although the miners had some benefits over other families, for example allowances of coal and cheese, what had been hard graft, anyway, became tougher still.  Demand for coal continued to increase to feed the voracious boilers and furnaces of the metal-working industries of Birmingham and the Black Country.  Unbroken streams of boats and round-the-clock trains would ship the coal out as fast as it could be cut.  Some younger men joined the forces and others found better paid work in factories.  Ted and his workmates had to work ever harder and longer to keep things going.  Nationally, output was falling, and there was even a strike in Kent as the ageing hewers were unable to keep up.  Relief came with the Bevin Boys, though, at first, they needed training and more supervision than the men Ted was used to seeing down the mine.  In June 1953 Ted received a letter confirming that he should not work in any occupation where there is substantial exposure to harmful dust.  On the scrap heap.

Reg served in the RAF as a driver at airfields in England, then in North Africa (see Versenkt!), Italy and Germany.  Mom finished school in 1942 and took up secretarial duties at Conduit Colliery, Norton Canes.  Florence fought on the home front, somehow making ends meet as rationing bit, then bit harder and harder still.  All survived the war unscathed, as did Billy and Gertie, and Emily.

reg tent n africa (360x249)
Reg’s tent in North Africa

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