Tuesday, November 27, 2018

From surgical boot to a stage clog

My cousin Tommy Harrington contracted polio as a child. He survived the illness but,like many others he ended with one leg shorter than the other.  The only remedy then was the surgical boot, a contraption consisting of a brace on the longer leg and a heavy boot with a thick sole on the shorter.  Like most children fitted with the boot Tommy hated it. He knew that it helped with his walking but it made him stand out from the other children. Also at this time in the early 1900s children whose limbs had been damaged by polio were "cripples" and rarely got beyond that either ind escription or aspiration.

Tommy Harrington would not accept that. He developed a liking for music possibly derived and perhaps learned from his grandfather Alphons Eder, a street musician,  how  to play the accordion and concertina. As well as being a natural musician, never learning to read music, he began writing comic songs and performing them for anyone who would listen.

Later he decided to go on the stage, developing a yodelling style of singing and dressed in his own version of a Dutch costume. He later said that the costume was inspired by wanting to cover his surgical boot so baggy trousers did that well.. Eventually he was able to have some special boots made which resembled wooden clogs, which he wore to the end of his stage career.

He appeared on the Music Halls which were still popular and numerous in those days, recorded many of his songs and even had hits, such as they were then.  I told much of this in a previous blog. I am reminded that he died twenty-five years ago but you will still find mention of him on the internet.  By today's standards a "celebrity".

Sunday, November 11, 2018

And so it's over

And so it's over

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month has passed for the hundreth time.

The last post has sounded, the flags furled and the bands, army cadets,  scouts and guides  marched off. The crowds drift away from the memorial cenotaphs which will then continue to sit alone, on a village green or in the centre of an unapproachable  roundabout, for another twelve months.

The poppies will fall not just in the fields of Flanders but from the lapels of the folk in the shopping malls but the men and boys that  are supposed to be remembered by them will also drift back into the mists.

The centenary of the great war will have been commemorated and "Lest we forget" has been repeated over and over but within a few weeks it will be replaced with "Merry Christmas"or another Yuletide greeting.

But the men, many just boys, who died in that so called great war in some corner of a foreign field or in the depths of the sea, will still be there presumably still believing that they had died for something worthwhile.  After a century which has included another world war and numerous other conflicts since, it is difficult to understand why it was not the promised " war to end all wars".

The politicians and military of many countries, including our own still appear to believe that political problems can be resolved by military action.

If you, like me, do not believe this to be true, then don't unpin that poppy from your lapel. Wear it or a poppy badge every day in the hope that it will eventually mean that the death and maiming  of service men and women is not required.

         Ask, as did Siegfried Sassoon.  "have you forgotten?"

Monday, October 29, 2018

Lest We Forget the Sailors

Lest we forget the Sailors.

Whilst most of the battles of World War One were fought in France and Belgium there were also battles happening at sea.  Over forty thousand Royal Navy men lost their lives and their were 5000 merchant ships sunk with a comparable loss of life.

The second RN ship to be sunk was HMS Pathfinder which was the first ship to be sunk by a U-boat using a torpedo.  This happened just off the Firth of Forth on 5th September 1914 with the loss of most of the over 250 crew.

Among the crew  was our cousin Leading Stoker Joseph Chance, who although a regular seaman having joined the Navy in 1908 he had only been on board Pathfinder for four months. 

The torpedo fired from the U-boat hit a magazine and the subsequent explosion caused the ship to sink very rapidly which accounted for the great loss of life. This was in the early stages of the war and the Navy had yet to find a strategy for dealing with submarine attacks.Image result for chatham memorial

Joseph was just twenty-four years old and had married just the year before.  He is recorded among the 8,500 names listed on the Royal Navy Memorial at Chatham. The Merchant Seamen memorial is at Tower Hill in London. 

Friday, October 26, 2018

Postmans trousers

Do you remember when postmen in Britain wore trousers?  Not just in the winter but all the year round. The material was a dark blue serge like most uniforms and the trousers had a red stripe down the sides of the leg.

I remember this very well as I was once given a
pair of postmans trousers to wear for school.  Not sure how old I was, probably about ten.  The war was on and there was clothes rationing and small boys wore out clothes faster than the coupons or money lasted, so second hand or hand me downs were the natural thing.
Those trousers though were just too far, but I had no choice.  Quite apart from the rough material it was that red strip down the side. 

 It took  a long time to get rid of that red stripe.  Day after day using school ink to cover up the red.
Eventually it seemed to fade into something less obvious but I was still aware of it.  The strange thing was that none one else seemed to notice it, but I did.  If I had had the nous to think about it then  I would have realised that we all wore a rag bag of mismatched clothing. And of course long trousers had the advantage of protecting legs during rough play.  But it was that red stripe!!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

All that was left

When our grandmother Ada Rosetta Sadler died on her birthday at the age of 82,  the only items among her effects that related to her first husband were these.:

No photo,no letters from the front, no marriage certificate, just the scroll and a "Dead Man's Penny"
Ada Rosetta Feston was 25 years old, with  two daughters, one four years old and the other under three months when she was widowed. At first she did not know she was a widow.  Fred Feston disapeared into the mud of Flanders on 25th October 1917 during the third battle of Ypres, and was posted as missing.

Ada grieved for her lost husband but had to get on with life to provide for her children.  Eventually she remarried and perhaps it is not surprising that her former life had to be put to the back of her mind and that eventually all that remained in any physical sense were these two artifacts.

We have tried to honour the instruction on the scroll :

"Let those who come after see to it that his name be not forgotten"

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Changing History

It is sometimes difficult to understand how organisations and events which have existed for many years, sometimes centuries can be quietly taken over, changed beyond recognition but still claim to be continuations of the original.  A bit like the Labour Party after the Blairite takeover.

Bur for the moment I have in mind the Doggett Coat and Badge race which happens on the Thames every year, in September these days, and is claimed to be a continuation of a race established in 1715.

Well yes there is a race with that name which has been held on the Thames since that time but it is nonsense to suggest that it is the same race.

I do not denigrate modern day winners in any way, but a race between two young athletes, members of rowing clubs in light weight skiffs is not the same race as one rowed by young working lightermen, against five other competitors in the heavy wherries which were the working boats of the Thames watermen.

It is difficult to tell from the list of winners here when the competitors did not need to be working watermen or even been apprenticed to the trade as was the case in the beginning. Originally it was a race for  young watermen “in the first year of their freedom” of the Watermen’s Company and the course was four and a half miles from London Bridge to Chelsea. A  considerable test of endurance and boatmanship especially  until 1873  when the race was  rowed against the tide. This probably accounts for the difference in the time take of just over an hour and half compared to the times these days of about twentyfive minutes.

At the time that the race was won by our ancestor Francis Jury in 1809 this was the case as was evidenced by the places they were from as shown on the list: Hermitage, Lambeth, Horseleydown, Bermondsey, etc.  Nineteenth century lightermen earned their living by steering the large flat-bottomed barges into which they had offloaded cargo from the ships coming into the river.  No mechanical method of propulsion, no motors or steam engines, just use of the tide with a long oar for steering.  A skill learned from seven years apprenticeship under an experienced master.  Tough work by any measure.

These days membership of the Company of Watermen and Lightermen of the River Thames do not need to have been apprenticed to the craft and almost anyone can become a Freeman.  It is amusing to speculate how many Freemen of the Company who have just paid their dues would be comfortable in  one of these small craft on the sometimes bumpy waters of the Thames.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Another Murder Mystery from Ed McKie

Follow the career of PC George Morrison of the Bermondsey Police Station in the reign of Queen Victoria.  Not yet a detective or even a plain clothes policeman  he is involved in discovering the identity of a man found dead in the old abandoned watchhouse.  His success in piecing together the odd pierces of information gradually uncovered, lead him to identifying, not just the man but his killer.

This is his second foray into detective work which he hopes will lead him to promotion and  Scotland Yard.

Now available in Paperback at Amazon.
The Kindle version is also available here.Here
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If you buy and enjoy the story please find time to do a review.  If you dont like either of these books then I would be pleased to here your views (You dont have to be kind).