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Monday, 28 May 2012

18. Bert's Brothers and Sisters in the 1920s

Bert's sister, Doll, had married in 1917, during the War. Her husband, Frederick Mayell, had worked on his family's market garden before setting up his own in Eastwood, where he and Doll lived. As well as vegetables for market, Doll raised chickens for meat and eggs, doing the processing herself. Their son, Frederick John, was born in 1918 and their daughter Megan in 1921. As the 1920s progressed, this family did well, able to feed themselves comfortably and make a profit.

Syd married in 1921 and lived not far away in Rochford, Essex. Stan married in 1922 and lived in Southend-on-Sea.

3 Ray boys outside Brookfields' glasshouse 1920s.
Bert's mother's home 1920s
Bert's mother was trying to make ends meet with what she could, with family help, grow, and earn in housekeeping jobs. Her family helped out by taking a lease on Brookfields, using money from their father's estate. Charles Higgs moved into the house with his family, and a room for Emily.

In 1923 the two youngest boys, Fred and Les, responded to advertisements to migrate to Canada under the Canadian Harvesters' Scheme designed to provide English labour to help harvest Canadian crops. The scheme focused on men with agricultural experience .The men who went were restricted to harvesting work. They were expected to save enough in the summer to tide them over the long Canadian winters without working in the towns or cities where they would have competed with Canadians for jobs.

Les and Fred left on the SS Antonia in August 1923. The scheme was not a success. Many men lasted only weeks. It was, in fact, very difficult for young men to adhere to the scheme and survive the long winters without working. Les and Fred lasted for three years, but were back in England in December 1926. They seem to have caught up with not only their siblings but their Keen, Chitty and Higgs cousins in Hounslow.

Their thirst for adventure and new lands, however, was not quenched. In April 1927 they set sail together, on the SS Bendigo, for Australia, landing in Sydney in June 1927, where they quickly found work in a nursery at Miranda.

They wrote to Bert, urging him to migrate.  In 1929 the nursery offered to sponsor Bert and Nell to Australia. They decided to try and were accepted as "Ten Pound Poms".

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

17. Bulphin, Essex..

St Mary's Bulphin in 1966.

We don't know how long it took for Bert to find work, but by 1922 he and Nell were living in a Rectory Cottage at Bulphin, in Essex, where they were acting as caretakers of the church and schools. The Reverend Theodore Alphonse Teitelbaum had been rector of St Mary's Bulphin (pronounced "Bullven") since 1903 and appears to have died there in 1946. The population of Bulphin in 1921 was 448.

Bulphin Village 1966
James Pinkerton, the nurseryman who employed Bert in 1912, was the largest landowner in Bulphin and may have been the connection that found him the job. The township consisted mostly of farms, had three nurseries, a blacksmith, a horse-slaughterer, an inn, a baker, a grocer, a builder and a monumental mason.

Bulphin School c. 1922. Albert Ray third from left in 2nd row
Bulphan Church of England Voluntary Controlled Primary School still operates, with an enrolment of 100 students in 2012. In 1925 the enrolment of the Public Primary School (managed by Bulphin Church) was 78 and the school mistress was Miss Annie Ward. Bulphin Parish also operated St John's Preparatory School (listed in the 1921 UK City and County Directories) of which the Rev. Teitelbaum was the master. It appears that Bert and Nell's prime responsibilities were caretaking for the two schools.

It was not a well-paid job, but a cottage went with it. The rectory itself was on 15 acres of Glebe land and Bert and Nell could keep a few chickens and grow vegetables. Albert and Grace attended Bulphin School.

Albert in front of choirmaster.
 They also attended St Mary's Church, as Albert told it many years later, without their parents, four times on Sunday - once for Sunday School and three times for church services. Albert was in the choir.
Grace at Bulphin Church

Albert at Bulphin Church.

In September 1922, Nell gave birth to a son, Ronald. When he was six months old, Nell took him at Grays Hospital to be circumcised - what should have been a routine and quick proceedure. Things, however, did not go well. The baby developed an infection and had to remain in hospital for several days.The Rev. Teitelbaum was on holiday in Bognor and sent a postcard. Nell cycled the six miles to the hospital each day to breastfeed him. On the sixth day, when she arrived, she was told he had died overnight of pneumonia. It was a shocking and devastating experience - without warning and out of her control. It left Nell, and other family members, scarred.

In September 1924, Clement Bailhache's father, Justice Sir Clement Meacher Bailhache, died and Bert wrote a letter of condolence to his old Captain. Typically, he did not mention his own situation. It is unlikely Bailhache knew Bert had lost his job at Hoffman's, nor did he know of Nell's miscarriages and the death of Ronald. Bailhache, Bert knew, would have enough troubles of his own. Bailhache's reply to Bert concludes: "We are all well but I cannot say I find fruit growing a very paying proposition in these days."

In 1925 Nell successfully gave birth to a girl, Sylvia Joyce. Bert chose her name from a phone book entry. She spent much of her early childhood with Bert - partly because it was the first child he had seen grow up, and partly because Nell was depressed.

The Teitelbaums were good to Nell and Bert, and and in later years were remembered with affection by Albert and Grace as well. It was, however, a life barely above the poverty line. By 1927 Bert was applying for other jobs and Teitelbaum helped with a reference.

Bulphin School older children c 1927. Grace 9th from left in 2nd row,
Albert 3rd child from right in third row.

Albert & Grace Bulphin School


Grace suffered from rheumatic fever and also missed quite a lot of school.

Albert had reached the end of his schooling. He later recalled that he spent a lot of time staying with his grandmother, Emily Ray, helping in her nursery, often missing school, and no doubt kept out of the way of Nell's pregnancies and depression. He found the work hard and debilitating.

Bert's cigarette case
Albert got his first camera, a Brownie Box, when he was 12 - from saving cigarette cards (presumably from his father and uncles).
Bert and Nell's council house, Bulphin 1927-9

He took a photo of the Council house the family moved into around 1927.

While they got by, neither Bert nor Nell could see a future for themselves or for their children where they were.  The economic situation was worsening.

Bert's two youngest brothers offered them a way out.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

16.1920 - a new decade.

The 1920s began with great hope for returned soldiers like Bert. There were however, worrying signs. Bert wrote to his old Captain, Clement Bailhache, in early 1920 and received a long reply.

The "bit of bad luck" Bailhache refers to was most likely another miscarriage. Nell had four miscarriages, mostly quite late in her pregnancies.

Bailhache, even in 1920, is fearful of an economic crisis.

He views the main barrier to recovery as the demands of the working man for higher wages and better conditions and elaborates at length and with some eloquence. He offers, in summary, the view that: There's only one way and it applies to all of us - hard work and absolute, rigid, cheeseparing economy.
It wasn't only the working class that were deaf to these entreaties in what became the Roaring Twenties .

He concludes with an appeal to Bert.

The letter is interesting, not just as an example of the British class system at work, but for its thread of fear and despair, of the friendship of two soldiers, divided by class, but sharing the discomfort of a world changed forever.
When his grandchildren knew him, in the 1940s and 1950s, Bert was a conservative thinker and voter.It seems likely that he would have agreed with his old Captain, rather than disagreed, although he is unlikely to have been vocal about his views outside of his family.

The cherished engineering job evaporated in March 1921.

With all his skills and War service, Bert, like many others, was unemployed, with a wife, an seven-year-old son and a five-year-old daughter. His mother and brothers were also struggling. His two youngest, and most enterprising brothers, looked for a way out.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

15. Demobilisation,

The process of demobilisation of Bert’s battalion is not well documented. It took until February 1919 to get soldiers back to England and demobilised. Each left with a Certificate of Employment During the War, as a reference. The most interesting thing about Bert’s is the inclusion of ‘Regimental barber’ amongst his special skills. It seems he spent the last month of his service – January 1919, trimming up the regiment for civilian life.

He immediately wrote to Captain Bailhache, requesting a reference and got one very promptly. "Turning his hand to anything that is to be done" remained one of Bert's characteristics throughout his life.

The letter that accompanies the reference  indicates that Clement Bailhache was engaged to be married, and occupied trying to restore his fruit farm in Berkhamsted to productivity. 
It also refers to Bert's intention to  go into the 'engineering trade'.

Supported by his references, Bert got a job with the Hoffmann Manufacturing Company in Chelmsford. Hoffmann was the first ball-bearing  manufacturer in Britain, set up in 1898 by Geoffrey and Charles Barrett and financed by the American Ernst Gustav Hoffmann. It manufactured the bearings for the first transatlantic flights and much of the machinery used in WWI. In 1920 it employed 4750 people.

Bert's medals - not in the sequence they were worn.

 When they were issued in 1920, he collected the engraved medals to which he was entitled - Pip, Squeek and Wilfred -  the 1914-15 star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal .

Bert's son was six and a half and his daughter nearly five when he resumed civilian life. He liked children, and they liked him, so he must have looked forward to a new decade, productive work and a growing family. His sister, Doll, was married with a child. His mother was supporting herself as a housekeeper. The Spring of 1919 would have been an optimistic one for Bert and his family, as well as for thousands of others who had survived the Great War.

He kept, throughout his life, a battered tin on War souvenirs - his medals in a calico bag, his Royal Fusiliers insignia, and insignia he had acquired from other soldiers - the Buffs, South Lancashire, Middlesex Regiment, Australian and Canadian - his postcards and the Balkan News.

Somewhere along the way, he had also had his arms tattooed a number of times. A mermaid ran along one arm, wriggling when he flexed his muscle. There was also "Nell" in a heart, surrounded by flowers.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

14. Last Year of War - France

A large number of WWI service records are missing, believed to be lost in a fire. Amongst those missing are Bert's and those of his Captain, Clement Bailhache. This makes it difficult to piece together exactly what happened to them in the last 18 months of the War.

Family stories say that Bert first saw his daughter, Emily Grace, known as Grace, when she was 2. For that to be so, he must have had leave between May 1917 and April 1918, more likely in 1917. We know that the British Army withdrew troops from Salonika from June 1917, although the 3rd Battalion Royal Fusiliers remained there until June 1918.

The photo of Bert and his family, Nell, Albert and Grace, could not have been taken long after Grace's 2nd birthday, which was late in May.

It also seems that two of Bert's brothers, Sydney and Stanley, had enlisted, for a photo of the Emily Grace Ray's family was taken at the same time. Bert's son, Albert, documented this photo as Emily Grace Ray and her children.

The men would be, from left, Bert, Fred, Les, Stan and Sydney, with Emily Grace Ray centre with the young Albert, and Doll seated right.

Amongst Bert's possessions was a postcard he had sent to Nell from Orange, South of Paris. The military postmark bears no date, but Bert has dated it 15 June 1917.  It reads " Just arrived here. The weather is quite hot. We have just been having a feed of oranges and cherries. They were grand. Hope you are quite Well (you know). With my best love, Bert."

From this, it seems likely that Bert has arrived in France after leave in England and is hoping that Nell is pregnant again. No child survived from this time, but we do know that Nell had a three miscarriages or still births between 1917 and 1929.

Also amongst Bert's possessions was a book of postcards of the Somme.

Although the 3rd Battalion was still in Salonika, numerous other Fusilier battalions were fighting on the Somme in 1917, and receiving reinforcements from wherever the Army could find soldiers.

Many of the postcards are of Peronne. All emphasise the destruction by the Germans.

 Even though these must have been purchased some time after the event, it seems likely that Bert took part in battles in this area, but this is hard to verify without the missing records.

The 3rd Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, arrived back in France through Dieppe in July 1918 and rested and trained there for two months. Bert may have rejoined his regiment there. He kept several postcards of Dieppe and its environs.
 On October 3 the regiment marched North as one of the battallions of the 149th Brigade 50th Division. They marched through the night of 3 October and at 6.10am on 4th October they advanced down the slope of the Scheldt Canal, up the valley on the opposite side to take Richmond Copse.

They made a clean sweep by 7.30 am, taking 300 prisoners from machine-gun teams but then had to retreat because they found themselves isolated. The 4th Kings Rifles were able to recover the ground that evening with little German resistance. The Fusiliers had lost ten officers and there were 139 other-rank casualties.

The regimental historian, H. C. O'Neill says:
Few actions of the Fusiliers had been more tragic. Many had been more costly, but few had carried the troops to their objective only to see them compelled to fall back almost to the starting point with the bulk of their leaders killed. The Royal Fusiliers in the Great War (p319).

On October 17 the Battalion took part in the Battle of the Selle to open up a ten mile front between Benin and St. Souplet. By now the battalion consisted only of 11 officers and 308 men and in this one day of battle lost 98 officers and men.

The final action of the War for the battalion was on 8th and 9th November 1918, pushing through the Forrest of Beugnies under machine-gun fire. They withdrew to billets at Mont Douriers on 9 November and were there when the Armistice took effect on 11 November 1918.