Saturday, April 25, 2015

Boy Artificer: one shilling per week!

World War 1

On the 23 May 1917 my father Cecil enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps (see details here ). I am sure that the death of his own father on the 5th of April, 1915; just 20 days before Cecil's 15th birthday in, would have influenced his choice to enter the military. In fact we think he may have even enlisted as a 14 year old, given some of the service records found in his genealogical history.

His 1917 enlistment number was 82153 and he has this information stored in the Forces War Records:  
Before transfer to R.A.F. from R.N.A.S. or R.F.C.- Rank:- Boy, Trade:- Boy Service/ Airforce Pay:- 1s. 0d. Terms of enlistment- Open Engagement Rank / Boy.

With a birth date of 25th April 1900, strictly speaking he was not yet eligible. Nevertheless, with determination and some creative registering, he became a Boy Artificer. An artificer is a member of an armed-forces service who is skilled at working on artillery devices in the field. The specific term "artificer" for this function is typical of the armed forces of countries that are or have been in the British Commonwealth. (See details here.)

I can only imagine how his mother, Harriet, would have felt at this decision - to see her eldest son potentially following in his father's footsteps - would have been crushing. She was a war widow from 1915 and never really recovered from the loss of her husband. To this day, I have not been able to find the exact cause of Walter's death, but I suspect that he would have been wounded in battle during his time in the 2nd Battalion, East Surrey Regiment, in 1914. In 1915 they were in action in The Second Battle of Ypres and The Battle of Loos. These were particularly bloody battles in which thousands of soldiers died or were wounded. Walter would have experienced the process of demobilisation and being returned home to Britain amongst the war wounded. Before he left his unit he would have been medically examined and given Army Form Z22, which allowed him to make a claim for any form of disability arising from his military service.

Perhaps Cecil's time in service was to be less dangerous - as he did not see action overseas - but remained in England as part of the essential ground force of engineers and mechanics who maintained and repaired the military vehicles used in war. In the supply area the Royal Corps had responsibility for weapons, armoured vehicles and other military equipment, ammunition and clothing and certain minor functions such as laundry, mobile baths and photography. Cecil was skilled in automobile mechanics, even at this tender age - and he would have specialised in the maintenance of military vehicles as an Artificer. His younger brother Edward was to follow in his footsteps as a car mechanic - this was to be his own downfall in 1930 - but was tragically unable to follow into miliary service for World War 2.

Treasured artefacts from Cecil's time in service during World War 2, include his uniform, medals and enlistment records. One less valuable, but poignant, item has been in my possession for some long time - his Housewife Sewing Kit - containing all that a soldier would require to carry out any repairs to his clothing when necessary. Inside it would contain a thimble, two balls of grey darning wool (for socks), 50 yards of linen thread wound around card, needles, brass dish buttons (for Battledress) and plastic buttons for shirts. The Housewife was often contained within a Holdall and stowed within the man's haversack. I remember this well used item and cannot help but see the immediate link with this Sewing Kit and his father's trade as a Tailor. I imagine my Dad having learned his sewing skills at his father's knee - then having to grow up rapidly when his own Dad passed away at the age of 45 - and putting an old head on young shoulders.

By the end of World War 1 he is listed with the regimental service number of 2636 and has the rank of Sergeant Mechanic. This is a significant turning point for Cecil as he was then well prepared for making his living as a mechanic in his home town of Kingston, and continue to support his mother and younger siblings. His love of cars led him into the dangerous sport of car racing and his pursuits and tragic family outcomes of the infamous Tragedy at Brooklands in 1930.

I now realise why, in hindsight, why my Dad was so against his own sons entering into the sport of car racing, and how much family conflict that caused. Losing his younger brother in the horrific pile up at the race track in Brooklands - a young man of 28 - would scar him for life. And would be the one action that his mother would never forgive him for.

World War 2

Cecil enlisted once more in the 'E' Reserve on the 25th August 1939 at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough Airfield in Hampshire. Cecil's special skilled trade was then a Reserve Fitter for Aero Engines. His enlistment number is 2636 and he has this information stored in the Forces War Records:  
Before transfer to R.A.F. From R.N.A.S or R.F.C - Rank:- Sergeant , Trade;- Driver (M.T.)/ Airforce Pay- 6s 0d Terms of enlistment, Open Engagement./ Rank Sergeant Mechanic. Rank 2nd Driver.

One intriguing story about Cecil's recovery of the Log Book of the German Cruiser 'SMS Emden', and subsequent donation to the Australian War Museum, is handed down in the family. The Emden was scuttled in the Cocos Islands in November 1914. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Cocos) But I do not know how he recovered the log book, or where he was at the time. This will need some further sleuthing and I must ask my older brothers what they know of this story before their memories dim.

Cecil was discharged from the RAF on the 21st September 1948. Demobilisation processes had stepped up since the Great War and special arrangements were put in place by the government to assist the millions of returning soldiers to reassimilate back into civilian life. Often this took some time and priorities were given to men and women over 50 and those who held key skills that would be beneficial to post-war reconstruction. The release process began on June 18, 1945, about six weeks after V-E Day. At this stage I was on the scene, born 31 May 1945, and Dad, Mum and siblings were still stationed at Eglwys Brewis, St Athans, Wales. We were not to return to our family home in Hook Road, Surbiton, until much later. Hook Road in Surbiton is in the London region of England. The postcode is within the Tolworth and Hook Rise ward/electoral division, which is in the constituency of Kingston and Surbiton.

The Allery clan, parents and six children, had just 4 idyllic years in Surbiton after the war and Britain was recovering. My brothers and sisters all finished their schooling in the area - my twin brothers at one of the Junior Schools and my older sister and brother at one of the High Schools. By then my eldest sister Pamela was working as a Registered Nurse in Kingston Hospital. There was little talk of the horrors of war, at least none that I remember, in our happy family home. But I do recall the story of the day my twin brothers were born, and how they came to be supported by Madam Nirishnikov, a Russian Lady, who had given Mum and Dad shelter from the sniper attacks happening in London in September 1940. This period of time was known as The Blitz - not a great time to be pregnant and to be travelling the roads in a taxi driven by one's husband, trying to avoid bombs and snipers. Not surprisingly that labour came on a little earlier than expected. A huge surprise for my parents when the two boys were born - they were only expecting one child - and the offer of extra baby clothes from the Russian household was gratefully accepted. The Bombing of London was to continue until May 1941 and my older siblings lived through this time, experiencing all of the horrors and deprivation that The Blitz delivered.
More than one million London houses were destroyed or damaged, and more than 40,000 civilians were killed, almost half of them in London.
A week before being officially discharged from the RAF, on 14 September 1948, Cecil sailed to Australia on HMS Strathaird. An immigrant, pioneering a new lifestyle for the family, he had left at home at Hook Road; his wife Winifred and six children, Pamela, John, Patricia, Brian, Michael and Carole. The plan was for all to follow within a year, once a new home had been purchased. Dad would often tell us that, during his journey on sea, he had shared a cabin with a famous boxer - I had to verify that by looking up the Ship's Passenger Lists - and found that he did indeed share with 'Jimmy Carruthers'.

On 14th April, in 1949, my family disembarked at Melbourne, and followed Dad to set up house in Moonee Ponds, Victoria. We earned some minor fame as one of the larger immigrating families to travel on board the HMS Orcades. We came to make a new life at 'Elsinore', 11 Laura Street and we were photographed by the local newspaper to have our '5 minutes of fame'. Dad had also secured a small Bicycle Shop business in Puckle Street and we were on our way into personal and financial security in our Australian adventure.

Cecil Henry Allery had come a long, long way from Boy Artificer at one shilling a week!