February 6th, 2017


Father And Son At War

I had been wondering how my grandfather managed to avoid active service during the Great War without collecting a pillow full of white feathers- and then I found this picture of him bending over a drawing board with "Vickers 1916" written on the back.

So that's the answer. He was working or serving an apprenticeship at Vickers- the arms manufacturer- and that would have counted as war work and exempted him from conscription.

Forward a generation. My grandfather tried to swing my father a commission in a "good" regiment but failed (we have the correspondence somewhere) and he (my father) ended up in the Navy.

So far as I know he never went to sea but, having trained as an engineer,  served in a bomb disposal unit  based, for at least part of the war, on Romney Marsh. I was digging around a few weeks back and came up this which- I think- shows him at work. A hole has been dug in a flat landscape which is almost certainly Romney Marsh, there are pipes in place which will be for pumping water out of the hole and at the bottom of the hole will be something the Germans dropped. I think my father is the man in the peaked cap in the middle distance.

And this must be the thing they dug up.


Talking About Joan 1

I want to talk about my aunt Joan. She was really my great aunt but because she was by some way the youngest in her family she and my father were more like older sister and kid brother than aunt and nephew. All the other great aunts- on both sides of the family- were distant figures as far as us children were concerned- but Joan was fun. What I didn't know at the time was that she was also stalwart. She was the last member of the family left standing and- as life bashed  them about-  the one they all fell back on.

She was left holding the death certificates.

Here, once again, are the Bridges family. This picture must be dated about 1914. They were a jolly lot- fond of amateur theatricals, who- according to a letter from a distant cousin who was in on the merry-making-  knew, like Scrooge after his change of heart, how to keep Christmas. I know nothing about my great grandparents as people. Great Grandad was a draper with a shop in Maidstone and- later- in Gillingham. They retired to Erith- where their love of am-dram brought them into contact with Ethel Grist and her brother Cyril- who was to marry Violet..

The children in the back row are, left to right- Kathleen (who I remember as a fluffy little thing and profoundly deaf), Violet my Granny, Harold- always with the hankie in the breast pocket- and Ethel. I remember Ethel, but I don't remember anything about her.

And in the middle, standing between her parents, Joan.

Talking About Joan 2

Joan got the looks. They weren't a beauteous family, the Bridges- apart from Joan.  Here she is in 1937.

I wouldn't have spotted it but Ailz went straight for the hands and saw there was an engagement ring. If the date is right it wasn't given her by the man she eventually married. He came later.  What I saw when I looked at the hands is that they are claws. This woman is smiling but she's not at ease. I know she suffered from depression in later life; perhaps it went way back. I'm guessing she was still living at home at this time, with her ageing parents, her deaf sister Kathleen and her dandified brother Harold- holding things together for four needy people.

War freed her. She got a job as a nurse at a TB hospital. Here she met and married one of her patients- a naval Petty Officer called Percy Hook.

I think they both knew he was dying.  Here are two pictures of them together- one taken in Margate, one taken back at the san. I don't think she married him out of pity. At least that's not the vibe I'm getting. He looks real. He looks like a good sort. I think it was a true marriage. He died in 1945.


Naval Affairs

Thanks to Percy Hook a lot of photographs and postcards with a nautical flavour have found their way into the archive. They have their own interest...

HMS Fisgard was a shore-based training facility for naval engineers and artificers based in Portsmouth. It was housed in an ever-changing array of old hulks. We have several Fisgard related items in the collection. Here are two of them.

I think I've spotted a young Percy in the second one, right at the back, just to the left of the bus. He and his messmates are celebrating Trafalgar Day 1922

This next one has a certain historical interest.

On the back Percy has written, "The prisoners of war on board HMS Wild Swan". Wild Swan was a modified W-Class destroyer, built at the end of the Great War- and known to her crew as The Infuriated Chicken.  She was dispatched East in 1926 to protect British interests during the Chinese Civil War and the picture must relate to one of several incidents that took place over the next two or three years. The prisoners of war are members of Chang Kai Shek's Nationalist army.

Here's "The Infuriated Chicken in Chinese waters"

And here's Percy sitting on a gun.


Talking About Joan 3

Joan spent the last decades of her life in Brede, Sussex. She had Kathleen living with her for many years and after Kathleen died she cared for her widowed sister Ethel. She had some sort of book-keeping job- working, I think, for a local garage. Here she is doing it.

She died in the 1990s. Her bungalow- when we went back to it after the funeral- struck me as the most impersonal home I'd ever been in- functional furniture, white goods and next to nothing that betrayed tastes or character. My father asked us all to help ourselves to a souvenir and Ailz and I settled on just about the only thing with a bit of quirk to it- a coffee table she'd had made by a local craftsman. It's in the front room now. While we sitting having our funeral tea the alarm clock in her bedroom- which hadn't been set- started to ring. It was as though she was saying,  "I'm still around, you know." My father, Joan's favourite surviving relative,  pulled the same stunt after his funeral. Perhaps Joan showed him how to do it.