These are my Grandfather Fred’s medals from the Great War and World War II. From left to right they are his 1914/15 Star, awarded for service with the Territorials at Gallipoli; the British War Medal and Victory Medal for his service with the RFC in Egypt; the Territorial Force Efficiency Medal and a Long Service Medal for the National Fire Brigade Service – during World War II Fred fought the fires at Southampton and Portsmouth blitzes.
The medals are in much better condition than they appear here. They are laid on top of a December 1914 copy of The Sphere illustrated newspaper. The magazine is open at a page displaying the lyrics for It’s a long way to Tipperary, written and composed that same year by Jack Judge and Harry Williams. The linear light blended texture which provides the slightly gruesome overtones is Coffee 6208 courtesy of Leanne Cole Photography.
(click on the image to enlarge)
…No more soldiering for me
When I get my civvy clothes on
Oh how happy I shall be
No more church parades on Sunday
No more putting in for leave
I shall kiss the Sergeant Major
How I’ll miss him, how he’ll grieve.
When I have published this photograph previously I have concentrated on the faces, there is such a wide variation of emotion. This time I have reproduced the entire postcard because there is some interesting detail, including the the old-fashioned guy ropes and the nosey private poking his head out from one of the tents. Judging by the shoelaces on the front row it was a rush job, so maybe some of those expressions are prompted by irritation.
I am guessing this is my maternal grandfather, Fred (seated on the right with a cigarette in hand), when he was still in the Territorial Army, before his dispatch to Gallipoli in January 1915. I have no record of how long he was posted there but by late 1915 he was at the RFC Training School, Aboukir in Egypt where he would stay until January 1919, rising to the rank of Chief Mechanic.
This demobilization account shows he was granted 50 months of War Gratuity up to 18th February 1919 when he was finally dispersed from Fovant Camp in Wiltshire. There is some fascinating detail on this aged piece of bureaucracy:
- The daily wage is seven shillings, almost a third being sent home to the dependant, in this case, Fred’s mum and dad;
- On dispersal he is granted 28 days leave in arrears at the rate of five shillings per day, a ration allowance and money for a set of ‘plain clothes’ – is this the suit he is proudly wearing in this post?
- He walked out of Fovant with £2 in his pocket and two postal drafts – his identity paper shows that these were cashed at his home town of Andover on the 1st and 11th March 1919 respectively – his Savings Bank Book was issued on 26th March 1919.
In the midst of the small print and the cumbersome administration is perhaps the most telling of all mean-spirited statements: The Service Gratuity of £1 per annum is not payable in addition to the War Gratuity. They had evidently not done enough to deserve it.
As a very young boy, Mrs Kipper was the name I gave to my maternal grandmother, Florence May. I do not remember its origins but whereas my grandfather was a kaleidoscope of reassuring smells, Brylcreem, Three Nuns tobacco and probably alcohol, Florence May emitted an earthier odour. I would have taken my mother’s propaganda as gospel; they were permanently at war.
Born in 1896, Florence was five years younger than Fred who she married in 1921. Everyone who loved her called her Florence so I never heard her called anything other than May. I remember her as a small plump old lady with a deeply lined face, a blue hat permanently anchored to her head and slightly bandy legs which gave her an unstable sideways waddle rather than a walk; she trod a very uncertain path. At my first memories she would have been under sixty.
Florence never received a good press in the family. Always labelled as mean and ill-tempered, now I wonder if somehow cause and effect became inverted. She died in 1968 and my sister remembers that in her last days she lay on her death bed refusing to open her eyes to the family, determined to continue her uncertain path quite alone, to the end.
Three things I remember about her; she was partial to a bottle of Mackeson stout which Fred would bring home fresh from the pub every evening, she spoke with a broad Hampshire accent and she could never remember people’s names – everyone was referred to as ‘old wotsizname’, such that if more than one such person occurred in a sentence, all meaning was lost.
And this is the saddest part; Florence May was once a very pretty young girl with a kind face and a bright future. Assuming she is eighteen or under, this picture pre-dates the Great War. What ever followed, it seems certain that those closest to her could have been kinder.
In an earlier post I made reference to my maternal grandfather, Fred, being amongst young men in their prime having the time of their lives, securely distant from the horror of the trenches. Whilst there must be an element of truth in this, life at the Royal Flying Corps Training School at Aboukir, Egypt was always close to the edge. On the ground or in the air, this picture taken by Fred soon after the incident, conveys the ever present dangers of life at No3 SoMA (School of Military Aviation).
Historic aviation writer David Bruce (http://www.cairdpublications.com) describes this incident as follows: An aircraft (looks like a D.H.9) ends up nose deep in the roof of a hangar. This is unlikely to have been a crash from height – the aircraft is too intact for that. It is more likely that a trainee pilot made a heavy landing, and by a mixture of throttle mismanagement and a lack of control managed to bounce his way towards the hangar.
Fred survived the war but as we know, his brother William did not. His local release form from Aboukir is dated 19th January 1919 with a destination of Railway Station nearest home: Andover. The sea journey back home would take him to No.1 Dispersal Unit Fovant where he was finally authorised to travel to Andover on 18th February 1919. Did he know that William was gone or did that tragic news await him as he stepped down from the railway carriage that bleak winter’s Tuesday.
Life goes on. On 21st October 1921 he would marry the pretty Florence May who would eventually turn into ‘Mrs Kipper’, my fearsome grandmother. It is disconcerting how people can change both physically and mentally as life grinds them down from day to day.
In his obituary the Andover Advertiser newspaper describes Fred as a skilled fitter who was keen on motor-cycle and motor trials and with Mr Macklin built a car which was used for racing. I am inclined to think this happened between 1919 and that fateful day in 1921 as I am not convinced Florence May would have countenanced such magnificent activity by men in their machines. Not for the first time, I could be wrong about Mrs Kipper. The family story is that the car, a Lea-Francis bolted together from two crashed halves, was raced at Brooklands so now I am in touch with their archive to see if this can be confirmed. I am longing for this to be true.
Earlier posts show my maternal grandfather serving with the Royal Flying Corps in Egypt during the Great War. Fred was dispersed from Fovant Camp near Salisbury on 18th February 1919. His brother William, also in the Royal Flying Corps but based in the UK was already gone, dying in the last gasps of conflict from Spanish flu. “La Grippe Espagnole” killed more people than were lost during the entire Great War. It has been cited as the most devastating epidemic in world history, killing more people in a single year than during the four years of the Black Death.
His distraught parents received this acknowledgement of a life taken too early:
The King commands me to assure you of the true sympathy at His Majesty and the Queen in your sorrow. He whose loss you mourn died in the noblest of causes. His Country will be ever grateful to him for the sacrifice he has made for Freedom and Justice.
An unthinking example of disconnected bureaucracy, it fails to acknowledge who He is, whilst succumbing to flu is somehow deemed a noble cause rather than the tragic chance act of nature it really was. The standard letter is ‘signed’ (printed) Winston S Churchill, Secretary of State for the Royal Air Force (the RFC became the RAF on 1st April 1918). ‘Billy’ died on 5th November 1918 aged 25 and was buried six days later on a day heavy with symbolism, November 11th, Armistice Day. His funeral was marked with military honours at Andover Cemetery in the presence of his mother, father, ‘chums and superior officers’ and his fiancée, Miss Coombes. Miss Coombes and Billy, the great aunt and uncle I never had. Fred was still half a world away in Egypt and given the communications of the day, almost certainly unaware of his loss.