Memories of Dad, Cecil Henry Allery
1900 in London, UK
The turn of the century was an interesting time in the United Kingdom, when huge changes were taking place. The parish of Richmond in Surrey had a population of about 20,000 people, had excellent transport links to London (trains, trams and omnibuses) and was emerging as a sought after residential and commercial location.
Residents were kept informed by no less than four local newspapers:- the Thames Valley Times was published each Wednesday and the Chiswick Times on Fridays. The Richmond & Twickenham Times and the Richmond Herald appeared on Saturdays.
Richmond at that time had a military presence, being home to territorial forces of the 6th Battalion East Surrey Regiment under the command of Major W. Merrick. They were based at the Drill Hall on Park Lane.
My dad was born on 25th April 1900 at 70 Beaumont Avenue in Richmond, Surrey and later christened at Christ Church, Richmond. Cecil was interested in motor mechanics from an early age and this was to feature in his life both at home in England and after emigrating to Australia in 1948. He and his brothers were motor car enthusiasts and they spent a great deal of time in the ‘workshop’ at Hook Road, Surbiton.
Word War 1
On the 23 May 1917 Cecil enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps. I am sure that the death of his own father on the 5th of April, just 20 days before Cecil’s 15th birthday in 1915, 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. I can only imagine how his mother would have felt at this decision. To see her eldest son embrace the military life and be away from home, would have been crushing for Harriet.
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 specialized in the maintenance of military vehicles as an Artificer. By the end of World War 1 he is listed with the regimental service number of 2636 and has the rank of Sergeant Mechanic. 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.
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. But I do not know how he recovered the log book, or where he was at the time.
The SMS Emden had been cruising the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia, wreaking havoc on allied trading ships since the outbreak of the war in August 1914. Captain Karl von Müller was famous on both sides for sinking 27 ships while only taking one life when the Emden ventured into the Indian Ocean in early November 1914.
In later records, Cecil was listed as a Taxi Driver, a Mechanics Assistant and small business owner; ‘Tolworth & Surbiton Car Hire & Repair Service’.
Cecil married Winifred Edith Cutting on 23 July 1924. He and Winifred eloped (motor bike & sidecar) on a Wednesday half day. They were married in the Registry Office in Kingston. Cecil listed his father as William Frederick NOT Walter Frederick (Master Tailor) and Winifred listed her father as Charles Henry Cutting (Master House Decorator). At this time Cecil is living at 55 Ellerton Road, Tolworth, Surbiton and Winifred is living at 13 Park Road, Kingston about a 20 minute drive apart.
Their first child, Marie, was stillborn in 1925 – a very sad beginning to parenting for them both. Their second child, Pamela Marie, was born on 9th March, 1927 in Kingston. Her life story will feature later in my blog. Their first son John Keith was born on 21st April 1929.
During the late 1930’s Cecil and Winifred set up another business, a Bicycle Shop and in the 1939 England and Wales Register it is Winifred who is listed at the Cycle Dealer. By this time the Allery family were living in Hook Road, a long street of significant history in Kingston-on-Thames. Their daughter June Patricia was born on 2nd July 1934 in Kingston.
Life at Hook Road was always discussed as idyllic by my brothers and sisters. A few old black and white photos of family groupings on a picnic rug in the garden remain as images of gentle, safe time for the Allery family. Or was it?
My Dad’s life was changed forever when he witnessed the death of his younger brother, Ted, at the tragic accident Brooklands in 1933.
I now realise now, 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 – a young man of 28 – in the horrific pile up at the race track in Brooklands, would scar him for life.
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.
On 15th September In 1940 twins son Michael and Brian were born. Their birth place and the incident that immediately preceded their birth is another family story handed down with great pride by the two boys.
Winifred, heavily pregnant, was a passenger in Dad’s taxi as he was taking them to safety during the bombing of London in that early part of the war. A sniper was focussing his barrage of bullets on supply trucks that were on their way to provide support for soldiers based north of the city. The taxi was caught up in this melee, and my Dad took the car off the road and sheltered underneath a concrete bridge. Of course, this sudden and alarming danger caused Mum to go into labour.
Dad drove the taxi to a village nearby to seek help and Mum was taken into one of the houses owned by a Russian lady, Madam Nirishnikov. The twins were born and cared for by this Russian family for the first few days of their lives. [Mum did not know that she was having twins, and only had a set of clothing for one child with her. The Nirishnikov’s provided the extra clothing, baby blankets and carrying baskets for the two boys.]
This period of time was known as The Blitz – and the Bombing of London was to continue until May 1941. My older siblings lived through this time, experiencing all of the horrors and deprivation that The Blitz delivered.
I remember hearing some stories from my brothers about the sound of the Doodle bug bombs that were heard in and around London during their first few years – these bombs had a devastating effect on much of the English residential areas and many people died. The twins were warned about NOT travelling too far from home in their miniature push-pedal cars because of that danger, even in the so called safety of Hook Road.
In June 1944, the Germans started sending V1 Flying bombs to bomb London. … A doodlebug was really a bomb with wings. It looked like a small aeroplane and had no pilot – a bit like a cruise missile, but slightly bigger. Thousands of these doodlebugs were launched against London.
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 September 1944, when my Mum was pregnant with me, Cecil moved his family to Married Quarters, Eglyws Brewis near St Athan in Wales. The twins, Michael and Brian and June Patricia went with them. Pamela Marie was completing her nursing exams in Kingston and John was already in the Navy. In her 1944 diary Pamela recounts the day-to-day life in London as a 17 year old and tells her story of lost love. [An older post for another day.]
My brother John remembers being asked to get extra orange juice (limited on the ration books of the time) and wondered why. He was not even told that I was on the way. The first that my sister Pamela knew of my arrival was when she was in hospital herself recovering from an appendectomy. I was born at the Cardiff General Hospital on 31st May 1945.
Cecil was discharged from the R.A.F. 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 re-assimilate 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.
The Allery clan, parents and six children, had just 4 idyllic years in Surbiton after the war whilst Britain was recovering. My brothers and sisters all finished their schooling in Surbiton – 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.
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 ‘Sugar Ray Robinson’.
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!