Inside the rather drab cover of this book of Christmas music is an inscription which prompted a fascinating Family History inquiry.
The inscription reads:
From Auntie Ivy
Norman is my dad and by Christmas 1935 he was almost twelve years old.
But who was Auntie Ivy?
My father's parents had several siblings who were all my dad's aunts and uncles:
George, Frances, Agnes, Albert, Sarah, Dorothy, Charley, Edith, Ann, John, Ethel and Beatrice.
But no Ivy!
So, who was Auntie Ivy?
She's taken a bit of tracking down but I think Ivy is actually my dad's cousin.
Norman's aunt Agnes Buckle (1880 - 1968) married James Watson in 1898.
The 1901 Census records Agnes and James visiting her father, John Henry Buckle (Norman's grandfather), and his second wife, Ellen, at their home in Royston, South Yorkshire.
With them was their two year old daughter, Ivy.
The 1911 Census records the Watsons living in Barnsley and James' occupation is shown as a pianist.
James' twenty two years old brother, Albert, is living with them and he is also a pianist.
My dad, Norman, was born in 1924 so his cousin Ivy was in her mid thirties when she gave him the music book.
It's highly likely she was known as Auntie Ivy and I think this solves the mystery.
A Google search for the Watson brothers has identified an Albert Watson (1888 - 1968) as a well known pianist and composer of the 1920s and 30s.
He lived in Pontefract and Sheffield, was a self-taught musician and was very popular as a cinema pianist.
The YouTube video below is a modern day performance of one of Albert Watson's compositions.
There's a full account of Albert Watson's life on this website if you scroll down to the bottom of the page.
It's been written by his grandaughter but she doesn't mention that Albert had a brother who was also a pianist.
She does write that Albert was born in Harthill.
And Harthill is where Agnes and her parents (my great grandparents) were born too. So I'm feeling confident that the famous Albert Watson was James' brother and Ivy's uncle.
This leads me to conclude that James could have been a cinema pianist too and this musical background probably explains why Auntie Ivy was so supportive of my dad's learning to play the piano.
Norman became a highly competent pianist managing to accompany Beethoven violin sonatas performed by his friend.
He encouraged me to learn to play the piano when I was a child.
I had a lovely piano teacher called Miss Heaps whom I wrote about in Cabbage and Semolina but I stopped having lessons when I was about fifteen.
In retirement I've started practicing the piano again and keep acquiring more music.
I had a yen to play Jerome Kern tunes and ordered this out-of-print selection from an Amazon second hand dealer.
I don't know who Vera and Eric are but I thought this inscription in the top left corner of the cover page was very poignant.
Imagine how Vera and Eric must have been feeling at Christmas 1945.
World War II was barely over;
they were probably still suffering from bereavement and trauma;
rationing had continued
and yet they were once again living in peace.
I hope they had a really wonderful Christmas and enjoyed singing along to someone playing their Jerome Kern songs.
We decorated our Christmas tree a couple of nights ago and as usual put my childhood fairy doll on the top.
I don't know exactly when she was bought but I can't remember a Christmas without her.
We must have had her before 1958 because that was the year my sister and I were given our first vinyl dolls.
I was seven and my sister was five years old.
The Christmas tree fairy doll is made out of what we used to call "pot" and we noticed the difference to the vinyl dolls.
The fairy doll's hair is just moulded onto her head but the new vinyl dolls had "real hair" which was rooted through pin-holes in the head and could be washed and combed.
The arms of the fairy doll are jointed with elastic bands and her legs don't move at all.
The new vinyl dolls had fully jointed arms and legs which didn't fall off like the pot dolls did.
What a lot of our family history the fairy doll has witnessed.
She was looking down from her perch when we got our new baby sister just in time for Christmas in the early sixties.
She must have noticed when Michael (my husband-to-be) made his first visit to my family home just after Christmas in 1974.
No doubt she joined us in our tears when we found out mum's cancer had returned one Christmas at the start of the eighties.
And a few years later she'd have enjoyed the laughter and excitement when I stuck her on the top of the tree at the village school where I had my first headship.
She came with us to each of our new homes and has seen Tom, Toby and Caleb come and go.
And now she's up on the top of this year's tree waiting for the festivities to begin.
For years the fairy doll spent the months between each Christmas packed away with the rest of the Christmas decorations in an old leather suitcase that had belonged to my dad.
His mother gave it to him when he volunteered for the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm during World War Two. He packed his stuff into it when he went off for his initial training at HMS Royal Arthur.
Once he was enrolled, he got a Royal Navy kit-bag but he kept the suitcase anyway.
Throughout childhood the suitcase accompanied us on our annual summer holidays and our first family trip to London.
Even empty it was really heavy but that was the style for luggage in those days. Eventually the leather handle broke and attempts to repair it with string always ended up in disaster so the suitcase was relegated to becoming a storage box in the loft.
A couple of years ago, the leather developed a strange, greeny-grey mildew. I don't know what caused the mildew but it didn't look very healthy. So, I photographed the suitcase for posterity and dumped it.
A Happy #FamilyHistory New Year
Saturday 1st January 1944
"Rang in the New Year well and truly on the ship’s bell.
Nearly all the officers and ratings were in various stages of inebriation.
The first lieutenant vainly trying to drink someone’s health from a bottle with the top still on.
Foul taste in mouth this morning due to excess of port wine."
That's what my dad (Norman Buckle) wrote in his diary on New Year's Day 1944.
He was stationed at H.M.S. Spurwing, the Royal Navy Air Base at Hastings, near Freetown in Sierra Leone, West Africa. He was nineteen years old.
This photo was in Norman's collection and it looks like it could have been the New Year's Eve celebrations. Looks like it was a fun night!
Considering that high temperatures and humidity made a posting to Freetown very unpopular with services personnel they look like they're making the best of it!
Freetown was surrounded by malarial mangrove swamps and the humidity was so high that if a pair of shoes was lost underneath a bed, in a week the shoes would be covered with mildew.
Norman was a Radio Mechanic in the Fleet Air Arm who'd joined up in August 1942. He'd been sent on various training courses before being shipped out to West Africa in October 1943.
By that stage in World War II, Freetown had become a significant place in the war effort.
Freetown was (and remains) the capital and largest city of Sierra Leone.
It had the third largest natural harbour in the world.
During World War II, Freetown was crucial in the convoy route from Britain to South Africa, India and Australia.
The base served a total of thirty two different convoy routes. It was home to large warships of the Royal Navy, destroyer escorts and submarines. The ocean off the West Coast of Africa was a hunting ground for German submarines.
Hastings was fifteen miles east of Freetown and an aerodrome had been constructed there from which Fleet Air Arm planes operated.
710 Squadron was formed in August 1939 as a seaplane squadron searching for U boats attacking convoys and commercial shipping. Later, 777 Squadron was formed at Hastings on 1st August 1941 as a fleet requirements unit. It had a small number of Swordfish aircraft to which Defiants and Walruses were added in 1942. Throughout 1943 the squadron was responsible for the air defence of Sierra Leone.
H.M.S. Spurwing was a shore base which had been hacked out of the bush at Hastings, near Freetown.
It was commissioned in March 1943 and had capacity for eighty four aircraft.
According to his service record, Norman's job at H.M.S. Spurwing was A.S.U. (Aircraft Storage Unit) Maintenance.
Later in his diary Norman recorded:
"Incidentally, Spurwing has two functions – a squadron for anti-submarine work, and a storage depot for naval aircraft; so that a carrier coming in with its planes shot up, can remain in Freetown and be completely refitted from Spurwing."
When I was researching the background to my dad's diary I found out that the Radio Mechanic's job was to remove the aircraft's heavy radio set for testing and repair and then after re-placing the radio set in the aircraft go on a test flight to check the radio was working properly.
In April 1944, Norman recorded:
"Went in H.S. 599 on Radar test with Dick doing a W/T [Wireless Telegraphy] test at the same time.
Felt some nasty quakes when the pilot went into a corkscrew dive over the harbour but otherwise unimportant. Pleased to write that I am no longer troubled by air sickness."
This photograph is the Radio Section of H.M.S. Spurwing.
Norman wrote the names of the men in his photo book:
Back Row: J. Ridgway, A. Jones, N. Buckle, C. Perry, W. Rowlands
Front Row: F. Knowlden, G Quick, S/Ldr Munby, D. Bell, A Hutchinson.
I don't know what happened to them.
As I explained in the introduction to I Think I Prefer the Tinned Variety, Norman never really talked about his war-time experiences.
When we were young my sisters and I were never very interested in what he'd been doing what seemed like years before. By the time we were interested our dad was no longer around to answer our questions. His diary is all that remains to tell us about that period in his life when he left a coal mining village in South Yorkshire to live and work for over a year in equatorial Africa.
By the end of 1944, Norman was back home again but it wasn't long before he was sent off on his next voyage - to a tiny island in the Pacific Ocean as part of the British Pacific Fleet.
Thanks for reading my blog today
Very best wishes for Christmas and the New Year.
You might also like to find out about some family history treasure that was almost lost forever.
Or meet my ancestor William Buckle who emigrated to Australia in 1842.
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