A number of family historian bloggers take part in the #52 ancestors project, where they write about one ancestor each week. I don’t have time to participate but today would have been my father’s 100th birthday, so I thought that I would devote today’s blog post to him. This then is my #1ancestor.
My father died when I was nine. When I decided to write the story of his branch of my family, in the late 1990s, I realised that I had spent many hours tracing more distant ancestors but that I had neglected to document my grandfather and father, whom I had known. So I decided to research their lives and published their story in In the Shadow of the Iron Horse.
Although I have very good recall of my early childhood, my own memories of my father are fleeting; probably because he worked long and unsocial hours, so our time together was limited. I was able to talk to my mother but inevitably, now she is no longer here to be questioned, I realise that there is still so much I don’t know. I have some facts. Dad, Cyril Albany Braund, was the middle of the three sons of Albany and Elizabeth Ann [Bessie] Braund née Hogg. All three boys were born within three and a half years so times were hard for the family, who were not well off. My grandfather, Albany, was a cleaner and later a porter for London South Western Railway.
Dad went to infants’ school at St. Mark’s in Battersea; a one room school attached to the church. The story in the family is that Dad and his brothers often had to take it in turns to attend school, so that they could share a single pair of boots. Another story relates that Dad, who was very keen on drawing, had to swap his teddy bear in order to obtain a pencil, because the family were so poor. Drawing and painting was a lifelong hobby, as was music. He taught himself to play the piano in the pub owned by the parents of his great friend Eric John Golding. Dad was eighteen and earning before he could afford piano lessons.
At the age of eight, Dad transferred to St Peter’s School, in Plough Lane, Battersea, an enormous, seven story, building, where he remained until leaving school when he was fourteen. He had “been punctual and regular in his attendance and exemplary in his behaviour”. Like his older brother, he began working in the exciting new world of the cinema as a ‘page boy’, employed in the foyer under the supervision of the doorman. This was the ‘dream job’ for boys of the time; perhaps akin to being a computer games developer today. He joined The Majestic, Clapham in an era when silent films were giving way to the ‘talkies’, eventually working his way up to become a projectionist.
In 1939, Dad was employed by the Granada Group, who owned several London cinemas, at their Wandsworth Road branch. Thanks to a wonderful history of Granada Cinemas (Morgan, Guy Red Roses Every Night: an account of London cinemas under fire Quality Press 1948), I know many details of life in this cinema chain during the second world war. For example, on the 28th of August 1939, the staff were read the following memo from the managers of the Granada Group. “A priority air-raid warning will be given to cinema managers when enemy aircraft are sighted over the North Sea. You will not on any account pass on this priority warning to your audience. You will merely give the warning ‘RED ROSES’ to your staff so that they will be prepared”. Today, this conjures up rather farcical images of staff rushing round whispering behind their hands and it seems unlikely that regular patrons would have remained ignorant of the password for long.
Nearly half the men Dad’s age were in uniform and with the extension of the call-up, in May 1940, he enlisted, together with Eric Golding. They joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve on the 4th of July; thus losing their independence on Independence Day. Dad became Gunner 1351715 and was described as being five foot eleven inches tall, with a thirty two inch chest, black hair, hazel eyes and a fresh complexion. I have used service records and family memorabilia to follow Dad’s second world war career, part of which was spent on Sicily and in southern Italy. He was actively involved in the entertainment of the army camp. By the spring of 1945, the end of the war was in sight and Dad was effected by the War Cabinet’s move to draft naval and air force personnel into army. On the 13th of March 1945 he was officially discharged from 2859 squadron on enlistment in the army. His air force report read, “A very good type Airman though not a good J.N.C.O. He could be well employed in his civilian trade. General Conduct excellent.”
In the spring of 1945, he met my mother and despite the RAF report, he spent time as a gunnery instructor in Ireland. Once the war was over, Dad remained in the army, as a sergeant with the Department of National Service Entertainment, resuming his civilian trade as a cinema projectionist. He returned to Naples and helped to set up a cinema at Pomigliano. Dad was formally transferred to the army reserve on the 23rd of August 1946, with effect from the 6th of November. His reference reads “This N.C.O. has proved himself a capable worker and given consistently good service in the Cinema Division. He is a qualified projectionist and is keen hardworking and reliable. An efficient and valued N.C.O.”.
He went back to his work as a projectionist and my parents married in 1947. During the first months of their marriage, they lived with their respective parents, staying with each other only on Dad’s days off. In June 1948 they found a flat, 65 Mallinson Road, just round the corner from Cyril’s family. During the first years of their marriage my parents often went on outings and holidays with Eric Golding and his wife, Eileen. In 1951, this time with mum’s school friend Joyce Chaplin and her husband Peter, they took their first holiday on the Isle of Wight. They stayed at Norton Grange holiday camp in Yarmouth where, fifty years later, their granddaughters performed regularly with the Shanklin Town Brass Band.
Dad was never really satisfied with his working life and changed jobs fairly frequently to try to find something more congenial. One of my particular memories is of being aware of how much he hated his short spell of employment at Cinerama cinemas. His dream had been to set up his own business with Eric Golding but this never transpired. He left for work on the first day of the school holidays in 1965 and died of a heart attack on his journey.
So I have managed to document quite a few facts. When my mother died, I found ‘Forces War Record’, recorded for her by my father in 1946. I had no real recollection of how he sounded. I was able to get this recording put on to disc, just before it deteriorated beyond saving. He was sending my mother birthday greetings. He had got the date wrong but they hadn’t know each other long at this point! I was amazed to hear that his Battersea roots were not noticeable in his accent, which was distinctly BBC – probably a legacy of his career as a cinema projectionist – all those clipped tones of the film stars of the 1930s! So I have his voice.
What I strive to recapture however is some sense of his personality. I know he always felt inadequate in the shadow of mum’s more middle class family and certainly was of the opinion that he had to make up for her ‘marrying beneath her’. I do have a few diaries of the 1960s, which record notes of appointments and events. Just occasionally Dad’s personality shines through the bald statements of fact in these diaries. One such entry is “Beat Bob at Chess!!”, accompanied by a doodle of a flag. Family pets also get a mention in the diaries, for example, the birth of the family dog, Sparky. Even the death of the remarkably long-lived hamster, Nora, is recorded, in the same way as the many deaths of family members, with her name surrounded by a black box. I do have the chance to learn more, as I inherited all Dad’s letters to mum, written whilst they were apart in 1945 and 1946. So far, I have only had time to skim through these but I have promised myself I will study them in detail to try to recapture more of the essence of the man behind the facts that I have gleaned.
More details of Dad’s life and that of his father, can be found in my book In the Shadow of the Iron Horse which is available from me.