Lest We Forget

My Uncle Frank Brookes 1919-1940

Frank Brookes was born just after the first world war in 1919, his parents were Frank Brookes and Alice Eva Bishop.

Alice and Frank Brookes with son Frank and daughter Dorothy (Dolly)

He was born at his grandmother’s house 2 Wolverton Road, Worcester on the 12th of April 1919.

2 Wolverton Road facing the canal

He went to St. Stephen’s school and on leaving got a job at Burtons grocer’s shop in The Tything. Worcester. He was well liked and became a traveller for the store visiting customers. He then moved to Beards grocers, which was a much larger and higher-class store and he was able to persuade many of his customers to move with him.

Frank and his sister Dolly

Frank and his good friend Paul Rider who owned a sports car, were both popular with the ladies. Sometimes Frank would ask his sister Dolly to walk down the street arm in arm, pretending to be a girl-friend in order to make some girl jealous. He kept a little black book with lots of girl’s names and addresses in his pocket.

Frank, Dolly and Paul Rider

Frank joined the Worcester regiment at the outbreak of WW2. Private Frank Brookes 5253731 was sent to France with 8th Batt. The 8th Battalion landed at Le Havre on the 16th January 1940, and moved up to a concentration area at Tourville before moving on to Moncheaux, near the Belgian frontier, which was reached three days later. At this time the British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F.) was on the left of the Maginot Line, with a neutral Belgium to its front. The task allotted to the 8th Battalion was to patrol about ten miles in front of the Maginot Line. On the 24th April 1940, the 8th Battalion arrived back at Moncheaux with Brigade H.Q. nearby at Le Forest. It was to spend another month digging anti-tank defensive positions in this area and carrying out reconnaissance’s up to the Belgian frontier. The weather was dreadful.

Private Frank Brookes

The dreadful weather continued into the spring, so that digging became a slow, messy process, and in the event proved subsequently of no avail. Leaving behind many good friends among the civil population of Moncheaux, the 8th Battalion packed up and by daylight on 14th May 1940 was across the Belgian frontier. On the morning of 28th May the Battalion was still in and around the chateau of Wormhoudt. The march to Bray Dunes has been summed up as a nightmare. All transport had been destroyed at Bambecque. For many this involved the abandonment of a mass of trinkets, and of personal kit collected laboriously over the winter.

They arrived at Dunkirk on the 30th May. On the beach was a massive, military policeman who was sorting out arrivals by divisions. As far as the eye could see, there were thousands of troops, British and French crowded the beach. While at the time only one solitary destroyer and two small merchant ships stood a mile out to sea. Surely, some may have thought, here was no salvation but a death-trap!

Officers and men lay huddled together in the dunes, sleeping the sleep of exhaustion. Whilst others lined up in queues leading into the water, waiting for ships. Often German planes would fly overhead machine gunning the men on the beach.

Troops standing in the water waiting to board the ships

That day on the beach the Battalion performed its last service for the welfare of its comrades in the B.E.F. It had been evident that there were no orders covering the arrangements for the rowing boats to come and go between the shore and the ships. The Commanding Officer and a Major of the Royal Engineers took the situation in hand. Volunteers were called for to swim out and bring in many of the boats which were floating idly in the sea, and rowing gangs from men who professed to row were organized. The men of the 8th Battalion formed three sides of a square on the beach facing away from the sea, and into this box parties for the boats were passed as they were made up. It was a fine job of work. Earlier the Colonel had decided that parties of waifs and strays without a unit should take precedence; so, it was that 8th Worcestershires came away having seen many others to safety first. They eventually boarded The Glen Gower.

The Glen Gower paddle steamer

The Glen Gower proved to be a paddle-steamer, familiarly known on the Bristol Channel ferry service. Her decks were packed with troops. Rifles were stacked to save space; and her captain had a busy time shouting instructions, in order to obtain an even distribution of weight on his decks. “Move right down the car, please!” In such a way he balanced his paddles evenly in the water. So far as enemy interference was concerned it was a lucky day. Only at Dunkirk a German plane straddled the Glen Gower with a stick of bombs and one caught it with a glancing blow. Of the 1,400 men on board, only four or five were hit.

And so, to Harwich; and for once “the Glorious First of June” passed uncelebrated! Frank was among over 335,490 officers and men who were evacuated from Dunkirk by the thousands of small ships that took part in the rescue of the BEF known as ‘Operation Dynamo’. At Harwich they had a chance to get clean and have a meal before catching a train to Derby. By the 4th of June they had made their way to Kington where they halted for some time and were given new clothing and equipment and joined by new recruits. On the third of July they moved on to Somerset and were billeted in two villages Castle Cary and Bruton. They were now part of the 48th Division and their role was anti-invasion. In this capacity they moved on to Cornwall and went to camp at Lanhydrock near Bodmin. On the 5th of Aug they moved to Penryn and Falmouth and were responsible for the defence of these places, digging and wiring around the coastal areas.

By now Frank was quite unwell. they had done a lot of marching and Frank collasped whilst on the march. He was diagnosed as having caught polio which infected his lungs. It was probably from standing in the dirty water waiting to be rescued by the ships. At first his symptoms would have seemed like flu, sore throat, head ache, aching muscles, sickness. It can take up to 21 days for all the symptoms to appear. But then it can attack the nerves and cause paralysis and if the breathing muscles are affected it becomes life threatening.

Royal Cornwall Infirmary Truro

He was sent to Truro Hospital and was put into an iron lung as his chest was affected, but he died on Monday 12th August 1940. The nurse who was looking after him was very upset as she had grown quite fond of him and he had promised her that when he was better that he would take her out to the pictures.

Frank’s Grave in Astwood Cemetery Worcester
Frank’s Medals

He was only 21, his name is on the Roll of Honour at Worcester Cathedral and he is buried in Astwood Cemetery in the military section.

From the Commonwealth Graves Commision site


The details about the evacuation of the 8th Battalion is taken from the Worcester Regiment’s website.

The Alcock Family More convicts, some free settlers and a Justice of the peace!

My Alcock family ancestors are an interesting lot, some bad some good. Thomas Alcock a needle maker & Martha Wilkingson of Feckenham had at least 11 children of which 7 were male. I will feature these sons in my blog as I’ve enjoyed discovering what happened to them. Their names can be spelt either Allcock or Alcock, people 200 years ago were not that fussed how their name was spelt and some were not very literate. I have found various spellings in the records that I have discovered, so for ease I will use Alcock.

William Alcock was born at Headless Cross, baptised in Redditch in 1799, he was an agricultural labourer.

He married Sarah Robinson in 1821 at St Bartholomew’s Tardebigge.

St Bartholomews Tadebigge

They had a least 6 children but 10 years later he was a widower and living alone. His life seems rather sad. He turns up on the next three censuses living alone in various lodging houses in Redditch, Aston and then Crabb’s Cross, and his occupation is house painter. By 1881 he ends up in Alcester Union Workhouse. He dies there aged 84 with no family around him in 1882.

Alcester Union Workhouse

Henry Alcock was born in 1803 he was a needle maker like his father and married Sarah Sealy in 1831 in Feckenham, and I have already told his story of sheep stealing and transportation to Australia in my previous blog.

Richard Alcock was born in Feckenham in 1805. He was a needle maker and married Jemina Jarvis in 1829 in Feckenham, she gave him 3 children but by 1839 she was dead. Richard had two brushes with the law, in 1820 he was sentenced to 1 months imprisonment for larceny and in 1831 he was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment for felonishly destroying a machine. He would have been sent to Worcester Gaol.

Worcester Gaol

He probably spent some time on the treadmill as part of his hard labour.

Treadmill

After the death of his wife Jemima he married Ann Christopher in 1842 in Birmingham.
By the 1861 census he is living in 205 Cumberland Street, Sydney, N S W, Australia, I do not know if he went out there as a convict or a free settler. He seems to have arrived sometime between 1851 and 1854 as his daughter Ann was married in Wodonga, Victoria to Henry Gullen.
Richard Alcock died 4 Jan 1864, cause of death mania, occ. needle maker, informant son William also of 205 Cumberland Street. Sydney, N S W. His wife Ann died in 1873.

Frederick Alcock was born 14 Jul 1897 in Redditch, Worcestershire, he married Mary Ann Green on the 3 Feb 1834 at Redditch in Worcestershire and they had at least eight children. On the 1841 census Fred is living in Webheath, Feckenham with his wife and four of his children, his wife’s sister is also living with them. He is working as a labourer on the rail road. By 1851 he is still in Webheath, living with his wife and three of their children, he is now described as a day labourer, which means he can only get work when it’s available and paid on a daily rate. Not much security for a family man.

Frederick Alcock

With three of his brothers now in Australia and his wife’s brother also living there and news that gold has been discovered in the area where her brother John Green is living, Fred decides to take a chance and emigrate with his family as a free settler to try his luck in the Araluen gold fields. They departed aboard the ‘Epaminondas’ from Liverpool on the 30th April 1852. They arrived in Adelaide, South Australia on 2nd August 1852. They then went to the Monaro district to a property called ‘Dolondondo’ which was owned by Mary Ann’s brother John Green. Sadly Mary Ann drowned in the Numerella river at Rose Valley near Cooma on 17th June 1864 and was buried Nimmitabel.

The Araluen Goldfields

One of Fred’s sons called Arthur who was 18 when he arrived in NSW did particularly well for himself. He managed a station for his uncle John Green. Five years later he purchased Greenlands station near Nimitybelle comprising 16000 acres. Moving to Candelo in 1862 he bought the Springfield property near Bobundarah and combined the dairying agricultural farming breeding cattle and sheep and a love of thoroughbred horses. He became a justice of the peace in 1882, he was also involved in setting up the local school and was president of Candelo turf club.

Arthur Alcock J.P.

Thomas Alcock Baptised at Redditch 15 Oct 1813, he was a needle maker and illiterate. Thomas was not the best-behaved person in the world already being sent to prison twice; once for ‘feloniously damaging machinery’ and secondly for larceny. He was charged with sheep stealing on the 15 Oct 1838 and sent to the hulk ‘Ganymede’ at Woolwich. He was transported aboard the ‘Layton’ to Van Diemen’s Land on 26 Jun 1839. When he stole the sheep, the judge thought that transportation to Tasmania for 10 years may have changed his ways but this was not to be. On two occasions he received the lash and was placed in solitary for being drunk and disorderly. He is granted his ticket of leave on 25th Jan 1845. He applied for a Conditional Pardon which was granted on 27th Nov 1847.

In 1853 he turns up in NSW at the Araluen Goldfields where his brother, Frederick, is baking bread in an oven built out of an ant hill. (Alcock family history says so!). Apparently, Frederick is none the wiser that Thomas has received a pardon and rather than be associated with an escaped convict Frederick reports Thomas to the Police. The Sydney Morning Herald 4th July 1853 states that Thomas was at the diggings at Araluen when police officer Bradley put a gun to his head and arrested him for being a runaway from Van Diemen’s Land. He was handcuffed and marched 8 miles to Bell’s Flat and kept on a chain all night. He was then ordered to Sydney to be identified. But he was first kept in the watch house at Braidwood for 9 days then marched to Sydney in handcuffs which is over 135 miles. They would not allow him to take a coach at his own expense. He was made so ill by this treatment that he had to remain I day in Goulburn. When finally arriving at the office in Sydney he was discharged without the slightest hint of regret or offer of compensation for the wrongs he had endured. I would love to know what happened to him after that. On one family tree they have his death in 1902 which would make him about 89 when he died.

Nathaniel Alcock was born in Redditch in 1818 he was a tailor and he married Maria Jones at Kings Norton in Oct 1839. They had two children, Mary Martha Alcock 1855 and Thomas Nathaniel 1858.
His wife died in 1868 he seems to have led a sad lonely life after that and by 1881 Nathaniel was living in the Richmond Union Workhouse when he died.

Richmond Union Workhouse, Surrey

Hugh Alcock was baptised 5 Jan 1823 at Redditch and became a needle maker by trade same as his father. He was convicted at Worcester quarter sessions 24 Feb 1840 and charged with warehouse breaking and stealing needles. Was sentenced to transportation to Van Diemen’s Land. On the record it says he had two brothers of bad character who had been transported. He was received aboard the Hulk ‘Justitia’ moored at Woolwich on 19 Mar 1840.

He was taken aboard the ‘Asia’ on 17 April 1840 and arrived in Hobart, Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) on 6 Aug 1840. His behaviour was not that good. He was reprimanded for leaving his work gang, also being absent without leave at night and suspected of stealing fruit from his master’s garden. But by 1842 his behaviour has improved; he is described as an intelligent and regular servant. He was praised for ‘Meritorious Conduct’ when his master Mr. Walker was attacked and tied up by 2 armed bushrangers, Hugh helped him to escape and raised the alarm at considerable risk to himself.

Hugh Alcock’s record

On 20 Dec 1844 he was given his TOL at Hobart. He received his conditional pardon on 21 Jan 1847 in Hobart, Tasmania. This pardon was conditional on him not retuning to England but Hugh did! For I have found him marrying Kezia Dent who was born in Redditch the daughter of John Dent & Sarah Willington. They married at St. Martins Church, Birmingham by licence in 1852. Hugh then emigrated to Victoria, Australia with his new wife and it is thought that Ann Alcock the daughter of Hugh’s brother Richard came with them. Hugh was now calling himself William Clark or Hugh Clarke with or without the (e) on various documents. They went on to have 7 children all with the surname Clarke. Hugh died on 1st May 1882 in Oven District Hospital, Beechworth, Victoria, Kezia his wife lived to her 90th year dying 5th May 1918 in Victoria, as well as 7 children, she left 6 grandchildren and 2 gt. Grandchildren.

Notice of Kezia’s death

So, it seems that the men who were either transported or emigrated as free settlers had a much better life than to two brothers who stayed in England who both ended their days dying without family in the workhouse.

More Sealey’s Some Alcocks and Sheep Stealers

Recently I wrote about Luke Sealey born in 1775 and I my problem of finding the parents of another Luke born almost the same time in Feckenham, Worcestershire. Now I’ve turned my attention to the daughter of his brother William who was called Sarah Sealey. Sarah was born in 1814 in Tardebigge, Worcestershire which means the Tower on the Hill and is the adjoining parish to where her Uncle Luke was born. Oddly enough the church tower collapsed in 1775 the year of Luke’s birth.

St. John the Baptist, Feckenham

Sarah married Henry Alcock who was a needle maker on the 19th Sept 1831 at Feckenham Parish church. She had given birth to four children; Calib, Selina, Catherine and Owen by 1839, but that year their married life was to be ripped apart by her husband Henry’s irresponsible behaviour. He was arrested with another man called John Ball for stealing some ewe sheep, the property of Susannah Vincent. At the Michaelmas quarter sessions in Worcester on 14 Sept 1839 they were both found guilty and sentenced to 15 years.

According to the criminal records, Henry was received from Worcester gaol on 30 October 1839 and sent to the hulk ‘Ganymeade’ at Woolwich awaiting transportation. Records state that the Ganymede was formerly the French frigate Hebe, captured and converted to a prison hulk in 1819, docked at Chatham and later moved to Woolwich, but it was broken up in 1838. So, he may have been put on one of the other hulks such at the ‘Warrior’ which was also at Woolwich. Whilst checking the register for the Ganymede I found the word ‘Warrior’ written on the last page, so I think that the prisoners had been transferred to the ‘Warrior’ at some point in 1838 but they still went on recording prisoner’s names in the Ganymede Register. There is quite a lot written about the Hulks at Woolwich here are some excerpts that I have found

The Hulk ‘Warrior’

September 8, 1837, True Sun, London,


Escape of a Convict from Woolwich
Yesterday afternoon, between two and three o’clock, a convict named Alexander Barclay, belonging to the Ganymede hulk, at Woolwich, was missing. An alarm was instantly given and every search made, but without effect. He was under sentence for seven years and had served eighteen months. He has an iron round his left leg and is dressed in convict’s clothes, which are marked with the number 4,418. In what way he effected his escape remains a complete mystery.


Life on board
Conditions on board the floating gaols were appalling. The standards of hygiene were so poor that disease spread quickly. The sick prisoners were given little medical attention and were not separated from the healthy. Two months after the first convicts had been placed on board the hulks, an epidemic of gaol fever (a form of typhus spread by vermin) spread among them. It persisted on and off for more than three years. Dysentery, caused by drinking brackish water, was also widespread. At first, patients, whatever their state of health, lay on the bare floor. Later they were given straw mattresses and their irons were removed.


Every morning, at seven o’clock, all the convicts capable of work, or, in fact, all who are capable of getting into the boats, are taken ashore to the Warren, in which the Royal Arsenal and other public buildings are situated, and there employed at various kinds of labour; some of them very fatiguing; and while so employed, each gang of sixteen or twenty men is watched and directed by a fellow called a guard.
These guards are commonly of the lowest class of human beings; wretches devoid of feeling; ignorant in the extreme, brutal by nature, and rendered tyrannical and cruel by the consciousness of the power they possess. Manacles were used on board prison hulks to restrain prisoners.

Henry Alcock departed on the Maitland bound for New South Wales, Australia on 9th March 1840.
His description from the records was very detailed:
Henry Alcock was 37 years old on arrival in Australia, he was literate, protestant, married, had two male and two female children, his native place was Worcester. He was 5’ 3” tall, of sallow complexion, brown mixed with grey hair, hazel eyes, large nose, his right eye was weak, hair thin on crown, scar under right side of lower lip, small mole under left eye, two moles on right side of neck, and large one on back right side of same, three moles on upper part of breast, scar on back of left thumb. His behaviour was described as very bad, and that he had bad connections. (he had other brothers who had also been transported) Thomas Alcock was convicted of sheep stealing in Worcester on 15 Oct 1832 and was transported on the Layton 2 on the 8 Dec 1839. The next six years he would have been a convict and given hard labour in the penal colony.

He was given a ticket of leave on the 19th Aug 1846 which allowed him a little more freedom to go out and work and earn a little money, but only allowed to remain in the district of Broulee.

Henry was given a conditional pardon in 1850 after serving only 10 of his 15 years so he must have behaved well. In 1851 the ‘Gold Rush’ was in full swing and thousands of diggers were rushing to the nearby Araluen gold fields. I would expect Henry now a free man would have got involved.

Meanwhile back at home in Feckenham according to the 1851 census his wife Sarah had got herself a lodger called David Clayton to help make ends meet now that her husband could no longer provide for the family.
Also, she had given birth two more children; Tom Alcock born 1847 and Amanda Alcock born 1849, most probably by the lodger David Clayton.
On the 1871 census David is recorded as head of the household and called David Alcock.
On the 11th Nov 1872 Sarah married the father of her other children David Clayton, she was claiming to be a widow although her husband is still alive in Australia. On the 1881 census David Clayton was a widower and he was dead by 1884.

But I still have many stories about the Alcock family to tell next and their adventures in Australia.

Adventures in Family Histroy

I’ve found transported convicts in my tree

Ezekeil Beebee was born in Walsall and baptised at St. Matthews Church on 16 Jun 1811, he was the son of William Beebee and Sarah Mason. His trade was a cordwainer but he joined the army and was sent to Canada with 24th reg of foot to help keep down the insurgents and stop uprisings. The conditions were really bad with outbreaks of cholera. Many men deserted and Ezekeil was one of them in 1832.

A brief description of 24th Reg of Foot’s time in Canada.
On 23 July 1829, after a brief period in Lancashire preparing for their third trip to North America, the 1st Battalion departed Manchester by canal boat arriving at Paddington four days later. During the tedious nine weeks crossing the Atlantic, the Regiment’s Colonel, Sir David Baird died.
In October 1829 the regiment began a twelve-year sojourn in Upper and Lower Canada. It participated in the suppression of an insurgency in the valley of the Richelieu River at the end of 1837 and the suppression of the Rebellion of 1838 in the Montreal area.
When ordered home to Britain in June 1841 it left almost 200 men behind as voluntary reinforcements for other regiments in Canada. This was in addition to hundreds of men who had deserted in the previous twelve years – 111 deserters in the years 1837 and 1838 alone.

The sort of uniform Ezekiel would have worn

On 3rd Oct 1832 he was court martialled at Kingston, in Canada and sentenced to 21 years. He was sent back to England and spent 4 years imprisoned on a Hulk ship called ‘The Levitian’ in Portsmouth.

They laboured at the docks during the day and were locked up on board at night in filthy conditions.

He was transported to New South Wales, Australia on ‘The Norfolk’ which departed 27th Oct 1836. They arrived on 12th Feb 1837.

The convict indents stated that Ezekeil Beebee was aged 25, he could read & write, he was a protestant, and single. He was from Staffordshire. He was a shoemaker and soldier, who was tried for desertion at Kingston, Canada court martial 16 Jan 1836 and sentenced to 21 years. He had no former convictions. His complexion was ruddy & pockpitted, brown hair and dark blue eyes. He had lost canine teeth on the left side of upper jaw and had a mole on his left cheek, a small mole on right side of mouth. Tattoos: Crown and E B in a wreath on upper right arm, a woman on upper left arm. Scar betwixt fore finger and thumb on left hand, ring and scar third finger of the same. Sun under left arm.

From the general muster it states that his master was P S Inches of Patricks Plains. He would have to work for him during the day and be locked up at night.
His ticket of leave (TOL) issued on 30 April 1847 it stated that he was allowed to remain in the service of Mr. Edward Brown at the McIntyre River for 18 months. He would now be able to earn wages. and have a little more freedom.

But, his TOL was cancelled 16th April 1851 due to being absent from district. That means he would be locked up again.

His TOL was again refused 30 Aug 1851. After this we don’t know what happened to Ezekeil Beebee.

Are there any Australian readers out there who can tell me what happened next to Ezekeil Beebee?

This is getting addictive!

My Sealy / Sealey family history problems!

I am struggling to sort out the families of two people named Luke born within 4 years of each other in the same area of Worcestershire. Redditch, which was the centre of needle making and fish hook and fishing tackle manufacturing. The Sealey’s spelt in various ways (Sealey, Sealy, Seely, Selle and Sele) turn up all over the Redditch area of Worcestershire including Tardebigg, Webheath, Headless Cross, Crabbs Cross, Feckenham and Bromsgrove. I’m sure these two Luke’s must be cousins, but several people on Ancestry have attached Luke Sealey born abt. 1771 to my 5x gt. grandparents Luke and Esther Sealy of Feckenham. Whereas my Luke Sealy (my 4x gt. grandfather) was born in 1775 also in Feckenham.

This presumed cousin Luke Sealey married Agnes Mills on the 1 Jan 1793 at St. John The Baptist Feckenham but they don’t appear to have had any children. Agnes died 21 Jan 1802 at Feckenham. Luke then married again, this time to Ann Guest who was born in 1778. They married at Holy Trinity Church, Belboughton on 1 Oct 1802. They had six children, Elizabeth 1803, Thomas 1807, John 1811, William 1815, Ann 1816, James 1821.

Holy trinity church Belbroughton

We find Luke next on the 1841 census living at 20 Beoley Lane, Redditch, Tardebigg, Worcestershire. With wife Ann, and daughter Ann and son James both needle makers. The other children having left and married etc. Luke died in 1848 and is buried at Nesley, Worcestershire aged 77.

I do find it irritating when I see other people’s Ancestry trees with my ancestors attached to the wrong parent etc. There are about six or more trees on Ancestry that have attached this wrong Luke to my 5x gt. Grandparents. I want to contact them and tell them their mistake but, until I know just who this Luke’s real parents are, there doesn’t seem much point. They don’t seem to have noticed that they married different people and have different names for their children. They must just look at a hint and click without checking who they are joining their family to?

My Luke Sealy (my 4xgt. Grandfather) was bapt. At Feckenham 8 Oct 1775 the son of Luke Sealy (1747-1808) and Esther Hawthorn 1745-?)
My Luke Sealy married Elizabeth Harris by banns on 1 Aug 1803 at St. John the Baptist Feckenham and had at least 3 children Ann 1804, Catherine 1805 (my 3x gt grandmother) and Hannah 1807

St. John the Baptist Feckenham

On Friday last week I visited the Society of Genealogists and searched the written transcriptions of Feckenham parish records and noted down every instance of the name Sealy and variations in the area since their records began. Then I spent Sunday sorting out which children belonged to which parent’s marriages. I came up with loads more Sealey families in the same area, but no solution to my two Lukes. So next time I will be writing down all the Sealy/ Sealey etc of all the surrounding villages to see if that solves my problem.
So, if anyone out there has any ancestors named Sealy (any spellings) in the Redditch area and can shed some light on my problem, I’d be very pleased to hear from them. Thanks

Helpful Links:

Society of Genealogists

http://www.sog.org.uk/

Midland Ancestors

https://midland-ancestors.uk/

Hi my name is Toni – I’ve been researching my family history since 1980

Stories my mother told me

My mother Dorothy was born in Worcester during the first world war on the 5th October 1915. Her mother Alice was only 21 when her husband Frank Brookes was posted to Spalding as a clerk in the Army Service Corps. They had only been married since May and she didn’t relish the idea of being left alone with a tiny baby, so she decided to go with her husband and leave the baby in Worcester, with her mother Mary Jane Smith. Alice became a civilian secretary to the Captain of her husband’s unit. When they first arrived at Spalding they slept on the floor in the town hall and my grandmother complained that rats had tried to eat her best hat.

Alice in her best hat with husband Frank

Alice and Frank were later relocated to Leamington Spa. My mother was left to live with her grandmother at Welbeck Villas, 2 Wolverton Road, Worcester. The road overlooked the canal and her grandfather Walter (who was known as Pops to the family) would sit outside painting pictures of the barges that passed the house, he also like to play the melodeon.

2 Welbeck Villas, Wolverton Road, Worcester

Her grandmother became her main carer and although she was strict, she loved her, taught her to read and write, introduced her to music, literature and dance. Dorothy was very happy there. Also living in the house was her Aunt Maggie who would play the piano whilst Dorothy would sing and dance.

My mum called her mother ‘Mom’ and her father ‘Pop’ which sounded rather American to me as a child. Mum told me that her father Frank was born in Walsall (which is in Staffordshire) and when I was younger I thought she said Warsaw and mistakenly thought he must be Polish as I had been watching the children’s serial “The Silver Sword” on TV which was set in Poland. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that Mum pointed out my mistake.
My mother was told that one winter when the canal was frozen over, her mother pushed baby Dorothy in her in her pram along the frozen canal. Luckily, the ice was thick! Dorothy had a rag doll called Winnie and she took her with her mum and grandad to see grandad’s allotment on Merrimens Hill. She rested Winnie against the shed where Pops kept his tools, but when they came away she had forgotten to pick up the doll. They went back straight away but the doll was gone. Then Alice stopped a woman with a pram and asked if she had seen it, but she said no. Alice was sure it was her who had taken it. My mother never forgot that Doll and used to dream that she was wading across the canal to get her, it worried her so! She had nearly lost her once before out of a train window, but the doll had been rescued that time.

Dorothy with her favourite dolly Winnie

In 1919 my grandmother Alice gave birth to another child, a boy named Frank. He was blonde and blue-eyed unlike Dorothy who had dark hair and hazel eyes like her father. There were rumours that Frank was the son of the Captain that Alice had been working for. Her husband Frank had caught them kissing in the office and went to punch him but the Captain pulled rank and told Frank to get out or he would put him on a charge! Alice is in the back row on the left with a pen mark above her head. The Captain is seated at the front in the centre.


Here is a photo of my Gt. Grandmother Mary Jane, my grandmother Alice, my mother Dorothy and her little brother Frank. Do you think this little blonde boy looks like the Captain? We’ll never know if the rumours were true or not! Their body language shows who my mother was closer too, she is learning into her grandmother Mary Jane, whilst her mother Alice sits apart behind her son Frank.

Mary Jane, Dorothy, Alice and Frank Jnr

About 2 years after the war ended, my grandmother Alice wanted to take her daughter home to live with her, firstly at Pierrepoint Street. Toddler Frankie dropped the key to the front door down the drain and they were asked to leave. Next, they moved to their new council house at 4 Northwick Walk, Barbourne, Worcester. But little Dorothy soon became ill, she was very unhappy and when the doctor was called he said she was pining for someone. She wanted the only person that she had received love from, her grandmother Mary Jane. Alice was bitterly hurt by this rejection from her daughter and their relationship suffered for the rest of their lives. Alice never really forgave her. Dorothy was sent back to live with her grandmother Mary Jane and aunt Maggie. Alice living with her husband Frank and son, Frank junior.
Dorothy and her Grandmother
Dorothy didn’t attend school until nearly seven years old as her health had been poor. Twice her mother had been told by the doctor that she wouldn’t last the night. When her mother started crying, the doctor said to her “What’s the matter woman, you can have more children?”
When Dorothy started at St. Stephen’s school, she spent more time at home with her mother but still spent weekends and holidays with her Gran. She was put into the nursery class on her first day but by home time they had promoted her to the top class. She could already read and write, having been taught by her Grandmother and auntie Maggie.
Memories are strange and can be triggered by anything. Once when mum was drinking some fizzy lemonade, the taste took her right back to her school days. The teacher took the class on a trip to Knightwick and Dorothy had been given a whole bottle of lemonade to herself, the sort of bottle that had a marble in the top. What bliss! Dorothy thought that the Teacher only took the class there so that she could meet her boyfriend, which she did. The children had a great time. They slid down the hills and did things that the dress she was wearing was completely unsuitable for. It was a lovely white, hand-knitted lace dress with a satin sash that her mother had made. By the time she got home she looked a mess!
Dorothy wanted to dance but was never given the chance to have lessons, so she stuffed the toes of her shoes with paper to try and dance on her toes like a ballerina. She often got into trouble when older for dancing around the room at her Gran’s and knocking the gas mantle with her waving arm movements which would then cause the mantle to revolve. When she was eight years old her Gran took Dorothy to watch her heroine Anna Pavlova dance, she appeared at the Public Hall in Worcester, but should have been booked at the Theatre Royal but they had been double booked. Some variety act was there instead, “Shame on them,” my mum said. Anna Pavlova had to dance with her full company on that tiny makeshift, almost oval stage.
But still it was one of the most wonderful and never to be forgotten nights for my mother. Dorothy and Gran waited outside for her after the show and in the crush of people, someone had accidently put their hand through the window of Anna’s car and smashed it. In spite of all that Anna still had the most wonderful smile to greet her adoring fans. I still have the souvenir programme that mum treasured all her life.
Mum remembers seeing many stars at the Theatre Royal, such as Gracie Fields, who when she first started was dressed as a maid. She also saw George Robey and Nellie Wallis. Dorothy and Auntie Maggie sat up in the gods eating potato fritters. The great contralto Dame Clara Butt was appearing at the Public Hall but they couldn’t get tickets so they waited outside to see her and she smiled so beautifully, right at Dorothy! Her voice was so powerful that they could hear her outside the Hall. She also saw George Bernard Shaw coming out of the Malvern Theatre, he was wearing a very large velour hat and had such a snowy white beard.
Soon after this, Dorothy was taken ill and nearly died with peritonitis and spent nearly a year in bed back at her mother’s home again. The doctor prescribed total rest. Her mother borrowed a wicker bath-chair to push Dorothy around in and she was so embarrassed that she would hide her face when they went out for some fresh air walks. One day the wheel fell off and Dorothy cried with delight and said from now on I’m walking. She was still told that she needed rest and spent a lot of time upstairs in her bedroom and was not allowed to play with her friends. She rigged up a basket on a rope which she would dangle out the window and her friends would put toys and comics in it for her to borrow. One friend lent her a toy gramophone but he only had one record called “Dismal Desmond’ which was pretty dreary.
One day a neighbour spoke to Dorothy’s mother over the fence and asked her how her little girl was doing? Her mother said that she was confined to bed and not very well. The neighbour looked up at the bedroom window and said “That’s funny I’m sure that’s her dancing around the room now.” And it was, her mother was furious with her. Dorothy did not like the doctor who visited her as he once slipped his hand under her covers touching her leg and tried to kiss her. He said “You do love me a little don’t you?” She told her mother and she changed Doctors and the new doctor looked at the medicine that had been prescribed and said throw that rubbish away, your daughter is much better and doesn’t need it.
Dorothy remembered going to Hastings with Gran and Auntie Jess to stay at Auntie Jessies mother-in-law’s house when she was quite small. Gran had dressed her in a pretty lace dress, but unfortunately about three layers of knitted undies! The weather was warm and Dorothy felt dreadful when Mrs Balchin (Jessies mother-in-law) pulled at her clothes and said “Why is she wearing all this?” Dorothy felt so ashamed and wished the ground would swallow her up, she was a very shy girl anyway.
She once was in a shop with Gran trying on a coat but the sleeves were too long, the shop assistant told her she had very short arms, and Dolly felt like a freak and embarrassed, so she didn’t answer. Gran said she’s deaf and from them on the shop assistant kept shouting at her which made her even more embarrassed. Another time when Dorothy had been on a trip to countryside with Gran, her right arm had swollen up, she was too embarrassed to tell Gran so she hid it behind her back. When they went to a restaurant for something to eat the waitress asked “Is your little girl left handed?” and Gran said no and then wondered why she wasn’t using her right hand. When she saw what was wrong she took her straight to the hospital and apparently, Dorothy had been picking wild flowers and was bitten by a snake!
Auntie Maggie had been engaged for a long time to a very nice young man. During WW1 he brought back from France a delicate little gold brooch with seed pearls and engraved Dorothy for my mum.
After an engagement that lasted about ten years, he gave up asking Maggie to marry him and said he couldn’t wait any longer. He eventually married someone else. Maggie remained a spinster all her life.

Auntie Maggie


Gran was very set in her ways and when all the houses in the street were being fitted with electricity for lighting etc. Gran didn’t want it so they went on using gas mantles and oil lamps and coal fires. Whereas Alice and Frank had electric light in their new council house. Gran had two pianos, one in the sitting room and one in the dining room. All her children had piano lessons and each of them could play what we would call a party piece, Jessies was ‘The Bluebells of Scotland” but she couldn’t do much else. Alice and Walter both played reasonably well. But Maggie played best of all and her teacher said that he couldn’t teach her any more, and that she should move on to a better teacher, as that she had the talent to become a concert pianist. But that never happened, she continued to play just for the family and they would sing popular songs and light opera melodies.
Dorothy never had any piano lessons but could read the top line of music when singing and was able to pick out lots of melodies on the piano by ear.
Gran and Pop took Dorothy to various places on holiday here is a photo of the three of them on holiday at Western Super Mare. I think she is about ten years old here.Dorothy occasionally spent some time at home with her parents and remembers that her father was mad on cricket and loved to watch Worcester play. Dolly became a pretty good bowler with her father’s encouragement and when they played cricket with her friends and the boys didn’t want a girl on their team, much to their surprise she managed to bowl them all out. They were sorry they hadn’t picked her after all!
Her father’s other love was horse racing, living so close to ‘Pitchcroft’ the Worcester racecourse was tempting. He would hide the racing post down his jacket sleeve so as his wife didn’t see it and he would wink to Dorothy putting his finger to his lips, to show that it was their secret.
When staying at her Grans house Gran would tell her stories about her family and her early life. When Dorothy asked about the framed photo of a man with white side whiskers which stood on the mantlepiece, Gran tapped her nose and said to her “Never mind” unfortunately we’ll never know who he was now.
Gran told Dolly that her mother was a Welsh woman with the surname Llewellyn and she taught her to say numbers one to ten in Welsh. She said her father was an Irish man who came from Waterford and that his name was McGrath. But Dolly doesn’t remember any of the first names, she called her Gt. Grandmothers ‘Granny Smith’ and ‘Granny Bishop’ The Smith name came about because her Gt. Grandfather McGrath was soldier in the British Army and had been due to go off to fight (possibly the Boer War) and his wife pleaded with him not to go and leave her with several young children, so he deserted. One day when Mary Jane McGrath (Gran) who was then only about 14 was left at home minding the other siblings, the Red Caps burst into their home and demanded to know where her father was but she didn’t know. They looked at the little boy sitting in his pram and said he looks like the man we are after. Then they left. Gran told her parents what had happened when they came home. Then the whole family did what was known as a moonlight flit. They changed their name to Smith and moved to Birmingham.
Gran told Dolly that she trained as nurse at guy’s hospital but was asked to carry out a woman’s breast in a tray from an operation, then she decided that nursing was not for her. She next got a job as under-nurse to the children of one of the Rothschild family. Their house was close to Lancaster Gate in London. The children’s nurse/governess did not get on with the French cook, so every morning Mary Jane would take the children’s menus below stairs to the cook. They often took the children out into Hyde Park to get some fresh air. If it started to rain then they would hire a brougham and strap the baby carriage onto the roof and then get inside and take the children home. The governess thought of Mary Jane as Irish and would often say to her “Oh! You and your Irish ways” when ticking her off about some misdemeanour.

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