Killed in the Line of Duty……….
The more I research the families of the firefighters killed at the Old Palace School, the more I am struck by how much tragedy these families suffered. Not only the deaths of their loved ones on that fateful night in April 1941, but the families also suffered so many other tragic circumstances that would break some people. How these families coped and carried on with their lives is truly remarkable and a testament to their courage, strength and resolve to survive. Sidney’s story is yet another story filled with heartbreak and loss.
Sidney Bartholomew Jones was born in the City of London on 12 March 1910, and baptised just nine days later, on 21 March 1910 at the church of St Bartholomew the Less, which is within the grounds of St Bartholomew’s Hospital, Smithfield, London. The church is an Anglican Church that is the only Church housed within the grounds of a Hospital.
Sidney was the youngest of five children born to Edward George Jones and Minnie Jones (née Hoare) who were both widowed when they married on 12 September 1908.
(Jones and Burgess Marriage Banns)
(Jones Burgess Marriage entry)
Minnie appears to have had no children from her previous marriage to Ralph Magnus Burgess, but Edward had ten children with his previous wife, Alice Jobbins Davis, six of whom sadly died before their fifth birthday. Alice sadly died herself on 9 April 1908 of puerperal convulsions (now known as eclampsia) after giving birth to stillborn twin girls in St Marylebone workhouse; she had been admitted for “lying in” three months previously, on 6 January. Alice and her stillborn babies were buried together in Plot C16 153 in East Finchley cemetery. The term ‘Lying-in’ is an old fashioned term for the long term bed rest, both during pregnancy and after childbirth. ‘Lying-in’ was also undertaken even if there were no medical complications during childbirth. It’s only when you read the harrowing stories like this, multiple infant deaths, that you can truly understand how difficult living conditions were for our Victorian ancestors. The awful living conditions and the archaic hospital care in the workhouse, bare no resemblance to the conditions that we see today. Childbirth was very much a killer in its own right, it was certainly a common occurrence for women to die as a result of giving birth, something that we take for granted today. Sadly a large factor in infant mortality was the health of the mother, we have to presume that being in the workhouse meant that Alice was struggling financially and living in impoverished conditions and this would have had a dramatic effect on the survival chances of her children.
(Alice Jones Workhouse Admission Record)
(Alice Jones Workhouse Death Record)
(Alice Jones Burial Record)
In 1911, one-year-old Sidney was living with his family at 19 Enfield Buildings, Hoxton, Shoreditch, a tenement block built as a result of the charity housing movement of the 1870s, now known as Enfield Cloisters. Sidney’s father Edward, was employed by Shoreditch Borough Council as a lavatory attendant, he was aged 49 and had been born at Bethnal Green. His mother Minnie was 33 and born in Islington. Sidney’s half-siblings had all been born in Shoreditch: Alice, 22, was a cigar maker; Edward, 21, was a packer for a chemical manufacturing company; Joseph, 16, was a telephone fitter’s mate for the G.P.O.; and Mary, 14, was still at school. The family were cramped into just three rooms in the tenement block, which today has been refurbished completely, a stark contrast to what living conditions would have been like for the Jones family in 1911.
(1911 Census for Jones family)
(Enfield Cloisters as it looks today)
In 1917, Sidney’s mother Minnie sadly died, she was only 39 years old at the time and young Sidney would have been just seven years old himself. How must young Sidney have felt, losing his mother at such a tender age, we can’t begin to imagine what it must have been like for him? How did he cope? How did he feel? Was he supported by his siblings and half-siblings? We don’t know the circumstances in which young Sidney was cared for, we can only speculate what might have happened. I would hope that his older sisters would have cared for him, or as was common in those days, the extended family might have rallied round to help bring young Sidney up. One hopes that the family stayed together after the loss of their mother.
During the 1930s Sidney also lived at 75 Shrubland Road, Haggerston with his father.
(1936 Electoral Register)
Just to make researching an individual with the surname ‘Jones’ a little more interesting, Sidney marries his sweetheart, who is also a ‘Jones’! In 1937 Sidney married Louisa May Jones, the daughter of Eloise Sarah and Robert Joseph Jones, born in Southwark on 15 April 1913 and the young couple were married in Hackney. At the time of the 1939 Register, in September 1939, the couple were living at 58 Frampton Park Road, Hackney, and by this time they had one child, Edward RB Jones (Ted) who was born in Hackney in 1938. Sidney was working as a ‘metal boiler’ at the time, as recorded in the 1939 Register.
The Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) was formed in January 1938 and fire stations were set up in schools, garages and factories. Some of those who were unable to join the armed forces instead served with the AFS, Sidney joined the AFS based at London Station 23, Homerton, about a mile from his home. At the time, the formation of the Auxiliary Fire Service was one of most critical decisions that the Government made pre-war. By 1939 about 28, 000 men and women had joined the AFS and regular firefighters, who had been trained as instructors, put the new recruits through 60 hours intensive training. Originally recruits like Sidney were unpaid volunteers, but eventually the men were paid £3 per week, women received £2 per week, with youths under 18 and messengers earning £1 per week. At first recruits endured poor accommodation, inadequate conditions and were dubbed “£3-a-week war dodgers” by the public who thought they were choosing an easy life. Once the Blitz started, attitudes towards the volunteers quickly changed and they received the recognition they deserved. The Fire-fighters were transformed into heroes and Winston Churchill described them as ‘heroes with grimy faces’. As the war and in particular the Blitz continued, in May 1941 the Home Secretary announced that the regional fire brigades and the AFS would be merged and their name changed to The National Fire Service. This standardised the equipment and approach to dealing with fires across the whole country.
(1939 Register Sidney B Jones)
The couple also later lived at 54 Harrogate Road, Hackney, which is the last known address for Sidney, before his life was so cruelly taken in April 1941, along with 33 of his Fire Brigade colleagues.
(Sidney B Jones Civilian War Death Record
Sidney was buried on 28 Apr 1941 in plot 156 D 326 at Manor Park Cemetery & Crematorium, Forest Gate, Essex.
The following year Sidney’s widow married Alfred William Bowen in Hackney. However, her happiness was to be short-lived as Alfred was posted to Tunisia with the 1st Battalion, Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment (service number 6353046) and was killed on 30th April 1943, just over two years after the death of her first husband. Alfred was buried in Oued Zarga War Cemetery, Tunisia; the inscription on his CWGC gravestone reads:
IN MEMORY OF MY DEAR HUSBAND.
SLEEP ON, BELOVED
UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN.
The couple’s only son, also named Alfred William, was born on 23 June 1943, two months after the death of his father. He was born at Willersley Castle, Cromford, Derbyshire, which was where expectant mothers from Hackney were taken during the war to allow them to give birth in relative safety. The outbreak of war in 1939 brought a great many changes to the daily lives of families and Pregnant women who were expected to have straightforward deliveries were given the choice of giving birth at home in London, or leaving the city for the relative calm and safety of the countryside. Two grand buildings, Willersley Castle, in Derbyshire, and Bragborough Hall, in Northamptonshire, had been requisitioned for this purpose by the Ministry of Health and it was at Willersley Castle that the expectant Mother, Louisa came to stay and give birth. This grand building was commandeered by The Mothers’ Hospital in Hackney between 1940 and 1946 as part of the civilian evacuation of London, particularly of children and young mothers. The Hospital and surrounding countryside would have been a far cry from the crowded streets of Hackney.
(Hackney Women in the Queue for the bus to Willersley Castle)
Louisa appears to have had a third partner, John Joseph Morley, from Yorkshire. I have been unable to find a record of a marriage between Louisa and John, the nearest indication is the 1939 Register, which has the name Morley added to Louisa’s entry. Records also indicate that Louisa and John had two children together. Louisa sadly struggled later in life with depression and agoraphobia, no doubt brought on by the tragedy that beset her life. She never recovered from Sidney’s death and like many bereaved widow’s, she became a victim herself. People can sometimes forget the hidden victims of war, although they did not die as a direct result of conflict, their pain and suffering is no less than any of the victims, in fact their agony can in many ways be worse. They have to endure the rest of their lives without their loved ones, living and surviving can be a torture itself. Louisa sadly died in 2002 at Epping in Essex, the name on the death record is registered as Louisa May Bowen and the date of birth on the death record matches the 1939 Register entry.
Sidney was another young man, starting out on his journey, newly married, leaving behind a grieving widow and a three year old son, their lives would never be the same again. Another family torn apart by the futility of war.
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