Killed in the Line of Duty……….
This is the story of two young brave men, who befriended each other, enlisted and volunteered to join the AFS together and became connected by marriage, when Ernest’s best friend, Norman Richard Charles Mountjoy married Ernest’s younger sister Olive Joan Beadle. Two men brought together by their friendship and the true bond that brings, who also tragically died, side by side at the old palace school on that fateful night in April 1941. This is Ernest’s story, but of course Norman is very much a part of this story, they were inseparable. I will tell Norman’s story another time, for now, let me tell you about Ernest.
Ernest Reginald Beadle was born on 26th November 1908 his parents were Ernest Albert Beadle, a House Decorator, Journeyman, and Annie Penberthy. The Beadle family had long standing connections to the Beckenham and Penge areas, Ernest Reginald Beadle’s father, Ernest Albert Beadle was born in Penge on 16th July 1879 at 36, Woodbine Grove in Penge.
(Birth Record for Ernest Albert Beadle)
Ernest Reginald Beadle’s mother, Annie Penberthy was born on 25th November 1881 at Station Road, Carshalton, Surrey.
(Birth Record for Annie Penberthy)
Ernest Albert Beadle and Annie Penberthy were married in the Holy Trinity Church in Anerley on 12th June 1907. At the time of their marriage Ernest was living at 71, Kingswood Road in Penge and his occupation is recorded as a Painter, which must have run in the family, as his father is recorded as a decorator. His blushing bride Annie was living at 37, Tremaine Road in Anerley and both Ernest and Annie had not been married previously.
(Marriage Certificate for Ernest Albert beadle and Annie Penberthy)
Young Ernest Reginald Beadle was born on 26th November 1908, the first of two children, born to parents Ernest Albert Beadle, a House Decorator, Journeyman, and Annie Penberthy. His birth was registered by Annie on 14th January 1909 and the address given at the time of his birth was 51a, Tremaine Road, Penge, Bromley, London.
(Birth Record for Ernest Reginald Beadle)
At the time of the 1911 census the family were living at 222, Birkbeck Road, Beckenham, Kent. Living at the family home were Ernest Senior and Annie along with two year old Ernest Reginald Beadle. The house is recorded as having 4 rooms and is a standard two-up two-down property.
Ernest and Annie went on to have one more child, their daughter Olive Joan Beadle who was born on 26th February 1914 at 222, Birkbeck Road in Beckenham. Olive’s father is recorded as a House Painter (Journeyman) and it was Olive’s father Ernest Albert Beadle that registered the birth. Ernest himself would have been around six at the time and no doubt intrigued at the new arrival of a baby sister and they would remain a close knit family throughout their life.
(Olive Joan Beadle Birth Record)
Ernest and Norman would have met each other at some point prior to them joining up with the AFS and prior to both their marriages. It’s difficult to speculate when and how their friendship began, Norman was born in Lewisham, so they were unlikely to have gone to school together and their respective occupations could not have been more different, but somewhere along the way their paths crossed and they became inseperable.
Ernest Reginald Beadle married Florence Maud Franklin on 2nd September 1939 at St Edmund’s Church in South Chingford Essex. Ernest was living with his parents at 57, Ravenscroft Road, Beckenham at the time they were married and their occupations were both listed as ‘clerk’ on the marriage certificate. It’s possible that they both worked for the same company in London, with Ernest travelling in from Beckenham, and Florence from her home at 125, Marmion Avenue, South Chingford. Florence’s father was noted as Herbert Richard Franklin, a Taxi Driver. The witnesses were Norman Richard Charles Mountjoy, who we know was Ernest’s pal, and Florence Franklin, who was likely to have been Florence’s Mother, Florence Lydia Franklin, nee Sutton.
(Marriage Certificate for Ernest Reginald beadle and Florence Maud Franklin)
By 29th September 1939, when the 1939 Register was taken, Ernest and Florence were living just down the street from his 1911 address, at 211 Birkbeck Road, Beckenham, Ernest occupation is given as ‘Wallpaper Supplies and Engineering Clerk’ and Florence’s occupation is recorded as ‘Operator of Comptometer Calculating Machine’. The Comptometer was the first commercially successful key-driven mechanical calculator that was in use at the time.
The Beckenham community were a very close knit group of people and Ernest and Florence were living just one street over from Ernest’s parents and sister, who were still living at 57 Ravenscroft Road, Beckenham. Ernest senior’s occupation was listed as ‘House Decorator’, Annie’s as ‘Unpaid Domestic Duties’, i.e. housewife, and Olive’s was ‘Shorthand Typist’.
Prior to the start of WW2 the Government recognised the fact that the threat of War was imminent and that they were poorly prepared for a second World War. The Government acted swiftly with the Fire Brigade Act of July 1938 which demanded the recruitment of an auxiliary fire service as part of the country’s Civil Defence Force. As the nation’s capital, London was a natural prime target. Dockland warehouses packed with highly combustible oils, grain and timber were clearly a risk and the narrow maze of streets would provide an easy path for the fire. It was obvious that a large number of firefighters would be needed to prevent London becoming little more than a smoking ruin.
The answer was to expand the regular Fire Brigade by forming an Auxiliary Fire Service. 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 Ernest 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. After many recruits left to join the war effort, the Government passed a statutory order preventing full time members resigning. Once the Blitz started, attitudes towards the volunteers quickly changed and they finally received the recognition they deserved.
It would appear that Ernest would have joined the AFS sometime after September 1939, and was then based at the Beckenham Fire Station, in Bromley Road, Beckenham. It seems likely that Ernest already knew fellow fireman, Norman Richard Charles Mountjoy, as he was a witness at Ernest’s marriage to Florence. So it could have been their friendship that made them both join the AFS. That bond got even stronger as Norman went on to marry Ernest’s sister Olive, on 15th June 1940.
Despite the Government’s fears that German would start bombing London as soon as war was declared, this did not happen. However, Germany eventually started their bombing campaign on 7th September 1940, in what was to become known as ‘The Blitz’, which was short for the German word ‘blitzkrieg’, meaning ‘lightning war’. The London Blitz ran from 7th September 1940 continuously for the next eight months. This was followed by sporadic raids in London, as part of a nationwide bombing campaign. However, the four heaviest bombing raids on London came in 1941.
Overnight on March 19th/20th 479 planes dropped 467 tons of explosives and 3,347 incendiaries.
Overnight on April 16th/17th 685 planes dropped 890 tons of explosives and 4,200 incendiaries.
Overnight on April 19th/20th 712 planes dropped 1,026 tons of explosives and 4,252 incendiaries.
Overnight on May 10th/11th 507 planes dropped 711 tons of explosives and 2,393 incendiaries.
It was the third of these nights, with the heaviest bombing of all, that had such tragic consequences for Ernest, Norman and Olive.
The extract below is taken from my original story about the Old Palace School, the link is here;
“By midnight the situation was bad enough in the area around Poplar and further east in West Ham and Walthamstow, for calls for assistance to be sent south of the river. Four crews from Beckenham were standing by at Woodside Fire Station, just outside Croydon. They were ordered to Station 24 Brunswick Road. Stopping briefly at West Norwood Fire Station on the way, they arrived at Brunswick Road, just after 1am and were given tea and biscuits before being directed to the Old Palace School to wait for further instruction. There, along with crews from Hackney and Homerton, the men from Beckenham were mustering in the playground, when at 1.53 am the school received a direct hit from a parachute mine. The bomb penetrated the roof of the school building and fell down the stair well, at the bottom of which, was the watch-room, where two auxiliary firewomen, Winifred Peters and Hilda Dupree, were on duty. They were killed instantly.“
In what remains the largest number of Fire Brigade lives lost in a single incident, in peacetime or war, thirty-two firemen and two firewomen died at The Old Palace School – amongst them Ernest Reginald Beadle and Norman Richard Charles Mountjoy.
(Civilian War Deaths Record)
All of the joy and expectations that Florence and Olive must have had just those few months previously, when they married Ernest and Norman, was now shattered and in Olive’s case she had lost both her husband and brother in one terrible night. One devastating loss would be bad enough, but to have the double blow of losing your Husband and your only Brother at the same time must have been unimaginable.
Florence and Olive must have been united in their grief as Ernest and Norman were buried, together, in St John the Baptist Church graveyard, Layhams Road, West Wickham, Bromley, with the following inscription.
“In loving memory of our dear husbands Reginald Beadle and Norman Mountjoy killed by enemy action on the 20th April 1941 aged 32 aged 30″.
The records indicate that Ernest and Florence did not have any children before Ernest’s tragic death at the Old Palace School.
When Ernest Reginald Beadle’s father died, (Ernest Albert Beadle), he left everything to his wife, Annie. He had made his will on 14th June 1941, just weeks after his son’s death, and the nature of the death was clearly a factor in writing the will, as it includes the lines: ‘In the event of my wife myself and daughter being killed by enemy action I wish to bequeath to the following….’ and then sets out various bequests. Ernest’s estate included two properties, the family home at, 57, Ravenscroft Road, Beckenham, Kent, and 136, Birkbeck Road, Beckenham, Kent, a property in the next row over. There was no mention of any other children, apart from Olive, nor any grandchildren.
When Annie Beadle died on 26th July 1955, she was still living in the family home at 57, Ravenscroft Road, although she had actually died at 43 Altyre Road, Beckenham, at the home of her daughter. The probate was on 21st November 1955, at the London Registry. Annie’s will, dated 8th June 1951, had left everything to daughter Olive. Again there was no reference to any other children, or grandchildren. There are further family wills, but for the purposes of recounting the life story of Ernest Reginald Beadle, I have intentionally left those out of his story.
Ernest Reginald Beadle’s wife Florence, remarried, to Walter Whittaker on 29 May 1953, at St Paul’s Church, Northumberland Heath, Erith. Walter, a bachelor, was an Engineer and the son of Asa Whittaker. It is not clear how Florence and Walter met, as Walter’s address at the time of their marriage was 84, Belgrave Road, New Moston, Manchester, whist Florence’s was 35, Parsonage Manorway, Erith in Kent.
Florence died at 17, Sunacre Court, Maple Avenue, Morecambe, Lancashire on 2nd August 2004.
This is the tragic story of two pals who signed up together, as volunteer firemen, when their country needed them most and who gave the ultimate sacrifice for King and Country. Two friends, united by their friendship and their shared love of two women, who were inseparable in their daily lives, who were there together, side by side at the bitter end. They left behind two devastated families, united in their grief and love and one cannot imagine the heartbreak that both these families went through.
(Two Pals together Ernest on the left Norman on the right)
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