Killed in the Line of Duty…………..
This is the story of Norman Richard Charles Mountjoy a man who made the ultimate sacrifice in the defence of his Country. A man who volunteered when our Country needed it most and a man who was a lifelong friend and companion to his fellow AFS Volunteer Ernest Reginald Beadle. Two men inseparable in their work, connected by marriage, who were friends until the bitter end when they were both cruelly struck down in April 11941, alongside 32 of their fellow firemen and firewomen. Here is Norman’s story………
Norman Richard Charles Mountjoy was born on 5th march 1911 at 231, Brockley Road, South Deptford, to parents George Mountjoy and Lily Mountjoy, nee Deex. At the time George Mountjoy was employed as a shipping clerk and baby Norman’s birth was registered by his mother Lily on 10th April 1911.
(Birth Record for Norman Richard Charles Mountjoy)
Baby Norman’s arrival was perfectly timed for him to appear with his proud parents on the 1911 census where the family are still living at 231, Brockley Road in South Deptford and his father George is still employed as a shipping clerk. The family home at the time is recorded as having three rooms and we can assume from this, that the family shared the house with another family. This fact is confirmed by checking the next pages in the 1911 census and the house is actually also occupied by George’s older brother, Richard George Mountjoy and his family. The houses on the road are an impressive Victorian style dating from the 1850s to the 1880s
(1911 Census for the Mountjoy family)
Norman’s parents were married the year before on 16th October 1910 at St. Augustines Church in Bermondsey, South London at the time George Mountjoy was aged 24 and occupied as a shipping clerk and Lily Deex was aged 25 with no rank or profession recorded for her. Neither of them had been married before and they were both residing at 118, Keeton’s Road, Bermondsey.
(George Mountjoy and Lily Deex Marriage Certificate)
In the intervening years before the start of WW2, at some point Norman was to meet his lifelong pal, Ernest Reginald Beadle and their friendship was such, that with the threat of a Second World War imminent, they both volunteered together, to join up with the newly formed volunteer auxiliary fire service (AFS). 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 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 received the recognition they deserved.
With the threat of another World War imminent, the British Government acted swiftly by organising a head count of the whole civilian population, which culminated in the 1939 Register. The Register was the pre-requisite for the issuing of National Identity Cards and the information recorded the full names, addresses, dates of birth, occupations of individuals and additional information such as somebody serving in the armed forces, or an ARP Warden, or somebody serving in the Auxiliary Fire Services (AFS). At the time of the 1939 Register, Norman is recorded along with his AFS Volunteers, at the Fire Station in Glebe Way in Beckenham. Sadly several of Norman’s colleagues who are listed with him on the 1939 Register, also died alongside him, just two years later at the Old Palace School. A stark reminder of the harsh realities of war. The Register also records the fact that he is single and his occupation is given as ‘Master Lapidary and Friendly Society Branch Secretary’.
Norman and Ernest’s friendship was truly cemented when Norman married Ernest’s sister Olive Joan Beadle on 15th June 1940. No doubt Norman’s friendship with his dear friend Ernest led to the introduction of Ernest’s sister Olive and from here romance blossomed. The couple were married at Christ Church in Beckenham, Kent, at the time Norman was living at 11, Ash Grove in West Wickham in Kent and Olive was living at 16, Burnhill Road in Beckenham, both were single at the time of their marriage and Norman’s occupation is recorded as a Master Lapidary. A Master Lapidary would be someone that would cut and polish gemstones.
(Marriage Certificate for Norman Richard Charles Mountjoy and Olive Joan Beadle)
Less than one year later after the happy couples marriage, tragedy was to strike and Olive was to lose both her husband Norman and her only brother Ernest in the tragic bombing at the Old Palace School in April 1941. Norman died alongside his best friend Ernest and 32 fellow firefighters in the biggest ever loss of life at a single incident in the brigade’s history. The two men were inseparable even to the end. How Olive coped with such a quick and devastating loss of both her husband and her only brother, I can only imagine. The heartbreak must have been unbearable. The loss of one loved one in a tragic way is unimaginable, but to lose two together, it must have been truly harrowing. How you recover from something like this I will never ever know.
(Civilian War Deaths Record)
Norman and Ernest were buried alongside each other 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″.
Two men who were friends throughout their life and together right until the end, it was only fitting that they should be buried alongside each other.
Olive later remarried to widower, Stanley James Hamer on 8th June 1949. Stanley was a pharmacist, and also a widower, the son of Walter James Hamer, a Commercial Clerk. Stanley lived at 43, Altyre Way, Beckenham, which would become their home. Olive was listed as living at 57, Ravenscroft Rd, Beckenham, her mother’s home. There are no children shown for either marriage.
This is the story of two men who became inseparable friends, connected by marriage, brave and courageous, who gave the ultimate sacrifice in defence of their Country. We thank them and their 32 colleagues who died alongside them at the Old Palace School, defending our Country in its darkest hours, to ensure that we can enjoy the freedom we have today.
(Two Pals together Ernest on the left Norman on the right)
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