Killed in the Line of Duty………….
The following extremely detailed research into the life of AFS Fireman John Francis Mead has been carried out by researcher Mark Doggart.
John Francis Mead was born in Hackney on 17th of April 1912, the son of Octavius Myhill Mead, an upholsterer, and Emma Bacon. He was baptised on 22 May 1912 at St Augustine, South Hackney, London and at the time, the family home was 39 Christie Road, Victoria Park, Hackney. John was the youngest of two children, his older sister Catherine Mead was born on 17 July 1905. The address in Christie Road in Hackney, was to remain the family home for at least another thirty years.
(Baptism Record for John Francis Mead)
John was too young. to be counted on the 1911 Census, but his parents and older sister Catherine are still living at 39, Christie Road in Hackney. Also living at home are three boarders and the family home has seven rooms, which even given there were borders living there, was a decent size house. The most noticeable thing on the 1911 Census for the family is the age of Octavius of 52, his wife was just 34 at the time.
(1911 Census Record)
(39, Christie Road in Hackney ©Google)
By the time the 1921 Census was taken young John was in school full time and aged 9 years 2 months. His father Octavius was still employed as an Upholsterer and was employed by Alberry and Kathley Home Furnishings in Station Street in Sittingbourne, Kent. John’s older sister Catherine was following in her father’s footsteps to a certain degree, as she was employed as an embroiderer. The family has also taken in a lodger named Frederick Slater who was a Hairdresser. The house had six rooms.
(1921 Census Address Record)
There are a number of Electoral Registers for Hackney throughout the 1930’s that shows John still residing at 39, Christie Road, along with both his parents. For the purposes of recounting John’s story I have only included the one entry from 1938 which can be seen below.
(1938 Electoral Register for Hackney)
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).
(ARP Wardens in Hackney)
John was a Carpenter & Joiner by trade, but when the call to arms came, at the start of World War 2, John volunteered to join the newly formed Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS), which is reflected on his 1939 Register entry. On the 1939 register he was living with his parents at 39 Christie Road, Victoria Park, Hackney. His occupation is listed as carpenter and joiner, but he is also listed as a full time member of the Auxiliary Fire Service.
The British Government also took the decision to make all men over the age of eighteen undertake basic military training. Certain roles were deemed essential and were therefore not part of the army reserve call up, so conscious of ‘doing his bit’ John signed up with the newly formed Auxiliary Fire Service instead (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.
Sadly for John and his family, his contribution to the war effort was cut dramatically short when he was tragically killed at the Old Palace School in East London on 20th April 1941, along with 33 of his fellow colleagues. John was aged just 29 at the time, his life was only just beginning, his whole future lay ahead of him and this was taken away so cruelly on that fateful night at the Old Palace School.
The civilian war deaths record is shown below and records that John Francis Mead, CWGC: Fireman, A.F.S. Son of Mrs. Mead, of 39 Christie Road, Hackney. Died at Old Palace L.C.C. School.
(John Francis Mead Civilan Death Record
John was laid to rest on the 26th April 1941 in Chingford Mount Cemetery, Waltham Forest.
(John Frances Mead Burial Record)
(Chingford Mount Cemetery)
We always knew that whilst researching this project, that trying to trace 34 individuals and their families, was not going to be easy and eventually we would find one or two firefighters that we would hit a complete brick wall with and sadly John Francis Mead has been one of those men. Unfortunately from our researches we have been unable to trace any living descendants for John and the records can only give us a glimpse of what his life was like. His contribution is no less than that of any of the other 34 men and women that lost their lives on that fateful night in April 1941 and his sacrifice, like all the others is remembered here. We hope that as this website grows and more and more people find the site and make connections of their own, that maybe a descendant of John’s will get in touch and hopefully be able to share with us a bit more about his life………
My Family History website can be found here:
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