Killed in the Line of Duty……..
The following extremely detailed research into the life of AFS Fireman Richard Albert Victor Kite has been carried out by researcher Fiona Smith.
The Kite family were another one of those families that seemed to suffer more than their fair share of tragedy, far too many members of the family were taken far too young and not all due to the ravages of war. Here is Albert’s story.
Albert’s parents were James Kite a clerk aged 22 of 118, New Road, Battersea and Elizabeth Charlotte Beaumont aged 21 of the same address. The young couple were married on 10 June 1894 at St George the Martyr Church, Battersea. The groom’s father was clerk Charles Kite, while the bride’s father was office keeper Horace Beaumont.
(Source London England Church of England Marriages and Banns 1754-1936)
The couple’s first child, Elizabeth Winifred Kite was born on 31 January 1896 and baptised on 8 March 1896 at St George’s Hanover Square, London. Her parents were James Kite, whose occupation was recorded as clerk and Elizabeth Charlotte Kite of 70, Dorothy Road, Lavender Hill, Battersea. (Source Westminster London England Church of England Births and Baptisms 1813-1919)
The couple’s second child, Cyril James Owen Kite was born on 13 February 1900 and baptised on 18 March 1900 at St George’s Hanover Square, London. His parents were James Kite, whose occupation was recorded as clerk and Elizabeth Kite of 4, Surrey Place, Battersea. (Source Westminster London England Church of England Births and Baptisms 1813-1919)
The 1901 English Census records James Kite as a government clerk aged 29 living at 4 Surrey Lane, Battersea with his wife Elizabeth C Kite aged 28, and their children Elizabeth W Kite aged 5, and Cyril J O Kite aged 1. The family shared a house with, though lived separately from, James’s parents Charles and Caroline Kite.
(Surrey Lane, Battersea)
Albert’s brother, Edwin Horace Charles Kite was born on 7 February 1902 and baptised on 23 March 1902 at Tooting Graveney, Wandsworth. His parents were James Kite and Elizabeth Charlotte Kite of 37, Renmuir St, Tooting. (Source London England Church of England Births and Baptisms 1813-1920)
Albert Victor Kite was born on 18 October 1904 at 43 Midmoor Road, Clapham, he was baptised on 11 December 1904 at St Thomas Streatham Hill, Lambeth, London. His parents were James Kite, whose occupation was recorded as First Class Printer and Elizabeth Charlotte Kite of 43, Midmoor Road, Clapham.
(Albert’s Birth Certificate)
(Albert’s Birth Certificate)
(Albert Victor Kite Baptism)
(43, Midmoor Road, Balham as it looks today ©GoogleMaps)
The birth of Albert’s sister Edith Bessie Kite, the fifth and last child of James and Elizabeth Charlotte Kite, was registered in Wandsworth in 2Q 1910 and she was baptised on 19 August 1910 at Balham Hill Ascension, Wandsworth. Her parents were James Kite, whose occupation was recorded as clerk and Elizabeth Charlotte Kite, of 10, Endlesham Road, Balham. (Source London England Church of England Births and Baptisms 1813-1926).
At the time of the 1911 English Census, Albert Victor Kite was recorded as a schoolboy age 6 living at The Kennels, Birling, West Malling, Kent with his grandfather Charles Kite, a pensioner ‘Ordnce Store Dept’ aged 67, grandmother Caroline Kite aged 69, and schoolgirl Elsie Lewis aged 12, who was also a grandchild of Charles and Caroline Kite. The census recorded that Charles and Caroline had been married for 44 years and had had 10 children of whom 6 survive. The family’s home had 5 rooms.
(Albert Kite 1911 Census)
What’s really interesting is that the 1911 English Census shows Albert’s father James Kite aged 38 as being born in Kirkee, India, working as a married government office clerk and living at 10, Endlesham Road, Balham with three of his five children, schoolchildren Elizabeth Winifred Kite aged 15, Cyril James Owen Kite aged 11, and Edwin Horace Charles Kite aged 9. Note: Usually the 1911 English Census records how many years a couple had been married, how many children they had had, and how many of those children had survived. The census return for James Kite includes none of this information.
(James Kite 1911 Census)
The 1911 English Census shows Albert’s mother Elizabeth C Kite aged 38 as a married woman, and patient, at St Barnabas Home, a Home for Convalescents and Incurables, Higher Lincombe, Torquay. The 1911 English Census also shows Albert’s youngest sister Edith Bessie Kite aged 10 months living at 10a Park St, Torquay with her married Aunt Louisa Ann Hanson, a housekeeper aged 40, and Louisa’s schoolgirl daughter, Evelyn Helen Louise Hanson aged 13. The family’s home had 4 rooms. Sadly the death of Albert’s mother Elizabeth C Kite aged 38 was registered in Newton Abbot, Devon in 2Q 1911, not long after the 1911 census had been taken.
(Elizabeth Kite 1911 Census)
Albert’s father James Kite remarried a year after his wife’s death. The marriage of James Kite and Elizabeth J Mayes was registered in Wandsworth in 1912. Albert’s father, widower James Kite aged 39, a writer, Royal Army Clothing Depot, living at 30A, Kettering St, married spinster Elizabeth Jane Mayes aged 37 of 206, Mitcham Lane, at St James’s Church, Streatham on 26 October 1912. The groom’s father was army pensioner Charles Kite, and the bride’s father was hackney carriage driver Charles Mayes (deceased).
(Kite Mayes Marriage)
The death of Albert’s sister Elizabeth W Kite aged 19 was registered in Wandsworth in 4Q 1915. Elizabeth Winifred Kite aged 19 of St James Infirmary, Balham was buried on 31 December 1915.
(Source London, England, Church of England Deaths and Burials 1813-2003)
The 1921 English Census shows Albert Victor Kite aged 16 years 8 months as a copy holder employed at ‘The Star’, with the address of Albert’s place of work given as Bouverie St, London EC4. Albert was living at 58, Vant Road, Wandsworth with his father James Kite aged 48 years 1 month, born Kirkee, India, an unemployed clerk. Although James was unemployed, under ‘address of place of work’, appear the words ‘Wxxx Bxxx Council (abbreviation of Wandsworth Borough Council?), Balham Depot’). Living with them were Albert’s step-mother Elizabeth Jane Kite aged 46 years 4 months, a cleaner employed by the Ministry of Pensions, at Special Surgical Hospital, Church Lane, Tooting, and Albert’s brother Edwin Horace Charles Kite, aged 19 years 4 months, a compositor apprentice at Messrs. Loxley Bros Ltd, with the address of his place of work given as Whitefriars House, Carmelite St, London EC4, and Albert’s sister schoolgirl Edith Bessie Kite aged 11 years 1 month.
(Albert Kite 1921 Census)
(Albert Kite 1921 Census Address)
Albert’s occupation at The Star is recorded as copy holder. A copy holder is an assistant who reads manuscript aloud to a proof-reader. Collins Dictionary defines a copy holder as ‘one who reads aloud from the copy as the proof corrector follows the reading in the proof’. Given that Albert’s father’s occupation at the time of Albert’s birth was ‘government clerk’ we wonder whether the words ‘Ministry of Pensions’ were written in the wrong place in the 1921 English census, and whether they actually apply to Albert’s father rather than his step-mother.
Loxley Bros Ltd was a printing company, which later printed, among other things, WW2 propaganda posters.
The death of Albert’s father James Kite, aged 53, was registered in Wandsworth in 1926 and just three years later, the death of Albert’s youngest sibling, Edith B Kite aged 19, was registered in Wandsworth in 1929. The death of Albert’s step-mother Elizabeth J Kite aged 65 was registered in Surrey Mid-Eastern in 1Q 1941, just a few months before Albert himself was tragically killed. Elizabeth Jane Kite of 58 Vant Road, Tooting, Surrey, widow, died 4 February 1941 at 1 Greengates St, Albans Road, Cheam, Surrey.
The marriage of Albert V Kite and Gertrude Burnett took place on 3rd June 1933 at the Croydon Register Office. At the time Albert was aged 28 a bachelor and was employed as a newspapers readers assistant living at 131, Kemerton Road, Addiscombe, Croydon. His father is recorded as James Kite deceased. Gertrude Burnett was aged 27 and a spinster at the time the wedding took place and was living at 60, Croham Valley Road. Gertrude’s father was George Frederick Burnett who was employed as a contractor. The young couple went on to have two children, both births were registered in Bromley, Victor Richard Kite born in 1936 and Sylvia J Kite born in 1939.
(Albert’s Marriage Certificate)
(Albert’s Marriage Certificate)
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).
The 1939 Register shows Albert V Kite (born 18 October 1904), a printer’s reader, living at 166 Village Way, Beckenham, Bromley, Kent with his wife Gertrude Kite (born 25 May 1906). The details of one member of the household, listed directly below Gertrude, have been redacted. Most likely this is the couple’s toddler son Victor Richard Kite, their daughter Sylvia not having been born at the time the Register was taken. there was also a family with the surname Cassidy living at the same address. Widow Rosina M Cassidy (born 16 June 1880) was doing unpaid domestic duties, while her unmarried son William H Cassidy (born 18 March 1912) was a PO Engr (Telecommunications), and unmarried daughter Phyllis M Cassidy (born 15 June 1913) was a stenographer telephonist.
Note: Rosina M Cassidy (maiden name Mayes) was the younger sister of Albert’s step-mother Elizabeth Jane Kite (maiden name Mayes).
(Albert Kite 1939 Register)
The British Government also took the decision to make all men over the age of eighteen undertake basic military training. Albert himself volunteered to join the military but was unfortunately rejected on medical grounds because of his extreme short sightedness. So conscious of ‘doing his bit’ Albert 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. Albert joined the Auxiliary Fire Service sometime in 1939 and was attached to the Stanhope Grove Fire Station, Beckenham
(AFS Fireman Victor Kite on the right)
Sadly for Albert and his family, Albert’s contribution to the war effort was cut dramatically short when he was tragically killed at the Old Palace School in East London on 21st April 1941, along with 33 of his fellow colleagues. The death of Albert Victor Kite aged 36 was recorded on 21st April 1941 at the Old Palace School, at the time he was recorded as residing at 166 Village Way, Beckenham, Kent his occupation is listed as a Fireman A.F.S and Press Corrector. His cause of death, like those of his 33 colleagues that died alongside him that night was “Due to War Operations”. His death was registered on 25th April 1941.
(Albert’s Death Certificate)
(Albert’s Death Certificate)
Albert was buried with his fellow Beckenham Firefighters at Beckenham Cemetery on the 25th April 1941. Nineteen of the Twenty-One Beckenham Firemen were buried in a mass grave, at the Beckenham Cemetery, after a memorial service at the parish church of St. George by Canon Boyd and a solemn procession through the town. The grave was dug entirely by their comrades and was softened by masses of daffodils. The 19 coffins were placed in St. George’s church on the Wednesday before the service and guarded by Firemen. The 19 coffins were borne from the church to the hearses by 114 bearers from the Beckenham AFS. As they left they passed between the lines of The Guard of Honour lining the path to the lychgate. The silence and peace was deeply affecting, all the traffic through the town had been stopped. The bearing of the coffins to the hearses seemed endless. As the Chopin Funeral March was played, the procession of hearses, firemen, service personnel, 19 cars with the families of the deceased and two fire appliances loaded with a mass of flowers, left on its journey to the Beckenham Cemetery. It took half an hour for the procession to pass any point on the route to the Cemetery. After the coffins had been placed in the grave, posies and bunches of flowers were dropped in and there were 350 wreaths. A plaque at the graveside read;
“We remember proudly the deeds of these bravemen, martyrs in the cause of liberty”.
(The Guarding of the Coffins)
The Fire Brigade were one of those organisations, although huge in numbers, it always felt like every Station was just like one big happy family with everyone looking out for each other. After the sad loss of Albert, his widow Gertrude was looked after by the Beckenham Fire Station and every year at Christmas they would visit in person with a hamper of food. Those visits were a huge blessing as they helped to meet material needs, but also brought with them some much needed morale boosting encouragement and companionship.
Albert’s wife Gertrude did not remarry after Albert’s death and Gertrude died aged 89 in Worthing, West Sussex on 23rd September 1995 and her memorial is shown below.
The following pictures of Albert and the Kite family have been kindly sent to me by Albert’s family members Jacqui and Peter Adams and I am extremely grateful for their generosity in allowing me to share them here with you.
One last picture of our hero Albert, a man full of hope, his whole life ahead of him, his story, like so many of those firefighters who died at the Old Palace School, is one of devastation and loss. Albert and Gertrude were a young couple starting out on their journey together, full of hope and excited for the future, a future that was so cruelly taken away on that tragic night in April 1941. We can never know what his loved ones would have felt at such a devastating loss, we can only imagine what this would have been like from our own experiences. Life can deal the cruellest of blows and change lives forever and that loss never goes away. The Kite family, like so many others were a family torn apart from the ravages of war.
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3 thoughts on “AFS Fireman Albert Victor Kite”
What a lovely post, Paul. It’s truly amzing to think that firefighters weren’t seen as ‘doing their bit’ at the start of the war – very glad to see attitudes changed in later months. It’s lovely to see so many photos as well. Thank you for a good read. Lynne
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Thanks Lynne, many were unable to serve through no fault of their own to to cast as war dodgers was a bit harsh. But through their courage and bravery the public soon realised how important their role was. The photos line all of our stories certainly help to bring the story to life