Killed in the Line of Duty……….
The following extremely detailed research into the life of AFS Fireman Frederick George Parcell has been carried out by researchers Cristina and Carolyn Woodruff.
Frederick George Parcell was born on 26 June 1908 in Norwood, Surrey, the third oldest of seven children of Bertie James Parcell and Catherine Mary Parcell née Skipp. At the time his father was a Market Gardener. Frederick’s six siblings were; Daniel John Parcell born 26 June 1904, James Parcell born 26 Jan 1906, Gertrude Amy Parcell born 6 Sep 1909, Bertie Alexander Parcell born 25 Feb 1912, Catherine Edith Parcell born 27 Sep 1914 and Stanley William Parcell, born 5 March 1918.
The 1911 census shows the Parcell family living at 28 Love Lane, South Norwood, Surrey, which was the family home for many years. Living at the family home are Frederick’s parents Bertie aged 33 and Catherine aged 34, as well as children, Daniel aged 6, James aged 5 , Frederick himself, aged 2 and Fred’s little sister Gertrude Amy aged just 1. Also living at the family home are Bertie’s sister Elizabeth Parcell aged 46, plus boarder William Tarrant. The census records that the family home had five rooms and Fred’s father Bertie is still recorded as a Market Gardener.
Serving one’s country must have been in the Parcell DNA as Fred’s father Bertie was conscripted into the Army aged 39 in August 1916 to support the war effort at home, as the war dragged on and the loss of life continued to climb. He served with the 29th (Works) Battalion Middlesex Regiment Service Numbers 17737 and 37155, the Battalion were formed at Mill Hill on 29 June 1916 and by March 1917 they were stationed at Thetford in Norfolk. In April 1917, Bertie was transferred to the Labour Corps as 5th Labour Battalion, Service Number 136237.
(Bertie James Parcell WW1 Army Papers)
The 1921 census records show the Parcell family still living at 28, Love Lane, South Norwood in Surrey, at home on census night were parents Bertie aged 43, a Market Gardner working on ‘own account’ and Catherine aged 44 who was at home carrying out ‘home duties’.
In the instruction booklet issued to census enumerators at the time the term ‘working on own account’ is defined as follows;
A person who has a gainful occupation and is neither an employer, nor a salary or wage worker, is considered to be working on his own account. Such persons are the independent worker. They neither pay nor receive salaries or regular wages. Examples of this class are:
Farmers and the owners of small establishments who do not employ helpers, professional men who work for fees and employ no helpers; and generally speaking, hucksters, peddlers, newsboys, bootblacks, etc.
Also living at home were their seven children, Daniel John aged 16, also a Market Gardner like his father and working on ‘own account’ and likely to be following in his father’s footsteps, James aged 15 a boot delivery boy working for the London Boot Company in Croydon, as well as school children Frederick George aged 12, Gertrude Amy aged 11, Bertie Alex aged 9, Catherine Edith aged 6 and toddler Stanley William aged 3. All those people still living at home in just five rooms, privacy would have been hard to come by in many of the family homes at this time.
(Parcell family 1921 Census)
(Parcell family Address 1921 Census)
In 1934 Frederick George Parcell married Maud Stacey in Bromley, Kent. Maud was born on 27 November 1911 in Croydon, Surrey, so we can presume that Fred married a local lass in Maud. The happy couple only had one child, Peter Alfred Parcell who was born on 1st April 1935 in Bromley in Kent. The 1939 England and Wales Register shows Fred living with his parents at 28 Love Lane, South Norwood and his occupation was listed as a Market Gardener working as an assistant to his father. His brother Daniel is living next door at number 26, Love Lane and is also working in the family business as a Market Gardener. There is no mention of Fred being a serving member of the A.F.S at the time that the 1939 Register was taken, so he must have volunteered sometime after September 1939. 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).
(28, Love Lane, South Norwood ©Google)
(Frederick George Parcell 1939 Register)
For some reason Maud Parcell was not living with her husband Fred at the time the 1939 Register was taken, Maud was actually recorded at her parents home of 212, Croydon Road, Penge and she is listed as a charge hand in a laundry. Also recorded here is Maud’s only son, Peter Alfred Parcell.
(Maud Parcell 1939 Register)
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’ Fred 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 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, Fred joined the AFS and he was attached to the Elmers End Fire Station. 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 Fred 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.
(Civilian War Death Record for Frederick George Parcell)
Fred and Maud’s story, like so many of those firefighters who died at the Old Palace School, is one of heartbreak, devastation and loss. A young family 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 cruelest of blows and change lives forever and that loss never goes away. The Parcell family, like so many others were a family torn apart from the ravages of war.
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