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My West Bromwich dad lied about his age to join the army

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: May 24, 2014

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OVER the last few months there have been a lot of stories about the Worcestershire Regiment during the First World War and this has brought back many memories for me.

My father joined up when he and his two brothers enlisted in the Worcesters. My father gave the wrong age so he could join up – he actually was only 16 years old – his brothers were 18 and 17 years old.

They were all desperate to escape from their stepfather who was very cruel and treated them harshly.

Their mother had remarried after the death of their father and she had thought that she was providing stability and a new father for her children.

Their lives were hell and they were punished mercilessly for the slightest thing, often being strapped by his heavy belt. They saw the army as their only escape to a better life. Little did they know.

After he was wounded in the head while in France in 1916 he came home to recuperate and he courted my mother and on one occasion went to the pictures together.

Naturally he removed his uniform cap – which showed his wound – and he received a standing ovation from the rest of the cinema goers. While he was home on leave, they decided to get a Special Licence and get married.

On January 17, 1917, they went to Christ Church in West Bromwich; got two random witnesses for the ceremony and then they were married. They left the church and it had begun snowing. There standing waiting was my grandmother – my mother's mother. When my grandfather found out that my mother and dad were seeing each other he turned her out of the home and she went to live with my dad's sister.

My aunt Lizzie was the only one who knew the wedding was happening and she told my grandmother. My grandfather was a bully and dominated my grandmother so she did not tell him of the proposed wedding and went to the church to wish her daughter and new son-in-law all the best.

Dad recovered from his head wound and he was then shipped back to France where he was wounded again and also gassed and he was then sent home again – this time for good.

My brother Henry John (Harry) was born on November 14, 1918, immediately after the war ended, rapidly followed by Mary Jane; Elsie May; Rose and me Nellie. At this time we all lived in Summer Street in West Bromwich in rooms in my Uncle's home where he had a shop in the front room. My parents had the back room which was a through way for my uncle to fetch stock and paraffin and we all slept in one bedroom upstairs. Elsie died while we were living there when she was two and a half years old.

Shortly after that there was a new estate being built in Friar Park and my mother and father managed to get a three-bedroomed house with a downstairs bathroom, kitchen and one living room in Friar Park Road – it was a palace.

Eva Alice; the twins Jean and Joan and then David were born.

We did not have much of anything, my Dad was ill a lot of the time with bronchitis because of the mustard gas so he couldn't work much. When he was able to work he did and very hard too. We had love in abundance and, although we did not have much money, my mother always managed to put a healthy, filling meal on the table.

My Dad died at the age of 55 years with stomach cancer; he had not had much of a childhood and this made him ensure that his own children would have a happy home environment, would not go hungry and would not have to suffer the abusive life that he had put up with.

He was extremely proud of all of his children when he was alive; we all have worked hard and I am sure that he would be so proud of us all and his grandchildren, great grandchildren and great, great grandchildren.

My mother lived on, never remarried, and died at the great age of 80 years. She did manage to see us all leave home, marry, have homes and our own children and she was extremely proud of all of us and would tell anyone – whether they wanted to know or not.

Nellie Marsh (Mrs),

(nee Fletcher).

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