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The highs and lows of my life in Coronation Year

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: May 30, 2014

  • Campbell Street, celebrating the coronation with a street party in 1953

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IT'S THANKS to an old pal of mine named John Harcourt that I'm fortunate enough to bring this story to the attention of Bugle readers, via some nostalgic photos my pal loaned to me.

Campbell Street, Dudley (below). This iconic scene, captured by the camera of one of John's dear parents, has been waiting some six decades inside an old shoe box for its true worth to be realised. It depicts Campbell Street decked out patriotically, up to the nines with colourful house-to-house decorations of Union Jacks and other such banners seen fluttering haphazardly in the late afternoon breeze. To match that radiant display were the jovial faces of the adults and children, with some it seems, quite oblivious to the fact they were having their pictures taken.

For me now, viewing this scene after all those years, it brought back to mind this now historical moment in time because this was the aftermath of a nationwide special day of partying to celebrate the coronation of Elizabeth II on Tuesday June 2, 1953.

Where are those party revellers? Well that was all part of a difficult task that me and my pal set about answering many months ago, and with some head-scratching the best results John and me could come up with after sixty years were as follows: going from left, the man on the pavement in the dark overcoat was Mr Enoch Davies from number 7 Campbell Street. The young lad in the dark suit and polo neck sweater was Brian Higgins of number 9; the stylish young lady in the centre, wearing a tartan full- length coat and clutching her party hat was Irene Price from number 2 Constitution Hill. She was a real fun-loving, pocket dynamo who I fondly recall in her adolescent years with her elder brother Jimmy in tow. She loved nothing better than joining us young lads in impromptu rough and tumble street games of football.

The blond lad on her left hand side was my pal John Harcourt; he lived at number 3A Campbell Street in one of those very unpopular shared back to back houses with his mom and dad. His next door neighbour for many years leading up to this period was a certain young man named Cyril Woodall, who many decades later, in 1990, became mayor of Dudley.

The only other person we could name with any conviction was the lovely smiling lady on the pavement in the double-breasted apron and wearing a crown on her head. She was another close neighbour of John's, Mrs Wallace.

My own snapshot of Coronation Day in Campbell Street was taken by another pal of mine named Ronnie Davies. That smart young bloke posing with his hands in his pockets was yours truly, and the lady in the background, methinks, was Mrs Nicklin, Ronnie's next door neighbour.

On seeing myself again, standing there on that second day of June, it brought to mind that the Queen's life would have changed forever with the great burden of office now bestowed upon her slim young shoulders, and to a much less significant degree within 23 days of her Coronation Day, I would also have a life-changing experience. Because on Thursday June 25 I left my grandparents' (Susan and Harry Woodall) home at 49 Oakeywell Street, never realising that I wouldn't ever step over its threshold again. I was off to start my two years' compulsory Army National Service with the REME – the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers – and those two years started off with my tough eight weeks Basic Training at Blandford Forum Army Camp in Dorset.

At this point you might rightly wonder what all this is leading up to. Well I was about six weeks into my training, or square bashing as we called it, when I received a letter from my sister Doreen, which read:

"Well Roy, you won't be sleeping in your old house again will you? Because Gran and the rest of her neighbours in Oakeywell Street have had compulsory eviction notices served upon them by the Dudley Environmental Department, and must vacate their homes within 28 days."

I was stunned by my sister's news and couldn't understand why my grandparents hadn't let me know. Well the truth was my gran had already written to me with the traumatic news and had also enclosed inside that missing letter a ten shilling note, which of course I never received.

The mystery was that our supposedly trustworthy corporal had been opening up our platoon's mail and helping himself to any money he found enclosed, and he must have been a bit naive to think he wouldn't be caught. I honestly don't know how his downfall came about, but it all came to a head in the last two weeks of our crucial Basic Training, when he was arrested by the Military Police, and in a search of his barrack room quarters they discovered in the attic space above his bed a great quantity of our pilfered mail.

Just out of interest, we young army squaddies were on 26 shillings per week, so you can understand how much that missing money from home meant to us National Servicemen.

By the time of our NCO's trial and conviction all our platoon had gone through the ordeal of the obligatory passing out parade, and our platoon against all the odds won the top honours for Marching and Rifle Drill. And it's only fair to say that a lot of that credit must go to our former NCO, now biding his time in some guard-house jail.

Within days of our passing out, all our platoon had moved onto various other army postings around the country. I for one was never called to give evidence against my former NCO and I was glad, because it didn't pay to dwell on such unsavoury matters.

More memories next week.

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