handful of young women actually do the work of the
men ? The bigger factories in Birmingham launched a
campaign to fill their vacant positions with women.
If Ashford and Son did not act quickly it would have
no staff and would be forced to close.
bring any of your friends who want to work to the
house tonight and let me meet them."
Birmingham's larger employers, Kynoch Works in
Witton, changed its production from making shotgun
cartridges to war munitions. It advertised in the
newspapers for women to come and work. It also
appealed to families in Birmingham to offer
somewhere for the young women to stay. William's
room was now empty.
of Kynoch's need for workers at its factory.
excited about being a soldier, he felt he was
embarking on something that would go down in
history. As a child he had wanted to be a soldier
and to be a part of the adventure the British Army
offered. Now, at the age of twenty-four years, he
recalled his childhood and wrapped the memories from
them within a cloak of maturity. He had been brought
up to love his country and now William saw fighting
for that country as an expression of his love. He
was a fit, strong young man, no thought that he may
be injured or even killed entered his mind. What did
occupy his thoughts was how many of the enemy he
could actually kill. Surely it would be counted in
dozens, could it possibly reach a number containing
three figures ?
training had been short and indeed basic. William could now
aim and fire a rifle. He had been taught how to use a
bayonet. What would killing and enemy be like ? He could
not wait to find out.
In the village of
Madeley a room in the school was set aside as a recruiting
office. As well as signing young men into the army it
sought after women of all ages to work in factories up and
down the country.
Lily needed to put
a purpose into her life. She seldom left The Bridge House or
its garden. She took care of the bees, fed the chickens and
collected their eggs. Joseph dug out a pond where Lily
looked after the ducks. She read books and was always
sewing something. Her mother taught her how to knit.
Dorothy Albon wrote
to her every week and Violet McDonald had started also to
write. Sis Sullivan wrote, telling of her training to nurse
the wounded. Lily always wrote back but her letters were
always short. She wondered how long it took the letters to
Sis Sullivan to reach her.
"Father, would you
object if I were to volunteer my services as a munitions
worker ? There is a factory, Kynoch, in Birmingham which
most urgently needs women to fill the places left empty by
its men going to fight."
"My Dearest Lily
you go and take with you mine and your mother's blessing."
"Can I go as well
"Glad you are very
young but if they will accept you, please go with all of
pure love. The Bridge House will be empty without you both
but it will be a small sacrifice to make for our nation's
recruiting office was busy but mainly with men signing up
for the army. Two uniformed sergeants sat at desks with men
of all ages lining up before them. Behind screens doctors
were giving the new recruits the most cursory of
examinations before passing them fit for service no matter
what their condition.
"Miss Bedson," the
lady behind the desk recruiting female munitions workers.
"It is lovely to see you, we have not noticed you about for
"I wish to
volunteer to work at Kynoch in Birmingham. My sister,
Gladys, also wishes to volunteer."
"That is excellent
news Miss Bedson. Let me take a few particulars."
Lily and Glad were
the only people in the line for volunteers to make weapons,
very few details were taken from them and there was no
medical examination. Tickets for the train to Birmingham
the next day were handed over.
"You will need to
change trains at Stoke then a billeting officer will meet
you at Birmingham and take you to where you are to stay."
"Would it be
possible for Glad and I to stay together ?"
"That will be up to
the billeting officer but if you ask him it may well be
"The day after
tomorrow you will start work. Birmingham City Corporation
is providing free bus transport to all servicemen and
munitions workers in uniform so it will not cost you
anything going to and from work at Kynoch. If I am honest
we try to billet people near to their factories so you may
well be able to walk."
"Uniform ?" Lily
said. "You mentioned a uniform, will we have to wear
"More a case of
overalls than the kind of uniform the soldiers are wearing
but everyone will recognise you and what you are doing.
Uniforms help to raise the espirit de corps."
William and other
new recruits to The 4th South Staffordshire Regiment were
handed a small brown book. Wording on the cover read The
Soldiers Small Book. It recorded Private 12464 William
Ashford as a member of the regiment and was signed into
record by the major commanding C Company. Neither he nor
William noticed the error made recording his age, making him
ten years older than he actually was.
entering details of his his family members into the book.
He wrote is mother's name, Emily Jane Ashford but did not
enter his father or sister. He would do that later. Where
it asked for the name of his wife William did not have a
wife to write in. At the top of the page The Soldiers Small
Book clearly stated that listing family members did not
constitute making a will. William had no intention of being
killed so the page was unnecessary for him, he wrote no
more, closed the book and put it in his pocket. He did not
look at the page again.
Dear Mother, Father
and Sister Jessie,
This is not what I
expected war to be like. I have spent my time not fighting
but digging as we built a place from which we could
eventually attack the enemy. I can not wait until I am able
to meet him face to face. We call the enemy The Hun. I
will kill as many as I can.
How are the nails
coming along ? Are you able to manage without me ?
Your son and
The army had
quadrupled its order with H Ashford and Son and was
demanding deliveries every day.
"I will drive the
lorry," Jessie said, "then Father you can stop at the
factory and do not need to leave your work."
"But you can not
"It can not be that
difficult. If William can drive then why shouldn't I ? Just
show me Father, show me how to do it and I will drive the
lorry for H Ashford and Son."
enterprise could be renamed H Ashford, Son and Daughter.
Ashford smiled at the thought as he considered how Jessie
would no doubt prefer their business to be named Daughter, H
Ashford and Son !
Emily Ashford kept
herself busy looking after her husband's workforce. With
little time for breaks, she kept everyone fed as they
laboured hard. She made sandwich and cakes. Lunch was
usually sausages in huge chunks of bread. The kettle was
always on the boil. Making nails was a thirsty
"Mrs Ashford, allow
me to introduce myself. I am the assistant billeting officer
for Kynoch Works."
"How do you do ?"
"You have offered
to accommodate one of our workers. I wonder if I can press
you to take two. They are sisters, Miss Lillian and Miss
Gladys Bedson. They are coming to Birmingham from a village
near Stoke on Trent."
Dear Mother and
This is our address
in Birmingham - 27 Whitehead Road, Aston, Birmingham. We are
staying with a Mr and Mrs Ashford and their daughter Jessie.
very nice and I think we will soon become friends.
Mr Ashford owns a
small factory which makes nails. It is not there that Glad
and I will be working but I expect I can help our during the
We are going to
work in a very big factory called Kynoch Works. Our job,
Glad and I, will be putting the gunpowder into the shells.
Mr and Mrs Ashford have a son in the army, I wonder if he
may shoot some of the shells we make.
Dear Mother and
Mrs Ashford will
insist on calling me Lillian. I have told her that is not my
name but she does not listen. She calls Glad Gladys which I
suppose is her name but we never call her that do we ? It
sounds strange but perhaps here in Birmingham we should
become Lillian and Gladys then at The Bridge House we can be
Lily and Glad.
Dear Mother, Father
and Sister Jessie,
I have been
spending my time building wooden walls to hold back the dirt
in the long line of fighting holes we have dug into the
ground. The sergeant said we are not allowed in our letters
to say where we are but I asked permission to tell you
something and I was told I could write this.
We are using H
Ashford and Son nails to fasten the wood together ! I know
they are our nails by the grinder marks on the points. How
about that ?
My friends and I
call the towns where we come from The Home Front. So Father,
Mother and Sister Jessie there is a little bit of the Home
Front here with us. H Ashford and Son nails here in France
ready to fight the Hun.
Your son and
Lily and Glad were
sharing William's former room at 27 Whitehead Road. It was
not a big room, Mrs Ashford had borrowed a bed from a
neighbour so with two beds it was a little squashed. Their
day began at five o'clock. Mrs Ashford served breakfast
promptly at half-past five. She insisted both eat well
before leaving for work so served a heart meal. Glad was not
sure about the fried black pudding but Lily decided she
As soon as
breakfast was over the two would walk the one mile to Kynoch
Works in Witton where their duties commenced at eight
o'clock and ended at six. They would walk back where Mrs
Ashford had an evening meal hot and ready for them. Bedtime
was never before eleven, the two sisters would spend their
evenings helping Mrs Ashford prepare food for the workers to
eat during the following day. Sometimes they helped to
actually make nails in the workshop. Jessie would take them
to and from Whitehead Road, proudly showing off her skills
as a lorry driver.
continued writing to her friend. Lily always wrote promptly
Mr Dear Friend
Your life in
Birmingham sounds very exciting. I envy you. I had wanted to
be a nurse and follow Sullivan to work at The Front but Mr
Linton has joined the army so I had to become Deputy Warden
and can not now be released from my duties.
McDonald said yesterday that he wants to join the circus
when he grows up, he wants to be a clown of all things. I
suppose we need clowns but at this time all men are needed
as soldiers. I do hope that by the time Ron is old enough
to join the circus this war will be over. People say it will
be over by Christmas but I very much doubt that.
Violet has said
when she grows up she hopes she will be able to work as a
nanny for children. That sounds far more sensible than
wanting to be a clown in a circus.
I miss your visits
to Princess Alice Orphanage. Now you are living in
Birmingham we are only a bus ride away so do come and see
us. Violet would like to see you.
Perhaps she would
visit Dorothy but there was so little spare time, her days
were full. She and Glad worked six days a week at Kynoch and
there were no buses on Sundays.
"The army has
increased its order again," Ashford explained. "We may need
to find a bigger works."
"Father, could I
make a suggestion ?"
"And what would
that be Jessie ?"
"Could we not get a
second furnace, there is room in the yard at the back of the
house, and do some casting here ? I could drive the newly
cast nails to the workshop for finishing. The engine there
could easily power more grindstones."
Jessie Ashford did
have a point and one which would well be worthy of
Dear Miss Bedson
and Dear Miss Bedson
Mother has told me
that you are staying with the family in Whitehead Road. I
do hope everyone is looking after you and that Mother is not
feeding you too much of her dreadful black pudding. Even the
most terrible meals we are served here can not compare with
the horrors of Mother's black pudding. May I suggest you ask
her to make you some bread pudding, that is one of her
have not seen any real fighting. Some of my friends have
shot their rifles at the enemy but I have not. I can not
wait to kill my first Hun.
This week some
friends and I played football. I was captain of Aston Villa
and another soldier was captain of Sheffield Wednesday. He
comes from Sheffield and is always talking about the club he
supports. People from Sheffield do talk a little funny. It
was a good game and Aston Villa won.
When I come home on
leave I will look forward to meeting you both.
C Company 4th
Football ? There
had never been any interest in the game of football among
her father and brothers. Lily did not know if Madeley had a
football team or not. There was no professional football in
the country, the league and FA cup had been suspended for as
long as the war continued. How long would that be ?
Joseph Bedson knew
well that when everyone had said the war would be over by
Christmas it was foolish. Long, dark days lay ahead.
Harvest 1914 in
Joseph's garden at The Bridge House was good. Emma spent
hours pickling fruit and vegetable. Joseph dug a pit which
he carefully lined with wood to make a cool place to store
sacks of potatoes.
"I think we should
keep some pigs," Joseph said one day. "We have room."
"Surely they eat a
lot," Emma commented.
"They can be fed
scraps. Things like potato peelings, cabbage leaves and so
on. We can breed them so keeping us in meat throughout the
There were only two
mouths to feed at The Bridge House. The boys were away
fighting, Doris was married, Lily and Glad were in
Not only for The
Bridge House but for farmers up and down the country the
harvest was good. Luck was on the nation's side. However, as
soon as the harvest was in it rained heavily. The pigs found
themselves living in foul smelling mud. Soldiers at the
front found themselves also living in foul smelling mud.
William was always
cold, his uniform was never dry. rats found their way into
the fighting trenches and living areas. Major O'callaghan
commanding William's company gave the order that the rats
were not to be killed by shooting them. Bullets could not
be wasted and the sound of gunfire would be heard by the
The soldiers became
experts at killing the rats using the butt of their guns.
They would corner a rat then bring the gun's wooden stock
down hard on the vermin's head. During the day the dead rats
would be carefully stored then in the evening they were
taken by the tails, whirled round then thrown up in the air,
over the parapet of the trench and into the area of land
between the British trench and the enemy line. Nobody knew
who had thrown his rat the furthest. To put a head up above
the trench would bring instant fire from the enemy. Every
day when the rats went up into the air a barrage of German
gunfire was aimed at them.
"That's it Jerry,"
William shouted, "shoot the rats, every bullet fired at a
rat is one less you have to fire at us !"
called a meeting with his captains who briefed the
sergeants. William's wish for some real fighting was about
to come true. At seven o'clock on the morning of Thursday
1st October 1914 C Company of the 4th Staffordshire Regiment
joined A, B and D companies in an all out assault on the
German line. With his heart thumping and blood rushing
through his body William raced towards the enemy.
Immediately there was gunfire, machinegun fire filling the
air. Men began to drop either side of him. Turning back no
more filled William's mind that did retreat become a
consideration for those in command.
William did not
turn to look behind him and see those who had fallen but was
always looking left and looking right as he raced forward.
Some fell to the ground screaming while others dropped in
silence. William knew those who fell in silence were dead
and beyond help. When the Hun had been taken out, when the
objective had been secured, then he and others could return
to help those in need.
Just a few more
yards to cover. The machine gun stopped firing. A few more
paces, rifles began shooting from the enemy trench. More
men fell. William pressed on, never hesitating. Three
paces, two paces, a leap as he launched himself into the
German trench. He was met by a Hun who could have been no
more than nineteen years old. Their eyes looked into one
another. The German let out a cry as William thrust his
bayonet into the enemy's stomach. Quickly pulling the gun
back he turned and shot a Hun to his left. The bullet hit
him in the neck from where blood spurted in a fountain. To
his right an enemy was approaching with his gun pointing
forward at the side of his hip. He meant to thrust his
bayonet into William. William stepped aside then shot the
man in his back. William had now killed three Hun.
The Hun were in
retreat, leaving their places in the line they raced across
the field and away from their line. The remaining members of
C Company fired after them. How many did William hit ?
Perhaps two, maybe three. At least five enemy soldiers who
were no more thanks to Private William Ashford of C Company
The 4th Staffordshire Regiment.
stretcher bearers were returning to the open ground in an
attempt to help the wounded. Two thousand men had taken part
in the successful attack and had captured their objective.
Five hundred and sixteen were alive and able to celebrate
the victory. Fourteen hundred and eighty four were dead or
The capture of the
German trench advanced the British line by twenty-five
yards. Reinforcements were sent and the new front line was
connected by a supply trench to the old line. More planking
to shore up the sides, more H Ashford and Son nails to
fasten the wood.
William was happy.
He wrote again to Lillian and Gladys, as Mrs Ashford
insisted they were called but the letter did not get
More workers came
to Kynoch. Lily was put in charge, as supervisor, of a team
made up of twenty young women. She took her new
responsibility and duties very seriously.
approached, everyone forgot their initial exuberance and
insistence the war would be over by Christmas. Lily and Glad
were able to return home to The Bridge House for Christmas.
Joseph and Emma Bedson saw two very different young women as
their daughters. Glad had lost a lot of her childhood
innocence while Lily had become more serious and focussed on
one subject at a time. Most of that focus was thinking of
those who would be away from home at Christmas, away from
home fighting on the front line.
In October 1914
Princess Mary - The Princess Royal, the seventeen year old
daughter of King George V, began a project to send a gift to
soldier and sailor. William received his gift on Christmas
Eve. Many of William's friends, immediately they received
their gifts, took out the packet of tobacco and rolled
cigarettes. Some, not many, ate the sweets. William would
leave both for another time. He slipped the brass gift box
into a pocket.
Of course William
liked sweets. Yes, he did smoke cigarettes as did every
other man in the country but he had been experiencing some
strange feelings in is breathing and while he liked a
cigarette the taste in his mouth had changed. Joseph Bedson
smoked, Mr Ashford smoked but neither Emma Bedson nor Emily
Ashford smoked. Ladies did not smoke. Women smoking was
something for the lower orders. Jessie would like to smoke,
it would be for her an outward sign of independence, but
when she tried it the cigarette made her sick.
On Monday 28th
December Lily and Glad returned to work at Kynoch in
Birmingham. It would be a while before they saw their home
at The Bridge House again. How long would it be before
William saw his home again ?
Father, Sister Jessie, Miss Bedson and Miss Bedson,
I do so much hope
that you had a happy Christmas. Perhaps I will spend next
Christmas in Blighty. That is a song we sing here.
Take me back to dear old Blighty ! Put me on the train for
London town ! Take me over there, Drop me ANYWHERE,
Liverpool, Leeds, or Birmingham, well, I don't care !
I will sing it for
you all when I come home.
My score for 1914
is five dead Hun. I promise I will do better in 1915.
Perhaps you could have a wager on how many I can kill.
numbers, I have been trying to guess how many nails H
Ashford and Son will make in 1915. How many are you making
at the moment ? One thousand a day ? That would mean a
quarter of a million across the year.
Your loving son,
brother and friend
H Ashford and Son
had orders which would take the business to make nearer one
million nails in 1915. The country may be at war but the
business was prospering beyond anything its founder had
imagined possible. Every worker received double wages
the week before Christmas.
Friend ? Lily said
to herself. I have never met William Ashford so how can he
be my friend ?
Birmingham was blanketed in smog as the weather conspired
with the factory chimneys to fill the air with a yellow
pungent cloud all the way to ground level. Emily Ashford
suffered from bronchitis and took to her bed. Jessie
assumed charge of the kitchen so maintained the food and
drink for the workers in addition to her duties driving the
lorry. Every day after work Lily and Glad walked home then
helped baking cakes for the next day.
"I do not know what
I would do without you two," Ashford said. "You are now
members of my family, I am lucky and I am proud to have you
1915 was not a
happy year. Nobody expected it to be. Everyday there was
news of more dead. Families had to prepare themselves for
their loved ones to be among the casualty lists shown in the
newspapers. In January Major O'Callaghan was killed along
with another fifty members of C Company. He had taken a
small group of men out on a mission to scout the German
line. None of hem came back. There were now very few members
of C Company who were part of the original volunteer force
from the previous August. William felt it was time he was
promoted, he did not think for a moment that he should take
Major O'Callaghan's place but surely he deserved to be a
A photograph of
William in his South Staffordshire Regimental uniform stood
proudly on the mantelpiece above the living room fire in
Whitehead Road. Mr Ashford and Jessie were, of course, proud
of him but Mrs Emily Ashford held her son in an almost
godlike status. She never passed the photograph without
speaking to William. She feared him not returning and
believed the more she spoke to him the more she could
protect him on the front line. She wanted him home but she
did not want his return to be until the war ended. Lily
looked at the photograph of the handsome young man whose
hand wrote the letters that came every week and now included
the two sisters.
"He is good looking
isn't he ?" Glad said.
"I have no idea,"
Lily replied. "That is just a photograph. I have never met
"Gas ! Gas !" The
words were frantic and screamed as an order by the sergeant.
"Gas masks on."
William managed to
get his mask over his mouth and nose before the mustard
cloud reached him but still his body felt the effects of the
attack. There were those who were not so prompt and not so
"Private Ashford !"
"The Captain wants
to see you so get yourself down to his command post
single word filled William's mind. His overdue promotion had
come at last. Lance Corporal William Ashford 12464 C Company
The South Staffordshire Regiment. Instantly William
composed in his mind a letter to send back to Birmingham.
William saluted the
"I am reassigning
you. There is a new first aid station just set up in the old
trench. It needs another orderly, that will be you. You have
served on the front line, you deserve a break and this is an
"But I am not a
"You do not need to
be. You are an orderly, you move patients, fetch and carry
for the doctors and nurses."
"No Sir, please Sir, do not
transfer me. I am a soldier."
"We are all
soldiers Ashford, soldiers doing different jobs. Go and get
your kit then report to Major Morgan at the first aid
William had not
been promoted, he had been demoted. He would not now be
able to kill any more Hun. How terrible.
"Ah you are
William. I'm Clark, they call me Sheffield Clark. I'm from D
Company, I've been here for two days. You are from C Company
"We had a guy from
Sheffield in C Company. We played football together but -"
"But the bastard
Hun got him," Clark interrupted. "He was my cousin and a
keen Sheffield Wednesday fan. I can do better, I was on the
playing staff at Sheffield."
"You are Clark
"I am," he smiled.
"That's me. Private Clark Breslford."
"I saw you play at
Villa Park. Oh gosh you are famous."
"Hardly William, I
am just an ordinary private soldier, same as you."
"I had hoped for
promotion," William explained, "But instead I find myself
behind the lines."
"Nobody is getting
promoted at the moment," Clark eplained. "The government has
run out of money. Got to keep the army's wage bill don.!
"I want to kill
Hun, not to work behind the lines."
"Look at it this
way, you are still fighting the Hun by stopping them taking
the lives of our boys."
My Dear Friend Lily
When are you coming
to visit us at Princess Alice Orphanage ? Violet McDonald
asks about you all the time. She is growing into a very
We have had more
children come to us. It is very busy. I am teaching the
girls to knit so we can make socks and gloves for the
Do visit soon.
Mrs Ashford had
recovered enough from her bronchitis to resume her duties.
She was not completely fit but well enough to take charge in
the kitchen. In the evenings she baked cakes to take to the
workers the next day where she served them alongside a never
ending line of cups of tea. With a second furnace operating
demand for refreshments was high. Fortunately the two areas
of H Ashford and Son were only a few streets away, close
enough for Emily Ashford to manage both fronts.
The smog had gone
but it was cold, very cold. It was also bitter for the
soldiers on the front line. Life for the fighting men had
within it long periods of inactivity. It was then that the
temperature hit the hardest. Life for William Ashford was a
never ending hurry as he moved from one task quickly to the
next. He seldom had time to feel the cold.
I am working in a
first aid station. I am not allowed to say where but
something quite amazing has happened. You will never believe
There is an orderly
here who you know. Perhaps you do not know of him personally
but you are billeted, so he tells me, in his home in
Birmingham. When I was speaking to him and told him of my
friends at home his mouth fell wide open at the mention of
your name. Lily he is so handsome.
All my love,
"Glad isn't that
strange ? How many soldiers are there at the front ? How
many nurses are there ? What are the chances of my Friend
Sis being there with Mr and Mrs Ashford's son ?"
Father, Sister Jessie, Miss Bedson and Miss Bedson,
I am a medical
orderly. I did not like having to do this job but now I am
proud of what I am doing
THE NEXT PARAGRAPH
WAS BLACKED OUT BY THE CENSOR
Miss Bedson, Miss
Lily Bedson, I have met a friend of yours. How big a
coincidence is that ? Nurse Sullivan tells me that you and
she are special friends. That makes me feel closer to home.
I hope you are all
well. I hope, Miss Bedson and Miss Bedson, that Mother has
made you some of her famous bread pudding. Sometimes when I
am eating army rations I pretend it is Mother's bread
Your loving son,
brother and friend
"He wrote loving,"
"Don't be silly,"
The cold which had
heralded the New Year turned to rain. It rained on the front
and it rained on the home front. Day after day it rained.
"I wish I had been
born a fish," Clark said.
William, Clark and
everyone else was living in a sea of mud. Rats increased
their numbers to plague proportions. Clark and William spent
more time every day killing the vermin. If there was such a
place as Hell then it had moved its resident rodent location
to the British front line.
It was not only the
wounded who came to William's first aid station. The wounded
came with an irregularity matching the action against the
enemy. There was an increasing flow of soldiers suffering
from a range of illnesses. Never a day went by without a new
patient. The injured were given first aid and sent to the
field hospital. Almost all were then returned home to
Blighty. Those suffering from more serious illnesses and
diseases were usually sent straight home, bypassing the
field hospital, while those who did need hospitalisation
were treated as quickly a possible then returned to
William knew he was
not a well man. Clark had his suspicions but when he tried
to speak to William he always dismissed his concerns. For
many weeks William had felt his chest was strange. He had
cut down the number of cigarettes he smoked. The number of
times he needed to cough and clear his throat had increased.
On one occasion he had actually coughed up blood. William
had to fight tiredness although his duties would not allow
him to rest. he had lost much of his appetite.
William did not
need a doctor to diagnose his illness. He knew what
tuberculosis was and he knew what contracting tuberculosis
meant. It meant he would not die with honour as a soldier,
his would be a slow and lingering illness lasting many years
as he waited for the relief that death would ultimately
Ashford 12464 of the South Staffordshire regiment was
discharged with honour on Thursday 17th December 1915. He
was at home in Whitehead Road, Birmingham, for Christmas.
"Glad and I will
find a new billet," Lily said.
"No you will not !"
Ashford replied. I will sleep in the workshop before that
"You re family,"
Emily added. "We will need you as William settles back into
life here and begins his treatment. I will need to look
after him and when I can not be in the kitchen you will be
needed there in my place."
"It is all very
easy," Jessie announced. "William will have my room and I
will sleep on the floor between the two beds in Lily and
"I will be the one
to sleep on the floor," Lily said.
"I am the
youngest," Glad explained, "so I should be the one on the
"I will seep on the
"No Jessie, I
"I am the youngest,
I will sleep on the floor."
Ashford held up his
hands. "How about you take it in turns."
William did not
look anything like his photograph. He no longer had a
moustache, he was much thinner and his uniform was covered
in dried mud.
"You can get those
clothes off straight away," Emily Ashford ordered. "Is it
any wonder you are ill. Don't they have baths in the army ?"
"No Mother, they do
"Well we have a
bath in this house. I will lay it out on the kitchen floor
and put the kettle on the stove."
William smiled at
Once Christmas was
over William was admitted to the sanatorium wing at Aston
Hall which had been turned into a military hospital. Doctors
decided the severity of his condition was low enough for him
to be treated as a day patient and not occupy a bed in the
ward. William knew tuberculosis could not be cured, the
symptoms could be alleviated but not taken away. The patient
would eventually die, it was just a matter of when.
William said a few days later, "I want to thank you for
everything you are doing for my family, you and your sister.
My mother is not a lady who hands out compliments but since
I came home she has been saying so much in your praise."
"Thank you, that is
kind. Can I ask you, how terrible is it at the front ?"
"It is not good
Miss Lily. Men die, the lucky ones die quickly. Now I am
home and away from it I can not help but wonder if it was
all just a horrible dream."
"I sometimes wonder
if all of my life is a dream," Lily said. "A bad dream with
something not quite so bad every now and then but overall it
is a nightmare."
"I am in love,"
Glad declared. "I am head over heels in love !"
"Who with ?"
"With Bert." Glad
threw her arms wide. "Oh my Bert !"
"Who is Bert ? Do
I know him ?"
"Let me explain,"
Lily smiled. "There was a fire in the office at our unit
today, not in the work area but in the office. Our section
was evacuated. It as not serious but if it had spread the
whole of Kynoch could have gone up. The fire brigade put it
out and we all returned to our stations."
"Bert rescued me,"
"Bert was one of
the firemen," Lily explained. "There is a permanent fire
engine at Kynoch works."
"He is tall, he is
handsome, he is eighteen years old and I love him."
Firemen were too
important and were not allowed to serve in the army or
navy. William wondered if he may now be allowed to become a
"Fireman Bert, I
love him," Glad declared again.
Lily did not take
her little sister seriously but when there was knock on the
Ashford's front door and Fireman Bert Watten stood there she
may have been wrong.
"I just wanted to
make sure you are alright after today's fire," Bert said.
Although he spoke to Lily and to Glad it was clear which of
the two he was primarily addressing.
Six foot six inches
tall, dark hair and a wide smile across his manly face,
Fireman Watten had set Glad's heart ablaze.
Joseph Bedson had a
difficult letter to write. He wrote to both of his daughters
but his words were for Lily. Puppy Dog Victoria had died.
She had always been called Puppy Dog but her advancing years
made her an elderly lady at The Bridge House. Glad cried
when she read the letter. Lily did not cry. She was sad that
Puppy Dog Victoria was no more but her death closed finally
a chapter in a life Lily no longer had a part within.
"Mother still has
not made you any of her famous bread pudding," William said
one Sunday afternoon.
"She is far too
busy," Lily said. "I do not know how she manages to fit
everything into her day."
"It is you that
amazes me," William said. "Working from dawn to dusk at
Kynoch then coming here to work in the kitchen and help at
the works. I only wish I could do what you do."
"You need to rest
William, you need to build up your strength and get well
"Then do what ? I
am of no use to anyone, I can not even work in the factory
that bears my name. H Ashford and son. we should stop using
the son bit."
"You can not live your life feeling sorry for yourself," Lily
"I am going to make something of my life," William replied. "I may
not be able to be a soldier and more and right now I can not
make nails but I can make bread pudding. If Mother will not
make you some I will do it."
"Bread pudding Miss Lily. I am going to make you some bread
"Really ? I have never eaten bread pudding before," Lily lied.
Joseph buried Puppy Dog Victoria in the garden and said a little
prayer over her grave. The Bridge House was now more empty
that it had ever been. Joseph would not admit it, even to
himself, but Lily was his favourite daughter and he missed
her so much. When would this war end and when would Lily
come home ?
"Do you approve of Glad's young man ?" Emma asked.
"I have not met him so I do not know."
"There can be little about him she has not put in her letters."
Glad wrote pages to her parents telling of Fireman Bert Watten.
Joseph considered it would be better if his yiubgest
daughter were not to fall for a soldier whose life would end
within the shortest space of time.
"So what do you think ?"
"William Ashford I think a lot of things," Lily smiled.
"About the bread pudding silly."
"I think you are skilful enough to have made it without my
"So did you like it ?"
"I think it is the finest bread pudding I have ever tasted," Lily
replied honestly. "It could, however, have been made even
better if you had sprinkled sugar on the top."
I hope this letter finds you well.
William Ashford has returned home safely. He goes to Aston Hall for
treatment three times a week and I think he is getting a
little stronger. It is terrible that a young man should
have this illness but we live in a cruel world.
I think about you a lot Sis and wonder what you are doing. I wish I
could have been a nurse but that was not to be. I hope that
the times William and I spend talking together are of
comfort to him so perhaps in a way I am being a nurse. He
does not talk about his experiences on the front, he says it
was bad but he never talks in detail.
I hope this letter finds you and does not get lost on its way to
the front. I have no way of knowing if you are still at the
first aid station or if you have moved to new duties.
When this terrible war is over and you are again playing football
for Sheffield Wednesday I will come and watch you. I will,
of course, remain an Aston Villa supporter but Sheffield
Wednesday will become my second team.
William, ex Private William Ashford 12464 South Staffordshire
I have decided I will visit you at Princess Alice Orphanage. It
has been too long since we last met. I would like to see
Violet McDonald and how is young Ronald ? Does he still want
to be a clown in the circus ?
I will come the Sunday after next at about two o'clock and look
forward to seeing you.
Dear Father and Mother
Fireman Bert had to put out a fire at Winson Green Prison last
week. Some prisoners set it alight. Isn't that terrible ? I
do hope the prisoners are punished most severely for what
I think that William Ashford likes Lily. They spend a lot of time
talking together but she says she is trying to nurse his
Your loving daughter,
The army doubled again its order for nails to be made and delivered from
H Ashford and Son. Ashford was worried as to where he could
go to find the extra staff. When he did find them the
building would never be large enough and finding an
alternative place to work would not be easy. What could
happen was to operate a night shift, it was the only way
"Father it is time I came back to work. I need something to do."
Ashford accepted his son's offer. "When you are not at Aston Hall
Sanatorium and when you feel strong enough that will be well
"I have seen our nails in use," William said. "Ashford and So doing
its bit an fulfilling an important role right up at the
"I think we should increase the number of hens we have," Joseph
said. "If Mrs Ashford is baking in the quantity Lily says
in her letters to keep her workforce fed I think we could
supply the eggs."
"How will you get the eggs to her in Birmingham ?"
"That is easy. We can crate them up and send them by train."
"Your father is so kind," Emily said.
Lily smiled. "I do miss him, I miss my mother and I miss The Bridge
House. It will soon be two years since I saw them last."
It was longer than that since Lily had seen her friend Dorothy. She
did not visit Princess Alice Orphanage as planned. She was
not brave enough to make the visit and bring into her mind
memories she had hidden far away but if she had found the
courage there was so much to keep her busy in Aston so she
never could have taken time away. Lily
had cut her sleep back to five hours a night.
"Father, I have an idea," Jessie said.
"I see, and what might that be ?"
"It is a good idea father, all it needs if for you to say yes."
Sunday 18th June 1916 was to be a special day for both the Bedson
and the Ashford Families. Jessie's father gave her idea his
"I will drive," William said.
"That you will not my little brother. This is my idea, it has
father's approval and I will be driving the lorry."
"But you are a woman."
"How clever of you to have noticed."
"And I am a man."
"When this war is over," Jessie said with firmness in her voice,
"women will have the vote in just the same way as the men,
there will be women members of parliament and there will one
day be a woman prime minister."
"Not in my day," William laughed. "Not in my lifetime."
"Would you care to wager on that little brother ?"
Jessie did have her way. Early on Sunday morning she, Lily, Glad
and William cleaned the back of the open lorry belonging to
H Ashford and Son. Wooden boxes were placed along both
sides to serve as seats. Emily, the only one from the house
who attended church on a Sunday, decided she could run the
risk of the Lord's wrath and packed a hamper of food for the
"He will forgive my absence for just one Sunday in such a good cause."
Joseph Bedson, however, would not allow anything to come between
him and the Lord on a Sunday morning. If Kaiser Wilhelm
himself marched into Madeley and all the way up the drive of
The Bridge House battle would have to wait until the
morning's service was over. Plans were made for the group to
arrive in the early afternoon.
Jessie did drive the lorry but William insisted he sit beside her
to read the map and keep a constant watch over her abilities
behind the steering wheel. Mr and Mrs Ashford sat in the
rear on wooden crates which Emily had covered with cushions
and pillows. With them were Lily and Glad. There was also
another passenger, Fireman Bert Watten.
The ride from Aston to Madeley was sixty-two miles and took just
under three hours. Those in the rear of the lorry were
certain Jessie managed to steer across every bump and hole
in the road. William was secretly in admiration of his
sister's skills but would never have said so.
The two families had a wonderful day away from the cares of life in
general and the horrors of war in particular. Joseph took a
liking to Fireman Bert. He would be happy if he ultimately
turned out to be the one for his youngest daughter. They
were, of course, still to young to be anything more than
friends. But what of Lily ? He wondered if she would now
"I do admire your garden, Mr Bedson," Ashford said with a smile.
"Why thank you. Do call me Joseph."
"I do admire your garden Joseph," Ashford said.
"What is your Christian name then Mr Ashford ?"
"Everyone calls me Ashford but actually my name is Henry Ashford."
Joseph's heart gave a double beat. "That is a fine English name."
Joseph thought of a way to change the subject. "Lily tells
me you keep the army well supplied with nails."
"William has not said a lot about his time on the front but he does
say how our nails are used to fasten the planks of wood
together in the battle trenches."
"You must be making a great number."
"More than I dare to count."
"I am retired now, I wish I could find something to do to help the
war effort. In recent years Madeley has seen changes making
it a backwater in the county."
"I would like to retire once the war is over. I do not now see
William being able to take over the business, he is not well
enough. The way we
make nails is very old fashioned, it could easily be done by
machine were it not for the factories who could do the work
having other things to make for the army. When the war ends
Ashford and Son will not stay in business for long."
"This is a very fine house," Bert said.
"It is called The Bridge House," Glad explained, "but I do not know
why. The bridge at the end of the drive crosses the railway
and the house is much older so was built before the bridge."
"Glad," Bert said. "If I were to ask your father to allow me to
take your hand and to marry me would you say yes to such a
On Saturday 19th May 1917 Herbert James Watten married
Gladys Bedson at Holy Trinity Church in Aston, Birmingham.
It was a very happy day. Joseph would have preferred it to
have been in Madeley at All Saints Church but Lily and Glad
had lived in Birmingham for what was almost three years and
that was now where their home was.
There were many people at Holy Trinity Church, although they
were Lily's friends Dorothy Albon and The McDonald Twins of
Violet and Ronald were there. Lily took Dorothy to one side
and made her swear not to reveal anything of her past life.
That was now history and needed to remain there.
"Is that why you have not been to see me ?"
Lily nodded. "That person does not exist any longer, I am
Lily Bedson, a munitions worker at Kynoch's factory. If Mrs
Ashford had her way I would be Lillian Bedson, perhaps I
should take the name, a change of person and a change of
Sis Sullivan had returned to England where she was working
as a nurse in a soldiers convalescent home in Blackburn,
Lancashire. She wanted to attend Bert and Glad's wedding but
could not take time away from her duties.
Bert and Glad were to live with Bert's widowed mother in the
Nechells area of Birmingham. Glad would continue as a
munitions worker and Bert a fireman.
"Nobody is talking about it," Dorothy said, "but there is a
national shortage of men. Every day more are being killed,
there will not be enough for those of our age, Lily, to find
"Then that may well solve my problem," Lily said.
"What about William ?"
"Do not be ridiculous !"
William was Bert's best man and Lily Glad's bridesmaid. They
were friends, William and Lily, good friends but Lily had no
feelings for William beyond friendship.
On Tuesday 17th July it was announced from Buckingham Palace
that the King had changed the name of the Royal family from
Saxe-Coburg and Gota to Windsor.
"That is a wise move," Ashford said, "and not before time."
On Sunday 29th July 1917 Ashford complained, saying he was
feeling unwell. "I need to be better for the morning," he
said. ! I think I will go to bed and rest." He died in his
Jessie instantly assumed charge of H Ashford and Son, the
Monday morning shift ran as normal as did all shifts during
the week. William supported his mother as best he could but
she insisted he was required in the works, she was too strong
not to be able to manage alone. "There are families having
to work through far darker days than these."
Lily wrote to her father and mother to share the sad news.
On Friday 4th August at nine o'clock in the morning an
officer from the Army's Royal Ordnance Office visited the
works of H Ashford and Son. All orders were cancelled,
without its proprietor H Ashford and Son could not be relied
upon to deliver in the quantity and with the reliability the
army required. Jessie was furious and tore into the officer
as if he were a new recruit falling foul of a fierce
sergeant major. It was of no use and served no purpose, H
Ashford and Son was no more.
Lily wrote again to her father. She advised him that the
contract had been given to Tinnings. Joseph immediately
took a train to Birmingham and presented himself to the
company's general manager. There was no argument when Joseph
revealed the sum of money he expected Tinnings to pay as a
good will gesture to Mrs Emily Ashford. Tinnings made a
further payment for the furnaces, steam engine and grinding
machines even though they were not needed in the larger
factory. Jessie refused to allow the lorry to be sold.
"We are going to start a new business," Jessie declared.
"Jessie Ashford and Mother. I will sell the lorry and buy a
small van. You, William, will be its driver. The kitchen
will become a bakery. We will supply the workforces in
factories. We did it for our own people so we can do it for
all I can persuade to buy from us. I will start with that
"They were generous with the money they paid to us," Emily
"And they did give employment to all our workers," William
"And now they will buy our bread and cakes."
Tinnings did not buy bread and cakes from the new Ashford
Bakery but Lewis's Department Store in Birmingham's Bull
Street did. Early every morning William drove the delivery
van to stock up its food hall and tea shop.
"I have never been to a tea shop," Lily said.
"Then come and make a delivery with me, come tomorrow
morning. We can be finished in time for you to go to Kynoch,
I can drive you there straight after the delivery."
Dear Mother and Father
William took me to Lewis's Department Store in Birmingham
this morning. We had a delivery van full of bread, cakes
ands scones which Jessie and Mrs Ashford had baked. The new
Ashford Bakery is doing very well. It is easier for the
family than it was making nails. I do miss Mr
Ashford. His death was so sudden. He was a kind man.
William says that he is head of the family now
but Mrs Ashford and Jessie battle every day to decide who is the
real boss. William just lets them argue and stands aside.
William is quite well in recent days, his visits
to Aston Hall have been reduced to once a week. I am pleased for
William said he
would take me to Lewis's for tea and cake but the department store
does not open on a Sunday and I have to be at Kynoch Works every
William sends his
"William, William, William !"
Joseph Bedson said. "One, two, three, four, five times she has written
his name in the letter. She has not written about anything at all except about
"Lily when did you
start working at Kynoch ?"
"And now it
is November 1917, more than three years later and you have never taken
"I had a day off
for Glad's wedding and another day off for your father's funeral."
"They do not count. Glad takes half a day off every
"She is married."
"That also does not count. I have decided I am
going to insist that you take a day off, the week after next. I am
going to take you to Lewis's Department Store in Birmingham. You can do
some shopping and I will buy you tea and cake in the tea shop as an
early Christmas present."
"So you will buy me a cake you sold to Lewis's Department Store from the
Ashford Bakery ?"
are a very good girl I may even buy you a slice of bread pudding."
"William Ashford ! I am always a good girl !
Besides I am not a girl I am a woman !"
When they arrived at the tea shop Lewis's had sold
out of bread pudding.
Wednesday 26th December 1917 The Ashford Family, The now Watten Family
and Lily made a surprise visit to The Bedson Family at the Bridge House
in Madeley. On this occasion William drove with Jessie reading the map
and everyone else squashed into the back of the small delivery van.
"There is a Lewis's Department Store in Hanley,"
Joseph said. "I have never been there but I know some who have."
It was a mild winter meaning there was no easing of
fighting on the front. Day after day the casualty figures grew.
William had not heard from his friend Clark in several months, he
wondered if he were still alive. That mild winter meant William's
illness was temporarily kept under control. He wished he could rejojn
the army and fight again but he knew he would not last for more than a
few weeks in the conditions the front line troops had to endure..
The figures in
the papers were for the British casualties. The Americans were now
fighting alongside the allies. With this new strength surely the war
could not go on for very much longer. Surely this had to be the last
year of fighting, then everyone could return to a normal life. What
would a normal life be ? A generation of men all but wiped out. Women
how having to do the work of the men. the Irish Problem and the
Suffragette Movement may have slowed their activities but they had
not gone away. The moment peace was declared they would be back.
My Dear Friend Lily
What are you going to do when the war is over ?
I am now the senior housemother at Princess Alice
Orphanage so if you wanted a job here I could give one to you.
With so many mothers sadly now without their husbands
and unable to care for children we are getting more and more coming
to stay at the orphanage.
Lily, you should come here to work. That is
unless you intend to marry William Ashford.
Ever your friend
Lily tore the letter up and did
Lily was still
Glad's supervisor at Kynoch. Glad never stopped talking about her
beloved Bert. "We are not going to have children until the war is over,"
she said. "It is not fair to bring children into the world as it is
"Glad that is not a
subject you should be discussing with anyone, anyone at all, other than
your husband so kindly keep your own counsel and concentrate on your
I have moved to work at Blackburn Royal Infirmary
and have been promoted to become a ward sister. I am now officially
Sister Sullivan. Funny isn't it ? I am your friend as a
sister and now a sister in my daily work.
Being a civilian nursing sister and no longer
working with the army wounded, I can talk more openly about what I
do. There is not some terrible censor reading my letters.
When I was nursing soldiers one gave me a poem
he had written. I have copied it out for you.
Your friend and sister
I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.
In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.
You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you'll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.
"There is trouble in Russia," Joseph said. "The world
is changing for ever and it is not changing for the better."
On Wednesday 17th July the Imperial Romanov Family was murdered: Tsar
Nicholas II, Tsarina Alexandria, their children: Olga, Tatiana, Maria,
Anastasia and Alexi. As the news spread the world was shocked.
"That could never happen in England," Lily said.
is to say it could not ?" William replied. "So many dead in a war where
nothing is being achieved."
Lily did not say anything.
William summonsed up the courage he needed to speak of something he had
in his mind.
"Lily when this war is over do you think
we could be married ?"
"No, William, I do not think so
but when the war is over do please ask me again."
would never love anyone the way she had loved Henry Wilton, She never
thought about Henry any more but she never forgot him and never stopped
loving him. With Henry she would have been a countess, a grand
lady. With William she would be the wife of a baker's delivery
driver. Lily was fond of William, of course she was, but she did
not love him. The Lily Bedson who had loved Lord Henry Wilton was not
the Lily Bedson who was friends with William Ashford. When the war was
over perhaps she would take more time to ask herself if the now Lily
Bedson could indeed become Mrs Lily Ashford. That would not happen until
the war was over.
took a sudden and unexpected turn for the worst. He was admitted to the
sanatorium at Aston Hall. The end of the war was coming, the demand for
munitions was not as high as it had been and production at Kynoch was
reduced. Lily worked part-time at Kynoch and spent the rest of the day
helping Emily Ashford in the bakery. Jessie took over from her
brother as the van driver. Every day Lily, Jessie or Emily would leave
the bakery to visit William at the sanatorium.
would Lily do when the war ended ? She missed The Bridge House and
her parents but her life was now in Birmingham. Should she marry William
Ashford or should she accept, as many women of her age were having to, a
life of spinsterhood ? Spinsterhood stretching all the way into
old age and the grave ?
"A cruise ?" Jessie said
"Next week. A wealthy American has
hired a ship to take wounded soldiers on a cruise."
"William is not a wounded soldier."
"The doctors say
the air will help his lungs."
"When is he going ?"
"Next week. We leave Southampton for Gibraltar and then sail into the
Mediterranean Sea. We will visit Italy and be back in Southampton three
"What do you mean when you say WE,
"I am going with William to look after him."
"Are you indeed ? What pray is to become of the Ashford Bakery ? I
am I to run it on my own ?"
"You will manage Jessie, I
know you will."
Jessie drew breath breath but Lily
"I can resign from Kynoch, they do not
need me any longer. I will work with you full time."
Jessie thought for a moment. "You know what mother, you go. Lily and I
will make the perfect team. You go with William Mother."
Emily Ashford did
not know how truthful her daughter was with her words or they were all
spoken and motivated out of sarcasm.
"I have a
secret," Jessie said to Lilly.
"Have you ?" Lily
"I am going to get married," Jessie
said then smiled broadly.
Lily controlled her
reaction. She carefully put down the cake mixing bowl onto the
table even though he instinct was to drop it. She then tried to
assemble the words needed to respond to her friend's news. "Who ?" Was
all she managed to say.
"His name is George but you
are not to laugh when I tell you his other name."
was in too much shock to understand and certainly would not laugh what
ever the name was.
"Do you promise ?"
"You promise ? Say you promise ?"
"Say you promise not to laugh."
"I promise not to laugh."
"His name is Haddock, George
Haddock, Major George Haddock."
Lily did not laugh.
She could not see that there was to laugh at.
! You know the fish haddock, like you buy in the fish and chip
Lily sill did not see anything funny about the name.
"He is fifteen years older than I am," Jessie explained, "so if we are
going to have children it needs to be quickly."
Lily had already
reprimanded Glad for discussing with her children within her marriage,
now Jessie was raising the subject of conception
Should she offer another rebuke ?
Haddock was invalided out of the army last year. He has a wooden leg,"
Jessie explained. "He lost his real one in action."
am sorry," Lily said.
"Oh don't worry," Jessie
replied. "We have tested it all and everything works."
"What works ?"
"It works ! He took the wooden
leg off though."
Lily did not know what her friend was
talking about. Then suddenly realised what IT was. "Oh no !
You do not mean ? Jessie Ashford that is terrible !"
Jessie laughed. "No it is not. It was rather fun actually."
Before Lily could react Jessie continued. "George now works at Lewis's,
he is in charge of the goods receiving bay so we first met when I was
making the deliveries."
"But William makes the
"Not now, he is away somewhere on the
"The Mediterranean is hardly the high
seas, he has not been gone a week yet."
that's how long he has been away and it's four days ago that George and
I first met."
"And you have...." Lily paused and
decided not to finish the sentence. Instead she said, "When do you
propose having the wedding ?"
"Three weeks on
"Three weeks on
Saturday at the Birmingham Registry Office in Broad Street."
"You are not having a wedding in church ?"
the point of that ? Under the war regulations a registry office
can conduct a wedding with two weeks notice."
your mother and William will not be back home by then."
"It will be a nice little surprise for them the won't it ?" Jessie smiled.
"Do you love the man ?"
"You know what, Lily, I do."
That evening Major George Haddock came to visit. Lily liked the man.
"I am very pleased to meet you Miss Lily, Jessica speaks highly of you
and all you are doing for her family. When we are married Jessica and I
will live at my home in Edgebaston."
"What about the
bakery ? What will happen to that ?"
will continue with everything as it is now. I will bring her to and from
work in my car."
Lily wondered how Major George
Haddock could drive a car with a wooden leg. "But the bakery has
us working long hours," Lily tried to explain.
"I know Miss Lily but do not worry, all will be well."
"Could you not wait until Mrs Ashford and William return before you have
the wedding ?"
"We have our reasons, Miss Lily, we
have our reasons."
Lily wondered what those reasons
could be. Neither Jessie nor her fiancé were about to tell Lily
what those reasons were.
"So I have a son with only
one lung that works properly and now I have a son-in-law with just one
leg !" Emily Ashford announced on her return. "Pray tell me where are my
daughter and her new one-legged husband hiding ?"
"They were supposed
to be here in time to meet you coming back," Lily explained. She
was not pleases, not pleased at all, that her friend had deserted her so
leaving her with the task of breaking the news to Mrs Ashford and
William. Their being late at Whitehead Road was deliberate, Lily knew it
"Perhaps his leg has fallen off," William said.
"Actually you can not tell from looking at him that he has a wooden
leg," Lily said. "He has a shoe on the end of it."
"What did you say his name was ? George ?"
"George stood on the burning deck, he was all a
quiver. He gave a cough, his leg fell off and floated down the river !"
"William ! Do not jest like that ! He is a major and you are
only a private !"
William decided it was best to keep
silent. Lily was very angry with her friend who finally arrived an hour
and a half late.
The Great War, the war to end all
wars, the war that had taken the lives of seventeen million men and
maimed another twenty million ended at eleven o'clock on Monday 11th
In bed that night, now sleeping alone
in the room she had once shared with both Glad and Jessie, Lily
contemplated her future. Glad was married to Bert, Jessie was
married to George, she would never be married. If only things had been
different and she had not lost her beloved Henry. Henry, he would have
gone off to war and like so many he would not have survived. Lily
decided she would leave Birmingham, she would return to Madeley and The
Bridge House. In January 1919 it would be Lily's twenty-ninth birthday,
she was no longer a young woman. Spinsterhood stretched out before her.
She had to accept that and settle into a life which had some purpose.
This was not the first time she had decided to put purpose into her
life, the work she had been able to during the years of the war was
over. Thankfully the war was over but what could she do in place of the
work ? Lily needed to move on and find anoter new purpose for her life.
William Ashford decided he was going to return to what he knew best, he
was feeling well so would work again as a tool maker. H Ashford and Son
was no more, perhaps Tinnings would be able to use his skills. Once he
was secure in employment he would ask Lily again to become his wife.
"Mother I think it is the right time to close down the bakery. I
want to keep house for George, we have not been able to engage any
servants, Lily would like to go back to Madeley and William need to be a
toolmaker again. You have the money Tinnings gave you, sell this
house and come to live with George and I, you have more than enough
money to live in a period of happy retirement."
"I will retire
Jessie, yes the bakery can close, but if I sell this house where will
William live ? No, I will remain here and look after him."
"No," Joseph Bedson said firmly. "We are not going back to having staff
at The Bridge House. Even with Lily coming home there is not enough for
a housekeeper to do let alone a maid and a cook. The days of servants in
houses like ours are coming to an end, even large houses are now finding it
difficult to recruit staff. We are living in a different world Emma."
"Yes, Joseph we are and it is not a better one."
1919 Glad announced that she and Bert were expecting their first child.
On Wednesday 1st October Derek Watten was born, a new grandson for
Joseph and Emma, a nephew for Lily.
In June 1919
Jessie and George told their family that they were expecting an arrival.
Frank was born on Wednesday 10th December. Emily Ashford was now a
grandmother and William an uncle.
Lily may have been
an auntie but blocked out any thoughts that one day she could be a
mother. William may be an uncle but ached so much to be a father.
One Saturday in early January 1920 William took an early train from
Birmingham to Stoke on Trent then a branch line train to Madeley. He
looked at his watch, fifteen minutes past ten. There was a purpose in
his stride as he walked the short distance down the driveway to The
"Lily Bedson, the war is over, my health
is good and I am in employment once again as a tool maker so will you
consent to be my wife ? Will you please become Mrs Lily Ashford ?"
"Yes, William I will."
My Dear and Very Special Friend Lily
Your letter brought to me the most wonderful news. I am so
delighted for you and for William.
I promise you the moment you have a date for the
wedding I will make sure I have the day off duty and will be
My Dearest Friend, I am so very, very happy
Fondest love my sister
Thank you for
your letter. What wonderful news you shared. Congratulations !
Have I not said to you many times that you and William were meant to
When is the wedding taking place ? I
will be there and Violet McDonald will be there with me. Violet is
now on the staff at Princess Alice Orphanage, I gave her a job as an
assistant house mother.
Violet and I have some
news for you. Violet's silly brother, you remember Ronnie, has
the circus. He is a clown with Chipperfield's Circus !
Violet says when the circus comes to Birmingham she will go to watch
him. I do not think I will go.
you old fox !
Six of your letters all arrived
today. They have been all over France then to England before finding
me here. I am back home in Sheffield. I assume you have not
received any of my letters.
So, William, we are
both alive, we survived that terrible war. I can not begin to
write now and say how thrilled I am at learning your news.
Congratulations to you and to your intended.
back playing football for a living with Sheffield Wednesday. I
think it would be better if I got a proper job like you have but for
now I will kick a leather ball up and down the pitch every Saturday
afternoon. Do say you will come to watch me next time Sheffield
Wednesday beats your team at Villa Park.
the wedding to be ? Do try to make it outside the football
season if you can.
Your friend and former comrade.
"When are we going to have the wedding William ?"
The fondness Lily had for William was not the same as the love she still
had for Henry, they were different people from different lives. She knew
she could be happy with William and was not going to allow the delays a
wedding with Henry had seen. She would marry William Ashford, she would
be a good wife. The sooner that happened the better.
"Just as soon as we have somewhere of our own to live. We are not going
to live with my mother !"
"I understand that," Lily
said. "It would not be a good idea at all."
Homes Fit For
Heroes, the government's Addison Act, called for half a million new
homes for ex-soldiers and sailors. Homes with gardens, well built homes
and offered at a low affordable rent. "We can have one of those houses,"
William explained. "A lovely home in which we can bring up our children
Lily, a home where we can all be happy."
before we can have one of the houses ?"
newspapers report building will start this summer but there will be a
waiting list so we need to put our names down now."
"Then let us do it William, let us do it without delay."
Lily and William were assigned to a three bedroom terrace house which
was to be built in Northfield on the edge of Birmingham. They were told
the new estate would be finished at the end of 1923, they could collect
the keys and become tenants on Monday 17th September 1923. On Friday
28th September 1923, carefully arranged not to be a Saturday when Clark
would be at work, Lily and William were married at Holy Trinity Church
in Aston, Birmingham, the same church where Glad and Bert had been
Clark was William's best man. Lily had four
bridesmaids to attend her; Glad, Sister Sullivan, Dorothy Albon and
Violet McDonald. Frank Haddock and Derek Watten were page boys. It was
the happiest day of Lily's life.
"How dare they put
that notice up in the entrance of a church !" Jessie declared.
"Who do they think they are ?"
"No confetti allowed
inside the church gates," George read the notice aloud.
"Well his reverence vicar what ever his name is need not think that I am
going to take any notice of that ! Here Frank, when we all come
out you thrown this over Auntie Lily and Uncle William."
"He can't do that, you can not do that, it is an order from the church."
"What's His Pompous Vicarship going to do to me ? Excommunicate me ? Send me to
Purgatory and then on to Hell ? I do not believe in god so that does not
bother me in the slightest. What else is he going to do ? Send me to listen to some
boring sermon from The Archbishop of Canterbury ? My friend is
getting married to my brother so I will damn well throw as much confetti
as I like !"
George did not argue. Jessie did throw confetti as
did every other guest.
Emily Ashford took charge of
the wedding breakfast. Everyone went back to Whitehead Road and enjoyed
"I wish your father was here to share
the day," Emily said.
"I may not believe in god,"
Jessie replied, "but I do not think this world is all we have. Father is
here somewhere, I am certain of that."
children do you think we should have ?" William asked his new
"We must have a daughter then we can have as
many sons as the Lord chooses to bless us with."
must hope that our daughter takes after your side of the family and not
mine, I am not sure if the world is ready yet for another Emily or
Jessie Ashford !"
Lily laughed then said, "Our
daughter, William, will be beautiful in mind, body and soul."
"Just like her mother," William said before kissing his wife.
William's doctors suggested his health could be further improved if he
left his home in Northfield and moved to a new estate Birmingham City
Corporation was constructing on the other side of town. "The wind
blows in this direction," William explained so all the factory smoke
fills the air in Northfield. If we move to Kingstanding it will be much
"Kingstanding ? I have never heard of that
"It will be the biggest housing development in
all of Europe, it is very exciting."
"Why is it called
"In the civil war King Charles
reviewed his troops in the fields where the houses are being built."
"Surely the king was on a horse."
"Yes, he was."
"Then why call it Kingstanding ?"
"It was the troops
who were standing as the king inspected them."
it should be called either Kingsitting or Troops standing," Lily smiled.
"So when would we move ?"
"Straight away if you like the house."
our daughter is due to be born in six weeks."
two hundred and ninety-four Kings Road, Lily. It has a garden at the
front and at the back of the house. It has a dinging room and a lounge,
it has a kitchen and a pantry, it has three bedrooms and an indoor
bathroom with a separate toilet ! Lily it is a palace and it is ours if
you want it to be,"
"It sounds very grand William."
"It is Lily, not as grand as The Bridge House but it would make a fine
home for us and our new daughter."
Lily smiled. "Then
let us go to live there."
William Joseph Ashford was
born at 294 Kings Road, Kingstanding, Birmingham on Tuesday 5th August
"Next time we will have a daughter Lily."
"Yes William but just look at our wonderful son. isn't he handsome ?"
"He is, Lily, he most definitely is."
William and Lily were relieved
that their son had not been born into a world of trouble and war. Frank
and Derek were thrilled with their cousin and wanted to start playing
with him straight away. "He needs to grow up a bit first," Lily
"I suggest we call him Billy, William proposed. "To avoid confusing him
with his father."
"That may be a good idea," Lily
said. "Master William Joseph Ashford from this time on you will be Billy
In the summer and autumn of 1925, as the
birth of his second child and first daughter approached William's health
deteriorated slightly. Their new doctor came to the house to visit.
Doctor John Hansen-Reeves had set up his surgery to serve the new Kingstanding housing estate. "It's the heat," he explained. "When the
weather cools and the pollen from the fields is over William will regain
his strength. It is hard for us all to breathe in the summer, I am
not worried about him.
The patient who did worry
Doctor Reeves was Derek Watten "It is meningitis," he explained to
Glad and Bert. "We have to get him into hospital immediately."
Everyone knew that Derek's chances of survival were poor. Joseph
and Emma Bedson prayed hard for their grandson's life. Emily Ashford
went to her church and prayed on her knees. Even Jessie who did not
believe in god prayed just in case she was wrong and there was after all
a god. Unlikely but better to be sure.
Against all, the odds Derek did not die but the terrible illness left his
legs weak, he would have to wear metal callipers and while he was not
seriously brain damaged by the trauma he was left slow in thought and his speaking
Lily prayed very hard that her daughter
would be born fit and healthy.
One week after Lily's
thirty-sixth birthday Kenneth Francis Ashford was born. "It is probably
a good thing that Billy has a brother to play with," Lily said bravely .
"Third time lucky," William smiled then added, "I do love you so much
Mrs Ashford, I really do."
Lily knew her husband loved
her and she certainly loved him in return.
The year that
Kenneth was born was not an easy year for the family. Lily now had two
young children to look after and with the onset of summer William's
health deteriorated yet again. This year it was worst than the year before
so Doctor Reeves arranged for him to be admitted to a sanatorium.
The wartime Aston Hall had closed with the nearest place that could give
William a bed being far away in Great Malvern. Emily refused to take no
for an answer so moved in to help Lily with the boys.
"I am really sorry about this," Jessie said. "My mother can be a
"She is trying to help."
honest Lily, is she of any help to you ?"
"The boys like to have their grandmother around them."
"Great Malvern was a major expedition by way of a journey from Kingstanding. It
required a 'bus ride into Central Birmingham, another 'bus ride to
Bromsgrove on the South side of the city and a third to Malvern. there
was still a mile and a half walk to the sanatorium."
Emily made the long journey every Monday and every Thursday. Lily took
the buses each Wednesday. On Sunday when Lewis's Department Store was
closed George took Lily and the boys in his car so the children could
see their father. William was admitted to the sanatorium in June and did
not come home until the first Friday in October.
not know how we would have been," Lily said to Jessie, "were it not for
the British Legion."
"It is a special thing," Jessie
agreed. "Mother has been contribution towards your housekeeping ?"
"No," Lily replied softly.
"No !" Jessie exclaimed far
from softly. "You wait until I speak to her. You just wait."
Joseph Bedson's time with Tinnings was too far in the past for him to
have any further authority over the company and persuade them to pay
William during his time away from work. Joseph had been a
member of the organising committee setting up Madeley's war memorial.
His influence on its design was significant.
The memorial, at Joseph's suggestion, took the form of a life-size
statue of a soldier in uniform standing at ease with a rifle at his
side. "We can be grateful," Joseph said that no member of our family
will have his name on the plinth.
When William did return home and start working again Emily Ashford did
not vacate 294 Kings Road. "Mother," Jessie said forcefully, "you
need to leave William and Lily alone. Go back to Whitehead Road."
"No Jessie, they need me here."
"No Mother they do not ! Take this as an instruction - GO HOME ! If I
have to I will drag you there. You are not being fair to them."
Emily did not understand.
"William, do you and Lily want me to stay ?"
"No," William said.
William did not suffer in the summer of 1927. It was a wet summer and
while his health was not what it had been William was stable and did not
have a single day away from work.
"Our daughter will be born in February," Lily said.
"Oh Lily ! When ?"
"The second week of February if the doctor is right."
"Doctor Reeves ?"
"Yes, Doctor Reeves."
"Does he think it will be a girl ?"
"I know it will be a girl."
"Third time lucky ?"
"No, I just know this time it will be a darling little daughter."
"A sister for Billy and Kenneth. How wonderful."
Lily tried to read her body as she sought for signs that her longed for
daughter would soon complete her family. She loved Billy and she loved
Kenneth, of course she did, but she longed for a daughter. The two boys were
developing their characters and were no longer babies. Billy was
three years old and speaking with the vocabulary of a ten year old.
Kenneth was trying to catch up with his brother. Cousins Frank and Derek
were regular visitors. Frank and Billy were special friends but Billy
found Derek's inability to roll about and play his games frustrating.
Kenneth, although too young to understand Derek's disability, made
allowances for him. Also regular visitors to 294 Kings Road were Dorothy Albon and Violet McDonald. Princess Alice Orphanage was only a
"If ever you need to employ a nanny for your boys," Violet said, "
please five me the job."
"Two, nine, four Kings Road is not a grand enough house for a nanny,"
Lily smiled. "And the Ashford Family nowhere near enough well off to be
able to afford one."
Violet and Dorothy looked at one another, neither said anything but both
were thinking exactly the same.
Emily Ashford may have returned to Whitehaed Road but she was never far
away. She spoilt her two grandsons and would doubly spoil the
granddaughter when she arrived. Jessie was able to curb her mother's
enthusiasm for her own son Frank but Lily was no match for the will of
her mother-in-law. "You must calm her down," Jessie said.
Joseph and Emma Bedson did not see as much of their grandchildren as
they would have liked to but delighted in the time when Lily and the
boys did come to visit. Billy was going to be a handful when he
grew up, Joseph was certain of that. Thank goodness his generation would
not be the subject of a memorial the like of which Joseph had taken a
part in erecting at Madeley Heath.
Emma was so pleased
that Lily's life had worked out well for her. Lily had
been through some difficult times but William was the right man for her,
a loving husband and a devoted father. If only his health were not so
Lily and William had endless conversations as they tried to settle on a
name to call their daughter. "We have to decide on something soon,
before she is born," Lily said. They had a boy's name in reserve but it
would not be needed, this baby was going to be a little girl.
Violet - Dorothy - Emily - Emma - were all names they had
considered. William wanted to call her Lily after her mother and was
determined in the weeks leading up to the birth he would convince his
wife that was the name they would use.
Geoffrey Ashford was born at a quarter past ten in the morning of 17th
March 1928. Billy and Kenneth were delighted to have a little
brother. William and Lily knew they would love Geoffrey as much as his
brothers but could not hide their disappointment.
"Next time Lily," William said. "Three boys and then our little girl."
Both Lily and William were thirty-eight years old, for how many more
years would Lily be able to have children ? William's health in
recent times had allowed him to live a good life but they both knew what
the long-term future held. Lily thought herself to be lucky, even
without her daughter fate had been good to her and William. Glad and
Bert had just on e child, Derek and his disabilities did not hold out
much for the future. Jessie and George had Frank but had not been
blessed with any more children.
"We are fortunate," Lily said to her husband. "Three sons and every
single one of them an absolute delight."
All three were indeed happy, healthy children. First Billy started
school, then Kenneth followed and eventually Geoffrey. Billy was
the brains of the family and always at the top of his class. His
intelligence was wrapped in a thick cloak of mischief around which he
peered with a sparkling eye. He was always up to something. Kenneth
idolised his older brother and did all he could to follow in his wake.
Geoffrey idolised both of his brothers, he did not have Billy's brains
but he did have his mischief, he had it in a double portion.
Geoffrey was four and a half years old when William caught him smoking a
"Where did you get that from ?" William demanded snatching the cigarette
from his son's mouth."
"Billy gave you a cigarette ?"
"No, I found it in his pocket."
"You stole it from him ?"
"No, I found it."
"But it was not yours to find !"
"It wasn't Billy's anyway," Little Geoffrey said in explanation to
his angry father.
"I should hope not, Billy is not old enough to smoke any more than you
are. Where did he get it from ? Tell me !"
"Nanna," Geoffrey said. "She dropped a packet and Billy picked it
William would have something to say to Billy when he came home from
school. He would have a lot more to say to his mother.
William sat his three sons down in front of him and began speaking.
"Your mother does not smoke cigarettes. I used to smoke cigarettes
but not any more. It was cigarettes that made me so poorly."
"I thought that was the war," Kenneth said.
and the cigarettes," William said. "The war is over
and I do not smoke cigarettes any more. I do not want my sons to smoke."
"Nana smokes," Billy said.
"What Nana does is her own
business. I will not allow my sons to smoke cigarettes. Not now, not
when you are children and not even when you are grown up."
"Never ?" Geoffrey asked.
"Never Geoffrey !
Never Billy ! Never Kenneth ! Not even when you are old men with
children of your own. I forbid it !
"Yes Father," Kenneth said.
William looked at Billy who had said nothing "Billy ? You will not
smoke Billy ?"
"No Father," Billy lied.
The doctors in the hospital did not know how William had contracted
Tuberculosis. It was easy to blame smoking as a young man, that
may not have helped but would not have been the cause any more than the
hot weather each summer. Everyone blamed the war for everything
and so the family blamed the war for William's condition.
Every day William awoke it was an extra day of life
for him, he hoped he would live long enough to watch his sons grow up
but knew he would not live to see any grandchildren.
The summer of Geoffrey's birth had been a good season
but 1929, 1930, 1931 and 1932 were sultry from June to September
so William suffered. When he was a patient at the sanatorium in Great
Malvern his mother moved in to assist Lily with the care of the boys.
Jessie made sure her mother contributed financially to Lily's
"Mother," now seven year old Billy
asked, "is father going to die ?"
but not until you are a very big boy."
"I am a big boy
"I said a very big boy Billy."
My Dear Friend Lily,
remember the man I told you about who gave me the poem during the
war ? He has become a little bit famous now and some of his
poems have been published in a book. I have copied one of them out for you.
The Bishop tells us:
‘When the boys come back
They will not be the
same; for they’ll have fought
In a just cause: they
lead the last attack
On Anti-Christ; their
comrades’ blood has bought
New right to breed an
They have challenged
Death and dared him face to face.
We’re none of us the
same!’ the boys reply.
For George lost both
his legs; and Bill’s stone blind;
Poor Jim’s shot through
the lungs and like to die;
And Bert’s gone
syphilitic: you’ll not find
A chap who’s served
that hasn’t found some change.
And the Bishop said:
‘The ways of God are strange!
Dear Friend Lily,
A new shop
has opened in Sutton Coldfield. It is called Doris Ward and sells
expensive dresses for the ladies in the town. I have been very
extravagant and and spent some of my savings money to buy one.
The dresses Dorris Ward sells are ready made but can be altered to
fit the person who buys them.
The person who owns
the shop is Doris Brockelgurst, Ward was her name before she was
married, says she is looking for people who can sew to make the
alterations customers need. She said these seamstresses can have the
dresses at their homes to work on. I wondered if you may like to
earn some money doing this work. Let me know and I will speak
to Mrs Brockelhurst.
Kenneth always called Lily
Mum, Billy always called her Mother. Geoffrey did not have enough
words in his vocabulary or understanding to call her anything other than
Mummy. As the oldest of the three brothers Billy took command of their
play and games. It was Billy who decided the garden at 294 Kings Road
needed to become more than a playground. He called a meeting with
his brothers to tell them what was going to happen. He then explained
the plan to his mother.
"Mother," Billy began. "I
think we should make better use of the garden."
you indeed Billy. Isn't it good enough for you all to play in ?"
"I do not mean that Mother. I think we should use it to produce things
like Grandpa grows at The Bridge House."
"I do not
have the time for that Billy and your father is not well enough to do
lots of digging." Lily had decided she was going to do some sewing
for the Doris Ward dress shop to earn money for the family so would not
be able to spare time to cultivate the garden.
Mother, I will do it. Kenneth and Geoffrey can help me."
"You want to grow vegetables in the garden for us to eat ?"
"Next year Mother when it is time to plant a new crop yes, but now I
want us to keep hens."
Lily's mind went back to her
own childhood and how she had looked after the hens at the Bridge House.
Would Billy be able to be left in charge of a flock of chickens at 294
Kings Road ?
"I have made a plan," Billy said.
"I am sure Grandpa would let us have some chickens from The Bridge
Lily knew he would.
what you are going to say Mother."
Lily did not know
herself what she was about to say.
"We can not bring
the chickens back from The Bridge House to Kings Road on the train and
Was Lily going to say that ? It was not yet
in her mind but probably would have occurred to her before long.
"Uncle George, I am sure, would take me to Madeley in his car to collect
the chickens. Uncle Bert would help me make the chicken run."
Yes they would, Lily knew they would.
"Let me talk to
your father about it," she said.
William could see
abilities within his son which were beyond his years and which he
was eager to see exploited. The boy was cheeky and mischievous but
bright and had a level of thinking normally associated with someone
older. He was a good brother to both Kenneth and to Geoffrey. In later
life Billy would go far and make everyone proud of him.
Joseph Bedson liked the idea of his grandson looking after chickens at
his home in Kingstanding. He would instruct Billy in the art of poultry
farming and keep a watchful eye on all that he did. Joseph had
further ambitions for the garden's cultivation in the charge of Billy.
One Saturday a month Billy would come to The Bridge House where Joseph
would teach him what he had to do for that time of the year and season.
Billy would then go back to Birmingham and carry out all he had learned.
Two weeks later Joseph would spend a day at Kings Road checking on all that
Billy was doing. While he was still very young Billy was
responsible enough to make the train journey to and from Madeley alone.
Joseph sat down with a pen and many sheets of writing paper. He
drew up a detailed plan for his daughter and grandson's garden. If Billy
had eight chickens there would always be enough eggs for the family to
have each day at breakfast with enough remaining for Lily to bake cakes.
Joseph would select eight of his best layers. As he was thinking which
to chose his mind went back to the time when Lily had kept the entire
village supplied with cakes. He pulled himself back to the present then
started to give thought to suitable crops.
Potatoes are easy to
grow and could fill the plates of many a meal. Yes, Billy could
grow lots of potatoes. If they were planted at different time the
harvest could keep the family supplied for many months. Then with
sufficient stored in a cool location there would never be any need to
buy another potato. Broad beans another crop that could be grown
across an extended period. Root vegetables, carrots and parsnips
could be stored until needed for the kitchen. Beetroot and onions
could be pickled, so could cabbage.
chickens to eat Grandpa ?"
"Perhaps one day later on
Billy but let's concentrate on the eggs this year."
"Your eggs taste much better than those from the shops," William
said one day at breakfast."
"Thank you father."
"He has not got any tobacco plants hiding away in the potato patch has
he Kenneth ?"
Kenneth did not understand but Billy
did. he wondered where he could buy tobacco seeds.
Lily was getting regular work from the Doris Ward dress shop, William's
health was good and Billy's farm was in production. The Ashford family
was enjoying a good living. Between sewing Lily filled the house with
the delicious small of baking.
"Would you be
interested in supplying the Lewis's Tea Room again ?" George
"No," Lily smiled. "Mr Lewis can find another
"Actually," George corrected his
sister-in-law, "it is a Mr Cohen who owns the store, not Mr Lewis and
our current confectionary supplier does not bake bread pudding."
"I have heard," Jessie added, "the late king was rather partial to
a slice of bread pudding."
"I would not know anything
about that," Lily said.
In 1933 the Birmingham smog
came early. It was thicker and more evil smelling than ever. "I
could arrange for William to go back to Great Malvern," Doctor
Reeves said, "but even in an ambulance it is a long journey through the
smog. William would be better staying at home. Keep the
windows and the doors closed. Keep his bedroom curtains closed and do
everything you can to keep the smog outside."
will not move into Kings Road," Jessie said. "Visit twice a week
as you do now but no more. We will all help Lily and William but
we must not invade their lives."
"But -," Emily tried
to speak but Jessie silenced her.
"But me no buts
Mother !" Jessie had heard that said in a radio play. "But me no buts !"
"During the War," George said, "as a soldier I had command of many
men. As a major if I gave an order it was obeyed without question.
I have never been able to command your daughter Mrs Ashford and have
never tried to issue an order in our house."
right," Jessie smiled.
"I do not see how you
were a major in the army anyway, you've only got one leg !"
"Mother ! Silence !"
Billy called a meeting with
his brothers. "1934 will be a big year for our garden," he
explained. "I am going to ask Grandpa to give us some more chickens.
We will have a full year growing vegetables. I want us to do
"What ?" Little Geoffrey asked. "Are
we going to keep sheep in the garden ? Mummy could use their wool for
"She uses cotton to sew," Billy explained.
"Cotton comes from a plant and not from an animal."
"So let's grow cotton," Kenneth said enthusiastically.
"Cotton only grows in hot countries," Billy explained. "I learned
that at school."
"So what are we going to grow then ?"
"Flowers ? We can not eat flowers," Kenneth
Billy was becoming frustrated with his two
younger brothers. "Nobody is saying anything about eating them. We will
grow them so every week we can give a bunch to Mother."
"Will she eat them then ?" Geoffrey asked.
"Sit down Billy, in the chair over there."
William had asked Lily to send their oldest son up to the bedroom. He
wanted to talk with him.
"Billy, I am very proud of
you. I know you will grow into a fine young man. You are not smoking any
more are you ?"
Billy hesitated. William looked him in
the eye. Billy averted his gaze. "Billy ?"
did have two puffs from a friend last week but that is all. Honestly."
William paused before responding to his oldest son.
"Two puffs is two too many Billy."
"Yes, Father. I am
"I have not asked you into my sick room to
talk about cigarettes Billy."
Billy was relieved.
"You know what this is ?"
"It is your watch chain,
"Take it Billy, hold it."
Billy held the silver chain and watch in his hands.
"Look at the medal opposite the watch."
Billy did as
he was told.
"That medal was given to me when I was a
boy at school It is more precious to me than the medals I was given for
being in the war. Although not so grand it is more valuable to me
than the Victoria Cross your Grandfather Ashford's cousin Thomas won in
the Afghan War. Read the inscription Billy, read it aloud."
On one side there was a picture of Aston Hall. Billy read the words,
"Aston Board School."
"Turn it over and read the other
"Awarded to William Ashford for perfect
regularity of attendance for five years."
"It is hard
for me now to manage perfect attendance at work for five weeks let alone
the five years I did at school."
Billy did not know
anyone at his school who ever managed a single year without being away.
His father must have been a very special person when he was a boy.
"You are not going to die Father."
"I am Billy, we all
have to die some time. When the time comes I want you to have this
watch chain and medal. Keep it safe Billy then pass it on to your
children and the to their children. Never let this medal pass out
of the family. Will you do that for me Billy ?"
"Of course I will Father."
William Ashford died at his
home on Wednesday 11th April 1934. Lily was at his bedside when he drew
his last breath and spoke his last words. Doctor Reeves certified the
death as coronary arterial thrombosis, bronchitis and chronic pulmonary
Doctor Reeves was later angry with
himself that he did not state on the death certificate that William's
illness came about as a result of the Great War. He made a special
visit to 294 Kings Road where he offered an apology to Lily and her
three sons. Had he written the death certificate in a different
way Lily would have received a war widow's pension.
Nobody in the family blamed Doctor Reeves. Jessie was furious with
and blamed the British Legion for not properly respecting, as she saw
it, her brother's war service and failing to do more for his widow. If
Field Marshall Douglas Haig had encountered Jessie Haddock he would have
had a harder battle on his hands than anything Kaiser Wilhelm could ever