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William's father was pleased to have found the extra work. The new order would secure his small business and possibly allow the employment of another worker so putting money onto the table of another family.

"Why does the army need so many nails ?" William asked.

"They have a lot of pieces of wood they need to nail together."

"Somehow I do not see the army in the carpentry business."

"If it keeps the workshop of H Ashford and Son in business then I do not care what they do with the nails we make.".

H Ashford and Son had been formed in 1890, the year William was born. Originally it was intended to be and enterprise Mr Ashford could work within outside the hours of his regular employment and so feed his family. Birmingham was the industrial centre of the British Empire with demand for its products far greater than its ability to supply the need. Ashford and Son offered to cast or forge anything in metal. The hope had been to make chains but this new enterprise could not compete with the larger established factories. Instead H Ashford and Son simply made nails.

Nails were always in demand and easy to make. One thousand could be quickly cast from the small furnace. Once cool they could be trimmed and sharpened on the grinder which was powered by a small steam engine.  There was no need for lathes or any sophisticated machinery, the steam engine could power as many grindstones as the workers needed.

In his younger days Ashford had dreamed of having a large factory the like of Tinnings, owned by The Wilton Family, or George Tucker Eyelets making rivets and washers but it was not to be. The family was not rich, certainly not middle-class but life for everyone was good and nobody ever went without.

William left school as soon as he could and went to work with his father. Ashford Senior made all of the tools the business needed to produce the nails. As a tool maker he was self taught yet an expert, he passed his knowledge and skills on to William.

The family lived in Aston, close to the centre of Birmingham. There had been Ashfords in Aston for as long as anyone could remember. Thomas Ashford had joined the army, fought in the Second Anglo Afghan War and been awarded The Victoria Cross for bravery.  William admired his father's cousin and secretly wished he could be a soldier rather than a toolmaker.

William's older sister, Jessie, had at one time held political ambitions. She did not consider chaining herself to railings, refusing to eat and being force fed to be a sensible way to go about getting women the vote. Jessie certainly had no intention of making such an exhibition of her self as Mrs Pankurst thought acceptable. Nevertheless she had been an ardent campaigner until womanhood mellowed her outlook.

Earlier in the Ashford line, William Ashford - William was a name many family members took, had brought about a major change in English law when he challenged in 1817 Abraham Thornton to trial by battle. There was a time when Jessie Ashford wondered if challenging Prime Minister Asquith to a duel may help the cause of women's suffrage. She secretly feared she may not win so put the idea aside.

Jessie always read the daily newspaper but only once her father had finished with it. At The Bridge House in Madeley Joseph Bedson always began his day with breakfast then spent an hour reading his newspaper.

"Things will get out of control unless common sense is discovered before too long. They are like a number of bullies squaring up to one another in the school playground, it only needs one to throw a punch and Europe will be at war."

"I do not allow bullies in my school playground," Emma said.

"Her Late Majesty would have given her descendants a hard time if she could."

"Will there be a war Father ?" Glad asked.

"Unless someone starts using common sense there is a strong possibility."

"We have no members of our family in the army do we ? Perhaps I should join."

"Don't be ridiculous Glad, you are a woman."  Lily replied. "If there is a war then you and I will be nurses not soldiers."

"No matter what, if there is a war then I will do my bit."

"Glad,"  Joseph said, "you can do your bit now by praying there is not a war."

"I do not think there will be a war," Ashford said. "His Majesty, Kaiser Wilhelm and Tsar Nicholas are cousins."

"I don't see what difference that makes,"   Jess said.  "What that Kaiser needs is a slap round the ear !"

William's father was more concerned with nails than he was with international politics. He did not want a war, of course he did not, but conflict would mean more contracts and more orders for H Ashford and Sons.

"When the school breaks up for the summer," Emma Bedson said, "I think I may retire."

"You have been headmistress for ten years Emma, you deserve time to yourself.  The garden at The Bridge House is large, it keeps me busy growing vegetable, you could grow flowers."

"I am not skilled in matters horticultural, not as you are Joseph but I could try."

The Ashford home in Trinity Road, Aston, did not have a garden. There was a large area at the rear which had been cobbled over to accommodate the original H Ashford and Son enterprise.  Now located half a mile away, the workshop used Trinity Road to store raw materials and the coal needed to fuel the furnace and steam engine.  William drove a Dennis lorry to move things between the yard and the workshop as well as delivering finished nails to customers.

The newspapers in May reported that British diplomat Arthur Nicholson stated: "Since I have been at the Foreign Office I have not seen such calm waters." Two domestic areas of crisis, Ireland and womens' suffrage, continued but on the international front at least it looked as if a crisis leading to war may be averted.  Emma had just a few weeks to her retirement. The business of H Ashford and Son was thriving.

On Sunday 28th June 1914 Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated. The newspapers thereafter reported little beyond the escalation of the crisis in Europe. Arthur Nicholson's calm waters had turned into a storm.

Austria declared its patience with Serbia was at an end. On Sunday 5th July Austria sent The Count of Hoyes to Berlin to ascertain Germany's attitude. Germany pledged unconditional support.

The news later in the month was of French President Pointcare visiting the Tsar at Saint Petersburg and urging intransigent opposition to any Austrian measures against Serbia.

By the end of the month forces in Russia and Austria were mobilised as Germany prepared for war.

On Saturday 1st August the papers reported that France and Germany had been asked by Britain to guarantee Belgium's neutrality. France agreed, Germany did not.

The papers were then full of alarm when Germany declared war on Russia setting  cousins Tsar Nicholas and Kaiser Wilhelm as enemies. At midnight on Tuesday 4th August 1914 Belgium and Great Britain declared war on Germany. The world would never be the same again.  As with all families up and down the country the Bedson and the Ashfords would never be the same again.

On Saturday 8th August 1914 Lily received a letter from Sis Sullivan explaining her intention to work as a nurse and saying she would be leaving with an expeditionary force to Europe. That day Parliament passed The Defence Of The Realm Act.  William Ashford volunteered and joins The South Staffordshire Regiment. Newly kitted out in the uniform of a private soldier he spent one week in basic training in Jersey before crossing to France and joining the fighting.  H Ashford and Son had lost its toolmaker. A week later three more members of its workforce joined the army.

"Father show me what to do and I will work to make nails,"  Jessie said. "Show me what is needed and I will find workers from among my friends."

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Could a 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.

"Jessie bring any of your friends who want to work to the house tonight and let me meet them."

One of 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.

Lily read of Kynoch's need for workers at its factory.

William was 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 ?

Basic 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 father ?"

"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 future."

The 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 a while."

"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 possible."

"Thank you."

"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 uniforms ?"

"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.

William began 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 brother

William

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 drive."

"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."

Perhaps the 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 undertaking.

   

"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 Father,

This is our address in Birmingham - 27 Whitehead Road, Aston, Birmingham. We are staying with a Mr and Mrs Ashford and their daughter Jessie. Jessie is 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 evenings.

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.

Your loving daughter,

Lily

 

 

Dear Mother and Father,

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.

Your loving daughter,

Lily

 

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 brother

William

 

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 liked it.

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.

Dorothy Albon continued writing to her friend.  Lily always wrote promptly back.

Mr Dear Friend Lily,

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.

Young Ronald 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.

Fondest regards,

Dorothy

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 consideration.

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 specialities.

We 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.

Private William Ashford 12464

C Company 4th Staffordshire Regiment

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 war."

There were only two mouths to feed at The Bridge House. The boys were away fighting, Doris was married, Lily and Glad were in Birmingham.

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 enemy.

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 !"

Major O'Callaghan 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.

Medics and 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 wounded.

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 through.

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.

Christmas 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 every serving 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 ?

Dear Mother, 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.

Speaking of 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

William

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 ?

In January 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 here."

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 Lance Corporal.

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 the man."

"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 lucky.

"Private Ashford !"

"Yes, Sergeant."

"The Captain wants to see you so get yourself down to his command post immediately."

"Yes, Sergeant."

Promotion. That 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.

"Ah Ashford."

William saluted the officer

"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 important job."

"But I am not a medic Sir."

"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 station immediately."

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 Brelsford !"

"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 pretty girl.

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 soldiers.

Do visit soon.

Regards,

Dorothy

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.

Dear Lily,

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 it.

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,

Sis Sullivan

"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 ?"

Dear Mother, 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 pudding.

Your loving son, brother and friend

William.

"He wrote loving," Glad said.

"Don't be silly," Lily replied.

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 duty.

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 bring.

Private William 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 happens."

"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 Glad's room."

"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 floor."

"I will seep on the floor."

"No Jessie, I will."

"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 not."

"Well we have a bath in this house. I will lay it out on the kitchen floor and put the kettle on the stove."

"Yes Mother."

William smiled at Lily.

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.

"Miss Lily,"  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 ?"  William asked.

"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," Glad swooned.

"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.

"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 again."

"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 scolded.

"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."

"What ?"

"Bread pudding Miss Lily.  I am going to make you some bread pudding."

"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 assistance !"

"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."

Dear Sis,

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.

Your friend

Lily

 

Dear Clark,

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.

Your friend

William, ex Private William Ashford 12464 South Staffordshire Regiment

 

Dear Dorothy

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.

Your friend,

Lily

 

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 they did.

I think that William Ashford likes Lily. They spend a lot of time talking together but she says she is trying to nurse his mind.

Your loving daughter,

Glad

 

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 forward.

"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 and good."

"I have seen our nails in use," William said. "Ashford and So doing its bit an fulfilling an important role right up at the front line."

"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 full support.

"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 day.

"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 ever marry.

"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 proposal ?"

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 name.

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 husbands."

"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 sleep.

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 Tinnings place."

"They were generous with the money they paid to us," Emily said.

"And they did give employment to all our workers," William added.

"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 him.

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 other day.

William sends his best wishes.

Your loving daughter

Lily

"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 William."

Emma Bedson smiled.

"Lily when did you start working at Kynoch ?"

"August 1914."

"And now it is November 1917, more than three years later and you have never taken time off."

"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 week."

"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 ?"

"If you 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.

On 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

Dorothy Albon

Lily tore the letter up and did not reply.

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 now."

"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 work."

Dear Lily,

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

Sister Sullivan

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.

"Who 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."

Lily 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.

William's health 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.

What 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 slightly amazed.

"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 weeks later."

"What do you mean when you say WE, Mother ?"

"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 spoke first.

"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 replied.

"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."

Lily was in too much shock to understand and certainly would not laugh what ever the name was.

"Do you promise ?"

Lily nodded.

"You promise ?  Say you promise ?"

"Yes."

"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.

"Haddock !  You know the fish haddock, like you buy in the fish and chip shop."

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 ?

"Major George Haddock was invalided out of the army last year. He has a wooden leg,"  Jessie explained. "He lost his real one in action."

"I 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 deliveries."

"Not now, he is away somewhere on the high seas."

"The Mediterranean is hardly the high seas, he has not been gone a week yet."

"Four days, 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 Saturday."

"What ?"

"Three weeks on Saturday at the Birmingham Registry Office in Broad Street."

"You are not having a wedding in church ?"

"What is the point of that ?  Under the war regulations a registry office can conduct a wedding with two weeks notice."

"But 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 ?"

"Jessica 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 was.

"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 ?"

"Yes."

"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 November 1918.

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."

In April 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 Bridge House.

"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 there.

My Dearest Friend, I am so very, very happy for you.

Fondest love my sister

Sister Sullivan

 

Dearest Lily,

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 be ?

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 indeed joined 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.

Your friend,

Dorothy.

William Ashford 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.

I am 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.

When is the wedding to be ?  Do try to make it outside the football season if you can.

Your friend and former comrade.

Clark

 

"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."

"How long before we can have one of the houses ?"

"The 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 married.

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 the celebration.

"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."

"How many children do you think we should have ?"  William asked his new wife.

"We must have a daughter then we can have as many sons as the Lord chooses to bless us with."

"We 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 cleaner."

"Kingstanding ? I have never heard of that place."

"It will be the biggest housing development in all of Europe, it is very exciting."

"Why is it called Kingstanding ?"

"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."

"Then it should be called either Kingsitting or Troops standing," Lily smiled.

"Perhaps,"

"So when would we move ?"

"Straight away if you like the house."

"But William our daughter is due to be born in six weeks."

"Number 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 1924.

"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 explained.

"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 Ashford."

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 was slurred.

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 difficult woman."

"She is trying to help."

"But be honest Lily, is she of any help to you ?"

Lily smiled. "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.

"I do 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 mile away.

"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.

"How ?"

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 erratic.

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 cigarette.

"Where did you get that from ?" William demanded snatching the cigarette from his son's mouth."

"Billy."

"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 up."

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.

"The war 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," Geoffrey said.

"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 housekeeping.

"Mother," now seven year old Billy asked, "is father going to die ?"

"Eventually Billy but not until you are a very big boy."

"I am a big boy now."

"I said a very big boy Billy."

My Dear Friend Lily,

Do you 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.

Your friend

Sister Sullivan.

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 honourable race,

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.

Your friend

Dorothy Albon

 

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."

"Do 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.

"No 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 House."

Lily knew he would.

"I know 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 the 'bus.

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.

"What about 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 asked.

"No," Lily smiled. "Mr Lewis can find another cake supplier.

"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."

"No you 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."

"Quite 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 something else."

"What ?" Little Geoffrey asked. "Are we going to keep sheep in the garden ? Mummy could use their wool for sewing."

"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."

"Flowers ? We can not eat flowers," Kenneth replied.

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.

Billy sighed.

"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 ?"

"I 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 sorry."

"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, Father."

"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 side."

"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 tuberculosis.

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 have given.

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