11 November 2008

Home Front

"An angel on a pedestal
of white Sicilian marble
with columns of Labrador granite."

Spare a thought for Emily Elizabeth, wife of Joe Cooper. In May 1916 she was informed by the dreaded telegram of her husband's death at the Front.

My Nan (her daughter) could still feel the indescribable pain well into the 1980's. It was Joe who had brought home the first piano she'd ever sat at. She was so proud at being totally self taught on that old piano and I'll always remember her as a phenomenal pianist. During WW1 and WW2 and well into the 1960's she entertained the streets and pubs around Poplar, Limehouse and Isle of Dogs on 'the ivories'. I have a sneaking suspicion that Joe was perhaps a piano player too for it to register so strongly with her. Joe's photo (in uniform) was the only picture she cared for in her house. In fact, during times of dire poverty when furniture or pictures were burnt for heat, that photo was never touched. After she died, I didn't see that photo again for about 25 years, until this February 2008. Now I know more about his service and death in the West Ham Battalion than I suspect she ever did.

Here she is with Joe when she was about two years old. This is the only other photo I have of him.

Back to December, 1916. Emily's brother Alfred has also joined up but is by now dying of TB brought on by his military service 'under canvas'. He will be dead by the coming Christmas. As far as I can tell at the moment, he was originally West Ham battalion too but was quickly transferred to Home Service Labour Corps attached to Essex Regiment due to his profound deafness. His father, John Stormey was a 'Platelayer' in 1899, defined as "a workman who lays and maintains railway track". I dont know yet but more than likely Alf worked alongside his father - as he is described in his civilian job as 'Plate Improver' on his Military Medical Discharge. Emily had a hard time during 1916.

I cannot confirm yet whether any of Emily and Joe's children, including my Nan aged 9, attended Upper North Street School, but it would certainly fit today's 'catchment' area better than most. They certainly lived in the very close vicinity. I had also always presumed that my Nan's fear and loathing of aeroplanes and sheer terror at thunderstorms was due to living on the Isle of Dogs during the whole of the WW2 Blitz, from Heinkel 111's in 1940 all the way through to V2's in 1944, but perhaps it may actually have seeded itself much earlier...Like June 13th 1917, which arrived, hot and hazy...

As some of the children (who had also lost father's, brothers and uncles) at Upper North Street school were making paper chains, high above them the German Air Force began their first daylight raid on London, 'scintillating like so many huge silver dragonflies'...

Without a thought, the German bombers dropped their payload. One bomb made a direct hit on the school

"In memory of 18 children who were killed by a bomb dropped from a German Aeroplane upon the L.C.C. School, Upper North Street, on 13th June, 1917."

Louise Annie Acampora (age 5), Alfred Ernest Batt (5), Leonard Charles Barford (5), John Percy Brennan (5), William Thomas Henry Challen (4), Alice Maud Cross (5), William Hollis (5), George Albert Hyde (5), Grace Jones (5), Rose Martin (11), George Morris (6), Edwin Cecil William Powell (12), Robert Stimson (5), Elizabeth Taylor (5), Rose Tuffin (5), Frank Winfield (5) .

In total, 104 people were killed. 423 were injured, 154 of them seriously.

The funerals for the school children were held on June 20th. The King sent a telegram of condolence to the whole of Poplar. The congregation stretched far and wide, many thousands attended - yet not one was noted as being able to finish the central hymn of the funeral: "There's a friend for little children", written by Albert Midlane in 1859.

1 There's a friend for little children
Above the bright blue sky,
A friend Who never changes,
Whose love will never die;
Our earthly friends may fail us,
And change with changing years,
This friend is always worthy
Of that dear Name He bears.

2 There's a rest for little children
Above the bright blue sky,
Who love the blessed Savior,
And to the Father cry;
A rest from every turmoil,
From sin and sorrow free,
Where every little pilgrim
Shall rest eternally.

3 There's a home for little children
Above the bright blue sky,
Where Jesus reigns in glory,
A home of peace and joy;
No home on earth is like it,
Nor can with it compare;
For every one is happy
Nor could be happier there.

4 There's a song for little children
Above the bright blue sky,
A song that will not weary,
Though sung continually;
A song which even angels
Can never, never sing;
They know not Christ as Savior,
But worship Him as King.

5 There's a crown for little children
Above the bright blue sky,
And all who look for Jesus
Shall wear it by and by;
All, all above is treasured,
And found in Christ alone.
Lord, grant Thy little children
To know Thee as their own.

"The Mayor of Poplar and Will Crooks, the local MP, headed the raising of a 'convalescents' fund, to send bereaved mothers and traumatised children away for a fortnight's recuperation. At the beginning of July the first parties - 14 mothers, some with babies, and 70 children from Upper North Street School - set out for 'the beautiful up-river resort of Maidenhead. Women and children appeared delighted at the prospect of a couple of weeks amidst the sylvan charms of Berkshire, away from the din and nerve-trying memories of Poplar. A small party, including the Mayoress, also went to Maidenhead 'to see the mothers and children safely installed in their holiday cottages, and that every comfort conducive to health was provided'."

What Happened: http://www.ppu.org.uk/memorial/children/index.html#death

How People Responded: http://www.ppu.org.uk/memorial/children/mem_children2.html
The Memorial: http://www.ukniwm.org.uk/server/show/conMe...mUkniwmSearch/1

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