As part of the latest series of Posts from Your Archives which is focused on family, I thought I would share two series from my own archives from 2016. One is my father’s memoir about his life in the Royal Navy, Life on the Ocean Wave.
The other series begins on Saturday 11th April and is the first book, The Colour of Life, we published for my father-in-law Geoff Cronin, who sadly died in 2017 at age 93.
Both were great raconteurs and I hope you enjoy reading their exploits.
In his late 70’s when my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer, I suggested that he write his history down including his 35 years in the Royal Navy from 1936. He served in two wars and carried out both Atlantic escort duties, secret fast cruises between the UK and Canada and was in Japan when the Korean War escalated. He rarely talked about his adventures and when we printed his memoirs for the family in 1993 there was much to learn about our father. He died on April 5th 1996 having reached what he said was a ripe old age of 80.
Living history is important – and for the grand-children and great grand-children who did not meet him, his story is important.
Life on the Ocean Wave – Part One – 1916-1936 Bakelite and Tweeter speakers
I was born on 12th January 1916, the second child of Herbert Henry and May Coleman. Peggy, my older sister, was born in July 1914 and twins, Joan and Kenneth in May 1920.
I was born at number 20, The Park, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire ‑ a small cottage, one of a terrace of twelve. The cottage had a living room and kitchen downstairs and two bedrooms upstairs with an outside lavatory in the small back garden. The view from the front was over farmland, yet only a ten-minute walk from the centre of town. We had gas-mantle lighting and cooked on the kitchen range. We used to bathe in front of this range, which was always nice and warm.
There were a number of children of similar age living in the other cottages so we always had playmates to play games. We used to greet the Lamplighter, with his long pole, doing his rounds to illuminate the street lighting. His arrival usually meant it was time to go in.
My mother’s close family, father, stepmother, two sisters and a brother all lived in Mansfield, and we saw quite a lot of them. My favourite was Auntie Edna, who was much younger than my mother and good fun. My grandfather had been a miner all his working life and lived to a good age.
My father’s close family lived in the small village of Whetstone, in Leicestershire, and my grandfather was “mine host” at the Wheatsheaf Inn. We spent many holidays with them. There was a large garden with an orchard, where we could play all sorts of games. Grandfather Coleman died in the early 1930s. My mother and father took me to his funeral, my first.
I started school at the age of five and went to St Peter’s Church of England School, a ten-minute walk from home. I don’t remember much about this school except that my teacher was rather old and ugly, poor woman. I stayed there until I reached the age of eight, when I transferred to Rosemary Street secondary School.
My change of school coincided with a move to another house. It was 65 Westhill Drive, and what a change. It was a three-storey townhouse situated opposite the general hospital. It comprised a kitchen, dining room and lounge on the ground floor, bathroom and three bedrooms on the first floor and two bedrooms on the second floor. There was a small garden back and front. The rent was nine shillings (45p) per week. There was electric light (DC in those days) and a hot water system. We had bedrooms to spare and for some time we had an old blind lady, Miss Sheppard, living with us who was looked after by my mother. We were all very happy at No. 65 and enjoyed many good parties, especially at Christmas, with so much room to move around in.
In 1927 a magnificent new school was opened, High Oakham Central, an early example of a comprehensive school, it was for boys and girls ‑ in separate sections. To start the school off, pupils were taken from all the local secondary schools, across the age range eleven to fifteen, and placed in three grades in each age group. I started in the “A” stream and finished in the “B”. From the start, the school quickly achieved the highest standards in sport, music and the arts. The first Headmaster was Mr W B White, a very fine headmaster. Other masters I remember were Mr Smith, (Music) Mr Paling (English & PE) and Mr George (Geography). It was a wonderful school and I wish now that I had made more of its possibilities.
In addition to the normal schooling, I attended Sunday school, at the Primitive Methodist Church, every Sunday morning and afternoon from the age of five, whenever possible ‑ and I still have a Bible that was presented to me in 1926 for attendances, 101 times out of a possible 104. Two of the missing marks were because I was away with the family on our week’s holiday, which included a Sunday.
From a very early age I remember these annual holidays. They were at either Skegness, on the east coast, or Blackpool on the west coast. We always had great fun and I remember them as very happy times. We continued with these holidays until my late teens.
As my fifteenth birthday was on the 12th January 1931 I could not leave school until Easter, which I decided to do, despite pressure from the school and my parents. I obtained an apprenticeship in the tool room and machine shop of Whiteley & Bonhams, manufacturers of small electrical and wireless components; switches, valve-holders and moving arm loudspeakers etc.
The work involved research and development of new components, followed by the design and manufacture of press tools and bakelite moulds for mass production. Our working year revolved around the annual National Radio Exhibition, held in September. My basic pay was nine shillings (45p) per week.
The Coleman family Circa 1935
The works premises comprised a number of huts and shortly after I joined the firm moved to new premises near the centre of town. These new works were a two-storey cotton, or stocking mill, that had been empty for some time. At the same time as the move the name was changed to Whiteley Electrical Radio Co Ltd.
Production continued to expand, and the range of reel components increased ‑ one of the most promising being the permanent magnet loudspeaker marketed as the “Stentorian” range, followed by the “Tweeter” speaker. Many hours of overtime were required to meet the various deadlines a typical week for me being Monday to Friday; 8 am to 8 pm, (sometimes to 10 pm with meal breaks) Saturday; 8 am to 8 pm and Sunday; 8 am to 5.30pm.
It was during one of these very extensive periods of overtime that I was chatting to a senior toolmaker in the tea break and he told me I could do this job in the Royal Navy as an Artificer, and having ascertained from him that I would not have to wear a sailors round hat I decided to make enquiries. After some two months of interviews, tests etc. I received a travel warrant to go to HMS Vernon for a week, to do a trade test. This I completed satisfactorily and on the 4th May 1936 I signed on the dotted line for a twelve-year engagement in the Royal Navy.
On reflection, after the passage of some 58 years, I wonder where I would be now if I had not spoken to that workman over a cup of tea all those years ago.
©Eric Coleman 1994
Thanks for dropping in today and I hope you have enjoyed my father’s memories and will join me again next Saturday for part two.. thanks Sally.
I would love it if you would share posts about your own family..human and fur and feather members and you can find all the details here: Posts from Your Archives Family