Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Eric William Taylor (1913-2003), local government officer

Eric Taylor was my father. This profile contains information he told me, from my mother’s life story and from family history research.

Eric was born on 31 August 1913 in Woolwich, the eldest child of William and Gertrude Taylor. He was baptised at Holy Trinity Church, New Charlton on 19 October 1913. William and Gertrude later had two other children namely Vera Gertrude (1916-2002) and Ronald Albert (1918-88).

Gertrude, Eric’s mother, died of influenza in 1919 when he was aged 5. His father married Ethel, Gertrude’s elder sister, in 1920. They had a daughter, Betty Ethel in 1921. The family lived at 16 Brewer St, Woolwich until 1933.

When he was a child, Eric used to spend holidays in Sedlescombe (a village in Sussex) with Doris (b1903), Ethel’s daughter from her first marriage, who was married to a car mechanic. He used to cycle there on his own – quite a distance !

Eric was a bright boy and won a scholarship to Shooter’s Hill Grammar School. The admissions register of the school shows that he started there on 29 Sep 1924 (when he was 11) and left on 13 March 1931 (when he was 17½). I have a leather bound dictionary given to Eric in July 1928 as a school prize for Geography. He passed the London County Council (LCC) entrance exam and started work at County Hall in Central London, becoming a wages clerk.

Ethel, Eric’s stepmother, died in 1933. William Taylor and his family then moved 105 Brookhill Road, Woolwich. He got married again in 1938 to Eleanor Mary Bateman, a widow with four children from her first marriage. They all moved to 116 Sandy Hill Road, Woolwich in 1938.

The 1939 register shows Eric (a LCC general grade assistant) living at 116 Sandy Hill with his father William (a labourer, munitions work), stepmother Eleanor, brother Ronald (a grocery porter) and stepsister Constance L Bateman (a glass operative). There is also a closed record, which is presumably Eric's half sister Betty (born in 1921).

Eric met his future wife, Grace Evelyn Ivall (who also worked at County Hall) at an office dance in April 1940.

I obtained Eric’s war record from the Army after my father’s death. Eric joined the Home Guard in June 1940. He was enlisted into the Army on 22 October 1940 aged 27. He joined the Royal Artillery and was posted to the 907 Defence Battery at Southend on 20 November 1940. He spent the next 18 months in East Anglia and when granted leave he would hitch hike to visit Grace, who by then was living in Cambridge. Eric was appointed Unit Clerk Class IIIb on 12 April 1942. He was subsequently sent to North Africa, travelling on a troop ship that left England on 14 July 1942, sailing via Cape Town and arriving at Egypt on 3 September 1942. This was at a time that German U-boats were sinking a lot of shipping, so it must have been an interesting journey ! Eric was in a gun crew in the Eighth Army that fought under General Montgomery and won the battle of El Alamein, 23 October to 2 November 1942, one of the first allied victories and a turning point in the war. The German and Italian Armies were subsequently driven out of North Africa. The allies invaded Sicily on 10 July 1943 and the fighting to capture the island was over by 17 August. Eric was in Sicily between 17 July and 28 August 1943. He then returned to North Africa and was later sent back to the UK, embarking on 27 November 1943 and arriving on 9 December 1943.

Eric married Grace Evelyn Ivall on 12 February 1944 at the Church of St Andrew the Great in Cambridge. He was aged 30 and she was 22. The witnesses on the marriage certificate were Eric’s half sister Betty (who was also a bridesmaid) and Albert Ivall (Grace’s uncle). Grace was working as a St John’s Ambulance nurse at the Gresham Road Convalescent Home in Cambridge. I have a wedding photo showing the other nurses holding up splints to form an arch for them to walk through. They had a short honeymoon in Lyme Regis.

Eric and Grace in about 1944

Soon after his marriage, Eric fell ill with malaria that he had caught in North Africa or Sicily. He was admitted to Colchester Military Hospital (in Black Notley) on 7 March 1944.and discharged to the Gresham Road Convalescent Home on 20 March 1944, where he stayed until 20 April 1944 when he was sent back to his unit, the 64th Medium Regiment R.A. On his return, he was promoted from Gunner to Lance Bombardier. He had another attack of malaria and was admitted to Colchester Military Hospital on 13 May 1944, returning to his unit on 5 June 1944, the day before D-Day. Eric was sent to Normandy on 8 July 1944 and later took part in the fighting in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany. He received a head wound on 12 December 1944 and was wounded again on 13 March 1945 but both times remained on duty. After Germany surrendered on 7 May 1945, Eric was part of the occupation force in Germany. He was promoted to Sergeant on 4 January 1946 and was sent to back the UK on 21 February 1946. Eric’s discharge paper stamped 26 February 1946 describes his military conduct as exemplary and his commanding officer has written “An exceptionally hardworking and sober NCO. He has a first class brain, plenty of initiative and is an extremely efficient organiser. I consider that he should have held commissioned rank.”

After he was discharged from the army, Eric had three months leave, which he spent in Cambridge with his wife at her mother’s house, 33 Paradise Street. Eric then returned to work with the LCC (who had made up his army pay to his full salary during the war). He and Grace stayed with Alec Henderson (who also worked at the LCC) and his wife Betty in Potter’s Bar, North London for a few months and then bought 309 Parkside Avenue, Barnehurst in September 1946 for £1,195. The house was a mid terrace house built in the 1930’s. Parkside Avenue was a long straight road and 309 was about a mile from Barnehurst Station. Eric walked there to catch a train to work (County Hall is close to Waterloo Station).

In 1949 their daughter Evelyn was born and in 1953 a son, Philip (me). In 1957, Eric and his family moved to 92 Barnehurst Avenue, which was a detached house with a large garden. They lived there for forty years. In 1958, Grace’s widowed mother came to live with them (she had the downstairs front room as her own). She was disabled as a result of a fall and broken hip joint and stayed at Barnehurst Avenue until her death in 1970.

Eric had a successful career with the LCC (which became the Greater London Council). He rose to a senior managerial role in the Highways and Transportation Department, working in the section that organised road improvements. In 1977 he was awarded the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal for Outstanding Service. He retired in 1978, aged 65, having worked for the LCC / GLC for 47 years.

When living at Barnehurst Avenue, Grace and Eric kept their garden in first class condition – it won prizes in the “Bexley in Bloom” competition. Eric produced large amounts of fruit and vegetables in the garden and he grew pot plants in a conservatory. Other interests included botany, classical music and history. Grace and Eric attended evening classes on these subjects over many years. They also enjoyed walking in the countryside.

Grace and Eric in their garden at 92 Barnehurst Avenue, c 1990.

Eric had an active retirement until his health deteriorated in the last five years of his life. In 1997, Grace and Eric moved to 24 Fern Court, Bexleyheath, a flat in a block designed for retired people. A combination of medical problems  resulted in Eric becoming less physically and mentally able and he died of bronchopneumonia at Queen Mary’s Hospital, Sidcup on 28th May 2003 aged 89.

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