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My musical family

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That rather handsome young man to the left was my father, at age 17. So serious, so formal looking. My brother scanned and emailed the picture to me, part of my search to find out more about my family and its roots.

That photograph was taken in 1931, between the wars. It was also taken during the Great Depression in the UK, which lasted from 1929 to 32. He was baptised Watts Chadwick, but was known as Bill to his friends and family.

Northern England where my father was born and lived - Oldham, near Manchester - was particularly hit by the economic downturn because it was the heart of the British industrial region. Unemployment swept the north those hard years and stayed longer in the north than in other parts of Britain.

Although the depression ended (officially if not actually) in 1932, economic recovery was slow, especially in the north, and it wasn't until the country started re-arming in the mid 1930s that recovery finally came. But then the world stumbled into war, again.

Thanks to the memories of my Aunt Mary, in South Africa, I know a little more about my father and his family in those days. Here's what I recently learned.

My grandfather, Frank, was a journalist who worked at the Oldham Chronicle (still in business today). My grandmother, Winnie (Winifred), was a dressmaker and milliner. Frank began his career at the newspaper as an errand boy, then moved to the reading room and correcting proofs and was soon transferred into the editorial dept as a junior reporter. By the 1920s he had begun work as the commercial reporter (a post he held until he retired).

Frank covered the cotton slumpof the inter-war years, probably around the time this photograph was taken. That slump began when Gandhi called for an Indian boycottof English-made cotton, in the years just after WWI. Most of the cotton mills were located in Lancashire, where my family lived. Gandhi visited Lancashirein fall, 1931 - the year this photo was taken - stopping in Manchester, in September, to visit a cotton mill and meet the mayor. Perhaps my father even saw him there.

According to Mary, in World War One, Frank Chadwick fought in the King's Royal Rifles, stationed in Egypt and Palestine. My own research suggests he must have been with another unit because the KRR served on the Western Front until 1918, when it left for Palestine and Egypt. The 42nd (East Lancashire) division, however, served in Egypt and later Palestine from 1914. There was a Manchester Brigade, stationed around Cairo and then Alexandra, from 1914. At least one battalion (1/10)was formed in Oldham, in August 1914, and possibly a second (2/9).

Frank returned from war when Bill was 4 years old. Mary says Frank possibly saw his son for the first time then. That makes me wonder where he had been, because the war broke out in August 1914, and my father was born in January of that year. I suspect he knew his son before he left for war, but was overseas for the four years and unable to return to visit. If he was, indeed, in the Middle East most, if not all that time, then it's understandable.

My father went to the University of Manchesterfor two years where he studied to be a pharmacist (a subject still taught there), but for reasons I have not learned, didn't complete his degree. Perhaps the depression had something to do with it. My niece, apparently, has his school notes from those university days. I'd like to read them.

During the war, Dad served in the Home Guard on Government duty and - according to my mother - worked in a parachute factory in either the north or possibly Wales. He had passed all his tests to become a pilot, only to find during the testing that he was colour blind. I wonder if he would have survived the Blitz and the air war, had be become a pilot. Obvioulsy I wouldn't be here had he not.

My father's two best friends in those halcyon pre-war days were Len Harrison and Bert Newby. Bert sang with the local opera society and went on to be a singer in toe renowned D'Oyly Carte Opera Company. I remember my father singing songs from Gilbert and Sullivan when we drove to the cottage, when I was very young. I learned a handful of those songs hearing him sing them and developed a love for G&S from that. I suppose my father learned them from Bert.

Apparently music was a big part of my father's home life and, mAry said, the whole family would often have a sing along. Bill - my father - played banjo. His mother, Winnie, played ukulele. Frank and his daughter (my aunt) Mary played piano.
So much I didn't know. I never knew my father was colour blind. He never mentioned it to me. Nor did I know he played banjo or that my grandmother played ukulele (my favourite instrument these days - think there's something in the blood?). I've played guitar for more than 40 years and never once did he tell me he, too, played an instrument. He did tap out a few ditties on the home piano now and then, but we never had a singalong.

I never knew he wanted to be a pilot. I love small planes and flying in them. But I never knew my father did, too.

He also never mentioned the Palestine connection to me. I went to Israel about 30 years ago. Had I known that my grandfather served there, it would have made the voyage more intimate and personal. I might have been able to trace his regiment's footsteps.

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