Fred goes to Rotherham

In his early career with the RAF, Fred lived in Rotherham, where he was training to be a wireless operator. He attended the local Technical College, and for his ab initio training in electronics, he studied topics such as radar and the many other technical devices which he would need to use as a Wireless Operator / Air Gunner.

The college is still there today:

Fred was staying at 94, Frederick Street, with Mr and Mrs Childs, as a lodger in their house. The latter acted more or less as surrogate parents, and in actual fact, frequently corresponded with Fred’s own parents, Will and Fanny. They reported Fred’s progress to them, and postcards were sent back and forth quite regularly. This is the reverse of the postcard of the School of Technology above:

The postcard was posted on June 22nd 1942 at 9.00pm. As far as I can see, the text reads

“ Dear Mr Mrs thanking you for your kind and welcome letter I had a letter from fred I am sending you this I though (sic) you would like it it is were fred and the boy went to school I saw it and though you will like it kind regards to fred when you write hoping you are both well we remain yours faithful  E W Childs”

This date proves that Fred had finished what must have been fairly elementary technical training relatively early in his RAF career. More of these postcards have survived and this one is of Boston Park in Rotherham:

The reverse has the same address as the card above and the message reads:

The text reads:

“74, FREDERICK. ST. Dear Mr & Mrs Knifton  First of all I hope that Mr Knifton has recovered from his illness & is getting about again. This is one of our local areas & is only about 8 minutes walk from here. Trust you are keeping well & also Fred. Haven’t heard anymore from him since he was home. Fondest of greetings always sincerely from E (&) W Childs”

Imaginative as most young men are, Fred chose the very same picture postcard to send home. His message was hardly informative:

The text reads

“Have not visited this park yet so I don’t know much about it Fred ”

It was probably when he was still being trained at Rotherham Technical College, that Fred, as a serving member of the armed forces, was invited on a distant, almost forgotten, occasion to be one of the people to meet the Mayor of Barnsley. The latter was the Lieutenant Colonel of the local regiment, and came round, as we would say nowadays, to “raise his profile”. One thing that Fred did remember was how overawed he felt given the high rank of the distinguished visitor, compared to his own status as a simple Aircraftman Second Class.

In similar vein, Fred had also been somewhat embarrassed when, in uniform, he was given a lift back home from Burton-on-Trent station, by Dr Love, the local doctor in Woodville, the village where Fred lived. Dr Love was himself a high ranking officer in the Royal Army Medical Corps during the First World War, and he had carried this rank with him, over into the local South Derbyshire Home Guard forces. Everybody in the High Street in Woodville was amazed when Dr Love stopped his car, at the time one of the only privately owned vehicles in the area, and out stepped Fred.


Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, Humour, Personal

19 responses to “Fred goes to Rotherham

  1. This line struck me as a sign of changing times – “Have not visited this park yet so I don’t know much about it Fred ”. If he had had the internet and Google search he could have found out all about it without having to visit! Is that good or bad?

    • If it’s a beautiful park with no people but lots of flowers and free ice cream, a visit is good and Google is not needed. If it’s the headquarters of Rotherham United Boot Boys or a place to go for an innocent walk and then get beaten up by the local toughs because they think you’re gay, then a visit is bad and Google is good. The next level of the argument is that you should be able to go where you want but unfortunately that isn’t always possible.
      Don’t forget though, that this is the era when the RAF were trying to get radar to work properly in a plane, and planes were regularly “lost without trace” so don’t hold your breath too long for GPS or anything too complex on the electronics front.

  2. How things have changed. Now everybody has a car and it’s unusual not to have one. It’s fabulous that you still have all these postcards.

    • I think that that is because my Grandma and Grandad kept everything that my Dad sent back to them. They had a similar set of postcards of Elgin and Lossiemouth from his time up there.
      Overall, even thinking about my own childhood, I don’t think that working class people actually owned a great many things. They certainly didn’t have the shelves and shelves of books and the racks of CDs that we have nowadays. Because of that, they perhaps took greater care of what they possessed.

  3. I haven’t received a postcard in years, yet I did buy some while away last year. Thought the photography was certainly better than mine. I don’t even know if our post office still prints postcard stamps. Duh…

    • My daughter still receives them occasionally from her friends but, no,. I haven’t received one for a long time. Perhaps people don’t like the lack of privacy of a postcard and certainly, the postman used to read mine because he would tell my Dad what city I was backpacking in as he handed him the card. Solutions to that include writing cards in French which was OK for me but not much good for my Dad, and sarcastic remarks about the postman in the text. That was quite satisfying, but not a good idea in the long term as a number of my postcards suddenly started being dropped accidentally in puddles.

  4. John, your article reminded me of how much, in my youthful years, I used to love exchanging postcards with my pen pal in England.

    • Pen friends are just wonderful if you can keep up the correspondence for a long time, which is difficult. In my teens, I found the best way was to actually send each other things. My hobby was football, so I was the pen friend of a Russian football coach and he sent me Russian football magazines. I sent him English ones. A Czechoslovakian teenager used to send me aircraft kits from behind the Iron Curtain such as the USSR, Poland, Czechoslovakia and so on. They were totally unobtainable in the West. I sent him English aircraft or whatever kit he asked me for.
      I learnt a lot from those two. I learnt that they were not bent on world domination, just winning next Saturday’s match, or getting his hands on a plastic model of a Boeing 707.

  5. Fred’s parents must have appreciated the notes about their son’s life from the Childs. Do you know whether or not he liked living with them?

    • Yes, I think he did. As far as I know, his time with the RAF was the first time he had ever been away from home, and I think that to have a substitute mother and father was a very good thing for him and he appreciated it. From the postcards we still have from Mr and Mrs Childs, they really liked having him there. They were quite old and seemed to enjoy a last chance to be parents. I also think that like everybody else in the country, they welcomed the opportunity to do something, anything, to help the war effort.

  6. I’m thinking of two parents worried for news about their son. Even while in training they’d be missing him and if I recall they would’ve known what was ahead of him. Was Nottingham getting bombed much at the time?

    • Nottingham was bombed on a limited number of occasions but nothing like London or Liverpool. It was thought at the time that the Luftwaffe mistook Nottingham for Derby, the home of the Rolls Royce factory that made the Merlin aircraft engines for the Spitfire and the P-51. As always, Wikipedia tells the tale at
      Fred’s mother and father lived far enough away from Nottingham and Derby not to be bombed. There were just occasional bombs dropped in error, They destroyed half a dozen houses and just under thirty people were killed. The local anti-aircraft gun shot down one German bomber in six years of trying. That seems a waste of their time perhaps, but they didn’t think so. They were all talking about it well into the 1950s.

  7. The college has not changed much and I am so glad you have the postcards. I remember the postcards my grandfather used to write to us , I still have c=some of them. But the writings 🙂 My husband’s writing is somewhat like this. Regards.

  8. Chris Waller

    It is remarkable that something as small and fragile as a post card, written when the war was at its height, should survive 77 years and connect us to the lived experience of people caught up in those events. It also reminds us that alongside the grand narrative of history, people were just trying to get on with their lives as best they could. I wonder if, when they were writing those postcards, they imagined that their words would survive through the ensuing decades?

    • No, I can’t imagine my Dad thought that that postcard would still be extant in 2019 and that people would read his words from southern India to California. It must be mathematical chance that some things survive and others don’t but I do know that my grandparents were quite fastidious in collecting together all the postcards from their only son.
      I found the definition of “ephemera” on google. That says it all. …

      “Late 16th century: plural of ephemeron, from Greek, neuter of ephēmeros ‘lasting only a day’. As a singular noun the word originally denoted a plant said by ancient writers to last only one day, or an insect with a short lifespan, and hence was applied (late 18th century) to a person or thing of short-lived interest.”

      I suppose we’ll all get our chance to be ephemera one day!

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