Saturday, 28 January 2012

The Paternal Side


I have been told that I am like my mother in looks though in personality I have much of my father in me. I spent most of my childhood, the formative years, without the presence of my father. Being solely in my mother’s company I was bound to develop the Jones character, and reveal some of their talents, and many of their weaknesses, which were part of my genetic inheritance. In later years I was also to discover that my similarity to the maternal side of the family included physical aspects as well. I have been told that I not only look like my mother, but I walk like her. However, as time passed I also found that my father had contributed more than a little to the persona that I found myself to be. By no stretch of the imagination could one say William George Bishop was the ideal father or family man, though he can hardly be blamed for that. It must be said that perfect he may not have been, but I found that his virtues were greater than his faults. He did his duty by his family, as he saw it. In retrospect it is my impression that we were not a family with a man at its head. My father was a man with a wife and children who were a segment of his life. His actions were therefore always designed to meet the needs of his own future, his future being ours as he saw it.

For most of us family origins are something of a mystery, and like Pandora's Box best left unopened. From what I can gather it is rare that good things are found when curiosity urges us to explore our origins. Understandably, most family histories record only the acceptable events, the seamier side and more undesirable aspects often being omitted or discreetly discarded. Maybe it is because I have no wish to be disappointed that I have never attempted to explore my family history. Whatever the reason, the fact is that I have very little to tell regarding the Bishop family tree.

My paternal grandfather was a Staffordshire man and when the fact that he had a number of relatives who lived in the Potteries is taken into account, it is more than likely that he was also a native of the 'Five Towns'; the name given to Stoke-on-Trent by the writer Arnold Bennett, one of its famous sons. From what little I know of him, Albert Bishop was a much different type from 'Jones the Soldier', though he was similar in one respect. He was adventurous and not tied to the place of his birth, and also he became a soldier of some years of service. I shall probably never discover how it came about, but he chose to join the 'Royal Horse Artillery'. The depot for this elite body of men was the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich in London, which is how he came to marry a young lady of respectable family from that part of the world.

Maybe it is an instinct in fighting men to ensure, before they put their lives in danger, the continuance of their line. Whether this is the case or not this is what grandfather attempted to do, leaving his young wife with child when he departed with his unit for service in the Boer War. A male child being traditional in these cases I suppose one must say that he failed in his endeavours, the child being born a girl and christened with the name Anne. She was not to see her father until her returned from the wars of course, and so it was that she was several years old before our returning hero saw the results of his efforts. Anne had red hair and was much loved, but that did not prevent her father from trying again very soon after his return, and this time he was successful being rewarded with his first son.

On most occasions I have felt no regret in not having discovered more about my ancestors, but I have to confess that when it comes to their military adventures I do wish that I had more details. In grandfather’s case the only thing I have is the inscription on the campaign medal he received. There may have been other medals, but this particular one is the only one I have. This medal is made of silver and is known as the 'Queens Medal' it having a portrait of Queen Victoria on one side. - There was also another medal awarded to veterans of the war in South Africa which was known as the 'Albert Medal', or so I am told. - Across the ribbon are bars, the top one having on it the words 'South Africa 1901'; below this title is to be found other bars which bear the names of campaigns or major battles in which the holder took part. Those names always excited my imagination they seem to ring with the spirit of those times. What heroic deeds must be hidden within them? Grandfather’s medal has six engagements recorded upon it, they are: 'Belfast' - 'Diamond Hill' - 'Johannesburg' - ‘Driefontein’ - 'Paarderberg' - 'The Relief of Kimberley'. Being a treasured possession I sometimes show this mark of valour to those who have an interest in such things, and I have been told that the presence of six engagements makes this particular medal a rarity. It seems that most of the 'Queens Medals' have anything from one to three or maybe four bars to them; the presence of six is unusual. A possible explanation is the fact that he was a gunner, and the 'Royal Horse Artillery' was renowned for its mobility. I believe that after firing their guns in some engagement, it was not unusual for RHA batteries to limber up and gallop off to some other pressing battle, leaving the infantry and other slow moving units to finish off the job.

When I think about it I regret that I was not able to know, my grandfather, and all I have to remember him by is this one medal. When I turn it on edge and read the inscription : 88733 Driver A. Bishop - 'O' Battery., I feel strongly that Albert is a grandfather in whom I can feel considerable pride, I only wish that he could have known of my pride, and known that his memory is not forgotten. While I or anyone still remembers him he lives on, in our hearts and minds.

It must have been a great relief to finally return home to the depot in London; and what better way could this home coming be celebrated than by an addition to the family. Having survived a war it would have been reasonable for grandfather to have imagined that the fates were about to smile on him, but life has a nasty habit of lulling you into a false sense of security. Early in 1903 he was to get his wish when his first son was born. My father was a tiny baby and was to remain small in stature all his life. A small baby does not ensure an easy birth, and so this moment which should have been cause for such celebration became a moment of tragedy. My grandmother died giving birth, and when one thinks of bad omens, I suppose it could be said there could have been no more ill fated a beginning for a child than to lose its mother at the outset. If this tragedy was an omen then it proved to be an accurate one; there was to be no mothers love for my father, in fact from what I know there was precious little love in the early years of his life. Maybe it was that, and the disciplined life he found in the army that made him a stern and unbending father.

Again I must record that the details of my father’s early life are not known to me, but it is not difficult to imagine how life must have turned out for my grandfather and his two motherless children. Until recent times I had believed the following but I now know my impressions were wrong. Being an army man my grandfather had no home for his two children, and no one to look after them. Anne his eldest was passed on to her mother’s affluent older sister, and my father taken to the Potteries to live with his father’s sister. Life is a lottery and on this occasion Anne won the prize, she was to receive a good upbringing, a happy life with a good education and all the benefits that come from a home with sufficient means to provide them. My father on the other hand was to find life a fight for survival. His aunty May was a cripple who lived alone, and even as a boy, it was my father who looked after his aunt rather than the other way around.

I am not sure whether Albert was still in the army after the tragic breakup of his family, but he was certainly still living in London. It seems that after a year or two he met another young woman from some locality in North London, and decided to marry again. Maybe it was the need to provide a home for his young son that prompted this further partnership, but whatever the reason it was to prove an unhappy choice. My meagre source of information was only sufficient to confirm that my father’s stepmother and her relatives did not possess high standards. Further than that I cannot say, but my father intimated to me that they showed little interest in the young boy who appeared from the Midlands to live with them. Young Billy, as he was usually called, (his Christian names being William George,) was not wanted, and the heartless way he was treated soon made this abundantly clear to him. When his father was absent the treatment he received was bordering on harsh if not actually cruel. Beatings were not uncommon in those days, but little Billy received more than his share. It is more than likely that after several years of this sort of treatment he was not sorry when his father decided Billy would be better off living with his Aunty May in the Potteries.

The above description of my father’s birth and his early life is wrong and I discovered this when he died. He had in his personal effects the following photograph to which he had added a few words which revealed something of the real facts about his beginnings.




(My grandmother who reared me from three days old)

It is the only photograph of my grandmother I have and the only one I think in existence. I loved her very much and she loved me. I cannot recall a time when she beat or had to chastise me. I often even now remember some of the things she tried to install in my mind. This photo was taken when I was about 6½ years old. It was taken because I was being sent to London to my father and stepmother. Because I understand my grandfather died at work and grandma was unable to keep me. I well remember all this and my unpleasant stay in London. After a stay of about 1½ years I was taken back to my grandma travelling in the guards van from Euston to Stoke. My grandma sent the money for my train fare. We were united again.

Grandma died at home in her bed two days before my 14th birthday which was on 19th January 1917. I was then working I was then working in the office at Johnson Bros. That morning before I went to work I had a chat with her and she said “It is you birthday in two days and you will have some cake for that.” When I got home that night she was dead. I know now what she meant; she meant funeral cake of course.

Why have I done this little obituary to her memory? It is just a tribute to her and the love she gave me.

After a year or two another son was born and named Albert after his father, and for a time the family continued to live in London. Finally Grandfather returned to his home town, and after a few more years he died. I never discovered what happened to the family relationship, but my father did tell me that his half-brother also arrived in the Potteries to live with him. He also told me that his younger brother Albert was prone to bad behaviour, and at one point he was sentenced to a period in a Borstal detention school for wayward boys. When their father died Billy became responsible for Albert, and made it his duty to keep the rebellious younger brother on the straight and narrow. Often he had to resort to an application of physical punishment when Albert proved difficult, or when he appeared to endanger the family name. My father continued to look after his brother until they were mature young men, assisting him in joining the army, and even claiming him to the same regiment as brothers were entitled to do.

In some respects his grandparents were not a suitable substitute as parents, especially for someone like young Billy who had learned in a hard school how to look after himself. He was now quite convinced that it was ‘every man for him-self’ and that everyone should be seen as opponents in the battle of life. To begin with Harriet was not a young woman and to make matters worse, she was also crippled, having a hip joint which was defective or damaged by disease though I have to say that my knowledge of this is vague. Such conditions were hardly conducive to a successful upbringing, but it must also be said that the position was not all bad. Though she could never control him, Aunty May showed that she did love him, and though she tried to be strict with him, she was always kind, having a soft heart which she always found difficult to hide.

My father was short of stature, growing to be 5 feet 6 inches at maturity. Although short he was stocky and strong, and was always fit and athletic. Like many such men he made up for his lack of height by presenting to the world an aggressive and sometimes belligerent disposition. This stance was not an assumed one, but simply his natural character. Without doubt the circumstances of his childhood contributed something to his belligerent nature, but whether it did or not, it is certain that his pugnacious character aided him in his efforts to survive. Without such aggression his small stature would have made him a target, and his life would have been a misery. It is one of nature’s rules that the strong the courageous the stubborn and the determined survive. Fortunately, my father had all these qualities; he was a survivor from the very beginning. In addition he was also an individual of single minded purpose, which possibly was a factor that worked against him at times. It is my impression that he had other qualities that were suppressed by his more dominant characteristics, though circumstances certainly had something to do with it as well. From his early days young Billy had found that life was hard and people could be cruel, and so his motto became ‘Give no quarter, and expect none in return‘; it seems certain that this was the philosophy to which he adhered all his life.

1 comment:

Kate said...

Glynn, there are lots of resources available via the internet that might be able to provide you with information about your grandfather. Since you have one of his medals and know his regiment that should be enough to get you started on learning more about him.