Tales from the Past No 1
My grandfather, William McCormick, was born in 1882 in the Birmingham slum of Bordesley. The family lived in a court house. These houses were in groups of ten or so, situated round a courtyard that had communal washing and toilet facilities. Often the houses were divided into front and back, doubling up the number of households. The McCormicks had arrived in Bordesley about 1845 from Ireland and they were mostly brickyard labourers. The poorest of the poor.
The family were Roman Catholic but in the 1880s they seemed to switch to the Church of England for marriages, although William’s father, Samuel McCormick, was married in an RC church. William died in 1956, aged 73. He had a Roman Catholic funeral but it was until I started researching my family’s history that I realised we had been Catholics!
In 1899 William joined the Army, enlisting in the Lancashire Fusiliers. Why he joined this regiment rather than the local one, the Royal Warwicks, I don’t know.
His enlistment document describes him as age 18 yrs 3 months, fresh complexion, 5 feet 7 inches tall and 121 pounds in weight. In passing I might mention that when I joined the RAF in 56 years later I was 5 feet 6 inches and 126 lbs in weight. And I had a very fresh complexion and looked about 16.
William had joined in the run up to the Boer War and in January 1902 he arrived in Capetown. His battalion was incorporated into the 28th Mounted Infantry Brigade. He was 18 years old when he joined; a small man from the slums. I don’t suppose he had ridden a horse before and I doubt he had ever fired a gun. But at the age of 20 he was riding across the veldt hunting down Boer guerrillas – a very dangerous business. Mounted infantry rode to battle, dismounting and fighting as infantry when they got there.
By 1905 he was out of the Army, but still a reservist. He got married in Dec 1905 and the first of 4 children was born in 1906. My father was born in 1909.
At the start of World War I he was mobilised and sent to France with the British Expeditionary Force. He was badly wounded at a place called Ploegsteert Wood in November 1914 and sent back to England. Ploegsteert is in Flanders and the scene of heavy fighting in 1914.
He remained in the Lancashire Fusiliers and was a sergeant by November 1915. In August 1916 he transferred to the Royal Engineers and was sent back to France. He was finally demobilised in February 1919.
During the inter-war years he was a painter and decorator. During the 2nd World War he was in the Home Guard. At the end of the war he was a Sgt in the HG, aged 60.
I remember him as a squat old man with thinning hair. He had a strong Brummie accent and a twinkle in his eye. He was very fond of beer but didn’t get drunk. I last saw him at his Golden Wedding Anniversary in 1955 and he looked just like he always did. I spent quite a lot of time that evening trundling back and forth to the off licence for large jugs of beer!