Here on the Brownhills Blog, things are often, well, circular. As time goes by, stuff becomes interlinked, and the interconnections between stories, the people who relate them, and their subjects all become evident. It’s one of the things I love about doing this – a sort of local history relativity.
On Sunday last, I ran the last episode of the St. John’s School log books, which mentioned Jim Edwards, a local theologian and cleric with a remarkable story. As the comments on the article expanded, it became clear this was no ordinary parish churchman, but a fellow of considerable stature who was well travelled and also experienced in war.
Thankfully, the Walsall Wood contingent sprang to action, and I discovered that the Canon’s history has been touched on before.
In January last, local lady Jenny Langford – who had previously written beautifully about The Fold and her memories there – supplied a booklet on the history of St. John’s Church in Walsall Wood, which contained a picture of Jim; Jenny has contributed her memories of the man, as well as other great memories of the period which I include below. Jenny talks about her father as stand-in organist at St, Micheal’s in Caldmore, and reader BillyTheBez helped with the story of the stuck football at that church earlier in the year.
David Evans spotted Jim’s picture in that wonderful book ‘Memories of Old Walsall Wood’ by Bill Mayo and John Sale, and wrote up Jim Edward’s wartime history.
Thanks to David, Jenny, and to Peter Cutler too, who also as turned up so good stuff for later. A wonderful bit of collaborative history.
David Evans wrote:
Canon Jim Edwards in World War One.
James Edwards enlisted into the Royal Army Medical Corps, in Nuneaton, on 7th of September 1914. He was one of three Walsall Wood men who enrolled into the Royal Medical Corps who survived the war. The others were F. Cooke and T. Swain (source, the Roll of Honour book, 1914-1918, Walsall and District).
The military records show that Rev. Edwards, service number 31944 was assigned to the Royal Engineers, and sailed aboard the HT Alaunia from Devonport on 1th July 1915 and disembarked at Suvla on 5th August 1915.
This was the first landings of the awful Dardanelles campaign served there as a ‘water bearer/carrier’ in a field ambulance, and was attached to the 31st company Royal Engineers. This translates as being an unarmed but uniformed medic, issued with a water bottle and pack of bandages, who tended wounded soldiers – under enemy fire and out in the open.
He was reassigned from the Dardanelles conflict and sailed aboard the H.T. ‘Crown of Aragon’ bound for Salonika and the Macedonia campaign, where, in this new field of conflict, he performed the same dreadful and highly dangerous tasks.
He contracted fever and malaria, and so was transferred ‘compulsorily’ away from the front lines and from the deadly enemy fire, and was given new duties when he became a sapper in the 85th company of the Royal Engineers, service number 354081, but still in this Salonika conflict.
He returned to England and left the Army in 1919 .
Army records, ‘The Roll of the Great War’ book.
David Evans, September 2013
Jenny Langford wrote:
I have been speaking to David Evans over the last two days and he suggested I write to you with some of my memories/comments. Although I note that since we spoke, a lot more has appeared on the blog. So… here goes!
I knew Father Jim quite well in my younger days. This was after his retirement, on his return from the diocese of Melanesia in The Solomon Isles.
He became a Canon of Lichfield Cathedral and was also assistant vicar of Walsall Wood. A lowly position for one with such a title, but he was still a Walsall Wood boy, known by all at St John’s with great affection, as Father Jim.
He once told me of his memory of being on a boat in Melanesia, escaping from a Japanese air raid, when a pregnant local woman went into labour. Because of his calling, I don’t think he was very familiar with the female form and child birth!
He was head of The Theological College out there but I don’t know exactly where it was.
I was also told, that he became a priest after serving in the First World War in Gallipoli. The dreadful suffering and carnage he was involved with as a soldier, made him want to try and do some good in the world after the war was over.
My parents who were childless until 1944, not by choice I add, had two evacuees from Liverpool living with them for some time during the war. Their names were Joseph and Alfred Taft, better known as Joey and Alfie.
They were of course Roman Catholics. I understand that if you were childless, you had to have a good reason not to take in refugees – but my parents had no problem with this. I understand that they only left our house when my mother was expecting me!
I found it interesting reading about the evacuees at the school.
My uncle Alf, my father’s younger brother and also first cousin of May Langford mentioned in the Blog, used to take Joey and Alfie to the Roman Catholic Church in Brownhills for Sunday Services.
Dad was a Church of England church organist and would have been otherwise occupied on Sunday.
My father had been a pupil at St John’s school in Walsall Wood and he often spoke of Mr. Garner, although I can’t remember anything specific he said. Just that his name is very familiar to me now, all these years later.
Another point of interest maybe ?
My father worked at GEC in Birmingham during the war and was thus exempt from military service, although he did belong to the local Fire Service during this time. His job was something to do with making, or testing, parts for Spitfire planes.
He happened to be the church organist at Walsall Wood church at the time. However, when the organist from Rushall Parish church was called up, he moved there – on one condition.
This was that if their organist survived the war and returned home, he would have to leave.
Fortunately, Jack Darrell, the man in question survived the war and came home and my Dad did leave and moved to St. Michael’s in Caldmore, Walsall.
When Jack died many years later, my father was the recipient of all, or most of his organ music, some of which I think is still in my possession.
Keep up the good work, like many others I do enjoy reading the blog.