Francis (Frank) Cameron Smith
This book was sent to us by Keith and we publish it in its entirety.
Dad was born on 15th October 1915 at 5 Palm Grove, Somerset Street, Hull, the 3rd child of Charles Smith and Lucy Mary Smith (nee Peachey) and was baptised as Francis Cameron Smith. However, he was always known as Frank (or Frankie when he was a boy) rather than Francis. We’ve not discovered the source of the Cameron name. It was often joked that it must have been because his father was drinking with a Cameron Highlander the night before he was born, but there’s probably no truth in that.
The amount of detail we have discovered of his early childhood has been limited – primarily because no early photos or family records appear to exist and Dad and his siblings were already dead by the time we had commenced our research.
It may be that Dad was a premature baby as his mother mentioned that he was kept in a cupboard drawer as a small baby! As a young child, he also had an accident which resulted in a broken hip. During his recovery, he needed a wheelchair and his mother would wheel him to the top of the terrace so that he could watch the other children play. As an adult, he tended to walk with a slight limp, so this may have been the legacy of the broken hip.
Although Frank was born at 5 Palm Grove in Somerset Street, the family occupied a number of houses and by 1920 (when Dad was about 5 years old) they had moved to 7 Ash Grove, Greek Street, off Hawthorn Avenue. They were there at least 5 years (as they were still there in 1925), but by 1929 they were living at 14 Eastbourne Street. About 1934/35 they moved to 151 Coltman Street and Dad lived there with his parents until 1939, at which point he went to serve in World War II. The Coltman Street property was the first house which the family had owned (all previous houses had been rented) as it was purchased by Frank’s father (Charlie) when he inherited money from a relative during the 1930s.
Most of Frank’s school years were spent at Wheeler Street School, although it’s unclear whether this was his entire school life or whether this was only during the time when the family lived in Greek Street. However, during his early years he apparently “twagged off” school (ie went absent) fairly regularly. He would be found at the house of his Aunt Mabel and Uncle Jimmy (brother of his mother, Lucy). He spent a lot of time there as a youngster, often referring to Mabel as being like a “2nd mother” to him.
In 1929, as soon as he reached the age of 14, Frank left school and started to work in his father’s joinery business. Apparently, he had been quite artistic at school, but Charlie had said that he needed to go into a “proper” job and had to work in the joinery business. Frank continued to work in his father’s business along with his older brother Lesley until the outbreak of the war.
Life in the 1930s
Opportunities for working class families were probably limited during the 1930s. In the early part of the decade the country was still in “The Depression”. Work was scarce and so was money. People had to make their own entertainment.
Dad spent a lot of his teenage weekends by going to Aldbrough with friends and family and camping by the sea. It seems that this went on for quite a time and eventually, Frank and his Dad (Charlie) were allowed to build a wooden hut on land which was owned by the pub. Although we have no evidence, it appears that Charlie was quite well-known in Aldbrough and he was jokingly referred to as “The Mayor of Aldbrough”. The village hall in Aldbrough was used to hold dances at the weekends. Many of the campers would attend the dances and it was here that Dad met Mam, as she and her friends also used to visit the same camp. When they met in 1937, Dad was 21 and Mam was 16.
Mam and Dad started going out together regularly in Hull and their courtship developed into a serious relationship. They could not afford expensive nights out, but they did go to numerous cinemas (referred to as “the pictures”) such as Savoy & Ritz (on Holderness Road), The Holderness Hall (on Witham) and Criterion & Dorchester (on George Street). They also spent a lot of time walking and, although they occasionally used the tram, the route between their homes on Barnsley Street and Coltman Street was a regular walk. On these walks, they often took Mam’s baby brother (Alan) who was born in 1938. Dancing was another of their favourite activities and they frequently attended dances held by the Territorial Army at Wenlock Barracks on Anlaby Road.
By 1939, Mam and Dad were engaged to be married. However, their plans were interrupted by the outbreak of war in September of that year. Dad had just been called up for active service (as he was in the TAs) and they knew that he would soon be deployed abroad. So, they decided to bring forward their marriage plans and applied for a special licence. They were married on 17th October 1939. Dad was just 24 and Mam was 18 years of age.
On 17th October 1939, Frank married Bertha (Betty) Macaulay, the oldest daughter of James Macaulay
and Daisy (nee Myers). Frank was 24 and Betty was 18 years old.
In March 1934, when he was 18 years old, Frank joined the Territorial Army in the Royal Tank Corps, based at Wenlock Barracks on Anlaby Road, Hull. He wanted to get involved in a bit of activity and have some fun. Dad later transferred to the TAs in the East Yorkshire Regiment as part of the Pioneer Corp. The Territorials were a part-time activity for evenings and weekends and they occasionally spent weekends away from Hull. The photographs from the 1937 visit to Whitby suggest they spent a lot of time digging. Plenty of activity, but it doesn’t look much fun !!!
Following outbreak of war in September 1939, the Territorial Army was mobilized. Dad and his colleagues in the TA were ordered to attend Londesborough Street Barracks for immediate active service with the East Yorkshire Regiment (4th Battalion).
The Retreat to Dunkirk
The 4th Battalion of the East Yorkshire Regiment was sent on training exercises to Stow-on-the-Wold in Gloucestershire. In January 1940, they were posted to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F.). Unfortunately, the early part of the war
did not go well and British Forces were pushed back to the Belgian coast. Surrounded on all sides except for the sea, the army was cornered on the coast at Dunkirk. Dad was part of the retreating forces and was given the duty of being in charge of a burial party, to ensure that fallen soldiers were given decent burials. In doing so, they had to handle some horrid sights. Piles of blackened bodies which, having been dead for some days, were contorted and stiff. These all had to be dealt with before he and his colleagues could follow the rest of the soldiers to the coast.
Britain faced losing a complete army at Dunkirk, with hundreds of thousands of soldiers stranded on the Belgian beaches. However, the government organised a secret mission with the biggest evacuation the world had ever seen. A flotilla of privately-owned small ships sailed across the sea from England to pick up soldiers from the beaches. They then brought them back to England or transferred them to larger naval ships waiting a short distance out to sea. There were so many soldiers that the evacuation took about three days. All the time, lines of soldiers had to wait on the beaches in exposed positions, some of them waist deep in the water as they waited their turn to be picked up by the small ships. They were continually fired upon by the German fighter planes swooping overhead. Inevitably, many did not make it and died on the beaches or in the water on the shoreline.
Because of his duties with the burial parties, Dad was amongst the last few thousand of those to reach the coast and therefore amongst the last of those to be rescued from the beaches at Dunkirk. By the time he did so, there were thousands of bodies floating in the water and the shoreline was stained with blood. Although he never admitted it, this experience probably had a severe affect on him. For many years after the war, he was reluctant to go into the sea to swim and it was only in his latter years that he would even paddle in the sea.
After the horrors of Dunkirk and his return home, Dad was sent for further training in the South of England (Weymouth, Dorchester and Clevedon). By the Christmas of 1940, he was back in Hull, but it was not long before he would see active service once again. In Jan/Feb 1941 he was posted to Cyprus before joining the British forces in Egypt as part of the North African campaign. On 4th June 1942, whilst on a mission in the desert in Libya, a large group of soldiers from the East Yorkshire Regiment were surrounded by German forces and captured.
Whenever soldiers were injured or killed, the army posted messages to the next of kin back in England. However, in Dad’s case, his whereabouts were unknown for some time. On 14th July 1942, Mam just received a message to say that he was “missing”. She did know whether he was dead or alive. Photographs and details of the missing soldiers were published in the Hull Daily Mail.
However, the worry of uncertainty was short-lived as on 16th July 1942, she got a further message from the Army HQ to say that he was now known to be a Prisoner of War in Italian hands. Perhaps there was some comfort knowing that he was being held by the Italians rather than the Germans as there was probably a perception that he would receive better treatment.
Images of Dad around the early part of ww2
The Hull Daily Mail printed pictures of the missing Soldiers in Libya
Prisoner of War
It was a further 3 months before Mam got any further news regarding Dad’s whereabouts. During this period the captured soldiers from the East Yorkshire Regiment had been transported across the Mediterranean to Italy.
On 28th October 1942, Mam received a further message from the Army to say that he was being held as a Prisoner of War at Camp 66, PM 3400 in Northern Italy.
It is impossible for us to imagine what life was like in a prison camp. The main priority was probably survival – getting enough food to remain alive. When we were young, we recall Dad telling us a little about life as a POW. They did not get much to eat, so any opportunity to get additional food was grasped.
Prisoners with practical skills were useful to their German and Italian captors As Dad was a carpenter, he was put to work undertaking jobs which sometimes required the prisoners to go outside the boundaries of the camp, accompanied by guards. Whenever the work required the prisoners to be in contact with the local villagers, they would quietly barter with them and attempt to get additional food for themselves and their fellow prisoners. They would swap anything for food. Dad once told us that he exchanged his gold ring for a loaf of bread. At the end of the day, they would smuggle loaves of bread into the camp by hiding them underneath their hand-cart.
The German guards around the camp used dogs to control the prisoners. Specifically, they used German Shepherd Dogs (Alsatians) and Dad always had a dislike (fear) of this type of dog many years after the war.
All POWs had a duty to try to escape. Dad managed to escape from the Italian Camp a couple of times. On the first occasion he was re-captured fairly quickly. On the second occasion, he escaped with three others, including his friend Cyril Stark, and they hid in the mountains and caves for three weeks before recapture. At the time of their recapture, they were made to lay on their stomachs and had rifles prodded in their backs, not knowing whether that moment would be their last. Some of the local Italian villagers helped them whilst they were free. In particular, he mentioned a woman called Angelina, the wife of a local butcher. She gave them a great deal of help and provided food. Dad never forgot the help she had given.
After his first escape, Dad was transferred to Camp 54, PM 3300 in Northern Italy. Mam received a message to this effect on 15th March 1943, although the actual transfer had taken place almost six months earlier on 28th September 1942. After his second escape attempt, his captors probably thought he was a risk, so he was transferred to a more secure camp in Germany – Stalag 7A.
In a further communication dated 11th May 1944, Mam was informed that Dad was reported as “in hiding” in Italy. However, this had occurred on 20th January 1944, so by the time she received the information it was long out of date and he had already been recaptured and transferred to the camp in Germany. She got confirmation of his transfer to Germany on 2nd August 1944. Dad remained in the German prison camp until the end of the war. After the German surrender, Stalag 7A was freed by American soldiers and they were flown back to England.
End of the War
The war in Europe was formally declared at an end on 8th June 1945 – and subsequently named VE Day (“Victory in Europe”). On the same day, a telegram was sent to Mam at 28 Walgrave Street to say that Dad would be arriving home on the same day. She was at work in the munitions factory at Brough and the message was taken by her next-door neighbour, Mrs Douthwaite. She got in touch with Mam, who came home immediately (and never returned to the job at Brough). Mam and her Dad (Jim Macaulay) went to Paragon Station to meet our Dad on the train and they took him to his new home in Walgrave Street. On 16th June, she received a further communication from the army to say that Dad had arrived back in England and was on his way back home. Clearly, army communications were always behind the times as he’d already been home for 8 days by the time she received the message.
Discharge from the Army
Following his return from the war and the three years he endured as a Prisoner of War, Dad was due months of paid leave which took him to 10th March 1946. This time was much needed as, after more than 3 years in a prison camp, he was weak, thin and had lost a lot of weight. He was not in the best of health and had back problems which gave him pain. For the first few months, he was not fit to work, so Mam spent much of her time helping him to get back to full strength.
On 29th January 1946, Dad was formally released from full-time army service and transferred to the East Yorkshire Regiment TA Reserves. This meant that he was able to start looking for a job so that he could support the family.
Employment after the War
When Frank returned from the war, he was expecting to be able to continue his former job in his father’s business. However, he was upset to find that the business had been sold and all his tools had been disposed of, leaving him with no job and little in the way of tools to continue his occupation. This was probably one of the factors which created a rift between Frank, Lesley and his father as he considered they had cheated him whilst he was in the army fighting for his country.
He clearly had to find another job and started to work for a local builder called Fred West. This job continued until the mid 1950s, by which time he had decided that he had to move on in order to provide a better standard of living for his family. During the next 15-20 years, he took a number of different jobs working as a joiner for large joinery companies. These included Samuel Owst Ltd (Argyle Street), Hollis Bros Ltd (at the junction of Craven Street & Hedon Road), Spooners Ltd (on Stoneferry), Laverack & Goddard Ltd (at the junction of Stoneferry and Carr Lane), and Armstrongs Ltd (on Beverley Road).
Dad’s talents were in carpentry and he was able to make high-quality furniture. He enjoyed making individual pieces. However, this type of work was not financially rewarding and as the years progressed, he came to the view that the business was changing and moving towards a process of mass production. He realised that he could earn more money in the caravan-building business which was going through a boom period at the time. This did not really require the skills of a carpenter and he did not really enjoy the work, but it did bring in a better level of income and he moved between a number of caravan-building companies in the later years of his working life. These included Cresta Caravans and Atlas Caravans. At the age of 65, Frank retired from work in 1980.
Immediately after the war there was little opportunity for what we would refer to today as a family holiday. The best that one could hope for was the occasional day trip at the weekends, visiting the country, the seaside, or distant friends and family.
Until the 1950s, there was no such thing as paid leave for a holiday. Consequently, few families took time off for a holiday as they could not afford it. However, in the 1950s, government legislation forced employers to pay employees during one week of holiday. It was not a lot of money, but it gave families the opportunity to get away for more than just a weekend. Dad decided to use his holiday pay to buy a bus ticket for the whole family for a whole week. Each day, the family would travel by bus to a different seaside resort – Withernsea, Hornsea, Bridlington, Scarborough, and Cleethorpes. Families were getting much more ambitious and willing to take lengthier breaks and Dad embraced this, always aiming to do what he considered best for the family.
The 1960s in Britain saw the beginning of the boom for summer holidays abroad and when Chris was married and Keith had left for university, Frank & Betty jumped on the bandwagon and took the opportunity for a new experience – seeing places like Spain, Italy.
Frank Pictured below o holiday in 1987. he sadly passed away 9 months later aged just 72. We Remember Frank here today, we thankyou for your service to our Country, Rest Easy Frank
Thanks to Keith and Family for allowing us to tell Franks Story.