Some photos from the Celebration of Life, 7 Oct. 2011 (click on photo to open)
Charles "Alfred" Gallagher, Autobiography 1912 - 2011
One of Alfred’s earliest memories was during the First World War when he was about 4. His parents suddenly came in to the room and herded Alfred and his siblings under the stairs because a bombing raid had started. He recalled playing in the fields at the end of their road and sometimes they would collect pieces of coal that had fallen off the railway wagons to take home for the fire. Alfred also remembered when Uncle Frank Harlow and Auntie Grace (his mother’s sister) came to stay. The children were all very scared because Uncle Frank had brought his Army rifle.
The games they played in those days included Hopscotch, skipping with a rope, Rounders, and later some football and cricket. He started school just before the age of 5 at St George’s Primary School in Bells Close, a mile from his home. The main focus of school was Reading, Writing and Arithmetic, but he particularly remembered one day when everyone at school was fascinated to see a German airship drifting overhead.
At about the age of 9 (c1921), Alfred and his family moved to 10 Greenfield Place, Ryton-on-Tyne, a rather more up-market area than Tyne Vale Terrace. Here they became friendly with the children of Ray Foster who lived in a large house in Woodside Lane at the end Greenfield Place. Alfred even remembered the registration number of the Foster’s Belsize car, “TN 513”, that he would occasionally help to wash.
Sometimes Alfred’s father’s friends would come round to the house and they would gather in the front room to hear his father play the piano and sing. Unfortunately, the expense of the new house was more than his father’s job at the nearby Spencer Steel Works could support, so the family let out the upstairs to lodgers. One family of lodgers had a daughter called Trixie who was a couple of years older than Alfred. Trixie used to come downstairs to play with the boys whenever she could, until her mother banned her when she discovered Trixie was becoming too amorous with the boys. However, Alfred claimed he was too young to appreciate such attentions anyway, but with a smile.
Alfred and his siblings would walk to Greenway for sledging in the snow, where one day he badly injured his left leg that purportedly left it slightly shorter than the right leg.
South to Ottery St. Mary, Devon
About 1924, Alfred’s father, Thomas, developed cancer of the neck and throat. He had been kicked in the throat while playing Rugby and it was thought that this might have triggered the condition. So, in 1925 Ethel sold most of the family belongings including the piano, and the family moved south to the warmer climate in the hope that it might improve Thomas’ chances of recovery. The family moved to Ash Farm, Ottery St Mary in Devon, but sadly, Alfred’s father died in April 1926, the year of the UK General Strike.
Soon after Alfred's mother arrived in Devon with her sick husband, young family, and no source of income, they met the Lindsay family through the local church. The Lindsays, were relatively well off and on learning of Ethel's predicament, they very generously paid for Alfred's youngest brother, Brian, to go to the Convent School in Bridport, Dorset as a boarder, and also for his sisters, Margaret and Liles, to attend boarding school. Meanwhile, Alfred, now 14, started a paper-round before school and his brother, Paul, found work as a gardener and odd-job man at Deer Park, Buckerell to help support the family.
Alfred would have to walk to Honiton Boys school and recalls the headmaster, Mr Barnes, and several of his class mates including Arthur Real (nicknamed “Fusser”) who married Emma Ayres, the daughter of a Publican.
After the death of his father in 1926, the family moved to Honiton, where they lived in a flat over Tremayne’s Garage. Alfred became friendly with mechanics in the garage and his interest and fascination with mechanical and electric things led him one day to explain to them how a magneto works, leaving the mechanics quite amazed. However, his mother, Ethel, felt intimidated by the Garage owner Mr Tremayne who had a reputation as a ladies man, so the family eventually moved to a flat in the High street over the Milliner’s shop (ladies ware).
Alfred’s friends in Honiton included Bert Hallett who worked on the railways, and Freddy Lane.
Alfred continued his paper-round for Mr Brockway’s paper shop, but had asked them to save his wages until there was enough to buy a typewriter. Once he had saved enough money to buy the typewriter he quit the paper-round and bought the typewriter and a teach-yourself typing book to learn to type in his spare time. Alfred also took evening classes for Shorthand with a Mrs Brooker.
Once he left school, he started as a full-time office boy at Miller and Lilly, New Street, Honiton, a brickworks and cattle feed store. His next job was District Office Clerk for Pearl Assurance on the High Street in Honiton.
Ethel moved the family to Exeter in 1930 so that she could find work. Alfred then took a job as a clerk and typist in Stones & Son Ltd, the chemist shop in Fore Street, Exeter, where he worked for about 10 years, until the war started in 1939.
Alfred had a great interest in motorcycles and cars. He and Paul shared an Ivory Calthorpe 350cc motorcycle. The brothers also bought a Morris Minor and then a 1934 Vauxhall ASX 14HP Light Six and enjoyed making day trips to Cheddar Gorge, Burrington Combe and to the seaside, on almost empty roads.
Alfred had also developed an interest in playing piano and church organs. He used to attend organ concerts at Exeter Cathedral and in 1934 he started taking organ lessons from Mr. Brooker at the Mint Methodist Chapel.
In 1939, Alfred bought his first “high technology” Ensign Autorange 220 camera from Stone and Sons where he was working, for the princely sum of £13 10s 0d and became an avid photographer. His legacy of photographs, including many in this article, provides some unique insights into his early years and his family and friends.
With the outbreak of war in 1939, Alfred was drafted into the Army in July 1940 while Paul joined the Royal Air Force and Brian joined the Royal Navy. His sister, Margaret, had taken up teaching and Liles became a nurse.
During his month of Army training at the barracks in Plymouth, he was the only person who could type, so he was made Clerk to Major Riche to type his confidential documents. Later he was stationed at various heavy anti-aircraft (Ack Ack) guns sites, including Tregantle that provided protection for the Navy docks at Plymouth.
He spent time at the practice camp in Angelsea before moving to Cornwall, where he was promoted to Sergeant in the 133rd Mixed Heavy Ack Ack Regiment. He was posted to 201st Battery at Easton in Gordano and also to Norton Malreward near Chew Magna, and later in 1944-45 to Grimsby supporting two Ack Ack sites.
Alfred’s ‘bad leg’ had prevented him from being posted overseas during the war, and so he eventually ended up in Bristol near the Clifton Suspension Bridge at a Radar site with American Mk 5 radar and UK Mk 3 Radar. At his Bristol posting he was promoted to Quartermaster Sergeant.
During the war, Alfred’s mother, Ethel, had moved from Exeter to Crewkerne, to be further away from the German bombing raids on the south coast.
While on leave in Crewkerne in 1945, Alfred bought his first piano, a German upright Gors and Kallman, for £30 at an auction. He kept the piano until 1972 when, to make space for his new electronic organ, he handed it on to his eldest son, David, who also shared his father’s interest in piano.
About 1932 Alfred had met Louisa Forte at her parent’s ice cream parlour on South Street in Exeter, and they became engaged on 19th November 1939. The inscription on Alfred’s engagement ring reads “L. to A. 19th Nov / 39”. Alfred taught Louisa to drive, but Louisa developed TB and sadly died in 1941.
Courting his wife-to-be, Hazel During the war in 1942, Quartermaster Sergeant Gallagher was making regular visits to the Ordnance Depot in Axbridge to collect Army supplies. The beautiful store-keeper at the Depot, Hazel de Courcy, was responsible for packing and handing over the bags, so they would have to meet periodically and she did not escape Alfred’s eye.
However, the shy Alfred took six months to pluck up the courage to ask this girl from Cheddar the question: “Do you know Cheddar?”. Eventually, they arranged to meet in Weston Super Mare, where they had tea in a Café. Alfred cycled the 20 miles from Markham Camp near Portishead, while Hazel took the bus from Cheddar. However, as the customs of the time dictated, Hazel would take along her close friend, Betty Gilchrist, as chaperone. Sometimes they went to the Tea Dances in the Winter Gardens, but as Alfred couldn’t dance, Hazel danced with Betty. Eventually, Hazel and Alfred started going to the cinema, without Betty.
Family friends, the Painters who lived a few doors away from Hazel’s parents in the Lippiatt, Cheddar, used to take Hazel and Alfred out to their favourite pub in Rodney Stoke. One time Hazel got rather drunk on whisky and Alfred had to carry her home. It was shortly after that incident that they got engaged.
Hazel had an evening job manning the switchboard for the local fire service, so Alfred was able to talk to her by making free emergency calls. However, once the authorities discovered their scheme, it came to an abrupt end. Eventually, they resorted to telephoning each other from telephone boxes, Alfred in Pill near Portishead and Hazel at one of the two phone boxes in Cheddar.
Hazel and Alfred were married on 24th April 1946 in Cheddar and the following year they moved into married quarters at the Army camp in Tidworth, Hampshire, which was where their first two sons, David and Michael, were born. During much of this time, Alfred, was stationed in Germany.
The family moved to 51 Belmont Road, Bristol in 1951 while Alfred was still in the Army and stationed in Germany after the war. However, as soon as he was demobbed, he started a 9 month course in Draughtsmanship prior to taking a Draughtsman job in 1952 at Bristol Aero-Engines Limited, Filton (later to become Bristol Siddeley). He would usually make the 3-mile trip to work and back on his bicycle.
While working he continued to attend night-school to gain additional qualifications in Electrical Engineering, Mathematics, Trigonometry and Geometry, to add to his previous certificates for shorthand and typing.
By 1956 the family quorum had been augmented to six after the arrival of a daughter, Vivien, and a third son, Philip.
As an accomplished pianist and church organist, Alfred’s passion for organ music never waned and he would often attend organ recitals at St. Mary Redcliffe Church, occasionally with his eldest son, David. He also took a great interest in science and technology, listening to science broadcasts on the radio, as well as the famous science-fiction radio series of the 1950s, “Journey into Space”. Alfred would sometimes attend science and technology lectures at the Bristol Colston Hall with David, who shared many of his interests. Such events included a lecture by the famous astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle, a presentation and demonstration of the first colour television technology, and a lecture-demonstration on magneto-hydrodynamics (don’t ask!). The books that Alfred accumulated were almost entirely science, technology, engineering, mathematics, apart from his night-school and course work books. However, most of his spare time was spent doing repairs and maintenance on the house and the car, and taking care of his growing family. No job was too big or too difficult for Alfred, and in the 1960s he even hired scaffolding to completely re-roof his three-storey house in Belmont Road, virtually single-handed.
The family’s first car was the 1934 Vauxhall ASX 14HP Light Six that Alfred had shared with his brother Paul. In the early 1950s a car parked on Belmont Road was as rare a sight as a parking space is today. However, the Vauxhall had a slow water leak from a cracked engine block and would require topping up every few miles, so in 1959 he upgraded to a 3 year-old Ford Zephyr Zodiac. He would use the car to take the family on weekend visits to relatives including his in-laws in Cheddar, and his family in Crewkerne and Newton Abbott. He would also drive Hazel and the children to afternoons at local beauty-spots such as Oldbury Court Estate in Bristol and Clifton Downs, and on annual holiday trips to seaside resorts including Newquay, Tintagel, Seaton, etc.
With the Belmont Road nest now empty, Alfred and Hazel moved into a smaller house in Portishead a few miles west of Bristol in 1980. However, Alfred then proceeded to build an extension that virtually doubled the size of the house to create a new dining room and a large music room so he could indulge himself with his electronic church organ and a new piano during his retirement. He then extended the extension to add two more bedrooms making five in all, so there would be plenty of space for when his children and grandchildren came to stay.
After his retirement in 1976 from what was now Rolls Royce Aero Engines in Filton, Alfred took up part-time book-keeping for his son-in-law’s shipping business, and for Denis Sloper’s plastering business. Denis was the son of his next-door neighbours in Belmont Road, Milly and Ray Sloper.
Alfred worked for Denis for about 12 years and by coincidence, their birthdays were on the same day, September 8th, so they often celebrated together.
In 1990 and 1992, Alfred went to stay with his son David in Portland, Oregon, USA. Together they visited many famous national parks including the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone Park and Crater Lake. He also took a trip to see his sister Margaret, living in Vancouver, Canada.
Alfred finally gave up his book-keeping jobs in 2003 at the age of 91 to give him more time to look after his wife, Hazel, who was starting to suffer from chronic health problems.
In 2004 the health of his wife, Hazel, was failing with little hope of recovery, and she was moved into permanent care. So Alfred sold his large Portishead mansion and moved into a one-bedroom flat in a retirement home near the harbour in Portishead. The small flat was easy enough to manage and conveniently situated for his daily walk to the supermarket close by. However, it was fully self-contained so he continued to look after himself, doing all his own cooking, cleaning and shopping, etc. After Hazel died in 2005, Alfred found time to relax and catch up on his favourite television programmes. He had decided to give up his bicycle and car after Hazel died, but religiously continued with his daily exercises and walking to keep fit. Fortunately, his immediate neighbours enjoyed his daily piano practice.
His main visitors were his children, grand-children, nephews, nieces, and their families and his close friends, Terry and Joyce, who visited him regularly every week. As for his family in America, he kept in weekly contact with his son by telephone and the occasional Skype video-call to his grandchildren from a borrowed computer. Alfred became a Great Grandfather in August 2011, and a few days later he was introduced to his first great-grand-child, Afton Charles Lubas, over a video call with Skype.
Fully compos mentis to the end, Alfred passed away on 22nd September 2011 after a short illness, two weeks after his 99th birthday that was celebrated at the Bristol Royal Infirmary.
Alfred was a quiet, shy man with a huge heart and a tireless work ethic. He never drank or smoked but invested all his waking hours in his family. He worked hard and continued to study and learn new skills throughout his life. He was incredibly selfless and generous towards his family, extended family and friends. He never forgot a birthday or anniversary. Alfred could seemingly deal with any adversity and was the ‘rock’ that so many of us depended upon.
This autobiography was compiled from tape recordings and interviews with Alfred. It focuses primarily on his early life, and was fully reviewed and approved for publication by Alfred on 29 June 2011.
Charles Alfred Gallagher, always known by his second name, was born 8th September 1912 at 6 Tyne Vale Terrace, Lemington on Tyne, Northumberland, England. Alfred’s father, Thomas Edward Gallagher, was born in West Hartlepool, County Durham to an Irish father from Ballina, County Mayo. Alfred's father was an accomplished actor, acrobat, pianist, singer and Rugby-Footballer, and won a cap playing Rugby for County Durham. Alfred’s mother, Ethel Blanche Austen, was the daughter of a postmaster from Faversham, Kent, and claimed that her family was related to the novelist, Jane Austen. Thomas and Ethel met while Thomas was performing acrobatics ‘on tour’.
Early years in Newcastle
Alfred was the third of six children until his eldest brother, Teddy, died in 1915. Alfred had an older brother Paul, two younger sisters, Margaret and Liles, and a younger brother Brian.
Alfred (front right) with his parents & siblings at Greenfield Place
Alfred at age 1 (right) with his brothers Paul & Teddy
Alfred practices his typing skills
Alfred (center) with his friends Freddie Lane and Bert Hallett
Alfred practicing on the church organ
Alfred on his Ivory Calthorpe 350cc motorcycle
Sergeant Gallagher relaxes
Alfred takes in the scenery
Alfred with his first fiancée, Louisa Forte,
and the 1934 Vauxhall
Alfred and Hazel’s wedding in Cheddar, 1946
Alfred and Hazel with her sister
Valerie holding their baby David
Alfred and Hazel relax at Oldbury court while watching their children play
Alfred and Hazel under the old apple tree in the back garden of
51 Belmont Road
The only time Alfred had Hazel in the
palm of his hand
Alfred, still a kid at heart
His Rolls Royce colleagues honour Alfred
(front, 2nd from right) at his retirement in 1976
Alfred (center) and his two brothers Paul and Brian at his 40th wedding anniversary, 1986
Alfred & Hazel dancing at Belmont Road
Alfred and his son David show off their matching Christmas ties (2006)
Alfred and family on his 90th birthday (2002)
Alfred “Skypes” his great-grandson,
Afton, in America (19th Aug 2011)
Alfred with Hazel on his 90th birthday (2002)
1920 School photo: Alfred (aged 8) is 7th boy from left in the back row, his brother Paul is 6th from left
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