Sunday, March 8, 2015

Uncle Fred and the Gramophone

Part 1

Growing up as a pre-teen in my mother’s native England, I always heard family references to “Uncle Fred”, the older brother of my grandfather, Arthur Chinery. 

Frederick George Chinery seemed like a mythical figure to me.  My aunts spoke of him with great reverence.  They would recount the story of him having died in WWII due to the sinking of the boat he was on, by the Japanese, when Singapore was evacuated in 1942.   But, I just don’t remember them saying much more about him. 

I had also heard that when he left England, he left behind one of his possessions.  This item was his gramophone.  The gramophone was held in tight possession by his half sister Ethel May Norman (Flack).  And there were several people in our family that wanted to inherit this treasure.

Frederick George Chinery was born the 26th of February 1908 at Frinton Lodge, Great Holland, Essex, England. [1]  His parents were William Henry Chinery and Lydia Matilda Boreham.  Subsequent records search indicate that they were not married at the time of his birth.  In fact, in the UK 1911 Census, he and my grandfather are given the last name of Flack, Lydia’s last name from her deceased husband  Both their births are recorded as Chinery though.  Fredrick is the first of 4 children William and Lydia have together.  William had 5 children from a previous marriage; Lydia had three previous children.  Both of their first marriages ended due to death of their spouses.

My aunt Ethel, Fredrick’s older half sister was a very strong willed woman.  I remembered her well from my younger teenage years.  She had suffered a stroke at one point, and the prognosis was not good.  But she pushed through and eventually left the hospital.  She walked with the use of a cane as long as I could remember afterwards.  And she always kept her wits about her.

Several years later (about 1983-1984), I had returned to England now in my early 20’s.  I was in the USAF, and I would often drive to the Ipswich area to visit my grandparents.  On one of those visits, Aunt Ethel surprised me by asking if I would like to have Uncle Fred’s gramophone.  She remembered a story about me when I was a younger boy; I was fascinated with wind up gramophones and I had saved my allowance until I could afford to buy one for myself.  I quickly said yes, happy to be the new owner of this family heirloom. 

It was black, with gold lettering stenciled on the top.  The initials were FGC, although the F for some reason was very worn out.

It was around this time a letter to the editor of a local newspaper was brought to the attention of my grandfather.   The rest of the story takes another 30 years before it begins to play out.

[1] England, General Register Offices, Birth, Marriage and Death Registrations, Birth Registration; Apr-May-Jun; 1908; Registration District Tendring; County Essex; Volume 4a, Page 803, Line 350.

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