© Noel Harrower 2015
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Daughters of James Murray
THE THREE YOUNGER SISTERS Clare, Ethel and Elsie were close in years and in understanding. They were all living at 9, Maple Street, when their father, James Murray died in 1911. He had been in poor health for some time and Clare had been her mother’s assistant, helping with the nursing, cooking and the running of the home. She had never trained for office work, like her two younger sisters, and came to resent this fact later, feeling she had never really had a life of her own. This was probably true, but she was a natural homemaker, and had a wonderful way with young children, so she may have been happy to accept a caring role within the family, when she first left school. Ethel trained in book-keeping and became an Accounts Clerk in the new Electricity Department at Southport Town Hall. She spent her whole working life in this environment, transferring to the nationalised electrical service, North West Electricity Board (NORWEB) after the Second World War. Clare and Ethel never married. Like so many women of their age, they became victims of the dearth of young men after 1915, and both spent their entire lives in the parents’ family home. Elsie was sixteen, when her father died, and learning shorthand-typing in a young ladies commercial school in Southport. Her first and only job was with Woodhead’s Garage in Lord Street. This was the main agency for the Ford Motor Company in Southport, and a premier business in the town. There were three young women in the office, Maud McKie, who was Mr. Woodhead’s secretary, and the two Elsie’s – Cooper and Murray. All three became firm friends.      When the First World War broke out, most of the young mechanics joined the army, so the girls were all taught to drive. This was mainly, so that they could assist the older menstill working there on occasional forecourt duties. But there was one very memorable occasion, when they all had to go to London with Mr Woodhead and two of the men to collect five new cars and drive them back in convoy to Southport. The roads were much quieter in 1914, but Elsie found driving through London perilous. At one point, the engine failed at traffic lights, and she could not start it again. Cars behind her hooted, as she desperately tried to get it going. Then a passing young man came to her rescue, and helped start it up. She eventually met the other cars, waiting for her, a quarter of a mile down the road. At Christmas, 1915, Harold and May, four-year-old, Peggy and baby Jean, came over to join Elizabeth Murray and the family at Southport. A letter had arrived from Manchester to give the news that Stanley Harrower,  younger son of  James Murray’s old friend, Bob Harrower, was now in the Royal Army Service Corps and had been posted to the new military pay office in Southport. On Christmas Eve, Harold walked over there, found Stanley, and invited him to come for Christmas dinner the next day and bring a friend. On Christmas Day, the bell rang and Elsie ran to open it, and greet two soldiers on the doorstep. “You must be Elsie,” Stanley said. They had a wonderful Christmas, and Stanley and the three Murray girls started a friendship which lasted down the years. Stanley was an enterprising young man. Before the war, he had worked for Manchester Corporation, as an estates clerk in the Waterworks Department by day, but he was an entertainer at night, organising concert parties which toured church halls, acting in plays, composing  songs and performing monologues. He did recitals from Dickens, Victor Hugo, Stanley Holloway and Robert Service. Although, he was in the army, Stanley found ways of continuing this hobby, and was soon organising entertainment for the troops and producing soldiers’ shows for the public on Southport Pier. In a strange way this probably saved his life. Thousands of these young volunteers were shipped to France and died like cattle in the trenches. Stanley’s name on the billboards outside the Floral Hall caught the eye of one of the Manchester City Councillors, who complained to his MP that Town Halls were being stripped of their best staff, who were needed for essential duties, and some were put in uniform, only to waste their time running seaside shows. Stanley was given an official discharge on condition that he went back to his former job. So, after eighteen months in the army, Cpl. Harrower was discharged. Within the week, he was worked again at his office job, but each weekend he caught the train to Southport and stayed with the Murray family, continuing his career as a holiday entertainer. The friendships continued after the end of the war. Next summer the three Murray girls went on a week’s holiday to the Isle of Man. Stanley and two of his friends booked into a tented holiday camp nearby and joined them on most days. It took some courage for Stanley to single one of them out for his special attention, especially as he was most attracted to Elsie, the youngest of the three, but eventually this must have become clear. I have always suspected that Clare, being the eldest, was hurt by this choice, for young men were scarce in the early 1920’s. Ethel remained friendly and relaxed in Stanley’s company, but Clare tended to become rather cold and argumentative. Elsie and Stanley were married at St. Philip’s Church, Southport on June 7th, 1924. Harold Murray gave her away, and his daughters, Peggy and Jean, were bridesmaids. The honeymoon was in Torquay, and Stanley rented a small house in York Avenue, Whalley Range, Manchester, where they lived for two years. They then bought a newly built house, in the countryside, nearby – 42, Grangethorpe Drive, Burnage, and it was here that their two young sons were first brought up. Robert Murray, or Roy as we always called him, was born on 21 September, 1928. I was born on 18 January 1932, and christened Noel David. I think my first name was probably chosen because of my father’s love of musical comedies. (He wrote one himself, which owed something to the style of Noel Coward). Nowell was also my mother’s favourite carol and I was anticipated no doubt, that Christmas. My second name was the choice of my Godmother, Clare. In consequence, she liked to call me by it sometimes. I think she was the only person who ever did. My grandmother’s old house at 9, Maple St. Southport, was my second home. It retained its Victorian atmosphere, with lace curtains at the windows, heavy furniture, long drapes on the tables and backs of doors, and hanging pictures and photographs the walls, yet it was a welcoming place, with its iron kitchen range and warm coal fires. After my grandmother died in January, 1939, Clare had the house modernised and redecorated, disposed of the pictures and hangings and replaced much of the old furniture, including a precious ormolu clock, with a nymph on a golden swing as its pendulum. It was her statement of independence. But a few months later, on 3rd of September, the family gathered round the radio set, to hear Mr Chamberalain’s announcement that we were at war again. I saw my mother cry, and I did too, not because of the war, but because I thought Claire’s fox terrier, Rip, would have to be put down if there was bombing. Rip was always afraid of fireworks on Guy Fawkes day. My parents went back on the train to Manchester that night, but Roy and I remained with my aunts, Clare and Ethel. The family decided that it would be best for us to stay there. Our schools were being evacuated and all the children were being billeted with strangers. So Roy and I had to attend new schools, and saw Southport invaded by evacuees from Liverpool; rough boys and girls from dockland, who used our classrooms in the afternoon, whilst we were taken to play in a recreation ground. Once I had got over the shock, I enjoyed living with Clare and Ethel, who were kind to us, but there was no bombing in that first year, so our Manchester schools came home again, and by Easter 1940, we were both back there – just in time for the great Manchester blitz. I have vivid memories of those winter nights in 1940/41, when we boys were put to bed in sleeping bags under the stairs – the kitchen pantry had been turned into an air-raid shelter. Night after night, we heard the gunfire, and sometimes crashes as houses were hit. I remember one occasion when Elsie slipped out into the kitchen to prepare hot drinks, and my father dashed out to drag her back in, just before a terrible crash which hit a neighbour’s house. My mother said afterwards, “It’s strange how you react at times like that. I had a pan of milk in my hand, and my first thought was that I mustn’t spill it.” My father was one of the civil defence team who were enrolled to help the Manchester police in their central control room during the blitz. They received telephone messages about where the bombs had fallen and had to put coloured pins on a map to indicate the nature of the damage and the help required in the area. As my mother had young children, she was exempt from street fire- watch duties during night raids, but her sisters at Southport, both had to take their turns along with other neighbours. One Saturday morning, Roy and I went to look at a gutted house nearby. The front was completely blown away, exposing the rooms and a sagging floor and bedstead, but the stairway was completely intact.  My parents decided to move to a safer place after this incident, and with the help of my Uncle Harold, we moved in the following May to a house next to his in Heaton Mersey, Stockport. We now had a large garden, which was converted for growing vegetables, and a garage. Having no car, it was a storage place, but Roy and I also used it as a theatre each summer, and put on performances with our friends, raising money from our audiences of family and neighbours for war-time charities.  We used the black out shutters and curtains for a proscenium and Roy rigged up electric lights running cables from the house. We all rejoiced when the Americans joined the war, and welcomed the soldiers when they were billeted locally, before the invasion of Normandy. Towards the end of the war, wounded soldiers were sent to Southport, and Clare served as a kitchen helper at the Floral Hall, which became a temporary dining room. She later had a London evacuee, a seven-year-old little girl, billeted at 9, Maple St. when the doodle-bugs plagued London. In 1945, we went all out in the streets and joined the singing and the dancing to celebrate the victories - firstly in Europe and later in the Far-East. But there were shadows over our joy, the mushroom cloud of Hiroshima troubled us, and a few weeks afterwards, Roy got his call-up papers and, instead of going to university, found himself training as an aircraftsman in Padgate. He spent three years in the Royal Air Force, most of it in Germany, and soon afterwards he studied electrical engineering at Manchester University. I became an army clerk in the Suez Canal zone and later took an Arts degree. Meanwhile, my father was producing Musical Comedies again for the Wilmslow Operatic Society and my mother was assisting at the Christian Science Reading Room in Didsbury. Ethel collapsed one day, when she was out walking the family fox-terrior. Jill ran half-a-mile home to alert Clare, barked at the door and then insisted on taking her to the spot where Ethel had fallen in the road. As there was no sign of her, Clare went back home and telephoned the hospital. Ethel was just being admitted, and when the receptionist asked her. “How did you know about the accident?”, Clare replied “My little dog told me!”   Ethel died of a sudden heart attack, shortly after she had retired from work, some years later. Clare began to suffer from increasing deafness and later of amnesia. She died in  1972. For the last two years, Elsie had been regularly visiting and staying in Southport, first to help Clare in her home and later to see her settled in a rest home. The old family  residence at 9, Maple St. was sold. Released of this responsibility, Elsie and Stanley were now free to move from Stockport to live near Roy, his wife, Margaret, and their two young daughters, Catherine and Alison, in Stone, Staffordshire. They enjoyed several years together in a lovely bungalow, overlooking fields. Stanley died suddenly in 1976 on a to Joyce in Sussex, and Elsie bore it bravely. She lived on in Stone for several more years, a white-haired dear old lady. By 1984, she was developing severe dementia, and had a fall at home, which broke her femur. She died in 1986 in a local nursing home, at the age of 90, beloved by her friends and family. An era had ended.                    -----------------------------------------------------------------------                                                  AND AFTERWARDS My brother, Roy survived her by two years. It was a great shock when we discovered that he had a tumour on the brain. At that time he was a lecturer in Management Studies at Derby College of Higher Education, which was about to become a University. Roy had a full life. Educated at Manchester Grammar School and Manchester University, he had followed a career in Production Engineering, firstly with the General Electric Company in Birmingham, where he met his wife, Margaret, and later became Works Manager in their transformer division. In 1971 he was appointed to a management post with James Jobling and Co, and the family moved to Stone in Staffordshire, where the children were able to grow up in the countryside and go to a village school. The company was taken over later by an American firm and redundancies were created. At this point, Roy decided to transfer to teaching, and after a spell in a Sixth Form College, moved to the Further and Higher Education sector, specialising in training for management. Roy continued with his father’s interest the amateur theatre world. His forte was stage management. Margaret and his elder daughter Catherine also shared this enthusiasm. Catherine went to the Central School of Speech and Drama, and specialised in stage lighting. After working in the London area, she moved to the USA, where she had a brief marriage with the chief electrician at the Coco Nut Grove Theatre in Miami. Unfortunately, this ended in divorce. Catherine later moved to San Diego, California, and then came back to live in London. Her younger sister, Alison, (Alix) studied Graphic Art. and is now working freelance as a computer programme designer with a bias towards learning programmes. She is married to David Dees, a solicitor, and they live with their young daughter, Beatrice in Potterspury, Northants. For most of my life I was content to be a bachelor. I worked in Education as a Careers Advisory Officer for Warwickshire County Council, Solihull District Council and latterly Nottingham City and Nottinghamshire County Council, which merged in 1956. I found this work absorbing, and I also participated in the National Institute of Careers Officers, organising conferences and overseas exchanges. A keen actor and playwright in the Little Theatre world and a regular participant in United Nations Association activities, my life seemed very full. I became acutely conscious of the need to share it, however, as my family grew smaller, and in the late 1980’s,I visited an old friend of mine, Jenny Johnson. We both discovered we had more in common than we had originally thought. We were married in 1990. Jenny had moved from Devon to Nottingham, but she never really settled there, and after I had retired from work, we decided to move down here together to Exmouth. Jenny’s son. Alex still lives in Nottingham with his wife, Sally Anne.
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