2018 was the centenary year of the Royal Air Force, and there have been commemorations and celebrations, special events and memorial services. The RAF saw most action during World War 2 when its two major forces were the Bombers and the Fighters.
Fighter Command’s most famous action was as ‘The Few’ in the ‘Battle of Britain’, trying to counter the German bombing attacks which caused so much damage to London and other cities; Coventry suffered badly, being blitzed on two occasions. The most well known Spitfire pilot was Douglas Bader, remembered in the book ‘Reach for the Sky’ by Paul Brickhill and the 1956 film of the same name.
Douglas Bader was born in 1910. He joined the RAF, but in 1931 was involved in a plane crash which resulted in both of his legs being amputated. He married Thelma Edwards in 1933. At the outbreak of war, despite having artificial limbs, he passed flying tests and became a Spitfire fighter pilot who took active part in the Battle of Britain. In 1941 he bailed out over France, was taken prisoner-of-war and finished up in the infamous Colditz Castle where he remained until 1945.
His first wife died in 1971. On Wednesday, 3rd January 1973, Group Captain Sir Douglas Robert Steuart Bader, CBE, DSO and bar, DFC and bar, DL, FRAeS, married a widow (who had been his golf partner in mixed competitions), Joan Murray, in Earlsdon at St Barbara’s Church.
The Coventry Evening Telegraph reported the wedding as follows:
‘Douglas Bader weds in Coventry
Douglas Bader, the legless fighter pilot ace of the Second World War, was married at St. Barbara’s Church, Earlsdon, Coventry, today. His bride was Mrs. Joan Murray, of Sunningdale.
The service was performed by the Rev. Tom Knight, assistant curate at the church, who said that Coventry was chosen for the wedding because Group Captain Bader had a strong affinity with the city – he was over Coventry on the night of the blitz – “and he wanted to be married by me.”
Mr Knight explained: “I was a fellow airman with him and was a Group Captain before I was ordained. He wanted to keep it in the club.”
Mr. Knight is a former station commander at RAF Gaydon.’
Mary Montes gives more information in her 1994 booklet ‘St. Barbara’s, The Story of Earlsdon Parish Church’.
‘(Douglas Bader) came to Coventry towards the end of 1972 to open a R.A.F. club in Lythall’s Lane and meeting his old friend Tom Knight there, asked him if he would officiate at his wedding, due to take place in the new year. But it was to be all very ‘hush-hush’. He and his bride didn’t want all the publicity which would result if the Press got to know of it. Of course the Vicar agreed and with a special licence from the Archbishop of Canterbury, the ceremony was performed quietly, almost secretly, and the couple were able to get away as they had wished with no unwanted publicity and consequent fuss. This was only avoided, however, ultimately by the quick thinking of Mrs Mander (wife of the vicar-in-charge) who, on the morning of the wedding misled a reporter who by some means had got wind of something important ‘going on’ at St. Barbara’s on 3rd January, 1973.’
Before he was ordained, Tom Knight became R.A.F. Director of Intelligence for the Far East and was awarded the O.B.E. for his work in this sphere. His next post in the church was Rector of Southam.
Douglas Bader died in London 5th September 1982 of a heart attack.
Joan Bader died in Wales 5th January 2016.
Douglas and Joan posed for this wedding photo:
Despite the two reports above we still know nothing about the actual ceremony. It isn’t all that long ago, and it was ‘on our doorstep’. Do you know anything about it? Were you there? Was the choir in attendance? Were there few guests, or many, and were they well known? Was there a reception? If you can help, please let the Earlsdon Research Group know.
Sydney John Bunney 1877-1928
Sydney was born in Coventry in July 1877 to parents George and Eliza Bunney. He spent his early years living with his family at 42 Raglan St. and by the time he was thirteen at 16 Paynes Lane. The 1901 Census shows him still living with his parents in Spring Street and working as a commercial clerk.
By 1892 he had enrolled and commenced study at the Coventry School of Art: at that time the headmaster was John Anderson. However his greatest influence was William Henry Milnes who became headmaster of the school in 1906. Milnes soon formed a sketch club and Sydney became the secretary in April 1907.
William Milnes gave a number of lectures where he advocated that students follow the example of Turner. He encouraged them to make notes and produce sketches in different light and weather conditions.
Sydney was a prolific artist who produced over 500 watercolour pictures of the Coventry area in the early 20th century. Only exhibiting twice, on both occasions at Coventry & Warwickshire Society of Artists. He never exhibited his works at major shows maybe due to the pictures being relatively small. His works provide an accurate record of Coventry around the time of the First World War and are much valued by local historians.
He spent the latter part of his life living at 154 Albany Road having married Eliza Frances Monk who was from Earlsdon in 1903. They started a family straight away , having children Margaret born in 1904 and Wilfred born in 1905. By 1911 he had become an accountant at Auto Machinery Co. after starting there as a cashier. Unfortunately Sydney died when he was only 51 years of age in June 1928.
When Eliza died on 21st April 1944 she was living in Earlsdon at 85 Palmerston Road.
The painting below shows the view of Coventry from Spencer Park. This is followed by four pictures of street scenes in Earlsdon.
The Earlsdon Fountain
Situated on Earlsdon Avenue South, the cast-iron fountain, made by the Sun Foundry in Glasgow in the 1860s, was restored using a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £9,800.
The drinking fountain in Earlsdon was manufactured in the 1860s by the firm George Smith & Co at their Sun Foundry in Glasgow. The fountain was erected in around 1870 and was originally sited in the centre of Coventry, outside the Church of St John the Baptist. Clean water from drinking fountains was important in preventing the spread of communicable diseases such as cholera.
The fountain was moved to its current location in 1921 following the opening of the nearby War Memorial Park. The fountain remained in use until the 1970s. For over 30 years it lay derelict and was in danger of becoming scrap before a project was initiated to bring it back into use.
The project was co-ordinated by two local community groups, the South Earlsdon Neighbours Association and the Earlsdon Research Group, in partnership with Coventry City Council, Severn Trent Water and the specialist Fountain Company of Glossop in Derbyshire.
Peter Walters, who chairs the organising committee, said: ‘There are a handful of similar fountains remaining in the UK, but it is believed that this is the only one still working.’ The drinking fountain is now an officially listed ‘building’, a term that covers monuments and sculptures as well as buildings.
The photographs below show the official opening in October 2015 of the restored Victorian drinking fountain in Earlsdon Avenue.
The writings of Mary Montes
Mary Montes was a local historian who, over many years, did much to reveal the rich history of Earlsdon. Many of Mary’s well-known publications about Earlsdon people and places can be downloaded from the publication page of this website. Here we reproduce the articles she wrote for the ECHO over a 10 year period. We are grateful to the ECHO for their kind permission to reproduce these articles.
Mary died unexpectedly at the age of 83. Before dipping into her articles for the ECHO, take a few moments to read the Echo on Mary from May 2007, a tribute to her and her work.