A Charity Shop in Bury, an old 78 gramophone record, the Merchant Navy Comforts Service, the nearby town of Burnley and a school in St Albans - what connects them?
A chance find.
One of the wonderful things about charity shops is you never know what you might find. In amongst some rather unappealing old albums I spotted a brown cardboard and paper parcel with a sticker that read "VERY FRAGILE - Gramophone Record PLEASE handle with care". Two stamps of King George VI told me it was a very old package. It had no price on it, but it was in real terms "priceless" - a piece of social history. Having looked inside I bought it and took it home to do some research. Its address was for St Albans - nothing to do with Lancashire then.....
Inside the package were two 78 gramophone records. One was titled "Christmas Talk to Boys and Girls by Kirkland Bridge, Director of Appeals, Merchant Navy Comforts Service". The other titled "Victory Record for Boys and Girls". Mr Kirkland Bridge presented that one too.
This lead me to ask a few questions:
What was the Merchant Navy Comfort Service?
Who was Mr Kirkland Bridge?
Why was this record sent out and by whom?
We had heard of Comfort Funds via the Holcombe Village Comforts Fund memorial in The Shoulder Of Mutton pub, Holcombe, Bury. SEE OUR PAGE HERE.
But a Merchant Navy Comfort fund was new to us - these men were some of the forgotten heroes of the war. Men and boys who risked all that the sea could throw at them to bring much needed goods to and from our island nation, but who also faced the dreaded German U-boats and were, after all, civilians. A very good overview of what the Merchant Navy was and did during wartime can be read HERE.
These merchant seamen came from all over the world and were quite simply sailors in a time of war with little or no means to protect themselves. Convoys were deemed the best way to protect ships, with a few Naval vessels providing "protection". The men on board, if they survived an attack, could be rescued having lost all of their belongings or even face becoming Prisoners Of War. The Comforts Service was set up to provide support and basic supplies in times of need. THIS House Of Lords document from 1943 gives some interesting insight into what the Merchant Navy were going through.
The two gramophone records are presented by a Mr Kirkland Bridge, who by coincidence was born in Burnley, Lancashire - our link back to Lancashire, who'd have believed it! You can READ ABOUT MR KIRKLAND BRIDGE HERE. Having been born in Burnley he began work at the age of thirteen and a half in his father's insurance office in Duke Street, Liverpool. No doubt he would therefore have been all too aware during WW2 of the plight of Liverpool - its destruction at the hands of the Luftwaffe and the strategic importance of its docks for convoys from America in particular. SEE OUR Western Approaches Page HERE
The National Library of Scotland has this short film you can watch HERE: entitled "THE CROWNING CEREMONY OF A MERCHANT NAVY QUEEN"
Its description: "Appeal on behalf of the Merchant Navy Comforts Service Week in Burnley, including footage of a parade and crowning of Merchant Navy Queen." and it features Mr Kirkland Bridge himself.
An article in The Spectator about the life of Kirkland Bridge:
A page about the Merchant Navy Comforts Fund on the BBC People's War website:
A contemporary reference in Hansard about Merchant Navy Comforts Funds:
A very good BBC People's War page on the Merchant Navy:
UPDATE: May 2018
We contacted the school and they confirmed it had been sent to their address. Former teacher, Ian Graham, confimred this to us: "That is certainly the old school. It is now a junior school with some add ons to the old buildings. The present Townsend C of E School is at the top of High Oaks just over a mile away and has been sited there since 1973".
On their website is this contemporary account:
"The War period of 1939 – 1945 was a very difficult time. Once a week each member of Staff had to remain at school all night after a day’s teaching on “Fire Watch” and continue teaching the following day. Pupils kept their coats, gas masks and cushions in their desks so that in the event of an alert they were able to leave carrying their cushions and masks and enter the air raid shelters in perfect order and silence. Suitable lessons would continue in the air raid shelter until the “all clear” sounded and the pupils returned to their classrooms."