Happy Birthday to (Albert) Roy Murrell who celebrates his 100th birthday on Saturday 30.
The following has been written by Roy’s son, Michael Murrell.
Born in Montgomery Street, Hove, on 30 May 1920, Roy’s dad (Albert Edward) was in the Royal Navy (including time on HMS Barham and at the Battle of Jutland) and his mum (nee Elizabeth Ayling) was in service.
After his father was invalided out and became a manager for the ministry of works/labour exchange, Roy and the family, which included two sisters (Joan and (Cecily) Patricia), moved around the country living in Uckfield, East Grinstead, and Sittingbourne. They moved further afield in 1934 up to Kielder, where his dad ran the instructional functional training centre, and lived in the small mining village of Plashetts. Roy remembers having to get up early to attend Hexham Grammar school which at age 14 was somewhat unusual as children were often leaving school at that age – not starting.
Roy thinks his admission was helped considerably by the fact that he was a good rugby player having obtained his colours while previously attending Rochester Maths School.
Roy did a lot of swimming in the sea when the family moved to Dover and it was here that he passed a medical and took a commercial course to learn typing and Pitman shorthand so he could join the clerical staff of the Met police (his ambition). They were going to take him at age 18 but the likelihood of war saw the minimum age rose to 20 and in 1938 the family moved to Folkestone.
From there Roy did two months training to be a telephonist and had a part time telephonist job in the evenings while working days for the NAFFI at Shorncliffe Camp, just outside Folkestone.
A little later, he became the chief clerk at Tidworth Camp – a huge military base on Salisbury Plain. His billet leaked water and on a rare visit from his dad was taken home. Now back home in Folkestone he needed to find another job and filled a vacancy for a telephonist at the GPO in Maidstone, starting at 26 shillings a week (£1.30) and with lodgings costing £1.25, the plentiful overtime was very useful. Roy has vivid memories of the various colours on the switchboard relating to charging rates for different calls and different exchanges and the complications of making a call to, say, Newcastle having to go through an exchange in, say, Birmingham to do it.
Roy was still working there when the Second World War started. The volume of calls increased hugely, steel shutters were erected and there was a lot more noise. Some ladies even fainted while working. Roy was much younger than most of the staff, who had poor health from the First World War, and was better able to cope with the extra pressure. Next to the exchange was an observation corps post that was beneficial because they passed on first hand information about bombing raids.
Roy got called up and was sent to Chatham dockyard where, with his father’s background, the interviewers were lining him up for the Navy until they discovered that, as a telephonist, he was considered ‘an Army tradesman’ and a prime person for the Royal Signals.
As a Royal Signal, he arrived in Prestatyn, North Wales, on August 29, 1940 and after about three months training of all kinds including several weeks map reading, Roy went to Colwyn Bay for a couple of weeks before being sent down to London. He was based at Hammersmith Town Hall (for food) and slept in a big house outside Barons Court tube station overlooked by St Paul’s School.
Each day they travelled in a 3-ton army truck into central London – Storey’s Gate (where Churchill was based). A very small entry way, three shifts, plenty of food but if you were down there for 12 or so hours you really noticed it when you came out, like leaving a submarine.
All calls were military and there were lots of corridors and every so often a very small air-conditioned area for a cup of tea and a smoke. The Signals captain had five different coloured telephones. The switchboard had positions for up to six people (so very small compared to Maidstone). Extension numbers went down gradually to lance corporals at around 201. Sir Alan Brooke had number one. On leaving he would ask the lads to give him half an hour after which he could be reached at home on Hartley Whitney 57.
Roy also got to know Vera Lynne as most Sundays she would sing for troops in London for about two hours at the Hammersmith Palais across from the town hall. He remembers her being about 22 at the time and as ‘thin as a rake’.
June/July 1941 saw Roy on board ship bound for North Africa. The trip took a couple of months and the ship went via the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. Changing ship in Durban to the ‘New Amsterdam’ he eventually reached Port Said.
He spent the next four years along the North Africa coast working in the 8 th Line of Communication signals group on temporary switchboards and carrying out other signals work. He was still there when VE Day took place in May 1945.
He returned to England via Marseilles and French railways, sailing for home from Dieppe. During a few weeks leave he met Peggy, his wife to be. She had been a sergeant major in the ATS and they had spoken frequently on the telephone while he was at Hammersmith and they kept in touch during the War but had never met previously. Roy was next sent out to Iserlohn in Germany with 1 HQ Signals for about another 18 months. Roy and Peggy married on August 20, 1947.
On leaving the Army, and being an accredited civil servant, he rejoined the General Post Office (GPO) in Maidstone. Having passed exams he was now working in the main office. Work included duties at Rochester and the dockyard at Chatham (still a large naval base). Children arrived – Michael in 1950 and Margaret in 1951 – and they bought a new house in Maidstone.
Each year there was a Christmas party for the children of the Post Office and Prison workers and for many years Roy dressed up as Father Christmas handing out toys (different for boys and girls and according to age groups). Roy also continued playing cricket for the Post Office team (often as captain) and for many years was Treasurer of the local Civil Service Sports and Social Club.
Mid 1960s and the GPO was gradually separating out its telephones business until in 1981 it became what we now know as BT. With his extensive experience of telephones Roy applied to transfer. He was accepted and in 1966 the family moved to Canterbury. He remained there until retirement in 1985.
The following year he and Peggy moved to Emsworth, close to Portsmouth. His sister Pat lived not too far away and in those early years he and Peggy travelled all over by train and bus. They also got involved in local issues (e.g. hospital bus routes). Unfortunately, Peggy died in 2012 following dementia. Roy still loves sport, especially football and horse and greyhound racing.
To this day Roy remains in his house supported by regular visits from carers, and visits from family and friends.