Walter George Earley

My father, Walter George Earley was born at Bolton Row, Church Road in Nether Wallop, near Stockbridge, Hampshire on 20 February 1917. He was the fourth (and youngest son) of six children born to Tom Earley (1878 – 1967) and his wife Ellen Keturah née Southwell (1887 – 1962).

Family background

Tom Earley had been born at West Grimstead, near Salisbury on 24 August 1878; his father, Charles John Earley was described as an agricultural labourer on the ten-yearly censuses between 1861 and 1901, although on the 1911 census he was described as a “retired dairyman” still living at West Grimstead.

At the time of the 1901 census, 22-year old Tom was still living with his parents, Charles and Martha, in West Grimstead when he was employed as a groom. A few doors away lived Alfred (a carpenter) and Ellen Southwell and their 14-year old daughter Ellen Keturah.

As well as working as a carpenter, Alfred Southwell served as the village undertaker for the small number of funerals held at the parish church each year. In April 1908, Alfred was sued by the newly-appointed Rector of St John’s Church, West Grimstead, the Revd. G.D. Shenton, who claimed an increase in the fee of 5 shillings paid for burials in the churchyard to 9s 6d. Frederick was supported in his defence of the claim by several parishioners, including Tom Earley, described as the sexton. The case was found in favour of Alfred and shortly afterwards Revd. Shenton left the parish to take up a post in Colchester, to be replaced by Revd. John H. Wilkinson.

On 6 October 1910, Tom and Ellen (now 32 and 23 respectively) were married at St John’s Church by Revd. Wilkinson. On the marriage certificate, Tom is described as a (traction) “engine driver”.

At the census on 2 April 1911, Tom and Ellen were living at West Grimstead, next door to Charles and Martha, with Ellen’s parents still living a few doors away.

Tom and Ellen’s first son, Alfred John (always known as “John”) was born at Laverstock, on the eastern outskirts of Salisbury on 12 April 1911.

Tom and Ellen had five further children:

Henry Tom, born 26 September 1912

Arthur Edwin, born 1914, died 1919

Walter George, born 20 February 1917

Margaret Rose, born 26 January 1920

Eva Mary, born September 1923 (still living, aged 96)

During the early years of their marriage, Tom and Ellen seem to have moved house frequently, living in various villages in Wiltshire and Hampshire, before settling in Downton.

As described in “Walter’s War“, the family were living in Downton when Walter started work at Whaddon in 1932, aged 15.

At the time of the 1939 Register, Tom and Ellen were living at Church House in Downton, when 61-year old Tom gave his occupation as “sexton”.

Married life

Walter started work at age 14, working for a year on a chicken farm, before starting his career as a motor mechanic at Whaddon, five miles from Downton,  a year later. When he was 18, in 1935, Walter left home and found employment in Brixton, south London, where he lodged at 26 Saltoun Road with Kate Allan (1892–1972) and her mother, Emily Branch (1867–1944).

Kate had a daughter, Rebecca Jean Mary Allan (Beccy), born on 4 December 1918. Rebecca’s father was Robert Ewart Allan, a former soldier with the Gordon Highlanders, although the couple had long since separated (they were divorced in June 1946).

Walter and Beccy soon became romantically attached and were married at Lambeth Register Office on 20 September 1938. They stayed together for the rest of their lives with seven children:

Jean Mary, born February 1939

Michael John Steven, born September 1940

Peter Gary, born February 1947

David Walter, born June 1948

Geoffrey Alan, born August 1949

Susan Patricia, born May 1952

John Dean, born May 1957

After the war, the family settled in Hythe, near Southampton where Walter was manager of Marsh Garage, in the village centre. In late 1952, he left Marsh Garage and built Fairfield Garage on the main Southampton Road, which he built up into a successful business, firstly as a BMC dealer, and latterly as a Ford franchise. Because of health issues, he sold Fairfield Garage in 1965, but after a brief “retirement” he acquired various garage businesses in Southampton and elsewhere in Hampshire and Wiltshire.

Beccy died on 8 November 1994 from cancer. Walter had suffered with chronic rheumatoid arthritis throughout the last 30 years of his life, and he died at home (West Dene, Mullins Lane, Hythe) on 15 October 1995.

Masonic career

Throughout his business life, Walter used the professional services of WS “Wilf” Axtell, as solicitor. In 1959, Wilf was a founder member of Wilfrid Attenborough Lodge No 7672, meeting at Lexby Hall, Totton, serving the Lodge as Worshipful Master in 1961/62

In 1960, Walter was proposed as a candidate for the Lodge by Wilf Axtell (then Senior Warden) and seconded by Sid Jackson, Director of Ceremonies. Walter was initiated into the Lodge on 10 April 1961. He was passed to the Second Degree on 8 January 1962 (Wilf Axtell’s first ceremony as Master) and passed to the degree of Master Mason on 9 April 1962.

Walter served the Lodge as Worshipful Master for the year 1970/71, and later as Almoner and Assistant Secretary, before being elected Treasurer in 1976, in which capacity he served the Lodge until he stepped down in November 1984.

In recognition of his services to Wilfrid Attenborough Lodge in particular and to Freemasonry in general, he was honoured by the Province of Hampshire & Isle of Wight to Past Masters, eventually being promoted to the rank of Past Provincial Junior Grand Warden.

Walter’s lasting legacy to the Lodge came in the late 1970s, when he was one of several Past Masters who re-organised the structure of the Totton Masonic Hall Company, as a result of which the company became more democratic, with each Lodge and other Masonic Order meeting at Totton being given the right to appoint a director to the board, and invest in the company, thus ensuring the future of the Lodge building.

“Walter’s War”

Shortly before his death, Dad started dictating his memoirs of his time in the Royal Engineers during the Second World War. Sadly, he was unable to complete his memoirs before he died.

My sister Jean typed up the memoirs and supplied copies to the family, and these were later put into electronic form. Before they are forgotten or lost, I have posted these memoirs here so that they can be available to Dad’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren as well as to the world in general.