Jowett's early days
Tom always joked about the fact that by the time his mother gave birth to him, she had run out of names. Born March 18th 1914, he was named plain Thomas Jowett. His father John a printer by trade had already volunteered for service and joined the Armed Forces in Malta, late in September 1915. Discharged nine months later, he came home a 'shadow of his former self 'according to his wife, Elizabeth Jane. A man of small stature namely 5'1'', he was never-the-less a wiry individual. When he returned home he was suffering from acute influenza and pneumonia. Discharged on the grounds of ill health he suffered severe head pains, that lead to a series of heart attacks. Weakened from his damaged lungs he died on October 20 1919 as a result of a heart attack that his doctor said he was too weak to sustain.
Small as Tom was he never
forgot the relentless load that his Mother carried in those dying days of the
First World War. One of eleven children and by far the youngest he was the only
sibling at home. Tom recalls his older brothers and sisters dropping in from
time to time, but insisted that as they were married with their own families
that his Mother would not entertain the idea of them staying over to help. Tom's
recollections were of a Mother who carried on stoically, yet slowly being ground
down by the daily endless grind. So moved was young Tom that by the time he was
eight he was out delivering the Manchester Guardian. With a sugar sack fashioned
to carry on his tender shoulders, he trod the streets of Manchester, often in
bare feet, dispatching the evening news. Renowned for inclement weather,
Manchester did not take kindly to the lad of tender years. Yet like his father
before him and his mother, he did not shirk his lot. At the end of the week Tom
would duly go home and present his Mother with four pennies, or as we used to
say four pence. To his Mother it was mana from heaven. Seventy years on Tom
Jowett still exhibited that deep love for his Mother.
Seventy years on I (Bruce
Whiteside) was often spell-bound with sheer delight at the adventures of
this lonely waif. I mentioned in the Authors Comments about an altercation
with a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in regard to the University of Life.
In truth Tom shaped his life on his thirst for knowledge. His 'University of Life', would see him crouched on his haunches, empty paper bag hanging from his shoulder, peering down at silver and goldsmiths plying their craft in the basement of old buildings, in the ancient streets of Manchester. Now and again he would take-off when one would look up at him. Like a boy playing at peeping Tom, he often felt as though he was prying, but he continued to be mesmerised by their skill. Before long he was invited in and thereafter became a very interested spectator. On one occasion he sold a newspaper to an immaculate gentleman who was carrying something under his arm. Tom always curious asked him what it was.
'Wallpaper', the tradesman answered.
Tom looked perplexed, but did not say anything.
The man realised Tom did not know what that was and put his hand on his shoulder and said 'You drop by later tomorrow and I'll show you what I do with it'.
Mr Hall was a kindly man, measured yet compassionate. He was impressed by this youngster and his ability to absorb information. In a sense he took young Tom under his wing and listened unobtrusively as he rambled on innocently about his home life, the loss of his father and the burden that it had placed on his mother. What Tom was not aware of and had he known it, it is debatable whether he would have understood, was that Mr Hall would in the days to come ease the burden of Mrs John Jowett. Granted a widow's pension from the Defence Department of 15/1, (fifteen shillings and onepenny) this was barely enough to keep the family of two afloat.
In his ailing years he often recounted the kindness of the paperhanger. Tom would recount the times when his adopted benefactor would hang 'flock wallpaper with white gloves'. Although seventy years had lapsed his memory for detail amazed me. As a paperhanger for fifty odd years myself I knew every facet of the trade and yet never once did I ever find fault with what Tom relayed. For one who had only watched and taken in the lessons of a master tradesman, his knowledge of the trade was remarkable.
So the youngster became a lad and in the latter days of the nineteen twenties his mother accepted a job with the Presbyterian College in Montreal Canada. Tom went off to New York where he was employed as a grocer's apprentice. For the first time in his short life he felt a sense of independence, a sense of achievement. Then overnight the bottom fell out of his world. Wall street crashed.
He was so proud of his job
and was popular with the boss's clients, being polite, helpful and industrious.
When the crash of 1929 occurred Tom was not fully aware of the implications and
the effects of the overnight catastrophe. He did observe that people were
shutting shop and not coming back. One day he asked his boss what was happening
only to be told that his own job would not last much longer. His boss broke it
to him as gently as possible because he liked the boy, but feared for his
future. Tom, barely 14 ½ years old accepted the news and then went about his job
Four months later it was obvious even to this slip of a lad that business was extremely difficult. People were hurting and the sight of men carrying sugar sacks over their shoulders was becoming an everyday occurrence. Some would even be brave enough to ask his boss for a small hand-out, but he would gently decline. Tom always referred such requests to his boss, but he could tell that he did not like to turn the men down.
One morning during a particularly quite break Tom made a cup of coffee and sat down with his kindly boss. "Mr Kennard I have been thinking that if this carries on much longer, I will become a burden You know what I mean'?
"Yes lad, I know what you mean but I have been putting that day off. You are a good boy and I do not want to put you off, but I may have to close the shop myself if this keeps up".
With a heavy heart and a ten dollar bonus, Tom left his employer to take his chances in a rapidly mad world where overnight the glitz and glamour of America had slowly faded into a harsh reality. Necessity and animal cunning soon rounded Tom into a street-wise youth. By keeping his mouth shut and his ear close to the ground he joined a few who manage to hoist themselves onto a rapidly moving train. This mode of transport was not only illegal but extremely dangerous. Seventy years later the man who uninformed lawyers deemed to have Alzheimer's, was to relate many a story about his life 'riding the rails'.
The harsh years of the Great Depression, shaped many a man. Tom, a mere kid of 16 years rode the rails in search of work in 1931-32
venture took him into Ontario, where he joined up with a kid that he always
referred to as Billy. Tom saw himself as the elder of the two and took young
Billy under his wing. Sleeping in parks and wandering the roads in the country
they accepted a lift that found them in Buffalo. Although they had been offered
a roof over their heads until they found work Tom declined the offer wanting
instead to anchor himself in a job that had some future. Pressing on into Canada
Tom and Billy often dropped into the odd farm or manufacturing business
enquiring for work. They were met with 'sorry boys' or 'the work I want done can
only be done by men". Yet undaunted and buoyed by the fact that they were but a
small part of a vast army, they kept going. Hamilton, Brantford, Waterloo were
behind them by dint of the odd lift. Sometimes it was in a car, or a trailer or
on one occasion when it was raining a inter city coach picked them up; the coach
being empty. In Guelph Tom overheard a gruff looking individual talking to a
local sitting on wooden seat smoking a pipe. "you wouldn't know where I can find
a helping hand or two, by any chance?'
The pipe smoker thought for a minute or so, "Can't say I do, but it should not be hard to find some around here'. He appeared not to be terribly interested and got to his feet and slowly limped off.
Tom went up to the gruff, built like an ox man and proffered, "My cobber here and I are looking for a job mister".
Jed Weiner looked at Tom and sized up Billy. 'If you can do a days honest work I'll give you a go; but no promises. You understand?" With that Tom and Billy hoicked themselves onto the tray of the Fargo and settled down among the odd bale of hay and farm chattels. After a two and a half hour ride they came to a small town and pulled up. Jed asked the boys how they were and told them that he would only be a few minutes gathering a few things and then they would arrive on the farm.
Tom and Billy soon found that their days were long and tiring. They were fed the basics and slept in the old stables. Whilst the work was not particularly hard it was the long hours that finally got to Tom. He took to shepherding young Billy because he found that Jed was a tough taskmaster. For twelve months they worked, every day with only the odd day or two off. Tom decided that he wanted to move on and tried to convince Billy that they should run away. Billy wanted to but was scared that their cruel boss would come after them. Tom had no such worries and when Billy would not come along with him, he made his escape late one evening. In his latter years Tom often wondered what became of his young friend.
For the next
five years Tom roamed the countryside of Canada, by courtesy of the railways. He
managed by skills that he learnt along the way to survive and obtain work, where
At 85, a lifetime behind him Tom would reminisce about those days. He would relate how the men would place themselves along the railway tracks but close enough to the station or shunting yard, so as not to be seen by railway police, yet close enough to be able to jump aboard with relative safety to be able to ride to their next destination. Desperate times he would say demanded desperate measures and the depression years brought out the best and the worst in men. He soon learnt the art of jumping aboard moving trains, prising open wagon doors and surviving in the freezing cold of a Canadian winter. Many nights were spent along side the railway tracks in communities they called 'jungles. There was a camaraderie of sorts, but there was always the portent for trouble as men, desperate for food or a coin or two would fight to obtain them. Many would lose their lives if caught. Murder was never far away. Tom learnt the skills of survival as eagerly as he had in the earlier days in Manchester. He survived he said by sheer wits and animal cunning. Yet the food and warmth supplied at these improvised communities was often the difference between life and death. Romantic in hindsight as riding the rails may appear now, the fact was that many died as a result of accidents, falling under freight cars or being thrown clear and badly hurt.
these wayside 'jungles' beside the railway tracks. Here you shut your
mouth, had eyes in the back of your head and befriended no-one. Violence often
ended in death. You cheated and you died. This was no life for a young Tom
Jowett, but he became a survivor.
recounted an episode where he was so cold that he grabbed the opportunity of a
stop and climbed onto the coal tender of the engine. The heat from the cab of
the locomotive helped keep him warm but he became more than a little alarmed
when the coal screw of the mechanical feeder began to drop the level of the coal
and him with it. A surprised and concerned platform crew rescued him and gave
him a hot mug of cocoa. The engineer then slowed the train before the next
station so as to prevent him from being arrested by the railway police.
As the depression slowly began to lift, Tom found work back in the east. He met and married a young English girl Mary Featherstone and the following year they had a daughter In 1935 he worked his passage back to London and took a job at the Ford factory in Dagenham. For a while he remained in a stable job and was able to provide the boat fare for his mother to return home. However the rumblings in Europe were growing louder.
Tom was a member of that elite group of men who fought to save Britain in her darkest hour. Men like those above died so that unscrupulous lawyers could deny them in old age their dying wish.
attacked Poland, it was only a matter of time that England would be at war. It
was not long before the wheels of industry began to turn toward the
manufacturing for war and Tom like so many opted to join the recruiting drive
launched by the Royal Air Force.
It was to be a fateful decision. Five and a half years later Tom Jowett after going through the Battle of Britain and remarkably going through the war relatively unscathed he baled out of a Hurricane in the dying stages of the conflict only to be run over by a military vehicle that severely injured his spine. After having spent several months in a repatriation hospital he was sent home.
Tom Jowett was often a gregarious man, but in some matters he was a closed book. Many veterans of war close that chapter of their lives the day they are discharged. Apart from the revelations that he trained with Douglas Bader at Tangmere, that he fought in Hurricanes, Tom was one such man.
It was a bitter man who related that upon returning home that he found that his wife had acquired another man and that his daughter had died from German measles back in 1943. Tom never mentioned his wife other than to say that he had left her, since there was nothing tangible to return to.
In his final
years I was given his Enduring Power of Attorney midst much legal bitterness
that gives rise to this story. In his papers were divorce proceedings in which
he was cited for having deserted his spouse for three years. The divorce went
through with no opposition from Tom. With this behind him Tom left England never
On July 4th
1949 Tom Jowett arrived in Perth Australia to start a new life. Unlike many who
came as 'ten pound Poms', he paid his own way, forever the fiercely independent
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