At 30, bomb aimer Jerry Parker was the oldest member of the crew of Lancaster LM475. He and his wife Ethel lived in Leyland in Lancashire – of Leyland trucks fame – where Jerry worked at the local General Post Office. They had a small daughter named Ann, making Jerry the only known father on the crew. Before the war Jerry was the Choirmaster and organist at the (then) Leyland Congregational Church.
Jerry originally joined the Royal Army Service Corps as a driver but it appears that in September 1940 he transferred to the Royal Air Force – according to his family because he could earn more as aircrew. Interestingly most of Jerry’s training took place during an eight-month stay in South Africa before he returned to the UK in November 1942. Via a series of further training units, and a short-lived stint with 9 Squadron at Bardney, Jerry made it to RAF Waddington with Phil Smith, Jack Purcell and the rest in late December 1943.
Jerry Parker was the first of the RAF members of the crew whose family I located when I first started doing this research. I knew that he had been married – and that he had a child – only by virtue of what is carved into his grave stone in Lezennes:
“A dear husband and father of Ethel and Ann”
Two letters in Mollie Smith’s archive provided the most important clues. One had been written by Dale Johnston’s mother Fannie to Phil Smith’s mother Edith in February 1945:
“Mrs Parker is sending a photo of her husband + daughter Ann, on Jan 20th at the Church where Jerry was organist + Choirmaster. Little Ann was to unveil a model organ with a brass plate to his memory” (A01-067-001)
The second revealed which church. It had been written by Rev Harry Townley, of the Leyland Congregational Church, on behalf of Ethel Parker:
“She desires me to add that only a few days before he retuned to duty, her husband [Jerry Parker] had spoken in Very High terms of the skill and courage of his officer, your son.” […] “It may be that you will hear something about Lt. Smith other than through ‘official intimations’. Should you do so will you kindly communicate with me […]” (A01-057-001)
An internet search revealed that the Leyland Congregational Church still existed, albeit now known as a United Reformed Church. I was able to find a contact at the local Historical Society. In June 2009 I made contact with Bill Waring, a member of the Society who had researched the war dead of Leyland extensively in 1995. He had the relevant contacts at the Church and, a few weeks later, I had an email from Freda Hamer. Freda is Ethel Parker’s daughter, but to her second marraige. Jerry’s own daughter Ann died of cancer in 2001 and Ethel herself died in 2003.
In June 2010 I was able to stay with Freda and her husband David in Lancashire for a few days while I was travelling around the UK. It was fantastic to visit them and explore the area where Jerry lived:
I also caught up with Bill Waring. Here he is on the right, in front of what is now the Leyland United Reformed Church, along with Ernest Wrennal (who led Bill directly to Freda):
Ernest took me upstairs behind the church, through a small wooden door and onto a little balcony which looks over the pews. He opened some sliding doors – and there was the organ which Jerry used to play:
Back at home, Freda and I spent considerable time talking about the lads and what I had managed to find out about them. I copied her mother’s collection of letters and photos about Jerry – including one very special fragment of a poem which Jerry had written for her. But what I found most poignant was a simple bookshelf which sits in Freda’s front hall. it’s of simple but strong construction and a bit rough around the edges in places:
But it had been built by Jerry.
Current task: Cataloguing and editing Freda’s collection of photos and letters
(c) 2010 Adam Purcell