FRANCIS (FRANK) WATSON & Jan
By M R Piper
Second in my series of ”Profiles” is this one about someone who has been well-known around the village for many years.
FRANCIS (FRANK) WATSON
(and his wife “Jan”)
Many people know that Frank Watson was a Parish Councillor and had been for many years. He and his wife came to Aberford in 1968, having previously lived in Wykeback Valley Road since c 1948. The couple were both originally from Hackney, London where they had lived before moving to “God’s Own Country”. This profile is a somewhat personal attempt to give a bit of recognition and credit to Frank (and his dear wife “Jan”) for his service to the Aberford community, city of Leeds, Methodist Chu rch – the list goes on.
I came to know Frank shortly after coming to Aberford in 1988 when I took a little job as Parish Council Clerk and he was a Councillor. I did not know at that time the many talents that he had and how generously he spread his time around the community.
Frank has had a long life – he was born on 14th July 1916 in Hackney and grew up there. He went to a school there which conformed to the education offered in Victorian Grammar Schools and called the Worshipful Company of Grocers Hackney Downs Boys’ School, later to be called Hackney Downs Secondary School (now replaced by a highly rated Mossbourne Community Academy). Frank met his future wife “Jan” when out one day and bumping into her walking with a girlfriend when they were just 16. Her proper name was Florence Jansen but he called her “Jan” and that name was the one she became known by. The couple were engaged at 18 and married at 21 and had a very long and happy marriage for 68 years !
Hackney was a mixed Borough in terms of prosperity – some people were comfortably off and others were in abject poverty. For some, the fact that they had shoes was held to be fortunate. If they also had socks they felt themselves well off ! Whilst Frank was far too young to have direct experience of WWI, there was terrible poverty in the 1920s/1930s and social upheavals. In common with so many, Frank was interested in improving and helping the community at large and began to see this coming about through promoting the socialist movement. Frank’s father had lost his job during the Miners Strike and the family knew hardship. Many political speakers would “hold forth” at the end of Frank’s street where he belonged to the Congregational Church. Many strands contributed to Frank’s ultimate political convictions and social conscience.
He had a series of jobs but, in 1937, secured a job as a Ward Orderly in what was a private hospital within the Friendly Society movement. It had been originally erected to help the wounded from WWI. As Frank was quite a clever chap he was soon transferred to the Accounts section. Frank married right after starting his new job in December of 1937. He became involved in various aspects of the hospital – things like recruiting more members, being involved in rebuilding parts of the ”Army hut type” hospital in brick etc.
At the outbreak of WWII Frank actually went and volunteered to do his bit – he said he had a few cousins in the Army and thought that if he volunteered he could perhaps get a better post and meet up with his cousins. In the event this paid off for he got into the Royal Army Service Corps and eventually met up with his cousins in the Middle East. Frank only realised too late that he’d signed up for 6 years!
However, Frank had a few postings in this Country at first – Margate, Aldershot and then Blackdown where he was put into the Company office when they found he could type.
He spent a year there which enabled Jan - and their first-born son – to join him in a nearby village. He was first promoted to Corporal and then Sergeant and had a further spell in Wales with a “petrol unit” until going abroad with that unit in 1941 until the end of the war.
Eventually Frank found himself with his unit setting up a petrol depot in the mountains behind Port Sudan which was to receive petrol brought in and store it for the Army’s use.
Through all this time Frank maintained his involvement in sports for he had always played football and cricket to name but two. As a morale booster, sports would always be organised wherever his Unit found themselves and his first 2 medals were won for playing these two sports for the Army. At one point he was chosen to play for the Army against teams of South Africans – Frank sadly says that most of the young South Africans were in tank units and were wiped out at El Alamein.
Frank played his part in that battle and has many stories about his adventures from that time. He went on into Italy, taking part in the push up through that Country and was in the northern area at the end of the War. In fact he was lucky that his Unit didn’t get cut off in the North when Tito wanted to grab part of the area. He spent a little while close to Venice and was repatriated from that area having been away nearly 5 years and his son was nearly 6 by this time.
Frank says that, as these things go, he had quite a lucky war. He could have lost his life on more than one occasion if chance happenings had gone the other way. Frank has a deep Christian faith and perhaps someone had things still for Frank to do !
Frank’s old job was kept open for him but, shortly after he returned, the Area Organiser in the north became ill and Frank was asked to transfer temporarily to take over. In 1948 Frank arrived in Leeds for a month having only been home for a couple of years with Jan and having experienced the tragic loss of twin sons (Peter and Michael) from diphtheria during that time.
Jan joined Frank in 1949 when he was asked to remain after the death of the old Area Organiser and he covered a huge area of the north of England, recruiting members in support of the Friendly Society and Hospital in Hampstead. He would travel all over speaking to gatherings like Trade Union members, having been a long-standing member of the TGWU.
At first a house was rented in Meanwood and then the couple moved to Wykebeck Valley Road.
Through his involvement in the Labour Party and given where he lived. Frank was asked to put himself up for election for the Burmantofts Ward which covered the Gipton Estate. There was a big upswell of support for the Labour Party and he benefitted from that and was elected. There followed a 12 year stint as a City Councillor and a legion of Committees on which Frank served.
At the same time, Frank was also travelling huge distances in his “day job” covering large parts of the north. Eventually, as part of his job, he had 8 committees meeting monthly all over his area. He and Jan had 2 more sons, so Frank had to give time to his own family plus holding Council meetings and, no doubt, Labour Party and surgery meetings.
Some of Frank’s Leeds City Council positions were:
- Chairman of the Establishment Committee (which controlled Council employees).
- Member of the Town Planning and Improvements Committee
- Member of the Accident Prevention Committee
- Member of the Libraries and Arts Committee
- One of the original members of the joint Leeds and Bradford Airport Committee
- Member of the Education Committee.
Frank says he was quite proud of helping to bring about Attendance Officers being given cars because this enabled them to better cover their areas and take any truants in their cars back to school ! The cars became known as “Z cars” after a popular police programme on T.V. at the time.
He also says that there was parental opposition to the introduction of immunisation against diphtheria and Frank was very forceful and successful in helping to drive immunisation through, having had the experience of losing his two little boys to the disease.
Gipton was a tough area and Frank came to know many of its characters quite well. He says he never felt intimidated by knocking on doors there and speaking to anyone and everyone. His background in Hackney, the Army and his strong Christian faith and socialist convictions gave him his “protection”.
During this period Jan was also playing her part in the community. Through writing letters from time to time to the Leeds Weekly Citizen paper, Jan was asked to contribute a regular column on the “woman’s point of view” as it were. This she did for some 10 years and one day she received a telephone call asking her to meet with the then Leader of the City Council. She went along wondering what she had written that had caused offence, only to find herself being asked to become a J.P. In fact she became Chairperson in both Adult and Juvenile Courts and gave some 25 years service only retiring when she reached 70. Frank has many stories about Jan’s time on the bench and how she was held in very high regard by other J.Ps and Judges too. Many were grateful to her for “taking them under her wing” when they were new to the job and when the couple sometimes attended legal functions and the like, people would come up to Frank and tell him how much Jan was appreciated.
Frank’s family are a source of joy and pride to him and his 3 sons have all done well in life becoming Teachers. One lives close by in Collingham, one in Loughborough and one in Bishops Stortford. Each son had 2 children, so Frank has 3 grandsons and 3 granddaughters and he also has 4 great grandchildren – again 2 boys and 2 girls. He told me that he is planning to go on holiday with one of his granddaughters to Madeira where the family have an interest in an apartment.
Frank Watson – a tireless worker in the cause of helping others within public office and outside it. Since he’s discovered, relatively recently, that his ancestors were from Yorkshire I’ve no hesitation in proclaiming that he be considered an Honorary Yorkshireman. It was a lucky day for Aberfordians when he decided to live here !