It is always a pleasure for me to discover someone who, while largely unknown to history, nonetheless had a great and positive effect on those who knew them and inspired others to do well in life. Just such a person was Captain Alfred Parker of Leamore, who was first brought to my attention by someone who had benefited from Capt. Parker’s influence in his youth – Mr. Charles Fletcher.
Alf Parker was born in Wolverhampton, but in 1919 came to live in Hollemeadow Avenue, Leamore, when he married Florence Davies. Before he married, he had served in the Grenadier Guards for two years during the Great War, eventually being wounded in the foot and invalided out of the army as a result. An interesting photograph shows Parker as a determined-looking young soldier in Corporal Bridge’s squad of the Grenadier Guards in February, 1916.
After returning home, Alf Parker stayed in Leamore and lived there all his life. His military interests did not end with the war, however, and he became a member of the Grenadier Guards Association.
Captain and Mrs. Florence Parker
Later, he began to put his veteran’s experience to good use when he became involved with the local 5th South Staffordshire Regiment Army Cadet Force in Bloxwich, and his work with that organisation later inspired a number of cadets in turn to join the Grenadier Guards themselves. Names of cadets who are particularly remembered by Alf’s daughter June Watson include the late Gordon Longdon, Stan Stokes, Martin Doyle and Brian Doyle, the latter three of which eventually also served with the Walsall Police force. Other cadets included Brian Hammond, Pat Richards, Alan Newton and of course Charles Fletcher who first contacted me.
Captain Parker went on to run the Bloxwich Army Cadet Band which was regularly to be seen marching through Bloxwich, often from the R.C. Thomas School (now Blakenall Heath Junior School) in Field Road where they practised, down the High Street to their hutted HQ.
Their instruments were acquired from many sources, and the drummers wore traditional leopard skins obtained by Parker from a contact in South Africa.
Capt. Parker with Drum Major Ray Saw and bugler
The band was always prominent in Bloxwich life, and even went further afield to play in band competitions at the Aston Villa football ground, Villa Park, and at Earls Court in London.
Peter Jones, a former Bloxwich Army Cadet now aged 70 and living in Spain, did his National Service in 1951 and went on to serve 27 years in the Regular Army, inspired by his experience under Capt. Alf Parker in the Bloxwich Army Cadets, where he was the band’s Leading Drummer. His brothers Arthur and Bill were also drummers, and Bill became the cadets’ mascot due to his age and size. Peter recalls several other cadets including Midge Cash, Eric Whitehouse, Ray Law, Ray Hawkins and Leslie Onions as well as Charles Fletcher.
Alf Parker’s wife Florence kept the hungry and thirsty cadets supplied with hot drinks and cakes when they returned from band practice, and organised the group’s annual Christmas parties. These were substantial and formal but fun affairs, as can be seen from the photograph shown here, taken in the Pinfold Primitive Methodist Church, Bloxwich (demolished in the 1960’s).
Bloxwich Army Cadets Christmas party, c.1950.
Captain Parker was strict with his young soldiers, but always fair, and is remembered fondly and with respect by those who had the honour to serve with him and broadened their own horizons as a result.
The fact that so many decided to become regular soldiers after their time in the Bloxwich Army Cadets is testament to his enthusiasm, skill and determination to inspire a sense of duty, discipline – and fun – in the young people with whom he worked so tirelessly.
I should like to take this opportunity to thank Charles Fletcher and Alf Parker’s daughter, Mrs. June Watson, for their help in preparing this article, as well as Peter Jones, whose search for other former cadets and information on Captain Parker prompted Mr. Fletcher to get in touch with me. It is a tribute to Captain Parker’s memory that he lives on so vividly in the minds of those whose lives he touched so many years ago.