Herbert Alfred Lane (1892-1966)
Father of Henry Austin Lane - Generation 2.
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© Hamson-Lane Archive
© Hamson-Lane Archive
© Hamson-Lane Archive
© Hamson-Lane Archive
© Hamson-Lane Archive
At the time of his birth, Herbert’s family was living in Dorking, Surrey, a market town located 29 miles (47 kilometers) south west of London in a well-appointed house with seven rooms (equivalent to a five-bedroomed house today). His father was working as a home-based master tailor and also as a postman with the General Post Office (G.P.O.) which allowed him to provide a comfortable lifestyle for his family.
Herbert was the eighth of nine children born to his parents. Sadly, before he was born, his second and fourth brothers died in infancy due to the family’s impoverished circumstances whilst living in Hackney in the East End of London. Both boys perished from marasmus, a condition prevalent in families without access to protein-rich food and where insanitary water caused severe infant diarrhoea. Unable to absorb nutrients, these little mites agonisingly wasted away.
It is worth mentioning that Herbert had only one sister, Violet Elizabeth Ada Lane, who was left standing at the altar on 17 February 1917 by Russell William Joseph Baker, a Corporal with the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force, 28th Regiment. Unbeknown to poor Violet, this cad had a wife and six children waiting for him at home in Stratford, Ontario, Canada. Happily, she married a worthier man 4 years later, with whom she had six children and an enduring marriage of 34 years.
After working for a short time as a railway porter, Herbert enlisted in the Royal Navy on 28 September 1908 at the age of 16 years. He served on a number of ships until 9 June 1911 when due to ill-health in Hong Kong, China, he was discharged to the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve (R.N.V.R.), for which he was paid a retainer of £8 per annum (£170 today). Since this retainer didn’t provide him with a living wage, for the next 3 years he worked as a footman.
Footmen were domestic servants and something of a status symbol among the servant employing classes. They performed a less essential role than the cook, maid or even butler and were part of only the grandest households. Since a footman was for show, as much as for use, a tall footman was more highly prized than a short one, and good looks including well-turned legs, shown off by the traditional footman’s dress of stockings and knee breeches, were an advantage. Footmen were expected to be unmarried and relatively young.
Following the outbreak of World War I (1914-1918), at the age of 22 years, Herbert was called up to serve as an Ordinary Seaman (Signals) from 11 August 1914 until his final demobilisation on 12 August 1919.
This conflict started on 4 August 1914 and ended with the armistice called for by Germany at 11:00 am on 11 November 1918. It decimated a generation of the world’s youngest men. Most directly affected were those families' whose male relatives aged between 18 and 41 years were compelled to fight through both voluntary and compulsory enlistment.
There was no single, simple explanation for the onset of this war. Germany and Britain each wanted an empire. Austria and Russia wanted to take control of weaker countries in the Balkans. France wanted to win back land lost in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. The spark that finally ignited the conflict that had been smouldering, was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (heir to the throne of Austria) by a Serb in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914.
When war broke out it was generally believed that ‘it will be over by Christmas’, however, it was finally won by the British and French allies through a long, arduous and expensive trial of strength with 6.7 million civilian and 9.7 million military casualties. The entry of fresh troops from the United States of America (U.S.A.) in 1917 was crucial in securing the final victory.
For most of his wartime service, Herbert was based at South Kessock in Inverness, and as a seaman on active service, earned 1s 3d per day/7s 6d per week (£2.69 per day/£16.15 per week today). It was during this time that he first met Ellen Ann Fraser MacNiven Michie. Shortly before his demobilisation, he married this beautiful lady and raised his family in Inverness, the capital city of the Scottish Highlands, located 459 miles (739 kilometers) north west of his birthplace.
After his wartime service came to an end, Herbert took advantage of a government sponsored scheme to train as a carpenter and joiner, a trade he practised for the remainder of his working life. Although all was well initially, during the Great Depression (1929-1939), the high level of unemployment made it difficult for Herbert to secure regular paid employment, and he struggled to keep the wolf away from his family’s door.
The Great Depression began in the United States of America (U.S.A.) on 29 October 1929, following the ‘Wall Street Crash’ (American Stock Market collapse) and soon spread to Europe and the rest of the world. The financial instability which preceded this depression was caused by the debt many countries had accumulated during World War I.
Overseas customers for British produce had been lost, especially in traditional industries such as textiles, steel, coal mining and ship building. British industrial output and exports during the 1920s ran at about 70% of their pre-World War I levels, so there was little chance of Britain being able to amass enough capital to restore her overseas investment position. As demand for British products collapsed, the effect on traditional industries was immediate and devastating.
By the end of 1930, unemployment had more than doubled from 1 million to 2.5 million and exports had fallen in value by 50%. Those areas reliant on traditional industries were hardest hit. From 1936 onwards, the Government followed a policy of mass re-armament to counter the threat from the ‘National Socialist German Workers’ (Nazi) Party in Germany. This economic stimulus finally ended the Great Depression.
Herbert’s family’s hardship was further compounded by World War II (1939-1945) rationing (the policy put in place by the British Government to deal with extreme shortages caused by this conflict between 1940 and 1954). Although all British people had an equal chance of buying whatever was available, everything was more expensive than it had been before the war, and this over-stretched Herbert’s meagre resources.
This war began on 3 September 1939 as a conflict between Germany and the combined forces of France and Britain and eventually included most of the nations of the world, before it ended on 2 September 1945. The loss of life and material destruction was the greatest of any war in history. An estimated 30 million civilians and 25 million military personnel were killed.
It was caused by the rise of totalitarian military regimes in Germany, Italy and Japan. In Germany, Adolf Hitler head of the ‘National Socialist German Workers’ (Nazi) Party, became German Chancellor in 1933, shortly after which he assumed dictatorial rule. He broke the Treaty of Versailles which had ended World War I (1914-1918) by proceeding with a massive build-up of Germany’s armed forces with a view to creating the Third Reich (Empire) and a ‘Master Race’ through the subjugation of as many countries in the world as possible.
By the end of the war, the United States of America (U.S.A.) had become the most powerful nation in the world and the possessor of atomic weapons. This war also increased the power of the Soviet Union (Russia), which gained control of eastern Europe and part of Germany.
Herbert served his country during this war as a volunteer Air Raid Protection (A.R.P.) Warden, while Ellen’s paid occupation as a postwoman for the General Post Office (G.P.O.) put food on the family’s table.
After nearly 30 years of marriage, Ellen died and Herbert moved with his youngest children to Reigate in Surrey, so that he could be closer to the surviving members of his birth family, and more easily find employment. This was a difficult time for his family, especially his eldest son Henry Austin Lane who stayed behind in Inverness, after being reunited with his family for less than 18 months following his incarceration as a Prisoner of War (P.O.W.). In later life, Henry stayed in touch with his siblings and many entertaining clan gatherings have taken place over the years.
Herbert is best remembered as a loving father and highly skilled craftsman who built intricate model railway engines from biscuit tins and any other materials he could scrounge.
Herbert ventured forth
and south met north
through a 'Michie' and a 'Lane'
while Britain was at war again.
Herbert was a joiner by trade
who railway coaches made
until his job was taken away
and he received no pay.
World War II imprisoned his son
until after the war was won
then his family was back together
until his wife's death parted them forever.
© Mel Hamson, 2012
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