Sydney and Violet Hughes

I was born in Marshall Street in Smethwick, at home in the front room. It was a house that they rented. They never bought it. They shared it with a lady in the back first of all, and then when she passed away they were offered the whole house.

All the photographs I want to share would have been taken by my dad, who was Sydney Hughes and, I've just kept all these photos because he seemed to take his camera everywhere with him.

It's just, it's my whole life. I can look back and see me from a tiny baby, right up until the present day. I followed on by taking hundreds of photographs of my kids. And they're all in albums, which they don't appreciate yet, but they will I'm sure.

Smethwick, circa 1928

My dad was Sidney Richard Hughes and he was born in Smethwick in 1919.

I think he had a good family life.  He had two older brothers, one who died at 14. He also had 2 older sisters and an adopted sister the same age as him. So he was the youngest sibling.

In this photo, my dad is at the back the left as we look at it. That would be outside their house I think, In Smethwick. That's his sister in the knitted dress who he was close to. I think the boy next to dad was his friend for life. He was named Harold

Dad with his sister and her children. Circa 1935/6

I think that because his older sister was in Northfields the rest of the family used to go over there, and they used to go to the Lickey Hills, for picnics and such. So I think that would be one of their days up on the Lickey’s. I just think that's how my dad was. He was always cheerful. Great sense of humour, which I think I've inherited from him as well. He was just really funny. He'd do anything for a laugh. Like jumping on a pogo stick and spraining his ankle, things like that. He was just good fun. He was very popular with everybody.

You know, I think you need a sense of humour to get through life. And dad got through quite a lot, through the war and everything.

Well I think, I'm sure mum coloured that photo, I don't know. I can't remember now, because it's the only coloured photo I've got of me dad from those days. It used to be in a frame on the wall. I should say he's a lance corporal on there. So it wouldn't be at the beginning of the war. It must have been when he'd been promoted to being a lance corporal.

When he was in the army he nearly killed his best friend who he kept in touch with after the war. He was cleaning his rifle in the back of one of the army trucks, and the safety catch wasn't on. And he actually shot a bullet and it just, it whizzed past his friend's ear. So he could have just as easily shot his friend, but he didn't. And they used to laugh about it, you know? I said it was like humour got them through it. But I mean, they must have gone through some terrible things.

I think the photo is iconic. I love it. Because he looks so proud to be serving for his Queen and country. And all bundled up with his blankets on his back, and his gun and everything.

The second one, I think it could have been maybe towards the end of the war.  He looks like he's been in the hot weather. More creases on his eyes and probably you know, in the sunshine a lot. It just makes me proud again, to see him still smiling. There are not many photos of him not smiling. That's just how he was. That's how I remember him being, just Dad. Just happy all the time.

Violet, mid 1940s
Violet, mid 1940s

My mom was Violet. Violet Steele and was born in Broomfield in Smethwick. Mum was born a month after my dad was born so that was October 1919.

In this photo on the left she’s wearing an original bikini, because there's a little gap in the middle. So it's a bit risqué wasn't it? She was quite a sexy lady, really! I mean, you can understand why my dad was attracted to her when you see a picture like that.

That would have been I would say, whether they managed to have a holiday somewhere in between the start of the war and the wedding. 

So, that would be at Stourport at my uncle’s. Well, it was a bungalow converted from a wooden railway carriage. It was one of those with little gaslights in, so we used to go down there for our holidays. Or weekends and such. Fishing in the river and well, Dad was not a fisherman. He fell in. The first time he caught a fish.

Me brother shouting, "Strike! Strike! Lift it up!" He lifted the rod up and fell headfirst into the river. With a little seven inch minnow.

Mum and dad's wedding. Holy Trinity Church, Smethwick

The first one here, that was the wedding on 2nd June, 1945. No white dress. The dress was peacock blue. White dresses were not affordable because it was just as the war was coming to an end. They just looked so happy and in love, don't they? Just to be together. 

In the second one - well my mum was very nice looking. Makes me think I wished I looked more like her, My brother looks a bit more like my mum than me, and also my daughter looks like her.

She was very popular, all the people who remember her well, they’ve all got fond memories, saying she was kind and looked after people. She always made our clothes, knitted everything, and we always looked absolutely lovely. She would make my dresses. And, if she made a dress for me then she used to do the smocking and everything on it, she used to make the same dress for my doll. So whatever

I looked like, my doll was dressed the same. It was lovely. All my teddies had clothes. I had no naked teddies, they’d all got little knitted trousers on and jackets.

She died three days before my tenth birthday. So that was really sad. It was a normal day and, we went to bed, And I went to bed, kissed her goodnight and never saw her again. At nine years old, it’s a lot. Children didn’t go to funerals in those days. So we never got to say goodbye. We never saw her again. They took me to stay with some friends, and I stayed there for a month. I didn’t even come home. Dad used to come to see us. That’s the first and only time I ever saw him cry. That was hard to see.

Well the first photo, we used to go down to Stourport a lot and stay at Uncle George’s bungalow. And Mum, she'd do anything, she'd have a go. She used to pot the rabbits. The farmer potted the rabbits and she used to skin the rabbits. She used to hang them up on the porch. Literally, skin the rabbits. Draw chickens, you know? Fresh chicken killed, and then, she'd got beautiful hands and nails, and she used to put her hand inside this chicken and take all the stuff out from the inside, you know? Didn't bother her.

She was quite a good shot. And I was quite good - over the years I've done different kinds of shooting and clay pigeon shooting, and I could always win on the fair, and everything. Because we always had airguns and that at home.

In the second photo, well we're on a tandem. Because Dad loved to cycle. He used to cycle all over the place, he'd think nothing of cycling to Stratford and back. He got like a sport's dropped handlebar bike that he went to work on.

But this is a tandem with a sidecar. And we all used to go, I used to sit in the sidecar as a baby and my brother on the back. Mum behind Dad and off we went. He's got his bicycle clips on you can see, he's got his trousers in his bike clips. He always wore bike clips.

I don't remember this photo because I'm too little. But I should say it probably came through the family somewhere. It kept it stable I suppose, having the sidecar on, it didn't tip-off. We must have gone all over the place on that.

It's like, all our summers were nice when we were little. The weather was always nice. Whereas these days, all you do is think of the rain. There was always sunshine.

Butlins, 1961
On holiday, 1961

So this photo here, this was three weeks after my mum passed away. We'd got a holiday booked at Butlins at Skegness and Dad decided to take us. It was a happy holiday, even though Mum wasn't there. But he made up for it. Because that's the kind of person he was, he put his heart and soul into the holiday for us. Which meant a lot. That was 1961. So he'd be coming 42.

Well, we'd never seen anything like it going to Butlins, because it was 'completely different to when we went to Blackpool in boarding houses - at Butlins there were great big canteens full of people all sitting. And the meals all coming along, and being served. It was good, yeah. That was at breakfast by the looks of it.  We'd got pots of tea. And we loved it when people, you know, if the servers, you know, the kitchen people, if they dropped the plates, everybody cheered!

In the second photo, this is after Mum had died and I got an auntie and uncle who'd got a car. So we all crammed in the car and went to Weston-Super-Mare. A good old Morris Minor.

Uncle Jack worked for 'Marsh and Baxters', he was a butcher. Always worked hard. And they had, well we thought it was a posh house in Great Barr. Because it was like a semi-detached house with a bay window. And they took us on this lovely day trip to Weston-Super-Mare. And I'd got a sun hat, by the look of it.

Oh Dad and his cigarettes, yes. He always smoked. He smoked from when he was 10 years old. Which was the finish of him, in the end. Oh dear.

Smethwick, 1967

In this photo, this is me on the right, and that's my brother in the middle, Michael, and it was taken outside the house in Marshall Street where I was born.

And the guy on the left is my step-brother, because Dad remarried in 1964, to a lady who'd got a son. And they came from Cambridge. They met at Butlins, as it goes. Because we continued to go to Butlins after the first one.

Well me, I'm like, really the mod, you know with me crimplene pop art dress, and my suede shoes. Leaning on the Reliant Regal, it was. Not the Robin, Reliant Regal. The plastic pig as we called it. Because my brother always rode motorbikes, and he could drive a three-wheeler car on his motorbike license. So it was absolutely great having a car. Having him to take us everywhere.

I am very proud to come from Smethwick.  It's the best place. They're all ridiculously loyal to Smethwick. Yeah, it's one of those ... there's something about it, you know? We're so proud of it, we won't be Birmingham. We won't be Black Country, we're Smethwick. Simple as that.

works 'do', 1975

That's, Dad remarried. My step mum,  He met her in 1964 got married in 65. 

And they were together until 1981. And they had actually just parted company, and then he passed away later on in the year.  This photo would be about 1975 I should think.  I just remember is Dad being the best dad you could have had. Especially in the years when we were on our own.  I still miss them, you know? I wish Mom and Dad could have lived longer, they both would be 100 this year. And I'm sure they'd watch me plunder on like a maniac. Which I do. I just get on with it. Life's too short. 

It makes me proud of him because he was a good honest bloke. It's a shame he died young, but he did a lot for us. He inspired us in our lives. 

But I just remember it all being lovely. Our life was just, it was laughing all the way really. I still do that now. So that's why I said I haven't got time for people who are on a downer, you know? Get on with it. These people who get worked up about their birthdays. You know what happens when their birthday stops? You don't have any more birthdays.  Well, I'm hoping to get three numbers on my last card,  I just want to be 100. That'll do.

Initially, when I left school I went to work at GKN, and did a clerical apprenticeship. Which meant I got a day release at college, and so I could do further education, and eventually ended up working in the cost department.  But then I met my first husband there, and my brother by then, he'd got married and moved to Rugeley. And we followed him. Because I've always been close to my brother, I think those few years when we were on our own after Mum died.

Because when my marriage split up I came back to Birmingham. I came back to Smethwick. Worked in Birmingham, and then you could walk out of a job and into another one though, couldn't you? I mean, that's just how it was, there were loads of jobs.  And I've done all sorts over the years. But my favourite job, I was a deputy registrar. So I did births, deaths and marriages, which was a great job. I loved it.

You come in, you're born on a day, and when you're born there's a day set in the future when you're just going to go, and that's it. When your time's up, your time's up, that's the end of it.

I mean, I've found this as a registrar, you'd be surprised how many people die on their birthdays. I used to register, and sometimes I'd register 11 deaths in a day, and I've got the ability, I suppose I'm lucky really, because I can talk to people. And I can relate to people, having lost parents young. You know, you've got an affinity.

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