Albert Thomas Thurman

Albert Thomas Thurman was born on Saturday 4th June 1887 in Handsworth, Birmingham. He was the first and only child of Thomas Thurman and his wife Charlotte, who had been married for just over ten months. Both sets of his Grandparents were living close by, and there were also numerous aunts, uncles and cousins on both sides of the family.

Both of Bert's grandmothers died before he reached five. When he was six his own father died aged only 32, from TB on the lungs, and three years later Bert's aunt, Annie, died. They were all buried at Key Hill Cemetery, Birmingham. Bert's daughter, Eileen, remembered being told that Charlotte and Albert moved to Colwell at the foot of the Malvern Hills where Albert went to school for a while, and where he used to wander over the hills alone. Perhaps his mother was worried that her son might catch TB as well, and wanted him to get all the fresh air possible.

By 1900 they were back in Birmingham. On 10th December 1902, at the age of 15½, he was apprenticed to Offord, Wilson and Barfield of 98, Woodstock Street, Birmingham to "learn the Art, Trade or Business of manufacturing electrician." The apprenticeship was to last for four years, and Bert's mother had to pay £60 for it (a considerable sum then.) She also had to agree to house, feed, clothe and otherwise provide for all of Albert's needs. For this he would receive 4/- per week for the first year, 5/- per week for the second year, 7/- a week for the third year and 10/- per week in his final year as apprentice. In addition to this he was to have two weeks holiday each year and sick pay providing he wasn't ill for more than 14 days a quarter.

In about 1905, Bert met Madeline Shum who worked in the local Post Office. They became engaged, but it was to be a long engagement as Bert wanted to qualify as an Electrical Engineer before he married.

During his apprenticeship and after Bert continued his education. He had Class Certificates in "Electrical Engineering, Elementary" and "Practical Mathematics." Following his indenture being endorsed, he began working for the City of Birmingham Electricity Supply Department in 1907. In 1910 he was working at the Dale End works as a Substations Engineer.

Bert and Madeline finally named the day. He was 24, she was 27. They married on 3rd June 1912, the day before Bert's 25th birthday. The wedding was held at St. Michael's Church, Handsworth where Madeline's father was one of the Churchwardens. Between 1913 and 1926, they had three children: two boys and a girl.

He was an inventor, sometimes for his firm. When he began work he used to change the wooden insulators at Electricity Substations. All went well until he got married. When he went to change one after that he touched the metal bar with his ring which threw him across the room. He then invented the automated switch gear, for which his grandson Michael believes he had no recognition. His expertise led to him writing a book called "Substation Work" in a series called "Electrical Transmission and Distribution."

Bert's mother, Charlotte, became increasingly frail. For a short while she came to live with him and his family, but this didn't work out and she went to live elsewhere. It is possible that she first moved in with her sister, Bert's Aunt Jane, who was seven years younger than Charlotte, but later she went to live in a nursing home where she died in 1934, aged 73.

Bert was in a reserved occupation during the Second World War. Birmingham was badly bombed. One bomb - a land mine - landed in a tree in his garden. Both Bert and Madeline knew Morse Code, and they would tap out messages on the kitchen table to each other.

The garden was Bert's domain; he was very proud of it. He used to cultivate carnations and pinks and was very proud of them. His grandson, Michael, remembered them: "I think he used to show them and often used to wear one in his buttonhole." The garden had a sunken lawn, in the far corner of which was a goldfish pond with lilies. It was a long thin garden which narrowed half way up, and at the top was a large compost heap. He also had a large cold frame made of an old wooden window frame. There was also an old metal wheelbarrow, and, as a child, Michael used to like turning the wheel. Michael also remembered the deck chairs in the garden. They had arms and a very complicated folding structure.

In his spare time, another of Bert's hobbies was an interest in radio, and he made his own cat's whisker radio. The family listened through earphones. Listeners to this were asked to write to Bert Thurman as secretary of a local group if they had any queries. He also had a Rugby Club Cap from the Handsworth Rugby Club where he played in the first team. At this time, Handsworth were one of the top teams.

He was a shareholder in Davenports the local Brewers. This entitled him to have his beer delivered. He always smoked a pipe, and cigars at Christmas. Michael remembered him as always having a pipe clamped between his teeth.

His grandson Michael described him as being "broad and stocky with strong shoulders... quietly spoken and intelligent. He could tell wonderful stories and memorise monologues." At Christmas when each member of the family had to do a party piece he would say one or two of them. He told Amos and Andy stories: Amos and Andy were on a motorbike. Because it was so cold Andy put his coat on back to front. As they rode along Andy came off the back. He was all right until they tried to turn his head round...

Michael remembered the house Bert lived in at that time. He said: "The Conservatory had fascinating things for a child. There was a huge old clock which had hung in Bert's school room; a WW1 steel helmet on the wall and a large 'policeman type' Raleigh bike on metal wheel stands."

The garage was home to the family car. The first vehicle his son Bob remembered the family having was a motorbike and sidecar. He said: "Dad drove dressed in leathers, helmet and goggles. Eileen rode pillion and I sat on Mother's lap in the sidecar. I believe that the first car was a two tone blue Citroën." He later had a Hilman Minx, then traded it up to a more recent model. The garage smelt of oil, petrol and leather. Along one wall was a work bench with lots of tools including a last with which he repaired the family's shoes. On the wall was a fire extinguisher.

On 3rd June 1952 Bert retired from his job after 45 years "commendable service." He had been with the City of Birmingham Electricity Supply Department until its vesting date (1st April 1948) and after that with its successor the Midlands Electricity Board. He had been a Substations Engineer, an Assistant Distribution Engineer and a Deputy Sub-Area Engineer.

Bert developed lung cancer and died on Tuesday 11th January 1966 at the age of 79. He left a widow; they had been married for 53½ years. He also left a daughter, two sons, a son-in-law, a daughter-in-law and four grandchildren as well as a brother-in-law, a sister-in-law and nephews and nieces.