World Through The Lens

An example of Life in England during the 1920s and 1930s:
Victor Holmes 1925-1937

Victor Holmes.

Victor was born in 1925 in Manchester, Lancashire and was named after his father's younger brother.

Victor was the 5th child and third son of Peter and Elizabeth Holmes. His brothers and sisters were; Ivy, Leslie, Minnie, Cyril and Lionel. Victor was always his Dad's favourite, so much so, that when his father was on his death-bed in 1934, (aged 47), he actually wrote these words, on the back of a photograph of his son the night he died.

WILL: "I leave all my tools to Victor if he will keep his promise and be a joiner like his Dad"

Some of Peter's carpentry tools

Due to the depression the family were living in abject poverty and as an unemployed pit carpenter, joinery tools were the only thing Peter owned.

According to Cyril, Victor, with his jovial manner and winning smile, was the only child in the family who could get a penny out of their stern father. Apparently, if they were out playing and they happened to see their father it was always Victor who was sent to ask him for a copper, because if any of the others went they'd always come back empty handed.

Victor was a very out-going boy, who always had a smile on his face and was liked by everyone. He was a good-looking, very popular lad and even at the tender age of eleven already had a couple of girlfriends. Unfortunately Victor was also a bit of a daredevil, which often got him into serious trouble. So much so, that in 1935 he even managed to get his name into the local paper regarding the number of dangerous accidents he had already suffered and survived.

NEWSPAPER ARTICLE: Nine-year-old Pendlebury schoolboy Victor Holmes experienced his 11th serious accident when he accidentally spilt boiling water over his leg, badly scalding it. Victor had also almost drowned three times, had been knocked down by two cars and a motorcycle and had received bad burns from a tin of carbide.

In the 1930s people could not afford to go to hospital, except when there was no choice due to the severity of the injury/illness. Even calling out an ambulance cost money, which no one could afford and it wasn't until 1948 that the National Health Service Act made it a requirement for ambulances to be available for all those who needed them. The depression caused terrible poverty and work was hard to find. So wherever possible people would have to try and treat themselves. However if they couldn't, then reluctantly the next step would be the local doctor who was cheaper than the hospital. For futher reading of live in the slums try the book 'The Classic Slum: Salford Life in the First Quarter of the Century'

Apparently the local GP employed a man who called every Friday to any households in the doctor's practice who owed him money. Known to all as the 'Doctor's Man' it was his job to make sure you paid something off your medical bill every week. Friday night was chosen because he knew that those who were lucky enough to be in employment were paid at the end of the week. As the only 'affordable' form of treatment to the poor no one wanted to risk alienating the local doctor as they would never know when they would need his services again.

Sadly the above wasn't the end of Victor's misfortunes because in late 1936 and early 1937 he suffered yet two more accidents with devastating results. The first involved a horse and cart, which Victor ran in front of, when he was play fighting with two of this brothers. Unfortunately Victor's leg got stuck in the wheel spokes and as the cart moved forward the rotation twisted his leg to the top. Although the driver managed to pull the horse up quickly and people close by rushed over to lift him free, the damage had already been done and he had to be taken to hospital. Victor as a 5 year old school boy at cromwell road swinton 1930

Every Sunday Leslie and Cyril would walk 10 miles to Davyhulme Hospital, Trafford and back again in order to visit Victor, as they couldn't afford the tram. This meant they would have to set off around 11.30am to make sure they got there in time for visiting. In those days hospital visiting was strictly controlled and you were only allowed one hour each day between 2-3pm. Weekday visits were out of the question as they both worked and the money was needed for Victor's expensive hospital treatment, which went on for many weeks.

VictorAccording to Cyril, even when Victor came out of hospital his leg was never right and was always heavily bandaged and deformed, necessitating the use of a crutch. But he hardly ever complained even though he was in a lot of pain. Then tragically, whilst he was still recovering, Victor was playing with his friends on some spare ground when he slipped and fell into a lime pit, which had been created by the workmen who were building a new council housing estate close by. Unfortunately, the fall and lime caused serious damage to his already injured leg and he had to be hospitalised again.

Because, as mentioned above, there was no National Health Service and because the family were very poor, due to their father's death, Victor was admitted this time as an inmate to the Bury workhouse for the poor, known as the 'Jericho Public Assistance Infirmary' in 1937. Public Assistance meant the local council/body was in part supporting Victor’s treatment because the family could not afford the costs involved. Public assistance was a very degrading and humiliating process where the head of the family, in this case Victor's mother, had to go in front of a tribunal and plead her case in order to get any help with her son's treatment.

Sadly, over the next five weeks Victor's condition gradually deteriorated until tragically he died from Chronic Osteomyelitis of the right Tibia, Cardiac Muscle failure and Amyloid Disease. Cyril recalls that even in the infirmary Victor had worked his charm on the nurses who had taken the brave youngster to their hearts and were greatly saddened by his death.

picture showing Victor's bandaged leg - not long before he died In 1937 the only treatment available for Osteomyelitis would have been maggots. even though six years earlier, in 1929, Dr Fleming had published the results of his investigations into penicillin, an antibiotic that had the ability to kill infectious bacteria, stating that his discovery might have therapeutic value if it could be produced in quantity. However six years on and Fleming's treatment still wasn't available to the general public, had it been, Victor would have probably lived. Ironically, it wouldn't be until WW2 that penicillin production was scaled up and made available in quantity to treat and save hundreds of Allied soldiers wounded on D-Day, but sadly, by then, it was far too late for young Victor.

Tragically Victor, who had always been so full of life, died aged 11, just three weeks before his 12th birthday and was laid to rest with his father in the family grave at Christ Church, Pendlebury. (Just three years after his father's death)

Sadly, Victor never got the chance to fulfil his father's wish that he should one day become a joiner like himself. The tools instead were passed onto Cyril (my father), who, although he didn't become a carpenter, did use the skills his father had taught him as a young boy, to make joinery a serious hobby. (Dad has recently passed the tools onto me, which will eventually be passed onto my son)

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