John Eastlake (1908-1941)
John Eastlake was born in 1908 in Devonport, Devon, the son of Solomon Francis Eastlake and his wife Jane Elizabeth Edworthy. He was with his parents in the 1911 census as ‘Jack’, his father having come to work in HM Dockyard following a career as a Staff Drummer in the South Devon Militia. John married Ellen Elliman in Birmingham in 1931 where they had four children in the decade before the War.
Little did John know that Birmingham was about to face 77 air raids which would release over 5000 bombs and kill over 2000 people in the Greater Birmingham area. He lost his life on the night of 16-17 May 1941 when the Wolseley Motors and ICI factories were targeted.
Remarkably, when trying to find more information on the Birmingham experience during the War, we were very fortunate to find the story of this family made publicly available online through the BBC’s WW2 People’s War Project. The story was told by June R Eastlake, daughter of John and Ellen and a child of 10 when she lost her father. June writes:
…Every night my mother took my two younger sisters, my elder brother and myself down the air raid shelter in Garrison Lane Park. We went down at dusk whether or not the sirens had sounded and came back up in the morning providing the all clear had sounded. The children slept on benches if the noise of the falling bombs did not keep them awake.
On Saturday morning 17th May 1941 we came up from the shelter to find that my father had been killed by the blast of a land mine which had fallen on the house next door. My father and granddad Baker were on the way to the Fire Watching Post at the top of the road when the bomb fell. Granddad Baker was dug out alive as was our dog Gyp. Both lived for a number of years afterwards. I can remember mom and the children being taken to a mobile tea wagon in Artillery Street near to where our house used to be and it was there I heard a voice say “give this woman a cup of tea, she had just lost her husband”. Our house and all the houses around it had been almost flattened. My father John Eastlake was just 33 years of age. My mother Ellen was 31 years, a widow with four children, whose ages were 4, 6, 8 and 10. We only had the clothes we were standing in and the only item salvaged from the house was the ‘diddy tin’ in which mom kept the birth certificates, insurance policies, and receipts, etc. I still have that tin today…
The family photograph above was also contributed by June who explained:
Two months before the bomb fell, we went to Jerome’s for a photograph to be taken because we were expecting Dad to go into the forces. It is the only photograph of the family taken all together. It shows Leslie (age 10) John (age 33) June (8) Ellen, (31) and on the front row Brenda and Barbara (4).
In 2008, Birmingham unveiled Lorenzo Quinn’s ‘Tree of Life’ in the Bull Ring to commemorate the many victims of the Birmingham Blitz.
‘Childhood Memories of the 2nd WW in Birmingham’, told by June R Eastlake and contributed by WMC SVActionDesk (2005), WW2 People’s War compiled by BBC, http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/67/a7842567.shtml, [accessed 22 Jun 2016].
‘Birmingham Blitz’, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birmingham_Blitz, [accessed 22 Jun 2016].
Family Photo: ‘Childhood Memories of the 2nd WW in Birmingham’, told by June R Eastlake and contributed by WMC SVActionDesk (2005), WW2 People’s War compiled by BBC, http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/67/a7842567.shtml, [accessed 22 Jun 2016].
‘The Tree of Life’, By Erebus555 at en.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5988971, [accessed 22 Jun 2016].