My Family History
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Frank Leonard BALL
(See also detailed biography)
Although many of his workmates and acquaintances knew him by his first name, Frank, at home Dad was always Len or Leonard. He was born in 1896 in Holloway Head, a working-class inner-city area of Birmingham. His parents were Frank Ball and Alice Stenson. Dad was a talented artist and when he left school (aged 14) he tried to develop his own commercial art business but the Great War of 1914-1918 intervened. In June 1916 he was conscripted into the Army (above right) and posted to Mesopotamia (now called Iraq). He returned from the war in 1919 and met my Mom through their shared interest in the Boy Scouts movement.My Family History page.
Dad struggled for several years to make a success of his business, and in April 1939, after a 20-year courtship, he and Mom got married. Five months later World War II began, and Mom was pregnant so Dad took a job as a clerk with the Joseph Lucas company who made electrical equipment for aircraft. He now had a regular income, and was also helping with the War Effort.
During the war Dad volunteered as a Special Police Constable (below right) and also as an Air Raid Patrol warden. In his younger days, Dad was an accomplished tenor and several times performed in public. His love of the Scout Movement remained with him all his life. He earned extra "pocket money" by producing posters and signs for local shops and churches. Dad was a very kind man, inclined to be shy and probably not assertive or ruthless enough to succeed in his own business. He never earned enough to enable him to buy a house of his own. Dad's health gradually deteriorated in the 1940s and '50s and in 1958 he was forced to retire from work because of chest problems (bronchitis, asthma and emphysema) which led to his death a week or so before his 65th birthday in December 1961.
A more detailed illustrated history of Dad's life is available here.
Mona Stella NEALE
Mom was the eldest child of Arthur and Frances Neale (née Kelly). She was born in 1903 at Fulham Stores, an off-licence store in the Sparkbrook district of Birmingham. Her father was the licensee and the family lived on the premises. When Mom was five years old, to avoid catching whooping cough from her baby brother and sister, she was sent to the Isle of Man to stay with her Manx grandparents, John and Betsy Kelly. She stayed there for almost two years, and forever afterwards considered the Isle of Man to be her true home. During the First World War, her parents ran a public house called the "Talbot Inn" in a poor district of Birmingham. When Mom left school, she worked as a clerk/book-keeper and helped contribute to the family income after her father died in tragic circumstances in 1922.
By the mid 1930s, Mom's brother and sister had both married and left home, but Mom remained, living with her widowed mother (my "Nan") who was the tenant of a small terraced house in the Winson Green district of Birmingham.
When she and Dad married in April 1939, they set up home with my Nan, and tolerated this rather unsatisfactory arrangement for the rest of their married lives. When my brother was born in 1947, Mom was 44 years old.
Mom devoted her life to looking after her sick husband, her ageing mother, and her two growing sons. When Dad died in 1961, Mom's hair turned white almost overnight! After Nan died in 1970, Mom moved from the house in Winson Green, where she'd lived for 50 years, into a second-floor council apartment in the Selly Oak district of Birmingham. By 1990, at the age of 87, Mom could no longer manage to climb the stairs, so she moved house again, to a council bungalow in King's Norton, on the southern outskirts of Birmingham, where she lived until her death on 26th June 2000, aged 97½. She was marvellous for her age and lived a very independent existence almost until the day she died. The picture (below left), was taken when she was 96.
Mom was a wonderful help in compiling our family history. She remembered not only lots of family stories passed on by her mother, but also things her Manx grandparents had told her when, as a child, she lived with them on the Isle of Man. She had an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the family, both on her own side and on my Dad's side.
In the late 1980s she began to write down her memories on scraps of paper, backs of old envelopes, in shorthand notepads, etc. (above right). She sent me her jottings, and after sorting them into chronological order, I word-processed and printed them, bound them between covers, and presented them to her on her 90th birthday in 1993. In the mid 1990s, some of Mom's reminiscences were published in local newspapers and magazines, and she regularly communicated with Dr Carl Chinn, Community Historian at the University of Birmingham. After her death, we found a whole lot more of her jottings, and a set of diaries covering the period from the late 1980s up to a few weeks before her death. Maybe one day, I'll publish some of her memories on the Web!!
Mom was the sort of person who could strike up a conversation with just about anyone. She was fond of children, especially her four grandchildren (my two children and my brother's children). She had a very quick mind and kept her brain active by reading, doing crossword puzzles, and taking part in word games and quizzes at the Day Centre she attended every week at nearby Cotteridge. Her Chambers English Dictionary was the most-used book in her home. In her late 90s, she could still quote poetry learnt in her youth, and the words of music-hall and Edwardian parlour songs she had first heard ninety-odd years before.
The record for longevity in our family tree was previously held by my Nan's cousin John Harrison, who lived to be 97. Mom managed to break that record by a few months!!My Family History page.
Left: Mom is buried with her parents a couple of hundred yards from Dad's grave at Handsworth Cemetery, Birmingham.
John Ball, Brecon, Mid Wales - Contact me
This page last updated 15 November 2011