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The portrait I entered this week was of Bert and Margaret Strong.. This was a couple that I knew for most of my life until they died.
Bert was an out and out rough and ready Brummie, which is why I am posting this story.
Margaret was of Irish descent and as such, whenever you visited you was immediately found a chair and in a very short time there would be a piece of home made cake and a cup of Tea/Coffee in front of you. Margaret was also very good with the home made wine. If you was very lucky there was even a pot of Irish stew on the go. The Hospitaliy was legendary. Margaret worked for many many years as a seamstress.
Bert was a real character, he was indeed a Man's Man, Bert was as hard as they come. He used to come home from work turn the gas fire off, and open the windows.He didn't seem to mind that it was snowing.
He was a Diesel engineer, he could do anything with a vehicle. He worked for many years for The London Brick Company keeping their huge lorries on the go. I know at one time they used The Leyland Octopus an eight legger.
Berts cars were legendary, he once had a lovely big black wolsley car. To everyone elses annoyance he also had a great big Black Austin Taxi. The sort with the Luggage space where the front passenger door should be.
My oldest memories of Bert was coming home from work on his massive motorbike (remember I was about 8 yrs of age at the time). He used to wear an enormous army greatcoat with big gauntlet gloves and great big goggles. If you have ever seen Hagrid from the Harry Potter films, that's him.
In his Army days he could of course drive anything, and he did. He sometimes even got them back before they noticed that they were missing.
He was parachuted into Europe and was in the thick of fierce fighting.
One time during his army days he managed to get a Parachute home, which was very useful as you may remember Margaret was a Seamstress. While the rest of the world was of course suffering clothing rationing. The Strong family had silk shirts and blouses etc. There was a lot of silk in a Parachute.
As Bert always enjoyed good wages he had the best quality in most things. He had a Leica camera, while most people were using a box Brownie. The Leica was the first still camera to use 35mm film. Elswhere on this site I have shown pictures of an extremely large Digital camera, that was one of Berts.
Bert also in his retirement did some vast amount of woodwork, making garden wells etc ( he made one for my wife which we still cherish ).
He enjoyed, and was a bit of an authority in classical music and opera. He spoke German very well and Bert and Margaret were well travelled. Having a son in London, a Son in Australia and a Daughter and her family in Dubai. They also had Margarets relatives in Ireland.
Bert Strong was a Bloody great Gorilla, who didn't suffer fools lately. But if you was in trouble or had a problem with your car,/ lawnmower or anything else mechanical Bert was the first on the scene to help. I personally spent most of my early years terrified of the old bugger (sorry but most appropriate term for him ). I then spent the rest of the time that I knew him absolutely full of admiration for him. If more Brummies were like him now believe me it would be a far better and safer place.
I have taken great pleasure in writing this piece mainly because I don't think that the Old Bugger should be forgotton. Were he to be cut in half I am sure it would say Brummie all the way through. SB
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He is the sort of person we should remember. The sort of person that could be found in any community in Birmingham at one time. Some may say he didn't do anything special other than his duty to his family and his country. But I happen to think that he and his like were the real hero's of times past.
I have no memory of the hardships of the war, and was only born toward the end of rationing so have no real concept of how hard times were. But I have learnt enough to understand how brave these men must have been to come home from war. Only to be faced with another battle to earn a decent living for their families. Yes we have much to thank them for, so lets be sure we never forget them.
Make Love, Not War