Youth Service Corps

By Doreen Crowder

During the War young people between the ages of 16 and 18 (later younger members were admitted) were expected to belong to some sort of youth organisation; Scouts, Guides, Boys Brigade, Army Cadets, Junior WAAF, Sea Scouts or something like that. An alternative was the YSC. This was the Youth Service Corps which was backed and funded by the Birmingham Corporation and really took the form of a Youth club. The aim was that each member should do so many hours of public service before they received their badge, and thereafter do so many hours each week. The form of service could be really any sort of good deed; such as running errands, baby sitting, weeding a garden, washing windows, walking the dog, mending a bicycle tyre puncture, filling the coal buckets, hanging out washing. You name it; most of us did it all.

When we had successfully completed our initial hours of service we received our badge, which was in the form of an enamelled pin brooch. It was a small rectangle of blue with YSC in gold lettering. This was surmounted by a part of the coat of arms of Birmingham (the crown with the Arm holding the hammer). It was about 1½” in size. I am sorry to say I have lost mine.

The YSC met at Four Dwellings School and was in the care of a Mrs. Jones, who lived in Lewis Road. We were able to have different classes on different evenings of the week, meeting between 7pm and 9pm. Tuesday evenings were given over to Operetta class, which Mrs. Jones expected everyone to work hard at whatever part they were given. The same with Thursday evenings, when the time was given to Drama. Many small operettas and plays were produced and very well received. It often became difficult when we had been rehearsing for weeks and then the male lead would get his calling up papers and someone else had to step in to take over. And, step in someone always did, Mrs. Jones saw to that.

YSC presentation

YSC presentation on Four Dwellings stage

Friday evening was devoted to recreation. There was a table tennis table and a snooker table and dancing. The Air cadets met on a Friday evening also but finished a half hour before we did and several of the boys came in to join in the dancing and to be taught by some of the girls we all enjoyed that.

On Saturday nights many of the YSC members went to the weekly dance held in the Parish Hall. Any ex-members on leave would also meet up there. It was a very social group. Different groups would also meet at the dance and each group always sat in the same seats each week There were the Junior WAAF, YSC, Guild Players (a drama group attached to the Church), Scouts and several others of friends who were regulars The band was Wonderful Three rather ancient (to us) men; on piano, drums and violin. But we loved the dances.

When we put on a play, or operetta, we did so for three consecutive nights the scenery was usually borrowed from the Quinton Dramatic Society, which was under the hand of a Mr Pugh The plays they produced were extremely good The furniture to dress our sets was from our homes Mrs Jones would say, “Doreen” “your mother has a settee, desk, or chair,” or whatever might be needed, “we’ll borrow that.” And that was that. A few boys would borrow the scout handcart and turn up on the doorstep, load on whatever was required and trundle it off to Four Dwellings, and you had to do without that article for the duration of the production. There was never a chance of saying “NO!” to Mrs. Jones.

Trial by Jury

“Trial by Jury” by Quinton Dramatic Society

The first play I appeared in was called “Family Affairs”. It was the tale of an autocratic old lady who ruled her family with a rod of iron. There was her married son whom she bullied and his wife, a dotty sister, an old female retainer, a younger son whom she tries, usually successfully, to keep under her thumb, who has entangled himself with a ‘scarlet woman’ who is married and doing her best to entangle him in an affair I played the part of the scarlet woman, John Crowder, who became my husband some years later, whom I met acting in this play, was the younger son, and my friend Mary Beesley, played the Mother we were all just about seventeen at the time I very much enjoyed acting and appeared in several plays for YSC as did John and Mary, who married later, another member of the cast Neville Cutts. In fact there were several marriages, which came from members of YSC.

I had joined the club in 1942/3, being encouraged to join by a girl named Florrie Greaves who lived in Lewis Road I then lived in Barston Road. During the following years many others joined and others left or were called up, but we all enjoyed our time at YSC. Many friendships were cemented to last a lifetime and Mrs.Jones instilled in us a love of music and drama, which has lasted me a life time.

The cycling group was quite a flourishing one and most Sundays in spring and summer we would have a day out together. Destinations were Stratford, Warwick, Kenilworth, Bewdley, Stourport, and one to Great Whitley. My aunt Marie had a cottage there away from the Birmingham bombing and we cycled there and had a picnic in her small orchard. After we went on to view Whitley Court, or rather, the ruins as it had burnt down a few years previously. Every day we went out it seemed to be a sunny day. Somehow you don’t remember the rain. Among other members were Christine Heath, Roy Shannion, Reg Hewitt, two brothers Alan and Eric Thompson, a boy called Vince, myself and others and later when those boys were called up, Neville and John and more younger ones also came with us. Of course, to cycle along the main roads was not the dangerous thing it is today.

One of the highlights was when on the way home from a trip to Stratford, we stopped for an ice cream at Henley-in-Arden. Their ice cream was always popular and you usually had a wait, but well worth it. This day we had just got our cones when a young man came out of the shop loaded with comets, only to find his friends had got fed up with waiting for him and had cycled off. It was to our benefit as he gave his surplus to us, so most of us had two for the price of one.

At the end of the war, in July 1945, Birmingham Corporation arranged a series of concerts at Birmingham Town Hall especially for young people. The tickets for these Youth Concerts were circulated to all youth clubs and young peoples’ groups in Birmingham and The YSC had some. Mary and John decided to go and wanted me to go with them. I never really enjoyed classical music but in the end I was persuaded. There were to be six concerts for five shillings. Never was there more value for five bob than those concerts. I went to the first with my two friends and had a wonderful surprise. George Weldon was the conductor of the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. He was a very charismatic character, leaping on to the stage to disguise a slight limp and proceeded. to introduce, the orchestra, section by section. He left the trombones till last; they stood up and played a few notes atrociously, then George pulled out a couple of pennies and tossed them to the players telling them to go play in the next street. Of course that pleased everyone and we were off to a good start. The concerts were wonderful and gave me a love of classical music that I still have.

One thing that is momentous to me is the last concert. It was the day after the declaration of V-J Day, the final ending to WW2. One item to be played was replaced by the orchestra playing Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance March”, better known as ‘Land of Hope and Glory’. As one, the whole audience, all young people, rose to our feet and joined in the singing, and there was not a dry eye anywhere. Whenever I hear that played, it still makes me shed a tear or two. We had many happy times at the YSC, especially when performing plays or operettas. In one play, I was the twin of a girl called Joyce Watkiss and we both were supposed to try to catch the eye of a visiting. Professor, played by John. As he was supposed to like old-fashioned things, Joyce’s character dressed up in period clothes with lots of petticoats. Everything comes out fine in the end, but the final is when she says she is not old fashioned at all and takes off her long skirt. The audience loved that; there was a pause and she thought John had forgotten his lines; he was turned away, so she stripped off another underskirt and her pantaloons were very scanty and the audience roared approval. John turned around, was supposed to kiss her, but still had a burning cigarette in his mouth, but was so stricken with what he saw, Joyce had to take the cigarette out of his mouth to avoid being burnt.

Mrs. Jones was furious, but a representative from the Council was there and congratulated us all on a wonderful performance.

One final anecdote, about the last night performance of ”Robin Hood and his Merry Men”, an operetta. All singing and the spoken word all in rhyme. Minnie Bailey and I were helping with the make up. My friend Eileen Jones, now living in Holland, and a contributor to the Oracle, was playing the wife of Will Scarlett, and a boy called John Williamson was Friar Tuck, complete with bald head wig, lots of padding, his friar’s costume and lots of make up. During the interval, he, and a couple of others went by car to the outdoor in the High Street, for some bottles of beer. Strictly forbidden of course. Imagine the poor lady in the outdoor when she saw these characters in her shop. Enough to give her a fit. An early version of a “hoodie”?

Mr and Mrs Masters

Mr & Mrs Masters in the High Street outdoor

Mr John

Mr John outdoor in High Street, 1954

They got back in time for the last act, having stashed their loot in the costume baskets, after tying a few bottles under Friar Tuck’s habit. During the singing of the final song of the show, with everyone swaying from side to side, the bottles John Williamson was wearing made a clanging accompanyment. Mrs. Jones was again furious. She stormed around to the little dressing room where we had all congregated and demanded to know if we had beer. This was strongly denied. Minnie Bailey and I were sitting tight on the tops of the costume baskets, and when each of us was asked by Mrs. Jones if there was strong drink about, I am ashamed to say we put on a very innocent look and denied all knowledge of such a thing. Her own son Gordon was there also, on leave from his reserved job in Malvern. The beer was drunk and enjoyed and Mrs. Jones never found out the truth

I am afraid most of us as members of the YSC led Mrs Jones quite a merry dance, and it was only in later years that we realised all she had done for us. She worked unceasingly for us to have a good club, trouble free, and I know all who were members have very happy memories of our time there, and are eternally grateful to Mrs. Jones for all her hard work, and also to Birmingham Corporation for forming the Youth Service Corps.

Ed’s comment - First I must apologise to Doreen for omitting to include this article in an earlier Oracle. I received it in August 2006 and according to my records I have not published the article before. Well I have rectified the oversight and trust that you have all enjoyed our member’s recollection of her early life in Quinton. I am sure that some names mentioned will stir many an “ I remember her or him” moment. Thank you Doreen and if you send me another I promise it won’t take 2 years.

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