Irwin’s story (part 2).

The ramifications of Elizabeth’s suicide were to stay with the family members for their lifetimes.  They learned to construct a social persona which allowed them to continue in the community as if their tragic loss had been overcome.  But underneath they knew that this was a pretence and that it was not necessarily who they really were, that the pain attached to Elizabeth’s death would remain with them.

However, In the aftermath of their tragedy things began to settle and the future took on a more positive outlook.   Under the 1934 Unemployment Act Sydney was means tested and was able to receive a small pension which enabled him to take over the running of the household with Eunice acting as a surrogate mother.   Eunice was able to find employment in a local shoe shop and with Maurice taking over the running of his mother’s looms the family finances were healthier.   Even Grandma Ethel started to behave more socially as if recognising her part in the tragedy of her daughter’s death, realizing that she had a lot to make up for.

 His mother’s tragic death still haunted Irwin’s memories but he was gradually able to shake off enough of the negativity and start reinventing his life.   He threw himself into his artistic talents writing poetry, playing piano, and acting in Sunday School plays.   He took on a newspaper round which helped his independence, even though he had to ‘tip up’ most of his pay towards the family budget.

Irwin’s athletic and football abilities earned him a place in various school teams later graduating to the senior Silsden FC team.   His father took a keen interest and watched most of his games sometimes travelling to away venues.

Silsden AFC Juniors in the late 1950’s featuring Irwin’s two nephews Maurice and Tom. One of Silsden’s Mills as a backcloth.

Occasionally, a bus full of local football fans would leave Silsden and travel to watch Huddersfield Town play.   In the 1930’s Town were in the First Division of the Football League; they were regarded as one of the giants of English football.   Irwin was given permission to travel on the bus on the understanding that he paid his own fare and that Nick Baldwin, a friend of the family, was also going to keep an eye on him.   He felt to be in a privileged position as the only youngster on the Coach and was able to boast to his mates about seeing top players of the time.   Alf Young, Charlie Luke, Eddie Boot on parade for Huddersfield and the likes of Cliff Bastin, Wilf Copping and Alex James of Arsenal among many others. 

Huddersfield Town in the 1930’s
Arsenal FC 1937 – 38.

A legacy from his mother was that her three children were brought up in the guidance of the Church, so Irwin regularly attended both Sunday School and services at St James Church.   He proudly records that, as a fifteen-year-old, on one Sunday he attended 8am Holy Communion; 10.30am Morning Service; 2.30pm Sunday School and 6.30pm Evening Service.  He was regularly accompanied at Evening Service with Eunice and their Auntie Alice.

St James Church, Silsden.

As was expected with the majority of Silsden’s young men, at fifteen years old a job in the Mill beckoned, thus introducing him to the daily grind of the textile industry.   However, the upside of this was a substantial amount of independence enabling him to lead a social life, performing in local pantomime’s, attending dances, travelling to Keighley, Bradford, and Leeds to watch shows whilst still able enjoy football on Saturday afternoons.

Despite this seemingly agreeable life of work and social activities things out of his control were taking place elsewhere.   Dark clouds were gathering in Europe with Hitler galvanising his troops for war, this was to have a major impact on Irwin’s future.

Post War.

Irwin returned from the war unscathed and looking to a future away from Silsden.

The war years rolled by, with the ceasefire finding him unscathed having served with the Allied and Axis forces in the Liberation of Italy, but his return to Silsden was short lived.  Unlike his brother Maurice, who had also served abroad, he found it difficult to settle back to life in Silsden.   Maurice was eager to restart his life in ‘civvy street’ but didn’t intend to hang around at the Mill.  It wasn’t too long before he married, set himself up in a grocery store, becoming a successful businessman.  

Irwin’s brother Maurice married Edith and set himself up in business.

In contrast to his elder brother the war years had shown Irwin that there was a wide world out there waiting for him to tap into.   His burning ambition was to break into showbusiness in a professional capacity, hanging around in Silsden was not going to fulfil his dreams.  

Before the war, as a sixteen-year-old, he had been on summer holiday in Morecambe with some of his mates where he had been inspired by hearing a singer accompanying himself with a guitar.  Irwin hadn’t forgotten the experience and now he was in the position to try and emulate that performer.   He visited music shops in Keighley, Bradford and Leeds searching for a guitar teacher, all to no avail.   He thought of going further afield as far as Manchester in his quest but finally settled on the unlikely town of Bolton.

In Bolton his perseverance paid dividends for when he enquired at a music shop, he was told that the owner had at one stage been one of the top guitarists in the country.  

Eunice and Bill in later years.

For three years Irwin remained in Bolton, working on the buses whilst refining his guitar skills, also taking singing lessons.   He paid the occasional visit to Silsden to visit his brother and sister; Eunice by this time was married to Bill Tillotson.   Eunice and Bill had three children, Anne, Tom, and Maurice to whom he would bestow lavish gifts whenever he visited.

Anne, Maurice and Tom were always glad to see their Uncle Irwin.

After three years in Bolton Irwin felt ready to tackle the show business scene in London by planning to audition for one of the numerous productions which were opening in the capital.   He had the substantial sum of one hundred pounds tucked away to finance this venture; but unexpectedly Eunice wrote asking if he could loan her and Bill money to finance a business venture.   She had played such a crucial part in his life in her role as a surrogate mother during the time after the tragic death of Elizabeth that he was happy to repay her.   This left him with little in the way of assets to finance his ambitions, but the adventurous streak in his character saw it as a challenge.

After leaving his regiment at the conclusion of the war, he was given an address in Victoria, London where they would help ex-service men in difficulties.   This would be the focus of his first stop in London.   Scrounging a lift from a Bolton truck driver on his way to London Docks, Irwin was dropped off in the suburb of Islington in the early morning.   In the Gents toilet at Liverpool Street Station he had a shave and changed into his suit.   Appearing suitably attired, he presented himself at the regimental address where a colonel compensated him with the princely sum of two pounds-ten shillings.  As this was only the equivalent of a half weeks’ pay the officer advised him to get a job immediately!

On arrival in London Irwin shaved and changed into his suit in the toilets at Liverpool St Station

Irwin found a ‘Bed and Breakfast’ close by, the following day turning up at the Labour Exchange.   Teaming up with others in a similar situation he mentioned that he needed not only a job, but accommodation, and was promptly advised to apply for work in an hotel.   However, before he could leave the Labour Exchange, an official called him back with an offer of a position at Buckingham Palace in service of the King and Queen.   Although this job offer might have appeared quite glamourous it was in fact menial; a ‘coal porter’ attending to the fires in the various rooms around the palace.  Buckingham Palace’s many rooms at that time didn’t have central heating so it was almost a full-time occupation to keep them warm.

A job at Buckingham Palace on offer.

Nevertheless, Irwin’s luck turned again when the Head Footman offered him a position as a Footman to their majesties.  The required number was fourteen, but they remain one short to make up their roster.  All it needed was verification of his good character to make the ‘roof over his head’ Buckingham Palace.   The position would also have meant travelling with the Royal Party when they took seasonal residence at Winsor Palace, Sandringham, and Balmoral Castle.   A true royalist with much respect for the Royal Family, Irwin realized that the position would demand much of him.   This would mean dedicating himself to the task thus, forsaking his other interests.

Irwin turned down the offer of travelling with the Royal Party.

He was now faced with what could be described as an ‘existential’ choice to make.  On the one hand his respect for the Royal Family and the lucrative situation that came with the position tempted him in one direction, but he also reasoned that his core self, craved and desired to attempt to make it into show business.   The purpose of him coming to London was none other than to get into show business.   Therefore, with this in mind and a certain amount of reluctance, he informed the Head Footman that he could not accept his offer.   Irwin fully realized that not only had he turned down the offer of a lucrative position, but he also had to find a ‘roof over his head’.

Having worked ‘on the buses’ in Bolton, an advertisement for personnel from London Transport caught his eye, it would be an easy transition to join their ranks.   Equipped with a driver’s licence he could have applied for a bus driving position, but his outgoing personality deemed him to be more suited to the role of conductor.   After an initial weeks’ training, he was allocated to work from a bus depot in North Kensington.  London Transport took him further under their wing by accommodating him in their hostel situated near to Paddington Station.  

 London Transport, the massive organisation that it was, had countless recreational facilities one of which included their operatic society.  Irwin lost no time in applying for an audition and was immediately accepted into their productions.  These comprised of, ‘The Vagabond King’, ‘The Three Musketeers’, ‘Bless the Bride’, ‘Bittersweet’, ‘Victoria and her Hussar’ and ‘Oklahoma’, all presented over a period of four years. 

Irwin appeared in several productions including ‘Oklahoma’.

Also among London Transport’s recreational facilities were sports grounds located in the suburbs of the city, Irwin often participated in events at these venues.   With his background in both track and cross-country running, having represented both his Regiment, and Bolton township, he was chosen to represent London Transport at no less a stadium than the White City.  In one event he competed in the company of athletic ‘greats’ such as Chris Chataway, and the first man to run a sub four-minute mile, Roger Bannister.   

Irwin’s background in track, cross country and marathon running saw him competing in the company of Banister and Chataway.

Irwin threw himself enthusiastically into his life in the capital city, with a non-stop flow of work on the buses during the day, with evenings spent in musical productions.   However, once again fate was to intervene changing his life forever…


The London Transport ‘Number 7’ bus route ran from Acton along Oxford Street through the city ending at London Bridge Station.  Irwin had been working on this route for nine months when one evening, with the bus almost devoid of passengers, a young brown skinned girl came aboard.   As she strolled down the aisle to choose a seat, he was struck by her shining long black hair.  This prompted a dream to flash through his mind which had preoccupied him for several months.

He recollected his dream in detail: –

“I was in the Merchant Navy, when we called at San Francisco to collect a consignment of washing machines and headed for Melbourne, Australia.  During the night near some Pacific Islands there was a heavy storm, the ship was sinking, and it was ‘every man for himself’.  I swam until I reached an Island before collapsing exhausted.  When I awoke it was daylight, but when I began to gather my senses, I noticed that a distant figure by the water’s edge and obviously gathering food was a girl.   She was gradually coming nearer, then at last she noticed me and through half-closed eyes I watched her approaching and pretended to be asleep.   She was leaning over me and murmuring, I sensed her breathing and when she touched my forehead my eyes opened.  She sprang back bewildered and that was our introduction.  I gathered her name sounded like Hawhoora.  She indicated what seemed to be her family near a hut and we were walking in that direction when the dream faded.”

Was this girl on the bus the one from his dream Irwin asked himself?  

He took her bus fare, and they began chatting, he noticed that she spoke perfect English, before explaining that she originated from India.  Having been brought up in the British tradition this clarified the reason for her perfect English.   She also explained that she was employed as a shorthand typist at the GPO Headquarters.  After seeing her several times on the bus Irwin, finally plucked up the courage to ask her for a date.  As she stepped off the bus she handed him a slip of paper with her name, address, and phone number.  Doris Le Roy was her name but what else impressed him was that her family had a phone.  To have a private telephone in those days meant you were a somebody!

When Irwin rang to arrange a date Doris was adamant that he must meet her family first.  This was the custom in the part of India from where the family members originated, moreover, although some members had only recently arrived in London Irwin was amazed how British they were in in their ways.

Cutting the Wedding Cake. Irwin and Doris; Doris’s sister, Maurice, Eunice and Edith in attendance.

After a courtship of four years Irwin finally proposed marriage to Doris and she accepted.   They were married at a church in Willesden Green, the service ending in the novel event of a Number 7 bus transporting the guests to the wedding reception: his driver at the wheel.

Number 7 Bus Transported Irwin’s guests.

He finally realised his ambition when he was offered a six-month contract to tour in the show, “Floradora”.  However, having been married for only three months he reluctantly turned the offer down.

Irwin continued to work for the London Council but now in the capacity of an estate caretaker.  This provided him with accommodation for Doris and their son Michael.

Irwin and Doris with their baby son Micheal

He resumed working for the London Council until he took early retirement but never lost his love of the theatre.   Even in retirement he continued to try and make his mark in show business by promoting his musical play.

Irwin died in 2015 at the age of 92 years.