William Foster (1876 – 1966)
My maternal grandfather William Foster was born on 6th November 1876 at Wakefield in the West Riding of Yorkshire. He was the first of thirteen children of Robert William Foster and his wife Sarah (nee Lodge). His father was a joiner by trade but also a musician and played in the band at the Theatre Royal Wakefield on an evening. Music would also play a most significant part throughout my grandfather’s life. William was baptized at All Saints Church Wakefield on 4th February 1877 when the family were living at Pincheon Street.
By 1901, aged 24, he had left home and was living as a boarder at the home of John and Eliza Swift at The Hollins, Holloway, Derbyshire. The Census of that year records him as a worker and his occupation as joiner, carpenter. He had served as an apprentice up to the age of 21 and had moved to the hosiery mill of John Smedley at Lea Bridge, Derbyshire to be an improver and had chosen this employer as he had been attracted by its Lea Mills Prize Band.
While working at Lea Mills he met and courted Minnie Saunders who worked in the mill as a hosiery sowing machinist and supervisor and came from the local village of Brackenfield. They married on 26th September 1903 at Holy Trinity, Brackenfield and the witnesses were Minnie’s brother William and sister Emma
In 1911 William, aged 34, was now living in Bracken Lane, Holloway with Minnie (32), Winifred (6) and Clifford (3). His occupation was recorded as a hosiery joiner as he was still working at Smedley’s hosiery mill.
In April 1916 William volunteered for the armed services at the age of 39 and was enlisted into the Royal Flying Corps with the service number 44389. He trained as a rigger where his carpentry skills could be used for maintaining the wooden structure of aircraft and he claimed that he could also use his musical skills to test if the rigging wires were correctly tensioned by plucking them and listening to their note. After training he was assigned to 38 Squadron which was equipped with the Royal Aircraft Factory FE2b aircraft. Initially he was stationed at an airfield at Leadenham in Lincolnshire in order to defend industrial targets in the East Midlands from nighttime raids by German Zeppelins. On 27 May 1918 the squadron received orders to proceed overseas to become a night bomber unit on the Western Front and William kept a daily diary from this date to record his experiences and thoughts. The squadron occupied a number of airfields in Flanders including flying from the beach in Belgium when they were shelled off their airfield. Its aircraft bombed the German held port of Ostende and targets such as ammunition dumps behind the front. During his wartime service he was offered the position of running the RFC/RAF band but declined the opportunity as he said he had joined up to do his duty for his country rather than taking a soft option. He was demobilized on 5th February 1919 and returned home to Holloway and the last entry in his diary says “I cannot find words to express my feelings as the train takes me towards the best place in the world to me”.
William also returned to his job as a joiner at Smedley’s mill and also to his involvement in its band. In July 1919 a meeting was held at Holloway to form a new sub-branch of the National Federation of Discharged Soldiers and Sailors for the Lea and Holloway District and William was elected as its chairman.
In 1921 the family moved to Bolsover in Derbyshire where William had been offered the position of bandmaster of the colliery brass band and given the job of property foreman at the colliery. The family lived in the model village of New Bolsover, initially at number 42 and later moving to 61.
William enjoyed the challenge of taking on a band and bringing it up to serious competition standard and after 10 years felt that he had achieved this at Bolsover. In 1931 he moved on to Grimethorpe in the West Riding of Yorkshire where he had been offered the position of bandmaster of the colliery brass band and promised the job of pithead foreman. Unfortunately when he arrived to start work he found that someone already had that job and he had to work down the pit as a miner until the post became available. Initially he and his family lived at 38 Ladywood Road then moved to 2 Burntwood Road in 1934. William raised the band to championship performance and achieved significant competition success. He also conducted the band for numerous radio broadcasts, of which the first occasion was in April 1932. The band often played on Workers’ Playtime during the earlier years of the Second World War and in 1941 eleven broadcasts were transmitted.
In 1941 William reached the age of 65 and retired from his work at Grimethorpe Colliery and because the brass band was a colliery band he also had to give up his role as bandmaster. During the war he took over as bandmaster of Sheffield Transport Band which was struggling to keep going because of losing so many men to enlistment in the armed services. Towards the end of the war he was asked to resurrect the Royston New Monckton Colliery Institute Band which had fallen on hard times. He accepted the challenge and revitalized the band leading it to competition success between 1945 and 1956, notably becoming North Eastern Area Divisional Champions in 1947, 1948 and 1949. During this period William also performed the role of bandmaster for the Grimethorpe Boys Band, encouraging youngsters with a love for making music which would lead them on to joining the colliery band later in life.
In 1963 William and Minnie celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary and all of their surviving family joined them at Sleaford, where we lived, to share the occasion with them. In November 1966 the family joined William at 2 Burntwood Road to celebrate his 90th birthday but a few weeks later he was taken ill and died in Beckett’s Hospital, Barnsley on 11th December.
Written by Stephen Peet 28th February 2019 and updated 3rd September 2019.
Many Thanks to Stephen for this article on his family member.
Left. William at Bolsover.
Right. A trophy winner.
Further photographs from Stephen Peet and Copyright the owner. (S.Peet).
Boiler photograph enhanced and repaired by S.Peet.
Conductors batton presented by the Bolsover Company.