Peter Austin came to speak to us about the MS Society and also played Amazing Grace on his chrome National resonator guitar.
Jim McConnell – A brief history of his life by his son Stuart
Jim was born into the Old Harbour community of Grangemouth. His Grandad, also named James, worked as shale miner at Roman Camps oil shale mine owned by Young’s company on the outskirts of Uphall. Jim’s father Thomas’ job was to take shale from the mine head to the roasting plant with the help of a pony called Beauty. Jim’s Father, being unhappy with the restrictions imposed by such a strict regime, kicked the traces and emigrated to Hamilton, Ontario, living there from 1921-1924. He then returned to Scotland and met Jim’s Mother Anne who worked as a Dairy Assistant. She had worked for her Mother in her dairy for 5 years in North Harbour Street, Grangemouth Old Town. Jim’s Mum and Dad met through the local choir. Jim’s Mum was a gifted singer and pianist and inspired in young Jim a enduring passion for music and song that remained a great joy for all of his life.
The Old Harbour community was a close knit one. Jim’s Grandmother Helen ran the dairy and Grandad was the Harbour Master living in the best apartment right on the waterfront of the harbour, sadly now all long gone. When Jim’s Dad took over running the crane that unloaded the boats the family moved into a spare room in the Harbour Master’s flat – so you can see the McConnell’s were on the social ladder even then! Jim lost his Mother when she was 38 year of age and Jim was just 13 years old. Sadly she died from TB, which today would be a treatable condition. Jim’s Dad remarried but died in 1941 from lung cancer when he was just 41 and Jim was 15 years of age. Jim had loved to walk the country around Grangemouth on his own or with a friend which was not a very good idea in the war years. Jim was detained on more than one occasion by the home guard on suspicion of being a fifth columnist. Jim left school at 15 and was apprenticed at the Carron Iron Works which amazingly enough was where his Grandad many times removed, first got a job in South East Scotland after fleeing the islands when Charles the 1st proclaimed the McConnell’s ‘Mountain Savages’ and banned them from owning land!
Jim desperately wanted to join the navy and see the world. The horizons of working the iron works were far too limited for young Jim. So Jim persuaded his manager to release him from the reserved occupation so that he could join the royal navy and see some action. By the time he had completed his training the war was over and the opportunity to take on Jerry was history. However, on his first commission, Jim met the outgoing officer on the dockside who had just been demobbed and said words to the effect ‘Its all yours mate – Good Luck’…. That was the only handover Jim got for his first charge. Anyway Jim coped as he always did, learned the ropes and managed to avoid actually hitting any mines although great fun was had despatching them with a 303 rifle when the mines popped to the surface. After the minesweeping Jim was transferred to duties requiring the towing of surrendered Nazi U boats out into the Irish Sea to be scuttled. Sometimes Jim got to shell the U boats which was great fun as nobody got injured or killed.
Jim decided after the war that The Forces were probably not a good career prospect anymore so he left the Royal Navy and joined the Merchant Navy. So our young Jim was ferrying tomatoes from Guernsey to England when he met the love off his life Doris. Jim took Doris along on many sea trips on his boat and despite nautical precedent, Doris didn’t cause the boat to sink. When Doris was with child Jim decided a career in law enforcement on dry land was the way to go. Consequently he joined the Sussex Police. His first station was Police Constable in Rye. Jim and Doris moved into Doris’ Mum’s house and then into a police house in Rye where Jim’s son Stuart was born. Once again Jim’s itchy feet prevailed and around 1954 the family moved to Little Common, Bexhill where his daughter Anne was born. Two years later there was a move to Windmill Hill, Jim’s first effort at local policing. He threw himself into the role as he always did for any endeavour. Jim believed the best way to police your patch was to know everything there was to know about your patch. So he often ran foul of his superiors who said ‘McConnnell you are not making enough arrests’ to which Jim replied ‘If you discourage crime before it happens then of course you won’t make many arrests’. Anyway the fact that Jim’s patch had very little crime cut no mustard with his bosses – ‘You need to make more arrests McConnell’. So pretty fed up Jim applied for a job in the photographic department of Sussex Police at their headquarters in Lewes. He got the position which involved what has now developed into forensic policing – but those were the early days when you could actually drive into the police headquarters – an altogether happier time. However, 6 years later he decided he wanted to return to local policing. The family moved to Balcombe where Jim employed his vision of good community policing which once again didn’t go down too well with his superiors.
Jim then reverted back to his key love – photography and accepted a position as police photographer at Eastbourne and then as staff photographer with the police in-house ‘Patrol magazine’. Jim thoroughly enjoyed this role. He got to do all sorts of exiting things including chasing down villains on a police fast patrol boat. Anyway all good things come to an end and Jim left the police and took a number of civvy jobs before settling back into a very productive retirement.
In later years Jim suffered ill health but was very cheerful and happy to downplay his problems. He was also a dedicated carer for his wife Doris who never missed a tablet or appointment, thanks to him.
Lawrence Keeley has completed almost ten years worth of work on his life story which has just been published. Copies are available from Herstmonceux Village Information Centre for £14 each.
What happens when a farmer loses the tenancy of his farm? This particular farmer ate pig swill, went to jail for burning waste, slept on the streets (to raise funds for a homeless shelter), and saw life from a whole new perspective. The unexpected turns in this farmers’ life have fostered in him a deep-seated compassion for the underdog, causing him to campaign on issues of housing, farming and care.
This true story is a moving first-hand account of an individual trying to make his mark on the world, against the background of a rapidly vanishing way of life, and is not to be missed.