Not “Jossa” South London Family (Part 6) – John Charles Jossa


We’re going to finish the Jossa Family Story in more modern times with the story of John Charles Jossa, who was John Felix Jossa’s son, and Jacqueline Jossa’s Grandfather.

A large part of this post is based on stories about his Father posted by John Jossa, Jacqueline’s Father. I hope I have done it justice.

A Plumstead Boy

John was born in 1921 a few years after his Father returned from living in New York USA, and three years after his father and mother married. John grew up with his parents and at 93 Durham Rise Plumstead, with his two younger brothers and two younger sisters.

The Woolwich Arsenal continued to provide direct and indirect work for the whole Woolwich and Plumstead areas and John worked as an Electrical Tester and Inspector, up until the start of WW2. The picture above from 1939 shows the Thames on the left, looking down River towards Kent, Woolwich Arsenal is marked out by the triangular shape next to it, and Plumstead is to the right.

WW2 RAF

Having a good background in Electrical Engineer, John was a good bet for the most technical of the armed services, the Royal Airforce, and we pick his story up with him in 1941 when he volunteered for the Royal Airforce in and was sent for initial training to Padgate in Cheshire (where his brother Anthony Martin Jossa would follow him to do his RAF National Service in 1950). John’s sister Elizabeth Mary would also join the RAF in 1941 in the Women’s Auxiliary Royal Airforce. It is likely that John may also have been shipped across the Atlantic to carry out flight training in Canada, a much safer environment than the UK.

John showed great ability and rose through the ranks to become a Flight Sergeant Navigator in 101 Squadron flying in Lancaster Bomber DV268 operating out of Ludford Magna, deep in the Lincolnshire Countryside. 101 Squadron was a specialist experimental Squadron, and only took the best of the best initially, so this speaks highly of John’s abilities.

Soon after the camp was occupied by the Bomber crews it was renamed “Mudford Magna” because of the appalling state of most of it after any rain and heavy vehicles traversing it, the low lying Lincolnshire Fenland quickly reverting to marsh like conditions. The Village itself was tiny, only about 200 inhabitants, and outside of the main village street, the surrounding farms and hamlets had no electricity, gas, mains water or mains sewerage, and although these facilities were laid on for the RAF base, the surrounding villagers would not get these services until after the base was closed down, and the various services were redirected to include the civilian population.

#MudfordMagna

Bomber crews lived a bizarre life, on the one hand, whilst they were on the ground in England they could live an almost normal social life, eating regular meals, listening to the Radio, going to pubs in Ludford either the White Hart Inn Hotel run by William Bowen (still open in the Village) or the Black Horse with its Landlady Selina Gilbert at the other end of the main Road through the Village (all of 30 yards apart) socialising with the local girls, in relative comfort.

@whitehartinnludford

On the other hand, every time they climbed aboard their planes for an operation over enemy territory they stood a high chance (over 44%) of not coming back, and if their plane was hit there was often little or nothing they could do about surviving, it would mostly be down to good or bad luck, even between members of the same crew. More members of Bomber Crews were killed in WW2 than civilians in the Blitz on London, or civilians that died in the British bombing of Dresden and Hamburg, and Bomber Crews had a higher chance of being killed in action than Infantry Officers did in WW1. As controversial as the bombing of German Cities by the RAF may be viewed by modern commentators, the bravery of the Airmen involved in destroying the Nazi menace in Europe can’t be understated.

So aircrews’ lives consisted of periods of normality interrupted by concentrated periods of extreme danger during which the crews had to remain outwardly absolutely calm. On the one hand the crews were well fed and could go to the local Towns and Villages to drink in the local pub s, on the other whole plane loads of men would disappear the following day, shot down, never to be seen again.

The mental strain of living under such conditions must have been unique. Some bomber crews described the experience as the equivalent of living inside a murder mystery play where, on the one hand life appeared normal, but on the other, you could never tell who would disappear and wind up dead next. Of 101 Squadron Airmen 740 were killed, and of those 96 have no known graves.

The RAF being the most technology dependant of the Armed services very quickly started changing from a very socially hierarchical service like the Army, Navy, and indeed civilian life in the UK, into a technical meritocracy. It was important on a heavy Bomber that the crew were technically competent, calm, and able to work under pressure (i.e. whilst under fire from the ground and fighter planes) the days of the aristocratic Tally-Ho! adventurers was long gone. John Jossa fitted this new meritocracy.

“Lancaster and its bomb load,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 11, 2020, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/1947.

Lancaster bombers could be manned (operational front line bombing crews were 100% men) entirely by Sergeants (minimum rank to be part of aircrew) or by a mixture of Sergeants and Officers. Whatever the ranks of the various crew members, the Pilot always had the final say irrespective of his rank compared to other crew members. On DV268 all of the crew with John were Sergeants. By the time John Jossa was flying in Lancasters each crew member had a single role, the seven crew were formed of Pilot (Paul Rudolph Zanchi) 19 from Southend, Flight Engineer (Leonard Arthur Crooks) 20 from Grays in Essex, Navigator (John Jossa) 22 from Plumstead Kent, Wireless Operator (Henry Stuart Waller), Bomb Aimer (William Rowand) 23 from Lambeth, Mid Gunner (Dennis William Timms), and Rear Gunner (Alan George Lovesay). Conditions on bombers were “snug” but not as cramped as in fighter planes, as can be seen from the photo of another crew below, John Jossa as Navigator (on the right) would sit just along from the Wireless Operator Harry Waller (on the left).

Airborne Cigars

101 Squadron was a particular target for German attack as a number of planes in that Squadron carried the ABC jamming system. This was a top secret radio system called AirBorne Cigar (ABC). It seems it may have got its name from a codename of “Corona” for Ground based jamming and disruption systems, that morphed to “Cigar” (Corona being one of the biggest manufacturers of Cigars) and went from Ground Cigar, to Airborne Cigar once mounted in Lancaster Bombers, and from there to ABC in official documents.

The system work by discovering the frequency the German Ground Controllers were using to guide the German Night Fighters into position to attack the British Bombers. Once found the German transmissions would be jammed by send a white noise type signal so that the German Night Fighters had to fly blind, and by the later addition of transmitting in German on the same frequency to send the German Fighters to the wrong places, which lead to some heated and bad tempered exchanges between German Ground Controllers, German Night Fighter Pilots, and British Radio Operators swearing at each other in fluent German whilst spreading confusion and misdirection. This role would be taken up by an eighth member of the crew specifically to operate the ABC. Giving that not only fluent German, but colloquial German was needed for this role, these operators were sometimes from German Jewish Families now living in Britain, having fled the Nazis, taking a huge risk if they had to bail out over German held Territory.

The Last Mission

John Jossa’s DV268 25th November 1943

At 5.18 on the afternoon of Friday November 26th 1943 DV268 took off from Ludford Magna Airfield, with its crew of Zanchi, Crooks, Jossa, Waller, Rowand, Timms, and Lovesay. Seven men aged from 19 to 23, little more than boys, with a 19 year old flying the plane. Look at a group of boys/men of those ages now and decide if you think they would have the maturity and courage to risk their lives every week to fight to save Democracy. These men were giants when compared to today’s standards.

They flew from Lincolnshire in darkness, and heded across occupied Europe to the Nazi Heart of Darkness – Berlin. They reached the target unscathed and successfully unloaded their bombs into the heart of the Dark Empire. It must be remembered that at this stage in the war, the tables had turned on the Germans to a high degree, they were on the defensive on many fronts, and having sowed the seeds of terror with the Blitz on London, were now reaping the whirlwind of vengeance from the RAF for all the civilian deaths they had caused. Unfortunately for German civilians this was paid back with interest against them in Berlin and other German Cities, and their Night Fighter crews were equally dogged in their defence of their cities.

As they were leaving Berlin returning from the raid, and despite the ABC in use by planes from 101 Squadron, some German Night Fighters managed to use new radar mounted in the noses of their aircraft to locate 101 Squadron, and went in for the attack. One night fighter cut DV 268 out from the Squadron and went on the attack. Now at night a Lancaster Bomber had some chance of fighting back and taking evasive manoeuvres to keep clear of any attacking faster and more agile German Night Fighters, but there was a high degree of luck involved, and needed the Bomber to evade the fighter long enough for the fighter to need to turn back and refuel or go after an easier target. In trying to shake the Night Fighter off their tail with machine gun fire and evasive action DV268 became separated from the rest of the Bomber Stream.

The pair of Planes, the big and muscular Lancaster DV268 and the smaller agile German Night Fighter flew on across Germany, Sergeant Lovesay exchanging fire as they went, tracer bullets from Lovesay’s heavy machine guns sent long streaks of light past the pursuing plane, but the German was not for turning, and avoiding the incoming fire, used his speed to avoid the tracers from Lovesay’s guns and opened up with his own machine guns and cannon, firing high calibre rounds. Lovesay’s gun compartment was obliterated killing the brave young gunner in the process. Now flying with little sight to the rear of the plane Zanchi put the plane into a “corkscrew” manoeuvre pulling extreme G forces as he plummeted the big plane down in a gut-wrenchingspiralling fall, temporarily losing the German Fighter in the confusion and darkness, a Lancaster being hard to see from above in the dark against the darkness of the blacked out landscape below. They lost sight of the Night Fighter, and relaxed just a little as the manoeuvre seemed to have worked.

As navigator John Jossa now had to work out where they were, having plummeted down to perhaps as low as 1,000 feet, and miles off course, John would now have to recommend a course. John realised that they were low on fuel, and could see exploding German Anti-Aircraft “Flak” being fired at the main Bomber Stream between Cologne and Essen and advised that they head directly for the area taking Flak and rejoin the main Bomber Stream. Paul Zanchi was loath to cross an area taking anti-aircraft fire, but John argued, that on their own they would be a sitting duck for any German Night Fighters or, if spotted, random anti-aircraft guns, and that if they took a longer route to around the Flak, they would not have enough fuel to get back to Britain and would have to ditch in the sea or over occupied territory. A brief but intense discussion took place between the 23 year old Navigator and the 19 year old Pilot, on the best way to get out of their dangerous situation, and perhaps reluctantly, the Pilot turned the Lancaster towards the Bomber stream and the Flak. Ultimately the Pilot’s decision would be final, but in an aircraft where life or death can hang on the slightest error, it is incumbent upon men to speak their mind plainly, irrespective of rank.

Reunited with their Foe

While the discussion on which course to take was taking place in the Lancaster, their deadly foe in the Night Fighter had not given up looking for them. The German Pilot was, for all the fact that he was fighting for the Nazis, a brave and skilful pilot. Having located the DV268, he quietly slipped his camouflaged aircraft a few dozen yards beneath the wounded bomber. In this position his aircraft was invisible to the Bomber crew, by site and shielded from its radar. But the German Pilot could now see the Lancaster fully silhouetted against the starry sky above.

This manoeuvre, although dangerous was a deliberate one. The British had their AirBorne Cigars but some Germans Night Fighters had “Jazz Music”. “Schrage Musik” was the German nickname for Jazz, or “oblique/skewed” Music; in this context it referred to a set of upward facing guns at an oblique angle mounted behind the cockpit of some German Night Fighters. These required the Fighter Pilot get his plane unseen under an enemy aircraft, then fire upwards. This was an effective tactic, but if successful, the Bomber above him could quickly disintegrate into an inferno of falling wings and airframe weighing several tons a-piece, enough to reduce the Night Fighter to a burning splintered wreck if it wasn’t quick enough to get out of the way.

German JU88 Night Fighter with Schrage Musik directly behind the cockpit.

AftermathThe first the crew of DV268 knew about it was a terrific thump that rattled the aircraft as shells from the German Fighter tore through the bottom of the fuselage and out through the top. Paul Zanchi was killed instantly, and the badly damaged Lancaster plunged out of the sky. The last thing John Jossa remembered was thinking that they were all going to die, and looking across to see if his friend from South London, William Rowand the Bomb Aimer was OK, then he blacked out in the tumbling chaos of the falling plane. The picture below from Wingleader magazine (see link) is the best representation of such an encounter that I can find.

https://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=i&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.behance.net%2Fgallery%2F73131133%2FWingleader-Magazine-Crowdfunding-Campaign-Nachtjagd&psig=AOvVaw1xIAzFUgQzNMyimy7EvpBm&ust=1591715551257000&source=images&cd=vfe&ved=0CAIQjRxqFwoTCPCB8NbA8ukCFQAAAAAdAAAAABAI

Aftermath, Heaven or Hell?

The next time John Jossa opened his eyes, he saw a blurry image of white wing shapes floating above him, he thought he was dead and seeing angels in heaven, until Dad knew was waking up seeing white wing shapes above him.  He thought he was in heaven seeing angels, then he heard the angels speaking German, he remembered feeling strangely disappointed.

When the Angels came into focus they turned out to be German Catholic Nuns wearing large white “winged” headdresses (Cornettes similar to the picture below), the height of fashion in Mediaeval times, but now adorning the heads of angels of mercy, acting as nurses. John had been unconscious for three weeks. Instead of waking up in heaven he awoke to the hell of pain. Hiss head injuries had caused his coma, his back was compressed and broken, his skull was fractured in three places, he had a broken jaw, and his tongue was split right down its length. Most of the rest of the major bones in his body were broken.

John Jossa’s son would, many years later, try to work out what had happened between the German Night Fighter blasting DV268 with its Schrage Musik Guns, and the Germans finding John Jossa some distance away from the wreckage on the ground a short time later.

The conclusion arrived at was that John’s seatbelt was wrenched out of its fittings, the momentum of the falling spinning plane then threw him through the Cockpit Canopy, snagging his parachute pack, which burst open, snagged on the wrecked plane, bringing John’s exit to an abrupt halt but causing a number of injuries, before the cords snapped, hurling him away from the stricken plane on impact with the ground.

An irony of his time in hospital was that whilst recovering in there he met and spoke with a German Luftwaffe Night Fighter Pilot, who had had his leg broken during aerial combat. Like often happens in these situations when two men have both put their lives on the line in deadly combat, there was no animosity between the two, and John Jossa described the Night Fighter Pilot as “A nice bloke” just like the men he knew in the RAF. John believed that he may have been the Pilot that shot down DV268.

Dulag Luft Wetzlar

Slowly bringing him back to health the German Doctors, gave him the bad news that he would never walk again.

Once John was well enough to be moved, he was shipped out to Dulag Luft Wetzlar near Frankfurt. This was a new Camp built to house the flood of Allied airmen whose planes were being blown out of the sky every night by the Luftwaffe and German ground defences, in their increasingly desperate defence of their Fatherland. It was set up to interrogate airmen and surreptitiously gather intelligence, and although there were some allegations of torture and mistreatment of airmen, it seems that generally the regime was not unduly cruel.

There were a few Prisoners who were permanent “Staff” in the camp to show the new arrivals the ropes, and keep things running smoothly, but the vast majority of prisoners were just transitioning through, undergoing interrogation before being shipped out to other Prisoner of War Camps. John would have been in good company and waqs preceded in the camp by men such as Guy Bushell (of “The Great Escape” fame) and also Douglas Bader, the famous Fighter Pilot who flew despite having two “Tin Legs” (artificial legs).

The German Staff at Dulag Luft soon realised that threats and physical intimidation didn’t get them very far in eliciting information from British Prisoners, and John still being in recovery from his serious and extensive injuries wouldn’t have been subject to any physical interrogation, rather the Germans had a reputation for using subtlety in Dulag Luft, befriending and engaging prisoners in conversation to see what they could get out of them, before passing them through to other camps. The greatest exponent of this approach in Dulag Luft was Hans Scharff. Only a Corporal, and therefore referred to as “Mr” and in civilian clothes to hide his lowly rank, Scharff used his engaging personality and intelligence to ring many airmen dry of what they knew. The Germans at Wetzlar rarely used physical violence, but would use the threat of handing the airmen over for torture and execution by the Gestapo if they didn’t share with him some secrets such as where their bases were, or technical details of equipment, aircraft, and allied tactics. The Allied Airmen were lead to believe that this was their only hope of avoiding the Gestapo. This behaviour was in breach of the Geneva Convention as it states “ No pressure shall be exerted on prisoners to obtain information regarding the situation of their armed forces or their country.”

Despite this many allied airmen, especially Americans, struck up friendships with various interrogators especially Scharff. The difference between the Americans and British was that the Americans were late into the War, so hadn’t had to stand alone against the might of the Nazis, had not had their home towns and civilian families bombed by the Germans, and therefore had less personal animosity towards the Germans. Scharff was picked up the Americans after the German surrender, and was used to train the American Secret Services on his interrogation techniques, allowed to settle in the States, and retired from Intelligence work to create Mosaics, including the Cinderella Story in Cinderella Castle in Walt Disney World Orlando Florida.

Hanns Scharff

It is not clear if John was transferred to another camp, although most prisoners were transferred after interrogation. Being badly injured he may have stayed in the Frankfurt area, and it is entirely possible that he would have been visited by Scharff in Hospital, as Hanns Scharff made a point of visiting injured airmen for his “chats” to see what he could get out of them.

After the War

John was repatriated to Liverpool in England aboard the SS Arundel Castle on 6th February 1945. Although glad to be back, the prognosis for him was not good given his injuries. The Germans had told him he would never work again, and now British Doctors told him that he would never have children.  

John was a fighter, regained the ability to walk, and married Eugenie Rebecca O’Brien and had six children. Eugenie was descended from two Irish Families, the O’Briens and McAlisters, her two Grandfathers having served in various capacities in the British Armed Forces in the Artillery, Marines, and Military Police. The Families One of her Grandfathers had been born in Malta a Major British Army and Naval Base, an Aunt had been born in Cairo Egypt, and she had connections to Canada with many relations living there. Her immediate family came together in Alverstoke and Gosport in Hampshire, an area full of Military and Naval Bases, before much of the Family moved to Woolwich to work in the Royal Arsenal there. The Families were very close, those that stayed in the Woolwich area lived together at 37a Tormount Road Plumstead.

John Jossa never complained about his injuries, and as his son John (Jacqueline Jossa’s Dad) says he was typical of the determination and courage of that generation.

Not Jossa South London Family (Part 5)


John Felix 1887-1951

John Felix Jossa (Jacqueline Jossa’s Great Grandfather) was the youngest of the Jossa brothers, born in 1887, just two years old when his Mother died, and seven when his Father remarried. John lasted longer at home with his Father and Step Mother than his brothers, right up to the age of twenty-two, and followed his Father’s trade in Engineering. So it seems that John Felix was perhaps, the “well-behaved son”. Being younger, and seeing the scrapes his brothers had got into with the Police, Magistrates, Workhouse, Army, and Navy, he may have had a more measured approach to life.

Despite being a bit less headstrong than his Brothers, John was not without an adventurous side, and on 22nd May 1909 he boarded the SS Philadelphia and sailed for the USA no doubt to escape home, and find a new life in the USA. Eight days later he disembarked in New York. As we have already seen in Part 3, John worked as a machinist, and lived with some members of his Mother’s extended Somers Family. In 1910 big brother Louis, freshly back from the Boer War, joined John and the Somers, living in an apartment with a friend of theirs named John Curran, their future brother in law.

John was a Machinist in a Machine Workshop, Louis was a worker in an Iron Foundry, and John Curran was a woodworker on the Railways, the Somers were working as a Car Inspector on the local Street Railway, and a Telephone Operator.

Their apartment was near 10th Avenue, Amsterdam Avenue at the time, or Death Avenue as the locals called it, because of the high numbers of deaths caused by the locomotives that crossed the roads in the area. To try to cut down on this high death rate “Westside Cowboys” were employed to ride in front of trains to warn pedestrians to clear the way, these men were present riding the streets from 1851 to 1941. One can be seen in the photo below.

Everyone in the apartment with John was English, apart from John Curran who was Irish. English born people were the third largest immigrant group in their block, after “Yiddish” Russian Jewish immigrants (and one Austrian Jewish Family) and Italians, followed by Germans. Almost all the Americans in the block were children living with their immigrant parents. The English don’t really fit the representation of immigrants that are normally associated with New York in the early 20th Century, the English (and they do call themselves English not British) were probably barely seen as “foreign” compared to their more exotic neighbours, so, despite their large numbers, tend to be overlooked in popular US culture.

The 12th Ward of Manhattan were the brothers lived was a poor one, and this was reflected in the diseases that plagued the area, in 1910 it was reported that the 12th Ward was the worst for disease in the whole of Manhattan with 188 cases of Measles (Measles was a killer disease for children in the early 20th Century), 104 cases of Scarlet Fever, 55 cases of Diphtheria.

Back to Britain

In 1912, two Years before the outbreak of WW1, John was working as a Machinist in New York, and had stated his intention to take up US Citizenship. But with the outbreak of the Great War two years later in 1914, John’s loyalty to Great Britain came to the fore. Giving up a comfortable, and safe living in New York, John braved the U-Boats to cross the Atlantic back to England to help as a machinist in Woolwich Arsenal.

Experienced Munitions Machinists were highly sought after for the War effort, and therefore exempt from military service. John lives initially at home with his Father and Step-Mother at 4 Congo Road, both men supporting the War effort, John as a “Turner” and his Father Charles as a Fitter, both skilled trades. Alongside the skilled men “volunteers” mainly older businessmen from other trades, gave their time to work alongside the professional tradesmen, that, as illustrated in the picture below, was remarked on at the time.

In July 1918 John married Sarah Anne Jones a Farmer’s daughter, who had left her Father’s Farm to help the War effort as a munitions worker in the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich, and was living at Hinstock Road in Plumstead, about 15 minutes walk from Congo Road where John was living.

With most of the able bodied male population away fighting, women stepped up and took to working in munitions to help with the War effort, without their work, the war would never have been won.

MUNITIONS PRODUCTION ON THE HOME FRONT, 1914-1918 (Q 110261) Young female munition workers filling shells in a factory at an undisclosed location. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205352942

Many of these women may never have been away from home before, and were thrown into fulltime dangerous work for the greater good. Some lived with relatives and friends in the area, but many lived in local Hotels and Hostels that were specially set aside for their use, as Women Only Establishments, it would appear from reports at the time, that this built a great camaraderie for many such girls and women, giving them their first taste of Independance and social freedom, as the picture below illustrates.

After marriage the couple settled down to live at 93 Durham Rise, Woolwich, just 5 or 10 minutes walk from John’s Father’s House at Congo Road.

Deaths in the Family

However the proximity to John’s father would be short lived, as his Father Charles died on 1st October 1919, was laid to rest on 6th October, and his will was passed through probate on 24th October.

Charles Jossa, the Engineer from Belgium, who had come to England, married twice, and raised five sons, before the death of his first wife, and the subsequent alienation between his sons and his second wife, left an inheritance of £972 6s 11d to his second wife Ann Jossa (Anna Brewer Taylor the Boys’ Stepmother). That amount of money is roughly equivalent to between £250,000 to £385,000 in today’s value. Fairly soon after her husband’s death Anna went back to where she grew up at Quidhampton just outside Salisbury in Wiltshire, and died there in 1924, at 67 years of age, she never remarried. When she died Anna left £154 16s 3d (£26,000 to £51,000 in today’s money) to Mary Jane Hale her widowed sister. Once again this points to a serious family rift between the boys and their Father/Stepmother, other than with John’s brief return before marrying and moving on, there is little evidence of the rift ever being fully healed.

John Felix Jossa, and his wife had troubles of their own. Their daughter Mary Harriett was born in 1919, around the time of John’s Father’s death, but she would be dead by April 1920. The dates of the deaths of Charles Jossa and Mary Harriett, place them squarely in the middle of the Influenza Pandemic.

The Blitz

But not all was bad news for John Felix Jossa and Sarah Ann, the couple would have three sons and two more daughters from 1921 to 1930. John kept to the same occupation of an engineering machinist, at a time when there was continued high demand, especially for munitions workers at Woolwich Arsenal, by 1940 32,500 workers were employed in Woolwich Arsenal. During World War 2 the ordnance factories at Woolwich were targets for German bombs and Rockets, starting in the Blitz in September 1940, there were many raids, and much damage inflicted, during 25 raids 103 workers were killed and 770 injured, forcing some parts of the complex to be moved to other locations.

It seems that John Felix, having seen the adventures and misadventures of his brothers, and having had a few of his own, had decided that the most important thing in life was a stable family home. His and his brothers’ experiences with his Father and Stepmother, the gradual alienation and disintegration of the Jossa Family unit, would have reinforced a psychological need to provide a stable home, and that is exactly what John and Sarah built over many years between the two World Wars and after. The couple would spend the rest of their lives at 93 Durham Rise. John died in 1951 and Sarah Ann in 1968.

There is one more story to tell, this will be of World War 2 and will come in the next instalment.

Not “Jossa” South London Family


Part 1 Great Britain: A Land of Opportunity

Jacqueline Jossa is an actress well known for her part as Lauren Branning in East Enders, but her Family is more associated with South of the River than the East End, but that’s not all, there is a whole Family story covering Belgium to Canada, and The USA to France, so not “Jossa” South London Family!

The name itself has a number of separate origins, in Spain, Hungary, Germany, and Italy. But is so rare in the UK that all the Jossa’s in the UK are likely related, with the exception of recent arrivals from the EU.

A Belgian Engineer

The earliest ancestor that can be linked to Jacqueline via the records is Augustine Jossa, Jacqueline Jossa’s Great-Great-Great Grandfather whose son Charles Jossa, (Jacqueline Jossa’s Great Great Grandfather) was born in Belgium and came to England during the mid-Victorian period.

Charles Jossa was a Machine Fitter, a skilled worker, and came to work in the Industrial Town of Wallsall during the 1870s.

Charles Jossa

Publican’s Daughter

Frequenting the local Pubs, Charles dark good looks had drawn the attention of the Publican’s daughter in The Greyhound Inn, in Upper Rushall Street Wallsall. This was Mary Somers a Catholic Girl and the daughter of George Somers an Irish Publican who ran the Bull’s Head before George changed its name to “The Greyhound”.

The Malt Shovel Oldbury

He had moved the family up from Oldbury where he had run “The Malt Shovel”, frequented by the local Iron Workers, many of them themselves Irish, he ran a tight house and was not a man to be meddled with. The Greyhound could also be boisterous, and Mary’s Father George wasn’t beyond throwing out rowdies when the occasion arose, as in 1874 when one Michael Melville became “Drunk and Quarrelsome” picked a fight with another customer, and found himself slung out by George. So once our Charles Jossa had caught the eye of Mary Somers, it was beyond doubt that he would be doing the right thing by her, and in 1876 the two were married in Wallsall.

Move South

The couple had two sons in Walsall, George 1877 and Martin 1879, before moving to Nottingham, where son Lewis was born 1881. The Family’s stay in Nottingham was temporary, and by 1881 they had made a major move, South, to the Woolwich/Plumstead area of Kent, that would become part of South East London. Charles’ and Mary’s last two sons, the first called Charles after his Father in 1883 and John in 1885 were born in Plumstead, where the Family lived for a while in Walmer Road.

The reason this area was chosen for the move was that London by the South Bank of the Thames was a booming in light industrial work feeding into the heavier machine work around the Shipyards, Dockyards, and Railheads on the River Thames. More specifically the area the Jossas settled in was in walking distance of the Royal Arsenal, the preeminent spot for arms and munitions manufacture in the UK.

The area grew substantially at the time of the Jossas’ arrival, and the social side of life improved for workers in the area with guaranteed employment. In 1868 twenty workers set a Cooperative Society, that provided cheaper food, that grew to over half a million members providing Funerals, Housing, Libraries, and Insurance. In 1886 the workers set up the Dial Square Football Club, renamed two weeks later to Royal Arsenal (nicknamed the Woolwich Reds), entering the Football League as Woolwich Arsenal in 1893 (while the Jossas were living there) the team that would eventually become the modern Arsenal Football Club and move North of The River.

A Labourer could make 22s per week, a skilled man more, and there was always a huge amount of overtime available, with men starting at eight in the morning, and working anything up to 14 hours per day, so even unskilled Labourers could earn good wages if they were prepared to work for it. The problem was that there was an abundance of pubs in the area, where the men would come out from work and spend their overtime pay to slake their thirst, it was the mens’ propensity to drink that decided on how comfortable their families would be; the more they drank the poorer they were. Although there was a plethora of Churches and Chapels in the area, they played little part in influencing the habits of the local men, the only exception being the local Wilson’s Baptist Tabernacle, for the abstemious part of the population. We don’t know how this affected Charles, other than it seemed he kept himself away from the worst excesses of the area, and was a member of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers (ASE) the Union of the various skilled mechanics in the area, and attended lectures given by the society.

Image result for the royal arsenal woolwich history

The Jossa Family could walk to the hills above Woolwich, and look across the buildings of the Royal Arsenal, at the light green of the Marshes that were used as firing ranges, here frequent flashes were followed by the delayed sound of bangs and crumps from the testing of explosives and artillery shells. These explosions would rock whole streets of houses, and when they went wrong could shatter windows in nearby streets, for which there was no recompense for the local householders. Beyond this were the grey waters of the Thames where the River broadened after its confinement on the way around the bend at Poplar and Greenwich. The red sailed Thames Barges on the River filled with cement to feed the building of The City and Hay to feed the Horses that moved the people and goods around The City all brought up from Kent and Essex. On the far side of The River were the Victoria and Albert Docks on the North Bank, filled with masts and sails, and the black and red funnels of sea-going Ships and Ocean Liners. Good wages, five sons and an ever changing panorama of The City and River, Charles had many things that Families could only dream of in Victorian London

In January 1889, the Family would face a crisis. At only 32 years of age, Mary Jossa (Somers) died and was buried at St Margaret’s Church Plumstead. This left Charles with five pre-teen sons to raise. Charles managed to raise the boys as a lone parent to an extent, but as soon as they were old enough to work, the boys left home to find their own way in the world, suggesting that Charles didn’t have the time, or perhaps inclination or patience to look after the boys once Mary died, and they were old enough to work.

It took Charles some years to come to terms with Mary’s death, but eventually in 1894, five years after Mary’s death, Charles married Anna Brewer Taylor, known as Annie Taylor, the daughter of an Agricultural Labourer from Wiltshire. Annie Taylor had spent time in Hospital as a young girl, and her experience there had inspired her to train as Nurse, and then to find work in Croydon, South of London to work in Domestic Service looking after elderly well do Londoners who had moved to the suburbs. Somewhere between Croydon and Plumstead the couple met and married.

For some years the couple continued to live in Walmer Road in Plumstead. However from 1899 they moved to Congo Road Plumstead which would become their home for the next 20 years. Congo Road consisted of older two story houses built in the mid century, with long gardens, families took the houses then sublet, but Charles was earning enough not to need to and had all five rooms to himself and his family. At the front of the houses were small wooden railings, few flowers in the gardens, but many residents keep, pigeons, chickens rabbits and such small livestock.

4 Congo Road, Plumstead

Stepmoms and Stepsons don’t always get along

Even with a new wife there seems to have been little inclination for the boys to stay at home, and once the younger boys were in their teens, they left home at the earliest opportunity.

George Jossa the eldest son left once his father remarried and went to work back in Wallsall with his Irish Publican Grandfather George Somers, in The Greyhound. George Jossa was named after his Grandfather and worked hard in the with him, he was involved for better or worse, including at least one disturbance where a pair of local drunken ruffians were physically turned out of the pub by the two Georges and with the help of a Policeman, but only after one of the ruffians had managed to punch a barmaid. Sadly George Jossa would die a couple of years later at only 20 years of age.

Other signs of problems between the boys and Charles and Annie showed in small details we can glean from the records. In 1897 Lewis (actually anglicised from Louis) Jossa, appeared for the wrong reasons in the local paper:

Lewis was a Cartridge Boy, that meant that he had received a basic education in the Royal Arsenal, but had moved straight into work, probably from around the age of 14, doing the unskilled and somewhat dangerous work of filling cartridges with explosive powder, easy to see how letting off fireworks in the street would have come naturally to him.

So all was not well in the Family, and we will find out more about what happened to the five sons in the next instalment. Follow the blog to make sure you don’t miss the next instalment, and give us a like on the page if you’ve enjoyed it so far.

And you can read Part 2 here.

This is a small extract of the type of work Time Detectives carries out for clients when tracing their Family Histories. We produce Family Trees, Family Stories ranging from £300-£600. They make an ideal gift for Christmas, Birthdays, Weddings, Wedding Anniversaries, and Fathers and Mothers Days. If you would like your Family Tree Researched why not drop us a line with an enquiry to paulmcneil@timedetectives.co.uk. We’ll look forward to hearing from you.

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