Jack Oates (or William Jack Roberts Oates to give him his full title) was a well known figure in Thornbury and worthy of note for the date of his birth alone.
He always claimed to be the first person born in Thornbury in the twentieth century as he was born on the 1st January 1900 and baptised in Thornbury St Mary’s on 15 April 1900. He was the son of John Thomas Oates and his wife, Eliza Annie.
Nick Large has written articles in Thornbury Magazine from which we have learned about Jack Oates and to whom we are indebted for the following information.
Before Jack married, he lived with his parents at 4 Crispin Lane. Nick Large describes Jack “as a clever lad, he went to Thornbury Grammar School, moving there from the Council School on 19th September 1910. He left the School on 31st July 1914. The School records show Jack was intending to join the Navy but Nick’s notes taken from Jack himself records that Jack started work in a solicitor’s office in Bristol, where his prospects looked good. We know that Jack became a member of the local scout group in 1914 and that he did join the Navy, serving as an ammunition boy on a battleship. His job was to carry shells from the ship’s magazine up onto the deck where the guns were firing.
Unlike some of his school-mates, Jack Oates survived the war, but at a price. Jack told Nick that the roaring of the guns had perforated his eardrums and when he returned to civilian life at the age of 18 he was totally deaf. The naval records confirm Jack was serving as a ‘Boy’ on the HMS Impregnable from May 1915. The Impregnable was a training ship based in Devonport. In November 1915 he was promoted from “Second class Boy” to “First class Boy”. The records show that in March 1916 Jack was ‘invalided ashore’ having suffered from scarlet fever with otitis media and deafness in both ears.
His disability meant he could not resume at the solicitor’s, instead he became a council roadman.
Jack married Elsie May Trotman and they moved across the lane to number 1 Crispin Lane. They had three children: Eunice Norah (born 31/5/1922), Vincent (born 18/5/1923), and Daphne (born 24/9/1931).
Like his father and grandfather before him, Vincent served his Country. He joined the RAF as an aircraft apprentice before the War and after serving in Canada he volunteered for flying duties. Within a few months of completing his training, he was badly wounded when a Lancaster bomber in which he was flying crashed on returning from a raid over Germany.
By the time Norah moved to the Council Upper School in 1929, the family had moved away from Crispin Lane. We were told that Edmund Cullimore wanted to let the house to one of his employees at the Sawmills, but the next tenant that we know about was Harold Barton who was a farmer at Alveston.
The tragedy of Jack’s deafness might have left him deeply embittered, but the man who Nick met, who was then aged 80, wasn’t in the least bitter. Instead he was one of the cheerfullest characters he’d encountered, with a twinkle in his eye, a mischievous chuckle, and a stock of jokes. His physical handicap had not impaired his spirit.
Other things that impressed him about Jack Oates were his sense of pride and concept of service. On many a winter’s morning he would rise at 4am to make sure that, with his barrow and shovel, he had Thornbury Hill gritted top-to-bottom in time for the running of the first Bristol bus. He wasn’t told to get up at such an unearthly hour, it wasn’t expected of him, but it seemed the right thing to do. He proudly showed Nick a newspaper cutting which told how the Bristol busmen, impressed by his dedication, had had a whip-round and given him a Christmas box.
Elsie May died on 8 August 1972 aged 71 and Jack died on 14 November 1983 aged 83.