sisters’ mystery photos quest

Jean Brown (front) with her sister, Irene Ryder. Below James McGlen Hastings and (below again) the mystery photos
Jean Brown (front) with her sister, Irene Ryder. Below James McGlen Hastings and (below again) the mystery photos

HE was more than just a dad, a granddad and a great granddad.

James McGlen Hastings, born in August 1916 and who died in 2005, was a friend – the best friend anyone could have.

James McGlen Hastings

James McGlen Hastings

He died just short of his 90th birthday The prostate cancer he fought so valiantly had returned.

But he left a legacy of love and of a family who had never gone without.

“We still miss him terribly,” said his daughter Jean Brown, 63, who has a plethora of memorabilia to remember her dad by.

In among it all are two photographs which have left her and her sister, Irene Ryder, 65, puzzled. One seems to show a Hartlepool family proudly posing for the cameras.

The other is a soldier in uniform and has the address of Boycroft Avenue, in Kingsbury, in London on the back.

Are they family shots? Are they relatives? The answers could complete a story which truly is filled with drama.

It’s Jean who takes up the tale of her father, born to Florrie Hastings and a man called McGlen, who it later transpired hadn’t married.

James McGlen Hastings grew up as a child in poverty. He had one set of clothes and one pair of shoes with holes in them. When he went to Lynnfield School it was the caretaker who took pity on him and gave him breakfast.

James McGlen Hastings could not go to Sunday School like the other children because his only clothing was being washed ready for the next week of school.

At Christmas, the only presents he got were the chocolate sweets from a woman in the street, said Jean.

At 15, he ran away to join the Army and is pictured on church parade with the Royal Artillery in Woolwich – once writing home to ask his mum for a copy of the Northern Daily Mail so he could read about his hometown.

But his Army superiors found out he was under-age and forced him to quit his job. He rejoined as a 16-year-old under the name of McGlen and soon built a reputation as a “willing and industrious” worker.

Love soon played a part and he met his future wife Winifred who he married in 1941. It was only when it came to wedding plans that he had to give his true name to the Army.

Yet what had already been a fascinating story was to take yet another twist.

In the very year of his wedding, James was stationed in North Yorkshire and was due to join an artillery unit in Scotland. Just before the posting, he was granted a 48-hour leave.

The rest of the unit embarked to their new posting by ship but it was torpedoed and every hand on board was lost.

He then served in the war in North Africa as a gunner before being demobbed in 1946.

After the war, he took on any job where he could make his living, all with one purpose. He vowed that his own family would never face the poverty he’d had as a child.

His daughters wanted for nothing. “We had the first washing machine and the first television in our street,” said Jean.

“Whenever he earned extra money, he would treat us all. He and mum never went out.

“The only place they ever went was to the movies and then they would take us with them.”

He did the same for his grandchildren prompting one of them to stand up at his funeral and say “he was a great great-granddad”.

And after such a story, wouldn’t it be nice to complete the tale by finding the answers to the photographic poser?

If you can help, contact Chris Cordner by writing to him at New Clarence House, Wesley Square, Hartlepool, TS24 8BX, via email Chris Cordner or by calling (01429) 239377.