Saturday, 31 March 2012

Nathaniel Joe Stracey 1891-1961 - A Life in Pictures

This is a photographic record of my grandfather's life.  I wish I had known him, but unfortunately he died a long time before I was born.  Photos are all I have to know him by, but I feel, judging by the photos I have, that I would have got on really well with him.

Nathaniel Joe Stracey was born in 1891 in the village of Sawbridgeworth in Hertfordshire, England, but had moved to East Finchley, north London by the time he was twenty.  There he married my grandmother, Esther May Cullip, and had three children.  An ordinary man, he lived through extraordinary times.  He served in World War One in Mesopotamia and India and lost his eldest son to the Second World War.  He first worked as a gardener and then became a postman.  He retired in 1957 when he received the Imperial Service Medal for 'long and meritorious service'.  Joe died in East Finchley in 1961, aged 70.

As a boy Joe was a member of the Boys Brigade, a UK wide
organisation founded in 1854.  Its aim was to promote "habits
of Obedience, Reverence, Discipline, Self-Respect and all that
tends towards a true Christian manliness"
. This is probably
the earliest photo of Joe, taken in the first decade of the 20th
century in Sawbridgeworth.

This is a teenage Joe, looking very smart and with a flower in his
 lapel.  He appears to be attending a wedding, although, as he got
married when he was 23, I don't believe this was taken at his own
marriage ceremony.  He looks far too young.

On the 1911 census, Joe was working as a gardener at a large house, the Grange,
in East Finchley.  But at the time of his marriage to Esther May he was working as a
gardener at Lambeth Palace, the London home of the Archbishops of Canterbury.
This photo could have been taken at either establishment.  But how smart they look
 - working men in overalls, yet wearing ties.

In December 1914 Joe married Esther May Cullip.  This is probably
their wedding portrait as Esther is displaying her wedding ring and
they are seated in the classic 'newly weds pose'.  By this time, Joe
was enlisted in the 5th Battalion of the East Kent Regiment, also
known as the Buffs.  He looks incredibly dashing...

With the Buffs, Joe traveled to Africa, India and Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq).
His diary, written in 1917, reveals the voyage he undertook, stopping at Freetown
 (Sierra  Leone), sailing past the Ascension Islands, landing in Cape Town, then Durban
 (South Africa) before finally disembarking in Bombay.  Their stay in India was short
however, as within three months they were in Mesopotamia, where Joe stayed until at
least 1919.  My grandfather is the tall chap in the back row with the moustache.  They
are all carrying, or wearing, pith helmets with sun protection.

A very relaxed Joe with puttees on his legs and his pith
helmet by his feet.  This photo was taken in either
Mesopotamia or India.

After Joe was demobbed he returned to East Finchley and his family.
His eldest child, Gladys, was born in 1916.  But it was not until 1922 that
his eldest son, Joseph Roy, was born, followed a few years later by my
dad.  This photo was taken in 1935 and shows Joe, Esther May, Roy and
my dad on the beach.  Joe is still wearing a tie!

In 1935 Joe became a postman, a job he held until his
retirement in 1957. Here he is standing proudly outside
his home in East Finchley, with Esther May in the
background, with his bike and postbag.

This photo was probably taken around 1940.  Although
their expressions are serious, it's a relaxed photo with
my dad resting his hand on his father's knee.

Happy and at ease in the late 1940s.

Joe died in 1961, aged 70.  He died in the house
he'd lived in for the last 40 years.  Esther May
followed him eight years later.  


  1. This is an incredibly moving post, and how very beautifully presented it is too. I will admit that it sparked a tear or two, but it also made me smile.
    Thank you so much for all your support over these past months. xx

  2. Thanks so much! I never thought I'd move someone to a wee tear or two... Just shows the power of photos, especially black and white ones. Gosh I can't get over how dashing my grandad is in his uniform!