Bill’s grandmother’s family the Bergers can be traced back to Freinsheim in the Pfalz area of Bavaria, an area with a long history of conflict and unrest. It is probable that Bill’s grandfather came from the same area.
Bill’s grandfather Friedrich (Frederick) was a coiffeur (hairdresser). People like him were much in demand in those days, making wigs as well as performing miracles of hairdressing for the upper classes.
Friedrich and Louisa had five children, the eldest born in Germany and the rest in Belfast. The last was stillborn. They all went separate ways, as detailed in a separate article.
The second son William (Bill’s father) followed in his father’s footsteps and was also a hairdresser. On 16 March 1912 he married Margaret Louisa (Daisy) Darragh in the Belfast Registry office. Daisy was the daughter of prosperous newspaper manager William Darragh and Margaret Birch. She came from a large family and there are many descendants scattered all over the world today. It is believed the Darraghs and Kendalls originally came from Scotland, but had been in Belfast for several generations.
William and Daisy had two children: William Frederick (Bill) Hoffmann b. 12 Feb 1915 in Belfast and died 26 August 1953; and Yvonne Hoffmann, b 25 Sept 1916 Belfast, died about 1975 in London. Yvonne did not marry. This story will concentrate on Bill.
Photo above: William and Daisy with a young Bill, circa 1920
Photo below: Daisy with her son Bill, circa 1935
William Frederick (Bill) and Yvonne shared what sounds like an idyllic childhood with their Darragh cousins, often at the large Darragh home outside Belfast (11 Hopefield Avenue in the 1912 covenant). There are photos of Bill on an early motorcycle, and he was said to have been an excellent horseman as well. He went to the Royal Dungannon School in Dungannon, Co. Tyrone between 1926-1929, then to the Belfast Technical College 1929-1930.
It is not known what Bill did in the intervening years, but when War broke out in 1939 he was working for Vickers Armstrong Ltd. In Crayford, Kent as a rotary grinder. He enlisted on 22 July 1941 in the RAF Volunteer Reserve, initially at the lowest rank of Aircraftman Second class (AC2 ACH U/T Plt), was appointed a leading aircraftsman (LAC) on 2 Jan 1942 and was sent to Canada for flying training between 25 August and 31 Dec 1942.
Bill received an emergency commission to the rank of Flight Officer on 1 Jan 1943 (London Gazette 8/6/1943), Following further training in England he became a Flying Instructor, attained the rank of Flight Lieutenant, and eventually Squadron Leader.
Bill must have met Joyce Attrill when he was working for Vickers in Crayford. On 24 July 1940 in St. Pauline’s church Crayford, by special dispensation of the Bishop, and just before he enlisted, Bill married his 19 year old Joy, daughter of Kent schoolteachers Sydney Claude (Syd) Attrill and Florence (Flo) Brown, the latter originally from Wingate, Co. Durham. Syd and Flo were two of the first schoolteachers to be registered in England – copies of their registration certificates are held by the family.
Two honeymoon photos.
It must have been heart-wrenching for Joy to see so little of her husband during the war years, particularly when he was sent to Canada for training in late 1942. Soon after their only son Geoffrey Kendall Hoffmann was born on 6 Dec 1944 in Crayford, Bill wrote a very poignant letter to him encouraging him to “look after his mother” if Bill should not return from his wartime duties.
Bill survived the War and was awarded the Air Force Cross in 1943. He remained in the RAF and the little family spent some time with the Allied Occupation of the Rhine (BAFO), stationed in Bad Eilsen, Bad Harzburg and Oker. While there Bill prepared a little photograph album for his son, lovingly collated and labeled with all sorts of extra embellishments carefully drawn with white ink.
Trqgedy struck on 26 August 1953 when the family were on holiday at Penzance in Cornwall. Bill saw a woman in difficulties in the water and swam out to rescue her. Reports of the accident are confusing but it made the national newspapers (see various cuttings below). Joy was totally bereft.
Bill was given a full military funeral at the RAF Base where he was then stationed, Weston Zoyland.
Many years later Joy told Nancy, Geoff’s wife, that she was quite unable to cope at the time so Geoffrey was put in boarding school at the tender age of 6, where he developed a stomach ulcer – the youngest person known to develop one! Worse still the Government refused to grant her a widow’s pension as the family were on holiday, ie Bill was not on active duty at the time. If it had merely been a weekend outing it would have been different.
The Carnegie Trust Fund came to the rescue, recognised Bill’s sacrifice with a posthumous award for gallantry, and quietly helped Joy financially for many years. Even twenty years later a Carnegie representative would visit her occasionally for a cup of tea and a chat, then a week later a new room heater or similar would mysteriously appear – Joy never asked. When Joy died and Nancy notified Carnegie they sent a very kind sympathetic letter.
Joy and Geoff moved to Easter Cottage in the little village of Chilton Polden, Somerset in the mid 1950’s (first photo taken when Geoff was 11).
Geoff attended two well-known boys schools in the area – first Sexteys in Bruton, and then the famous Millfield, where he eventually became Boarder’s Captain. He was also very involved with the Sailing Club.
While Bill did not come from a large family, the Attrills and associated families were numerous, and a great source of comfort to Joy. They will be described in a separate article.