William was born on the 13th November 1920 at 21 Darwin Street Bermondsey, the fifth child of William John and Jessie Lyons-nee Sullivan . He was baptised at the Church of the English Martyrs, his godmother being Henrietta Molloy, a nun?.
The family lived in a working class area of south London where Bill attended the Paragon School in Searles Road.
On school days the children came home for lunch and at tea time bread and jam was typically the order of the day. Bath night was a weekly ritual when all the children were bathed in a tin bath on the scullery floor according to a pecking order.
Playing ballgames and skipping were favourite childhood pastimes but those carefree days were interrupted by an outbreak of Diphtheria in the locality. Red blankets were hung across doorways to indicate the presence of infection and special ambulances took away the victims, many of them infants.
All the children were given a household duty, Bill was the family shoe cleaner. Most parents could not afford shoes for their children who wore plimsolls instead, but not so the Lyons kids who all had properly fitting shoes from “Jackmans”, the local shop.
1932 The family moves to Kenton, where, in contrast to the crowded living conditions of inner London, their new life in rural Kenton, surrounded by fields, would have seemed idyllic. Bill and brother Len shared a room together and went to Priestmead School. Bill later transferred to a local secondary school where he did well, particularly in technical subjects. He grew up to become an independent character with a sense of adventure and who found a fascination with aviation, often visiting Croydon Aerodrome and RAF Hendon. His other pursuits included football, swimming, ice skating and watching speedway.
1934 The family worshipped at the Kenton Catholic Church. Bill's baptism certificate has a handwritten note of 13/3/1934 on it, certifying that it had been seen by the priest (Maurice T Beckett) at this church - presumably before Bill's confirmation. This was the same priest as officiated at the 1944 funeral of Bill's parents and sister Jesse.
1935 When Bill left school aged 14, his father asked daughter Hilda to enquire about employment for him at her place of work, a publishers called Crowther & Goodman, part of the Argus Press Group. They accepted him and later, in May 1936, he was “bound apprentice” as a printer’s compositor, where mastery of grammar and the ability to spell backwards for type-setting were essential skills.
1937 He met his future wife Eileen Howson at Crowther & Goodman, where she worked in the finishing department and where her father was also employed as a machine minder. Bill joined the firm’s football team and played regularly for them at Parsloes Park in Dagenham.
|Bill with sister Jessie at Kenton||
Bill with Eva and Dennis c 1941
Bill and Eileen c 1938
|Eileen, Jessie Lyons, with Frank & Joan Lyons standing, cerca 1941||Kenton (L to R) Bill & Eileen, Harry & Eva, Jessie & Audrey, Jessie Jnr & Jos||February 1943, bridesmaids Audrey Payne & Jessie Lyons|
1939 Following the outbreak of war Bill volunteered for the RAF without his father’s knowledge. This caused a huge row with William John who exclaimed “they’ve already got two of my boys – what chance does he stand up there” and because, at the time, Bill was under age for military training.
1940 Sent to RAF Uxbridge for aircrew training followed by periods at Blackpool, Sunderland, Thirsk, Cranwell and Thetford.
1941 Transferred to No 2 signals school, RAF Yatebury, where he qualified as a wireless operator.
1942 Posted to No 1 air gunnery school at RAF Pembrey where he became fully qualified as WOP/AG Grade 1 and selected for flying duties with Coastal Command based in Scotland at RAF Prestwick, Invergordon and Stranraer
1943 6/2/43 Bill married Eileen Howson at the church of St
Mary The Virgin, Kenton with sister Jessie and niece Audrey as bridesmaids, brother
Dennis Lyons being best man. The family held a reception at home for the couple who
then had a short honeymoon at Wickford because Bill was required to return for
duty just 4 days later. Throughout the war years Eileen continued to work and
lived at Manor Park with her cousin and aunt. At weekends she would visit her
in-laws, often staying with them at Kenton or Loudwater. She and sister-in-law
Jessie were good friends. On the m.c. his father William J Lyons is given as Salesman, hers, T H Howson deceased. Witnesses were D C Lyons & W G Howson, her uncle.On the 16th April Bill joined 413 squadron (Royal Canadian Air Force) a Coastal Command
unit equipped with the American built Catalina flying boat.
On the 24th March Bill was informed that he was to replace a member of another crew who had been taken ill and would be sent on overseas duty the next day. There was no time for family farewells and he would be leaving behind his own crew with whom he had trained. In a hastily composed letter to his mother he wrote “not to worry” and it “might be some time” before he was able to let her know his destination. He added, “here is one thing that will please you all though, I stand every chance of visiting Len during the journey - what a surprise he is going to get!” (a reference to his brother who was hospitalised in Cairo from wounds suffered during the battle of El – Alemain).
|Bill (wearing 2 hats) at Stranraer||
413 Squadron: motto - We watch the waves
Bill & Len, 2nd April 1943
K- King moored at Koggala May 1943
|9thGeneral Hospital Cairo||
Bill with –“shiny shoes”
Len was indeed surprised, and overjoyed when Bill walked into his hospital ward. They were able to see each other several more times before Bill had to leave Egypt on his onward journey. The above photograph (left) was taken at a studio to send home to their mother Jessie who had been so upset at the news of Len’s injuries.
After 86 hours flying, (having departed from Stranraer), with transit stops at Plymouth, Gibraltar, Cairo, Basra, Karachi and Bombay the crew of FP306 finally arrived in Ceylon (South East Asia Command) where 413 squadron were based at Koggala.
The Japanese navy was active in the Indian Ocean and had been sinking many merchant ships. RCAF were engaged in anti submarine patrols plus search and rescue missions.
|PBY Consolidated Catalina|
1943/4 By now Bill had flown more than 1000 hours of operational sorties, mostly in the Far East territories. Slow moving flying boats were routinely airborne for up to 14 hours and vulnerable to attack from enemy aircraft and shipping
Bill had survived his time abroad but tragically, whilst away, his parents and sister Jessie had been killed by enemy bombing. He received this devastating news by war office telegram.
1945 Following his return from overseas duty Bill was later encouraged to remain in the RAF in a peacetime role, but he preferred to return to civilian life and was discharged on the 15th January 1946. Other than to tell the occasional amusing tale about the monsoon weather in Ceylon he never spoke of his wartime experiences.
5 9 42 Temp Sergeant
5. 9 43 Flight Sergeant
5. 9 44 Warrant Officer
1946 A son, John, was born at St Mary’s Hospital Stratford; Eileen lived with Eva and Harry at Woodford Green for a short time before she returned to Kenton. Bill completed his training with Crowther & Goodman and on the 7th May he was “freed” from apprentice
1948 The family moves to a flat at Harrow on the Hill where youngest brother Dennis was a lodger until 1950. His apprenticeship served, Bill was admitted to The Worshipful Company of Stationers and he went on to become a Freeman of The City of London.
Bill’s first car a Morris 8 ETD 201
Bill, son John & Eileen ~1948
Life in the post war period was tough with regular work in the printing trade hard to find. Bill did casual work at the Harcourt Press and Byron Press in Harrow. He also took extra jobs to make ends meet and Eileen worked part time to help out.
1952 A permanent position was eventually secured at C&E Layton in Farringdon London, a large firm specialising in letterpress work for the printing trade. This new job enabled Bill to develop his experience through more skilled work.
In October there was a terrible train crash at Harrow & Wealdstone station which killed 112 people. Appeals were broadcast on the radio for ex-servicemen to assist with the aftermath. Bill immediately made his way there to help and he later described the scenes he had witnessed as “truly shocking”.
1955 The family returned to live in Kenton and moved into a newly built two bedroom maisonette, complete with its own garden.
1957 Bill finally got his big career break by joining the Associated Newspapers Group where he worked on all their major titles including the Daily Mail and London Evening News. He later upskilled when printing changed from type setting and “hot metal” to the new linotype process. At the time this was leading edge technology and a forerunner to computerisation. This new job became a very satisfying part of his working life with the comradeship of good friends. Bill knew many prominent Fleet Street journalists and he regularly worked on the major stories of the day as they came into the newsroom from around the world. This often meant working late to meet tight deadlines or through the night to complete a story. Bill was a keen football fan and a supporter of Wealdstone FC. He and brother Dennis served on the management committee and Bill laterfollowed the fortunes of Queens Park Rangers. For many years photography was his hobby, complete with a home dark room where he produced his own work. He was also an avid reader with several books always at hand.
1961 The family moves to Pinner where Bill & Eileen purchased their first house, a 1940 semi-detached property which was completely renovated over a 10 year period with Bill doing most of the work himself. He was a perfectionist by nature with everything having to be done to his exacting standards. Seeing the fruits of his labour take shape gave Bill a great sense of satisfaction and pride in what he had achieved. In later years, however, he reflected that being so fussy wasn’t important after all and that other things in life mattered more.
1965 A daughter, Gillian, was born at Bushey Maternity Hospital. Bill was “much taken” with his little girl. Although a late event for older parents he and Eileen devoted themselves to the new family addition, bringing a renewed sense of purpose and lease of life.
"First with the news"
C & E Layton - type setting c1954
|Gillian’s Christening||Pinner 1970||1969|
As Bill’s work experience developed and with career advancements life became more rewarding. The family could now enjoy their modernised home, a car and regular holidays soon followed and in 1966 a new colour television was purchased (especially for the world cup!
1975 John moves to East Anglia to start his own business and Bill made regular visits to keep in touch with his family. On his days off he would often stay and help out at John’s garage. He made friends easily and soon became popular with many of the customers and local people.
1977 Gillian was due to finish primary schooling and Bill was keen for her to attend an independent school to complete her education. This was to become a matter on which to seek the advice of brother-in-law and wise counsel Harry Payne. . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . Bill, Gillian & Howard - Hunstanton 1977
1978 On the evening of 16th January Bill drove to Nottingham to visit Harry and Sister Eva, where, tragically, he suffered a heart attack and died in the early hours of the following morning. This premature and unexpected end to his life was probably the result of smoking from a young age. Bill was cremated at Breakspear Crematorium Ruislip where he and Eileen are commemorated.
Wife Eileen died 1999, collapsing whilst on a bus in Portsmouth and dying in Portsmouth General Hospital.
William Lyons is remembered as a modest, kind hearted man, with a good sense of humour.
He was a conscientious, loyal and hard working person who maintained a strong sense of duty throughout his life.
He spoke of respect for his upbringing and with affection and admiration for his mother Jessie in raising seven children.
Bill was the first of this line of the Lyons family known to have carried out genealogical research. His work began in about 1970 and without the aid of computers or databases he eventually established the connection with Ireland by tracing his great grandparents: Stephen and Catherine Lyons came to London from Cork in 1852 and Bill’s discovery laid the foundations of this unfolding story.
For his family tree, more details on his childhood homes and details of his siblings, return to
William John Lyons