Reuben Alexander Beck

Reuben Alexander Beck was born on the 9th October 1887, the son of [A3] Reuben and [C1] Louisa Beck at the Marine Barracks, Chatham, Kent. He was baptised at the Royal Dockyard Church on the 30th of that month. At the time of the 1891 census he was living with his family at 4 Chatham Place, Walmer, Kent, described as a scholar. At the next census, in 1901, he was living with his family at 59 Salisbury Road, Chatham. Up to the age of 14 he went to the Wesleyan Elementary School in Arden Street, Gillingham, after which, having passed the entrance examination, he went on to the Chatham Dockyard School. He entered Chatham Dockyard as an apprentice shipwright on the 10th July 1902; the apprenticeship was for six years.1

Reuben, or Reub, as he was known, was a very keen sportsman before he married, playing a very good game as goalkeeper for the Dockyard Apprentices football team; on one occasion, playing away at Herne Bay, he came onto the pitch carrying a winger under each arm, to the amusement of the crowd. He was a supporter of Gillingham Football Club, and would always attend home games on Saturday afternoons. Until his final illness he was a keen cricket enthusiast, and supported the Medway Towns Cricket Club, of which two of his sons became members. He was also an active follower of the Kent Cricket Club, and visited every ground in the county to watch the county team play. In his youth, he was a familiar sight as anchorman in the Dockyard tug-of-war team. He also swam, having learned the hard way by being taken to a large raft moored in the Medway off Chatham Pier and pushed in!2

On the 6th June 1910 he married [E1] Ruth Elizabeth Baggs, at St Mark's parish church, New Brompton, Kent. At the time he was living in New Brompton. In the 1911 census he is recorded as a shipwright, Govt Dockyard, worker, living with his wife in two rooms at 433 Canterbury St, Gillingham.3

Soon after the marriage the couple moved to 31 Marlborough Road, Gillingham, Kent—a very large, rented, family house, where he lived for most of the remainder of his life (the house was later renumbered to 225). Their children were: Alexander William (1911–1969), Reuben Percival (1913–1989), [A1] Sidney John Thomas (1915–1998), William Arthur (1917–1991), Gladys Ruth May (1918–2001), and Edgar Robert (1921–1944).4

Reuben Alexander Beck

He worked as a shipwright for most of his working life. After the battle of Jutland in 1916 he was sent up to work for a time at Rosyth, in Scotland. He spent much of his time building submarines, but he also helped on cruisers and other ships; among ships he worked on was the cruiser HMS Kent, launched in 1926. The first submarine built at Chatham—the C17—had been built in 1908, but Reuben is not thought to have worked on it. It is not known if he worked on the Warren, the only destroyer built at Chatham, in 1918—but if he did, he would certainly have worked on the keel. In October 1917 he applied for Establishment as a shipwright, and secured this appointment (without competition) on the 24th of April 1918. The 1921 census records him as a shipwright employed by the Admiralty, working at H.M. Dockyard, Chatham, and living with his family in seven rooms at 31 Marlborough Road, Gillingham, together with his father-in-law Walter Baggs. In the late 1920s to early '30s his pay was about £3 per week. In November 1932, a shipwright of 225 Marlborough Road, Gillingham, he acted as administrator of his father's estate.5

His work often involved crawling down pipes deep in the bowels of ships; on one occasion, wearing a jacket because it was a particularly cold day, he got stuck in a U-bend, and only escaped by wriggling out of his jacket.6

On Wednesday the 6th April 1933, when working in dry dock, he fell off a platform onto another platform a little way below. An upright iron post stopped him from falling 100 feet to the bottom of the dock. He reported to the doctor at the yard, who said he was O.K. He walked all the way home—about a mile and a half—arriving there pale and shaken, where he broke down—the only occasion on which he was seen to cry; it was not so much his injuries—for on calling the doctor out to him he was transferred the following day to the Royal Naval Hospital, Chatham, and found to have four broken ribs (nos 9, 10, 11 and 12)—as the shock of how bad the fall could have been. He had to stay in hospital a whole month, leaving hospital on Wednesday the 3rd May, and resuming work the day after.7

Reuben & Ruth Beck, 1937

Reuben and Ruth Beck, 1937

For a long time he refused promotion to shipwright's chargeman, because he didn't want to distance himself from his workmates. When he finally agreed to be a chargeman (some time in the 1930s) he regretted he had not accepted the post earlier. In the years before the Second World War he may have earned £18-20 a week, as a chargeman. His new responsibilities involved being in charge of a gang working on piece rates, which meant much worry for him in assessing what each man in the gang should be paid. His gang was allocated a sum of money to complete a job, and as chargeman he had to allocate and pace the work, to get the job done for the sum allocated; a good chargeman could obtain a bonus for each man over and above the standard rate of pay for other gangs. The 1939 Register found him as a shipwright heavy worker, living with his family at 225 Marlborough Road.8

225 Marlborough Road, 1941

225 Marlborough Road, 1941

During the war shipbuilding was repetitive work, working to standard plans. But in the repair of war-damaged ships Reuben was obliged to undertake many horrible jobs. One particularly unpleasant instance, which always stayed with him, was when he worked on a ship where an explosion had gone off in the ship's galley; men working there had been thrown against the hot ovens, which had tipped over, their tops rolling back like springs and wrapping their bodies; when the ship returned to the yard, it was Reuben's job to retrieve their remains. The ship concerned was probably the Pelican, returning from Dunkirk. Some of the repair work undertaken during the war was carried out from a floating dock, moored off Sheerness, to which Reuben and other shipwrights were ferried every day.9

Sidney Beck's Mass-Observation diary gives a glimpse of Reuben in July 1942: he told them "how all the creeks and inlets on the Thames & Medway were crowded with [invasion?] barges and that in the Dockyard they had been practising running tanks in & out of the barges."10

In October 1944 he was granted, at Llandudno, the administration of the estate of his son Edgar, who had been killed on active service in the Mediterranean.11

He retired on Friday the 10th October 1947, at the age of 60. This was the upper age limit, and at that time there was no provision for additional pension if you extended your service. On his certificate of service under the Admiralty, he is described as an Established Shipwright (permanent chargeman), having served as a Shipwright apprentice from 18.7.02 to 17.7.08, and then as a shipwright in the Constructive Department of Chatham Dockyard from 18.7.08 to 10.10.47; both his conduct, and the quality of service he rendered, are described as Very good. On the certificate of his entitlement to pension, he is described as 6 ft tall, with grey hair and brown eyes; following 12 yrs 197 days of hired time, and 29 yrs 170 days of established service, he was entitled to a pension of £152.16.7d per annum. Soon after his retirement, on 21st November 1947, he received the Imperial Service Medal.12signature of Reuben A. Beck

In 1953, a widower since 1949, he went to live at 211 Marlborough Road.13

Standing 6 ft 6 in tall (in Sidney's memory, at least), he was a very large man, very muscular and strong (as he demonstrated in Herne Bay!); but he was very gentle, in his way. He was very good as a father, not only doing a lot of domestic chores, but also playing with the children—helping to educate them, playing card games and spelling games, and playing football and cricket with them, on the field in front of their house, when he could.14

He took pleasure in singing, particularly music-hall songs—he had a good strong voice. In common with many, he enjoyed a Friday night drink in the pub (the Napier Arms). And on a Saturday he and Ruth often visited Barnard's Palace of Varieties—the in place in those days—where he certainly saw Marie Lloyd, and possibly Gracie Fields, perform.15

He was not much of a churchgoer—he might visit St Mark's on special occasions, but not very often. Conversely, he was very politically minded. A Labour voter, he often discussed current affairs at home; he had, for instance, strong views on the abdication of Edward VIII, supporting Stanley Baldwin's line.16

For three days over Christmas 1955 he stayed with the St Albans Beck family. On Friday the 2nd November 1956, Reuben suffered a stroke. He died at 11:20 a.m., on Wednesday the 14th November 1956, at home, at 211 Marlborough Road, of cerebral haemorrhage, hypertension, and arteriosclerosis. His body was cremated at Charing on Monday the 19th. Subsequently a burial was recorded on 4th December at grave 4177, section CH, Woodlands Road Cemetery, Gillingham.17

Reuben Alexander Beck was the fifth child, and second son, of [A3] Reuben and [C1] Louisa Beck.18



1 birth certificate; interview with Sidney Beck, conducted by Benjamin Beck & Debbie Wells; transcript by BSB; Reuben A. Beck's diary/birthday book, formerly possessed by Gladys Mills; obituary of R.A. Beck, from unknown Gillingham newspaper, in my possession; R.A. Beck: Articles of Apprenticeship, in my possession; census returns; The National Archives (TNA): RG 13/728; Kent baptisms

2 information from Sidney Beck; interview with Sidney Beck, conducted by Benjamin Beck & Debbie Wells; Ms Memoirs, Sidney Beck; obituary of R.A. Beck, from unknown Gillingham newspaper

3 marriage certificate; TNA: RG14PN3952 RG78PN150 RD47 SD2 ED23 SN26; parish register

4 interview with Sidney Beck, conducted by Benjamin Beck & Debbie Wells; information from Sidney Beck; interview with Sidney Beck, begun Easter 1986

5 marriage certificate; son's birth certificate; interview with Sidney Beck, conducted by Benjamin Beck & Debbie Wells; information from Sidney Beck; father's administration; letters to me from Sidney & Ruth Beck; letter from Bill Beck to Sidney Beck 8 Aug 1989; R.A. Beck: memorandum notifying establishment, in my possession; London Gazette 30668 1918-05-03; RG 15/4087 RD47 SD2 ED17

6 interview with Sidney Beck, conducted by Benjamin Beck & Debbie Wells

7 interview with Sidney Beck, conducted by Benjamin Beck & Debbie Wells; Reuben A. Beck's diary/birthday book

8 letters to me from Sidney & Ruth Beck; 1939 England and Wales Register (RG 101)

9 interview with Sidney Beck, conducted by Benjamin Beck & Debbie Wells; letters to me from Sidney & Ruth Beck; letter from Bill Beck to Sidney Beck 8 Aug 1989

10 Sidney Beck's Mass-Observation diary (D 5021)

11 National Probate Calendar; son's death certificate

12 Reuben A. Beck's diary/birthday book; information from Sidney Beck; wife's death certificate; obituary of R.A. Beck, from unknown Gillingham newspaper; R.A. Beck's notice of discharge & certificate of service under the Admiralty, in my possession; R.A. Beck: certificate of discharge and entitlement to pension, in my possession; Sidney Beck said he retired at 65, but this is clearly an error; London Gazette 30668, 1947-11-21

13 Sidney Beck: Ms Diary; S.J. & R. Beck, Visitors' Book

14 interview with Sidney Beck, conducted by Benjamin Beck & Debbie Wells; interview with Sidney Beck, begun Easter 1986; Ms Memoirs, Sidney Beck

15 interview with Sidney Beck, conducted by Benjamin Beck & Debbie Wells; interview with Sidney Beck, begun Easter 1986; letter from Bill Beck to Sidney Beck 8 Aug 1989; letters to me from Sidney & Ruth Beck; letter to me from Gladys Mills; Sidney Beck: Ms Diary. Sidney remembered his father entertaining his family with a rendition of 'The Galloping Major', while sitting the wrong way round on a chair as he bumped it around the floor to the 'bumpity bump' refrain.

16 interview with Sidney Beck, conducted by Benjamin Beck & Debbie Wells; information from Sidney Beck

17 death certificate; Sidney Beck: Ms Diary; Diaries of Mary S.W. Pollard; S.J. & R. Beck, Visitors' Book; interview with Sidney Beck, begun Easter 1986; obituary of R.A. Beck, from unknown Gillingham newspaper; Kent burials

18 birth certificate; information from Sidney Beck


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