For a period in the 1950s, and up until 1967, the Wickhamford village stores and sub-post office was run by Major Jack Main and his wife Marie Berthe. From 1942, until the Mains took over, the shop had been in the hands of George Cox who ran the business from the downstairs of his house at 43 Pitchers Hill. He had tried to get planning permission to build a new store and sub-post office adjacent to his house in 1946, but this was not granted. The Mains were successful in a later application and new premises were built adjoining the house. They remained open until the Post Office closed many rural sub-post offices in about 2008.
The Main Family Background
Jack Main was born in Bloxwich, Walsall on 7th June 1901, shortly after the 1901 census. At that time Jack’s father, Alfred Main, was a 30-year-old ‘colliery banksman’ and his wife was Mary Jane (née Merricks), aged 28; they had married in 1894. Jack had three older brothers, Thomas, Alfred and George. The family lived at 70 Sand Bank, together with two other households. A sister, Emily, was born in 1906, but his mother died in 1909.
The Main family were recorded at 112 Parker Street, Bloxwich, Walsall, for the 1911 census. Alfred Main was then living with a wife called Alice, 31 (he had married Alice Moore in the Walsall area in late 1910), the five children from his earlier marriage and five step-children. Their surname was Courtney and they were aged three to sixteen. No marriage record for Alfred Main and Alice Courtney has been found in the records. Alfred’s occupation was recorded as a ‘coal miner hewer’. They lived in a 5-roomed house, so this must have been rather crowded with 10 children. Alfred Main died in mid-1917, aged just 46. In the 1939 Register, Alice M. Main was a widow, living with her daughter, Dora, and son-in-law, William Henden, at 150 Broad Lane, Walsall. She died in 1964.
One of Jack Main’s brother, Alfred Leonard, joined the Army in the Great War, firstly as a Private in the Staffordshire Regiment and later he became a 2nd Lieutenant in the Worcestershire Regiment. He was wounded towards the end of the War and died of wounds in October 1919, eleven months after the Armistice, aged 22. He was buried in Bloxwich.
Jack Main was just too young to serve in the Great War, but must have spent a long time in the Army to reach the rank of Major. Access to Second World War records is very limited at present, so there is not any definite information on his army service. One source records that a ‘J. Main’ was a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers in 1942, a Captain in 1948 and a Major in 1955. This may be the Jack Main concerned, but confirmation is needed. There is no record of Jack Main, born in 1901, in the 1939 Register, so he was probably in the Army at that time. He may have retired from the Army, aged 55, and then took up the position of sub-Postmaster in Wickhamford.
Mrs Marie Berthe Main
Some people in the village remember ‘Bertha’ Main working in the Post Office and that she was not English. Two local sources considered that she was French or Belgian. There is no record of a marriage in the UK for Jack Main and Marie Berthe, so this presumably took place in Europe after the end of the War. It is believed that she had two sons by a previous marriage. She was the person who was seen most in the shop and running the post office, so it could be that the contract was in her name? She was said to be a very obliging shop-keeper and if the shop was closed would always see to a customer who had run out of something at her back door!
The Mains gave up the Wickhamford shop and post office in 1967 and moved to Lode Lane, Birmingham, and later to Hereford. The Death Register records that Marie ‘Bertha’ Main died in late 1982, in Hereford. Probate records give her name correctly as Marie Berthe and date of death as 17th October. She was living at 204 Ross Road, Hereford. The records also give her date of birth as 4th March 1904. Jack Main, of the same address, died on 21st November 1986.
Lack of Records
Some of the details given above are speculative, due to a dearth of official records. Even in the village there is no mention of the Main family in the Parish Registers or Parish Magazine to indicate that they attended the Church of St John the Baptist. Mrs Main’s funeral Order of Service included a Requiem Mass, so she was a Roman Catholic. Mrs Main was not a member of the Women’s Institute. Any information on the family would be gratefully received.
(There is a newspaper report, in 1942, of a ‘Jack Main’ in Walsall who was summoned for refusing to be sent down the mines, but this man appears in the 1939 Register and was 10 years older than the Jack Main discussed in this article.)
Tom Locke – October 2020