Jack Paul — The Boy from Swansea

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Jack was born Jacob Polatowsky in 1909 in Swansea, Wales. His parents, Lazarus and Bertha (nee Lipshitz) Polatowsky arrived in Swansea from Senno, in the province of Vitebisk (Belarus), with their eldest son, Joshua, in around 1905/06. They travelled via Warsaw where Joshua was born, and probably chose Swansea because two of Bertha’s brothers were already living there. They moved from Senno to escape both the growing threats of the Pogroms and conscription into the Russian army.

Jack with three brothers
left to right – Shea, Lewis (who died aged 7), Jack and Sam

Life in Swansea

The 1911 Census for Swansea shows that Lazarus and Bertha were head of a household that included their three sons, Joshua, known as Shea, Zangwill, known as Sam, and Jacob, known as Jack. (Jack’s two sisters were not yet born and two younger brothers both died in infancy). The house also included Lazarus’s father and mother, his father’s three brothers, a sister and a cousin. The census tells us that the house had nine rooms including the kitchen and so conditions would have been cramped, not an unusual situation for immigrant Jews at the time. Many of the family later moved to Cardiff, and Jack moved on to Leicester, but Lazarus remained in Swansea for the rest of his life, becoming a leading member of the Jewish community.

Jack’s First Job and his Move to London

Lazarus was a well-educated man, possibly a teacher in his earlier years, but as a foreign immigrant he was unable to get this type of work in Wales, so, together with two of his brothers, he opened two haberdashery shops. His brothers worked for him as travelling salesmen and, when Jack was old enough, he too joined the family firm as a traveller. Although the family name was still officially Polatowsky they were all now known as Paul.

Jack married Fanny (Freda) Rosenbaum in Swansea in August 1931 and they had a daughter, Marilyn. In 1938 Jack decided to move to London to seek different work. The three of them rented a flat off the Tottenham Court Road and Jack sold furniture until the outbreak of war.

Jack and Freda Paul's Wedding
Jack and Freda Paul’s Wedding

War Work

In 1939 with the outbreak of war Jack immediately volunteered but was too old for the army. He was sent for training in Bristol, along with his brother Sam, in the manufacture of aircraft parts. War work then sent them to Smiths Industries, Cheltenham, where Jack worked as a Pinner by day and a Home Guard by night.

Warden Certificate
Warden Certificate

For a time Jack, Freda and Marilyn, along with Sam and Bessie’s daughter, Janet, lived in a caravan but they were soon rehoused in a prefab village, built to house war workers, and they found themselves living in a manner that Jack and Freda felt was the ultimate in luxury. They had central heating (The prefabs were among the first in the country to be served by a district heating system.), a fully fitted kitchen, an inside toilet and three bedrooms which were soon to be in full use with the addition of two further daughters, Judy and Helen, to their family.

Jack the Poet

While Jack worked as a Pinner he would occasionally write poems about the war and war-work. This is one of the few that have survived:

An Appreciation of the Foreman by Jack Paul

When you awake at the first crack of dawn,
And have to get dressed on a cold winter’s morn,
What makes you happy, and glad to be born?
It’s that heavenly smile of the foreman.

And if on the journey to work you should find,
That the going is hard, and the weather unkind,
What makes you leave all your troubles behind?
It’s that heavenly smile of the foreman.

And when you arrive at this haven of rest,
With a curse on your lips and a cold on your chest,
What makes you work with untiring zest?
It’s that heavenly smile of the foreman.

When something’s gone wrong and you can’t get it right,
And sorrow descends upon you like a blight,
What cheers you up like a beacon of light?
It’s that heavenly smile of the foreman.

And in the canteen when the grub’s “not so hot”,
And you swear that the cooks should be ruddy well shot,
What makes you eat, and enjoy the whole lot?
It’s that heavenly smile of the foreman

Settling in Leicester

When the war was over Jack had plans to set up in business making cinema projectors but instead they moved to Leicester where Freda’s brother, Leslie, was working as a master tailor. Leslie taught Jack the skills of tailoring and Jack built a garage onto the side of their new home in Leicester’s Catherine Street area. This served as workshop and office for his new business making children’s coats. Life was not easy for Jack. He employed outworkers to do the machining but, as he had no car, he had to take the materials to the outworkers, collect the completed garments and deliver them to shops, all by bus.

In 1951 they moved to a three-storey house in Daneshill Road. The top floor became his workshop, with the showroom on the ground floor, and he immersed himself in his work. Meanwhile, his wife, Freda was an active member of the Leicester Hebrew Congregation’s ZIONA and then WIZO and regularly did voluntary work on behalf of the Community at the Royal Infirmary rolling bandages.