Edward Travis was born in 1801 and married Elizabeth who was born in 1796.

Peter Travis was born in 1823 in Liverpool, Lancashire. Liverpool was then the largest port in the world. The battle of Trafalgar in 1805 ensured the Pax Britannica and the battle of Waterloo in 1815 meant that peace in Europe was assured. Peter Travis is listed in the 1851 census as a bricklayer. In the building boom that lasted for the whole of the century millions of brick houses and structures were built throughout Britain.

The vast expansion of the British Empire in the 19th century drained the country of skilled and unskilled labour, building mines, railways, factors, ports and roads throughout the world. This kept wages rising throughout the century at the same time as free trade and an undervalued currency led to trade expansion.

He married Anne Milne who was seven years younger and came from Salford in Lancashire. In 1851 they had one child, William aged one. Anne’s father was George Milne, born 1800, the son of George Milne and Mary Rigsby.

The census was then based on a head of household who filled in the census form for all the persons living at the house on the night of the census. The first police force was established in London in 1829 and until then it was the head of the household who effectively answered for the keeping of law and order.

Edward Albert Travis was born a year later in 1852 in Liverpool. His Christening Cup is now owned by Edward Travis, born in 2009 and is in the keeping of his father Robin Travis.

By 1881 Edward Albert is listed as a Master Guilder which was a craftsman skilled in the gilding of picture frames and ornaments. Becoming a Master Gilder took seven years, so he started at least as early as 1874 at the age of 22 as an apprentice. In late Victorian times every middle class home had gilt-framed paintings and etchings and demand for master guilders and their products was high.

In the census he is also listed as having four employees. He had a shop and workshop in Kensington, then a wealthy suburb in Liverpool. In 1878 he married Anne from Birkenhead in Cheshire. In the 1881 census they are listed as having a daughter, Emily, aged 5, a daughter, Anne, aged 4 and a son, Frederick, aged 2.

In the 1891 census, it appears that Anne had died as Edward Travis was then married to Mary Ann Hodson, born in 1862, in Sheffield Wednesday, Kings Hill, Staffordshire. As a boy I met this remarkable lady on several occasions before she died aged 98 in 1950. She was born before the Franco-Prussian War and she was 37 when the second Boer War broke out.

She was the daughter of Richard Hodson, born 1838, and Mary Ann Pittaway, born 1840, who was the daughter of John Pittaway, born 1802, and Sarah Walker, born 1806, and John was the son of Moses Pittaway. Pittaway was the name of a tool used for quarrying and there is a photograph of a Pittaway family member who was dressed as a Master Freemason so one of the Pittaways, probably a great uncle, almost certainly owned a quarry.

 

Richard Hodson was the son of Charles Hodson, born in 1807, and Mary, born in 1808. A “hod” is a trough carried over the shoulder for transporting loads such as bricks or mortar.

Richard Hodson and Mary Ann Hodson in the 1861 census have a daughter, Sarah Jane aged 2 and a daughter Hester, aged 10 months. Mary Ann Hodson who married Edward Albert Travis was born a few months after the 1861 census was taken in April.

The age of consent in England since the 16th century was 10 for girls and it was raised to 12 in 1860s. Men are not mentioned in Common Law.

In the 1871 census the Hodson family must have fallen on bad times, probably through the death of the father, a miner, as Mary Ann, age 9, together with her sister Esther, age 11 are listed as living in a Workhouse. These were dreadful and feared institutions. However, a Pittaway uncle seems to have taken the family in so that Mary Ann received an education. She was also brought to the Pittaway household in Liverpool and thus had the opportunity to meet her future husband, Edward Albert Travis. It was first in the 1890’s that the bicycle became widely accepted and until then 95 % of marriages took place between persons in the same parish.

There is a photograph of Edward Albert Travis in the uniform of a staff sergeant, aged perhaps 35, flanked by two corporals. He also appears to have what looks like a campaign medal. There were several auxiliary and territorial organizations attached to the Army and Edward may have been in one of these, probably attached to the The King’s Regiment (Liverpool), an infantry regiment, perhaps owing to the prestige of this regiment which offered part-time and voluntary employment.

These often served as training organizations and as manning and policing of the Regiments’ home bases. This is one of the oldest regimens as it was founded in 1685. His son, Albert Edward apparently also joined this regiment as the cap badge can be seen in one photograph as that of the The King’s Regiment (Liverpool). I myself joined the Territorials as an instructor for a year, attached to the Combined Cadet Force at Clifton College, in 1958, having completed Naval Cadet Training as a Chief Petty Officer.

It is unlikely that as a Master Guilder with a firm he would have volunteered for active overseas service. The Crimea War ended in 1877 when Edward Albert was 25, and he would have been too old to participate in the Boer War in 1899. Campaigns taking place in the 1880’s were the Second Afghan campaign, fought by the Indian Army, and the Zulu wars fought in the 1870s, the best known battles being Isandlwana and Rourke’s Drift.

In 1881 there was a Great Exhibition at Liverpool and Edward Albert was represented there. I have a photograph of this item and also saw it often during my visits as a child. It was a scene based on the Punch and Judy or Commedia del Arte figures all in a billiard hall comprising sculptured figures playing billiards, drinking, or conversing with a rather louche female figure. Both through his trade and through his clientele Edward Albert would have met artists requiring picture frames, and the art world in Liverpool, perhaps advising clients on suitable paintings or etchings.

I once asked to play with what seemed to me to be a cabinet of Punch and Judy figures, but was sternly rebuked: the cabinet was not to be touched, let alone played with. As my great-grandfather was long dead I thought this sensitivity odd and took my bow and arrow out to the sands, already then covering half of the back garden. I lost one of my very expensive arrows and thus well remember that day.

They had one child, Albert Edward Travis, in 1888. Albert Edward is also pictured in several photos as in the uniform of the The King’s Regiment (Liverpool), the 9th. These photographs appear to have been taken while under canvas on field exercises. He is first pictured as a very young cadet, perhaps as a runner, and then later as a corporal. This advance may have been due to the fact that he was literate as many cadets were not. There is a postcard from 27 July 1908 from Albert to his mother when she was on holiday in Southport from Hook in Hampshire where he had apparently taken part in a summer YMCA camp. He writes that he came there on a boat which was perhaps the fastest route from Liverpool in those days. He is there depicted in a photo as a corporal in the 9th Liverpool.

In 1906 Albert Edward was offered a studentship at the City School of Art at the Municipal Technical School in Mount Street which he took up. This School later became the art college which the Beatles Paul McCartney and George Harrison attended. The City School of Art then placed great emphasis on the ability to draw. The School offered several practical courses such as sketching which was essential in the mapping of the coasts of the Empire for shipping, the drawing of species which were flooding in from all corners of the globe, and a course in drawing engineering structures. Once completed, the course served a range of possible professions and trades.

There are some flamboyant and debonair photographs of Albert Edward, probably taken during his School of Art days. He appears to have been strikingly good-looking.

When I met him in my childhood he always stressed the fact that he was an artist although he was working a chauffeur at the time and there his paintings on the walls of the sitting room. As far as I can remember these were landscapes in the rather muddy tones. My knowledge of art at the time were limited to one lesson a week at my preparatory school, two van Gogh reproductions on the stair-walls of our house, my father’s drawing class books of red crayon figures and a repetitive book called “Art” by Clive Bell which my father made me read.

 

My mother indicated that Albert Edward wasn’t quite right in the head and as he stood in a corner of the room reading a bible on a lectern I was inclined to believe her.

Albert Edward married Sara Hilda Taylor in 1909. I was never told how they came to meet, but Sara Taylor came to live in West Derby, a part of Liverpool, in 1901 from Hesketh Bank on the Lancashire coast. My father, in his sixties, wrote down for me that she came from Derby, but he must have known she came originally from Latham and that West Derby was part of Liverpool, but I cannot see the reason for his apparent deception unless he was suffering from some lack of memory.

Sara Taylor, born in 1889 at Otterhead Farm, was the daughter of James Taylor, born in 1850. James was a farmer with 104 acres of land, and employed four farmhands, and two boys. They had nine children. Sara had a six-year older sister, Helena who was shown in the 1901 census as living in Liverpool in 1901. It may be that Sara met Albert Edward through her sister Helena. Helena married the chief clerk at Crawford’s biscuit factory, then a national name for biscuits. When I went to see Helena and her husband in 1958 he told me he also courted another younger Taylor sister which may have been Ruth or Sara, but that in the end he married Helena. He told me James Taylor gave him an hour to court the younger sister, but that Helena put the clock forward so that he only saw the younger sister for half-an-hour. I was amazed to hear that that still rankled after sixty years. They had no children.

Albert Edward married Sara in 1909, perhaps when he had finished his course at the Art School. They appear to have lived with his parents in the house they had bought on the seaside in West Derby. The family was probably prosperous as it was the Edwardian period when the Empire was still expanding and they seem to have visited Other’s Head farm often. There are later pictures of my father with James Taylor’s prize Shire horse and with his cousins and a pony at the farm.

 

Albert bought a new 3.7 litre Crossley Sports Two Seater in 1923. Philip Travis is in the dickey seat, Sara Travis in the driving seat and Gordon Travis on her lap.

Unfortunately Sara had goitre which was apparent in early photographs, though it is unclear whether Albert knew of this before his marriage as Sara covers it with a high collar in most photos.

It is not clear what Edward Albert did in these years between 1909 and 1914, though all indications are that he tried to contribute to the household by selling his paintings which he told me he did with success. He may have worked in the family gilding business, but I never heard him mention that.

In 1910 King Edward VII died and George V came to the throne. Times were still prosperous and although Edward Albert Travis was then 59 the business still thrived. The Art Nouveau movement and the Arts and Crafts movement required different frames than previously, but there was still a demand for frames for the new painting styles.

On November 5, Guy Fawkes’s day, Philip Edward Travis was born. I never heard of any problems with the birth or the baby. The earliest photograph is dated 21 June 1913 and shows a bonny boy with an intelligent gaze and a grin on his face.

In 1914 Germany invaded Belgium and as Britain had a treaty with Belgium that if Belgium were attacked Britain would go to her aid war was declared with Germany on August 4. Initially it was seen as a localized war in which an expeditionary force would force the Germans to leave Belgium. In fact, on the day war was declared the British Cabinet spent much of the day discussing the Irish question. The Boer War had taught the British Army the need for swift movement and horses, so little had been done to mechanize the British Army. Officers left for the front with their horses, a groom and a batman to join their regiments. For the first two years there was no conscription and the Army consisted of career Army officers and volunteer other ranks.

The Royal Navy was the largest navy in the world and a blockade of German ports was started in November. Winston Churchill as First Sea Lord had taken the brave decision to switch the British Fleet from coal-fired to oil-fired in 1912. While the changeover took place over the next year Britain was vulnerable. However, the change was highly to the advantage of the Royal Navy in WWI.

There is a photograph of Albert Edward in the uniform of the Royal Engineers with his son Philip aged perhaps two. It is highly probable that Albert Edward volunteered sometime in 1915 when it became apparent that the Great War was not going to be over quickly.

He was selected for the Royal Engineers rather than The King’s (Liverpool), the 9th, an infantry regiment where he had been a cadet in the reserves as the course he took at the Art School included drawings of three-dimensional objects and engineering. The scholarship to the Art School probably saved Albert’s life as casualties in the The King’s regiment were 300% while as a driver in the Royal Engineers Albert survived.

The family also had a car and Albert would have been more aware of mechanical matters than most of the populace and probably enjoyed driving as well as being able to drive. Driving a car was in those days as much a matter of keeping the vehicle going as of driving it. There was no compulsory driving test although there was a voluntary one, but there was a driving licence issued by the local authority. This was only in case an offence occurred and to raise revenue.  

Albert became a driver with the Royal Engineers and was sent to France. It soon became apparent that the British Army needed vast quantities of supplies moved up to the front and lorries must have comprised the major part of this transport system although there were a great many horses in use as well. The Army had had a great shortage of horses and mules in the Boer War and had scoured the world for animals. They had also seen the need for highly dynamic tactics. These were the lessons they learned and the Army was poorly equipped to conduct a mechanized war on an industrial scale statically in trenches.

I never heard my grandfather discuss his time in the Great War. There are some photographs that seem to be taken around in 1914 or 1915 and some later photographs where he appears to have been attached to an ambulance unit at a hospital. He is shown with a red cross or medical corps armband and with a large number of nurses. There is a photograph of Albert probably taken in 1918, standing in front of a military hut. He looks older and thinner and worn out. He has the same military moustache that he wore as a student. His eyes are two slits squinting in the sunlight.

Sara Hilda Taylor was the ninth child of ten of James Taylor, born 1850 and Jane Rimmer, born 1853. Nine of the ten children survived to adulthood. Otterhead Farm comprised 104 acres, with four men, two boys, and three indoor servants. The Taylor’s appear to have been prosperous. James owned a Shire horse and he was presented a medal from the king, perhaps George V, for this horse. The farm lies near Hesketh Bank on the flat country in Lancashire between the River Ribble and the sea. The girls appear extremely well-dressed in the extravagant clothes of the Edwardian era, one photographed on what looks like a picnic, another under an oak tree and another on top of a hillock.

Rimmer is a very common name in the Southport, Lancashire area and many of the neighbouring farms are owned by farmers named Rimmer. It is possible that James increase the size of the farm or at least gave himself the opportunity to exchange services by marrying a local farmer’s daughter. The farm seems to have nearly doubled in size from the 1841 census through to the 1901 census.

James Taylor can be traced back in the male line to his great-great-grandfather W.M. Taylor who was born in 1700. The farm may therefore have been passed on from eldest son to eldest son for five generations when Sara Taylor was born. There is a photograph of the farm in genuine timber-framed Tudor style so that the farm itself goes back at least to the 16th century. A feature of Tudor buildings was an entrance with four openings and a very large central hall.

My father spoke with affection of the times he went fishing in the scenic River Ribble with his father and he may well have gone fishing when staying with his grandparents. When we visited my grandparents each year some members of the Rimmer family usually came to see us and my father seemed to know them well. One Rimmer was an undertaker and buried all the family. On learning what he did I prayed that I need not shake the hand of a man who handled dead people, but of course I had to do this. Much of these visits were taken up with my father’s attempts to sort out the family connections with the Taylors and the Rimmers, usually with little success.

If Albert Edward hoped he was marrying into the wealth of a big local farmer he was sadly mistaken. Sara Hilda Taylor suffered from a goitre and this condition became steadily worse. Then the only cure seemed to be large doses of iodine which had unfortunate side effects. As bad was the large expense that the condition incurred as there was no free health service in the first half of the 19th century.

My father told me that his father was ruined by the bills of the doctor. It was only through my great-grandmother owning the house they lived in that these bills could be afforded at all. By the time I visited my grandparents my grandmother’s goitre had grown as large as a football that hung, purple-coloured, below her chin making her look like a grotesque turkey. During our visits she sat silent in an invalid’s chair staring straight ahead, a result my father said of all the medicines she took in a vain hope of limiting the condition. It was always pointed out to me that she had been a beauty in her youth although I cannot see this in photographs at a younger age.

During these visits my mother talked to my great-grandmother, granny Travis, and my father discussed his relatives from the farm, while I had little to do but hope that tea would be done with so that I could go out onto the beach onto which the house backed and walk on the sand. It was so flat that the tide went out so that you could no longer see the sea. The wind blew sand onto the houses so that the owners fought a hopeless fight against the sand which seeped into their gardens. I was told the granny Travis had bought the house more cheaply than those further from the sea due to the risk of windblown sand. I was surprised that they took so little care of their garden that sand covered the cabbages planted in the soil in the garden.

When I looked for the house on Google Earth I saw that the whole street with the houses was no more, a mere line in the sand where once the road had been.

Philip Edward had a younger brother, Gordon who was born in 1923, eleven years after my father was born. Considering my grandmother’s health this must have been an unfortunate and perhaps unintended occurrence. When my father was twelve the burden of my grandmother’s goitre and the work with an infant was considered to overwhelm the family and my father was sent to live with his aunt, Helena who had married Herbert the chief clerk at Crawford’s biscuits. I visited Aunty Lena and Uncle Bert and found them living in an enormous detached house in a leafy avenue in Liverpool. They had no children and had little to do, but dote on their new-found protegé.

My father appeared bitter over this exile, but it must have been advantageous for his studies for he won a scholarship to the Merchant Taylor’s School in Liverpool as a day boy.

My father was doubly disenchanted with his younger brother as he was spoiled during the 1920’s economic boom. There are pictures of Gordon in a fine model motor car as well as in the driving seat of my grandfather’s sports car with Philip in the back seat. Later, my father darkly told me his brother was a gambler, a term I then had to have explained to me. Apparently Gordon spent all his money as well as other people’s on betting on horses, then illegal as well as unprofitable, though he appeared to me to be a quite ordinary and pleasant young man. In fact, I had some trouble thinking of him as my father’s brother as he was so much younger. He lacked however my father’s strong features and direct gaze and had inherited his mother’s plain features.

He went on, in 1930 to win a scholarship to Liverpool University to study Biology and Zoology, leaping up the social scale of the day. Only 0.1 % of the population at that time went to university. Biology and Zoology both required drawing skills at that time and indeed for the next fifty years for the microscopic examination of organs and animals required accurate drawing of what was seen in the microscope for later reference. When I studied Geology in the 1960’s we were still required to draw the sections we saw, as no photographic means of recording the images was yet available. It may have been my father’s interest in drawing that drew him to the subject, while it may also have been his happy days on the farm or his mother’s illness or even his fishing trips.

Philip Edward had the perfect environment at his aunt’s to study as she seemed when I met her to be an intelligent woman while her husband was a wealthy man. As far as I can remember she was a secretary when she met Herbert. He lent my father money to supplement his studies and being what would later be called an economist he arrived at my father’s home in 1959 to demand repayment of the loan made nearly thirty years earlier.

My father never told me he did well at any sport at the Merchant Taylor’s School, but he must have been proud of it as he often wore the old school tie. At Liverpool University he was president of the debating society, one of the principal offices of the university and one which often led on to a distinguished life in politics or the civil service. However, my father obtained a research scholarship although he had only achieved a second class Honours degree in 1933.

Unfortunately my father’s research studies coincided with the Great Depression of the 1930’s. He told me times were so hard that he could not sole his shoes and had to walk around with newspaper in them. He also could not afford lodgings and had to sleep in the laboratory.

He eventually earned some extra cash marking the examination papers of his professor’s students at one shilling an examination paper. This enterprise succeeded so well that my father could buy a second-hand Austin Ruby, a tiny car with a 747 cc engine. He always drove with the long leather gloves his father had used in France in the Great War.

His research subject was plaice. No one knew where they spawned or how they travelled if at all. My father therefore took his bottles of formaldehyde and his slides and went to Iceland where he spent a year catching plaice. He found where they spawned and how they travelled and came back to Liverpool. Plaice was an expensive fish and the study had great economic value. According to my father, his professor set about stealing the research project from him, in my experience a not uncommon experience.

Philip Edward had a girlfriend. She was from down the road in Liverpool and he had known her since they were children. He was older than she was, but when she was eighteen she took a job in Liverpool while my father was at the university. Her name was Patricia and he carried a her photograph with him till he died.

In 1937 Philip Edward was walking down a glass corridor that connected the university with the biology lecture theatres at Liverpool Royal Infirmary. A nurse came by whom he knew and with her was a pretty nurse with jet-black hair. The nurse introduced Philip to the other nurse and he asked her to go out with him someday. She agreed and they arranged to meet. That nurse was Phyllis “Polly” Peters.

Within a few weeks Phyllis had persuaded Philip to become engaged to be married. Philip bought an engagement ring that must have taken a large chunk out of his research grant as it was a large round ring with rubies for love surrounding a centre of diamonds for eternity.

Phyllis Mary Peters was born in 1913, the daughter of a railway worker, Henry Peters, born 1871 and his wife Mary Wynne, née Barnes, born 1874 in Whitford, Wales. Mary Petes lived at 8 Lightfoot Street, Chester, a road running parallel with the railway tracks, a hundred yards from them, and not separated by any fence. Henry’s father was Thomas Peters, a brickmaker, born in 1837 from Lower Kinnerton, Cheshire. Thomas married Mary Hughes from Lower Kinnerton, also born in 1837. Thomas’s father was Edward Peters, also a brickmaker, born 1804, from Mold in Flintshire, Wales, a few miles from Kinnerton. Edward’s wife was Prissilla, born 1808 born in Buckley, Flintshire in Wales. She died in 1895.  

A brickmaker was a demanding trade as unfired bricks were stacked in a pile the size and shape of a small cottage with a coal fire in the centre. The bricks were fired for several days during which time care had to be taken that no holes developed that would give an outlet for flames and a resulting drop in temperature which had to be kept very high. If the firing was successful the bricks were ready for sale, but if the firing was unsuccessful the whole procedure had to be repeated. Brickmakers supplied the expanding industrialization of Britain as well as the growth of housing in all large cities. A brick veneer for a one storey house could require as many as ten thousand bricks.

Mary Barnes’ father was Joseph Barnes, a coal hewer who started work in the mines when he as 13, born in 1839 in Whitford, Flintshire. Mary Barnes’ mother was Mary Williams, born 1837 in Whitford. Joseph’s father was George Barnes, born 1809 in Whitford, a lead miner. He was a devout member of the Welsh Methodist religion and he later financed the building of a Church at Holywell. George started as a miner at the age of 12. Without knowing of George I myself worked at a coal mine in Wrexham 16 miles from Whitford 139 years later. It is hard to imagine how he amassed sufficient funds to build a church, but my Aunt Florence showed me the original papers.

The Methodists are a Christian evangelistic movement founded by John Wesley in the 1740’s. They were teetotalers, were opposed to smuggling and the slave traffic and their members were found in the working classes. The Welsh offspring, known as Welsh Chapel was stricter than the Methodist Church. Each Chapel had Elders who at Sunday services encouraged parishioners to come forward to confess their sins in front of the congregation.

The Elders also encouraged parishioners to inform them if members transgressed, for example by being alone with a member of the opposite sex. The prayer book and the services were in Welsh. It thus may be said to be an extreme form of English Methodism which had mellowed since its formation.

The Welsh are a Celtic people. When the Romans conquered Briton the ancient Britons, Celts, fled to the inhospitable, rain-swept Welsh mountains beyond the reach of the Romans. The Romans eventually subdued the Welsh, but they did not settle in the country and it kept its language and its culture.

The Welsh, then as now, are known for three things: thieving, singing and sex.

In the 1881 census Mary Barnes is listed as a servant girl at the age of 12. In the 1891 census Mary Barnes was staying with cousins in St. Helens in Lancashire in England. The English and Welsh censuses are on different databases so it was hard to find her as I expected her to be in Whitford in Wales where her parents lived. Mary had been a servant girl since she was 12, and she may have been living with her relatives St. Helens as a servant girl, but she also may have been visiting.

In 1895 George Wynne was born, Mary Barnes, my grandmother, having married James Wynne sometime between 1891 and 1895.

I do not have Mary’s marriage certificate. However, Mary Barnes had an elder sister, Amelia, who was mad. In the 1901 census George Wynne, aged six, is shown as living with his grandfather Joseph Barnes, his wife having died, and Amelia Barnes. John Barnes. Mary’s brother also lives in the household. In later censuses George Wynne also lives with his grandfather. I therefore believe that George Wynne may have been the illegitimate son of Amelia Barnes and that my grandmother Mary Barnes married James Wynne from Whitford to give the baby a legitimate name. She also escaped her life as a servant.

James Wynne and Mary had two “more” sons, Joseph born in 1899, and James Wilfred born in 1900 and a daughter Edith born in 1903. My mother always insisted that she had three step-siblings, Joseph, James Wilfred, and Edith with Florence as a full sister. This also indicates that George was not the son of Mary Barnes, though my mother most often refused to answer questions about her family at all. She would however talk much about them as long as she chose the subject and the way the story was told.

It is, however, hard to explain why Mary Wynne had no children during the three years 1896, 1897 and 1898, especially as her first child was with his grandparents. Contraception was not available to the working classes. Rape in marriage was not a legal concept until 1991 in the United Kingdom. The principal concern in the overcrowded two-up, two-down cottages of the working classes was incest as up to sixteen persons lived in these small cottages, that is to say too much sexual activity, not too little.

The answer also may lie in Kassowitz’ Law. Kassowitz was a German doctor who observed that if the mother had syphilis the first child could be sickly, or so weak that it “failed to thrive”, as the doctors expressed it on death certificates, having congenital syphilis. The following pregnancies resulted in miscarriages or in children who failed to thrive and died after a few days or weeks. After five or six pregnancies the children started to be free of congenital syphilis and grew up normally. George may have been sickly and required the attention of his grandparents while it was not until five years after the marriage that healthy children were born.

Mold was in Wales and both James and Mary were Welsh and spoke Welsh in the home.

In 1903 or 1904 James Wynne died and Mary Wynne moved to Lightfoot Street, Chester where she bought a boarding house, her guests being mainly railway workers. Quite how she managed to raise the money to buy a boarding house is also a mystery as she by then had two children. She was certainly a personality with both cheerful and ruthless sides to her nature.

Chester in England was rich while Wales across the border was poor. Unemployed Welshmen often immigrated to Chester to find work although they only spoke Welsh. There was thus something approaching a Welsh mafia in Chester. As Mary Wynne spoke both Welsh and English after working in England as a servant girl she found herself to be an important person for both Welshmen and Englishmen looking for cheap labour. Mary formed a servants’ agency and bought four tobacconists which all were at the centre of the Welsh community in Chester.

In 1905 Mary Wynne became pregnant with one of her lodgers, Henry Peters, a tall, handsome railway goods guard with copper red hair born in Kinnerton in England on the border. Mary was only four foot ten inches tall so her account of Henry as tall may have meant he was perhaps five feet five inches tall. She married him and in 1906 Florence Peters was born.

Mary Peters was busy with her lodgers, her four tobacconists and her servants’ employment agency. Henry was injured in an accident on the railway and he then worked as a conductor and in the office, but finally became an invalid, staying at home. Mary was then 32 years of age, had been working for 18 years, had at least four and perhaps five children. Her grandfather Joseph died in 1901 and Mary had brought her mad sister Amelia to live in a house two numbers down the road, in effect a further member of her household.

Mary had her own bicycle to travel to her tobacconists’ and a small dog to keep her company. It is extremely unlikely she wished to have more children.

In 1913 Phyllis Mary Peters, my mother, was born when Mary was 39 years old, seven years after Florence was born. She was called Phyllis after an English actress of the time called Phyllis Dare, a theatre actress in musical comedy plays who eventually married an aristocrat. Henry may have seen her play in Chester in a music hall and, being taken with her, chose her name as the name of the new baby. It was, however, entirely appropriate.

Mary and the Wynne children spoke Welsh and went to Welsh Chapel each Sunday. Henry was English and spoke no Welsh, while Florence spoke English, understood Welsh, but did not speak it. This must have made for an odd life at home for Henry. Though he was born in Kinnerton in England, he worked on the railways in Mold in Wales before moving to Chester and might well have understood some Welsh.

Women ran and dominated working class households in the industrial north of England. The men worked, gave their wives their pay on a Friday night, were given spending money, and went to the pub and bought beer as long as their spending money lasted. This system was still in force when I was a teenager and staying with my Aunt Florence in Chester in the 1950’s. About seven each evening Uncle Owen, a Welshman, would wake up in his armchair by the fire and say, “Hey up, lad”, look at me and ask me if I wanted to go out to the pub with him. This I did and he sat and drank a couple of pints until a few tears ran down his cheeks, saying little. He bid his mates goodnight, made a joke with the barmaid, and then we walked home together. He drove a steam crane in the railway yards until four o’clock, and then came back to close the shop, clean up and do the orders.

My Auntie Flo worked in the shop for board and lodging for herself and her husband. During her thirty-four years’ work while my grandmother lived she was never paid any wages. When I asked her why she had not asked for wages, she replied, “I didn’t dare to”.

Mary acted as did most landladies as a bank for the lodgers as they could not open a bank account and all wages had to be paid in cash by law. She thus had a considerable amount of money to look after, but at the same time this made her credit good. Some lodgers left in a hurry or died and their wages got left behind.

There was a woman who cleaned the house every week, called a ‘skivvy’. Mary Peters avoided manual labour as even in the working class there was a hierarchy with manual workers in the home being at the bottom of the ladder. Mary no doubt also had a woman who
‘did for her’ which is cooked and made the beds. Working men who were her lodgers came in with their work clothes and boots on, and kept these on as they had no other clothes. Houses were draughty and cities were covered in soot from domestic fires and factory chimneys. A house beside a railway yard was especially dirty as steam and coal dust came in from the locomotives and steam cranes used for unloading goods trains.

Mary was keen to have the children working as soon as possible. James Wilfred started as an apprentice to a garage in 1912 to become a mechanic, the school leaving age being 12. He also showed a talent for music and played the piano in the upstairs parlour where the large family joined in a Welsh sing-song on some evenings. Railway workers were exempt from the Great War conscription, railway work being a reserved occupation.

Mary and Henry were both politically active, Mary going to the weekly meeting at the Whig club on a Saturday night and Henry going to the meeting at the Labour club.

The job of looking after the new baby fell largely to Edith and Florence as did most of the running of the household which perhaps numbered ten or twelve persons including lodgers, George living with his grandfather and Joseph having left home. The baby was called Mary, but as this was confusing with her mother being called Mary too, the baby was called ‘Polly’ which was a familiar, spoken name for those called Mary.

When Polly was three Florence was carrying her down the stairs. Florence was herself only ten and she dropped the baby. Polly’ arm broke at the elbow, but Florence did not dare tell her mother that she had dropped the baby. Florence kept this to herself until she told me about this eighty years later, shortly before she died.

Without attention, the arm set at an angle and Polly always had difficulty in using her right arm as it was stiff and slightly crooked and hurt on and off. She was always confounded by this arm and looked puzzled when it hurt as no one ever knew the truth about it except Florence.

The new baby was however very pretty and soon became the darling of the household. Perhaps Florence was more than attentive due to the guilt she felt about dropping her.

In 1918 the Spanish Flu pandemic swept the world, killing about three percent of the population, more than died in the Great War. It struck down young and old, healthy and unhealthy. It is now known that it was a retro-virus where good health gave no protection. The Wynne-Peters household was petrified that someone would get Spanish Flu as they assumed it was contagious and my grandmother and aunts still spoke about it fifty years later.

They were lucky and no one caught the disease.

Meanwhile Edward Albert Travis returned from the Great War to Peel Common in Hampshire. These photographs show him at the establishment which appears to have been a hospital. There is a post card from which it appears that Edward had been wounded or injured. He always appears at the end of the photograph. He might have been an ambulance driver at the end of his convalescence as he appears with a Red Cross armband in some photos.

Edward appears ten years older rather than four years older by the end of the Great War. He was then thirty-seven years old. The family business that Albert had built up collapsed during the Great War as no-one bought gilded picture frames and Albert is said to have entered the grain trade. He may have been influenced in this by his father-in-law who ploughed with prize shire horses on his farm. However, the motor car was by now the coming method of transport and the sale of grain for horses for transport and agricultural work declined. The business was wound up and Edward was without a firm and without a job. Using his School of Art qualification Edward obtained a post as custodian at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, one of the country’s major art galleries.

However, Edward’s appointment came to an end, perhaps as the connections his father had made in Liverpool came to an end and perhaps due to the Great Depression in 1933. Edward was for a time unemployed, but obtained a post as a chauffeur, using his Great War experience as a driver in the Great War.

Gordon Travis was born in 1921. There was no state health care and Sara’s health problems due to her thyroid deficiency took most of the income of the family. There is a photo of the sports car the family owned so that at least in 1924 the family’s income was substantial.  Albert Edward died in 1926 aged 75 and the family’s fortunes appear to have declined rapidly.

In 1926 Philip could no longer be supported by the family, or was no longer able to be housed with the baby, and he went to live with his mother’s sister Helena, called Lena, and her husband. They had no children of their own, but the couple was wealthy as Herbert was chief clerk at Crawford’s biscuits and they lived in a large detached house with servants. I remember as a child in the 1950s that we always were sent a tin of Crawford’s biscuits for Christmas. Here Philip could study at leisure and visit his family whenever he wished as Helena lived a tram-ride from Philip’s home in Everton, a suburb of Liverpool. While I was staying in Chester as a fourteen-year-old my father asked me especially to go and see Aunty Lena and Uncle Bert which I did, taking a tram out to their house. Liverpool was my father’s home town and he underestimated the difficulty with which I managed to arrive at their house having been cloistered in a boy’s school in the country in Hampshire. I felt that my father always resented this expulsion although it was to his advantage and probably led to his ability to obtain a scholarship to Liverpool University.

My maternal grandmother, called Nain which is the Welsh for grandmother, wanted the children to work as soon as possible in a trade. She threatened them with the words, “If you don’t do as I say I will put you into service”. My grandmother had herself been in service when she was twelve and knew what a desperate position it was.

A servant would have difficulty meeting a husband as she would at once have to leave her employment and have nowhere to live if she appeared to be going out with a young man. A young man in his turn would not consider a servant girl unless he could find no other wife as she could never work in service once they married. Wages were minimal and often not paid as fines were often given by the head of the household.

A servant was also at the mercy of the head of the household and particularly of the wife as the servant would not get the necessary reference that was needed for another job in service if she caused any displeasure. She was, if pretty at especial danger of being seduced or raped by the sons in finer houses. If a child was born she would be put onto the streets and have little option but to prostitute herself.

Service was as near to slavery as you could get without actually being slavery.

The Great War improved their position somewhat as the shortage of men due to the millions killed in the war gave a shortage of workers in all fields.

Wilfred became a mechanic eventually with his own garage, although he wanted to be a musician as he was gifted played many instruments. He played the organ in the chapel the family attended as well as at a local asylum on Sundays, perhaps where his aunt Amila now might have been. In 1915 Edith left school at the age of twelve and became an apprentice to a cook at her mother’s insistence. Edith hated cooking and was never any good at it. Later she often said, “When it’s brown it’s done, when it’s black it’s buggered”, which was about the limit of her cookery skills. He mother wished to have all the household’s needs met by as many of the children as possible to avoid the expense of employing someone to do any work.

The family members all had a lively sense of humour, the mother Mary being a cheerful and amusing person. Henry alone seems to have been a mysterious figure with a sadistic streak. My mother told me he would stir his hot tea and if my mother was not looking would put the hot spoon on her hand or arm and laugh when she cried out. She also spoke little of him when I questioned her, saying, “He died when I was young so I don’t remember him”. In fact, she was twenty-three when he died in 1936. Being an invalid he was also at home all the time and Polly must have known him well.

Florence was twelve in 1918 and left school to become an apprentice to a dressmaker. She had no interest in clothes, could sew only badly and was entirely unfitted to be a dressmaker. She had an ungainly body, was as plain as she was good-hearted and wore a pinny all her life from dawn till dusk. However, the family needed someone to make clothes and mend and darn. Her mother Mary bought a Singer tramp sewing machine for Florence to work with. She still used this machine to sew with when she was ninety for clothes for her great-grandchildren.

Mary ran the home as much like a business as a home. Everything had to pay for itself. The children were to help by learning a trade while Mary collected rent from the lodgers, often illiterate Welsh-speaking workmen who relied on her, collected the weekly takings from the four tobacconists, riding round on her bicycle to collect the takings, and earning commission on the servants’ agency. Mary was by now a well-known and well-respected figure in Chester, her energetic and cheery nature appreciated by all the business people and customers she met each week.

In 1921 the school leaving age was raised from 12 to 14. Polly was then eight. She could thus look forward to another six years at school without the fear of being “put into service”.

Polly was extraordinarily attractive and was spoiled by both the lodgers and the family. Many of the lodgers would give her a small tip, especially if they were drunk as they always were on a Friday and Saturday evening. She had jet black hair, bewitching brown-green eyes, and long eyelashes. She had an open cheery laugh like her mother’s. Mary was, however, doubtful about whether all the money she banked and kept in a Welsh dresser was all there all the time. She also heard too often from Polly that she had been short-changed by a tradesman. Mary took to keeping her cash in a tin under her bed and adopted an openly wary attitude towards her as I was to see when they met alone in later life.

Once, with the house to be cleaned, Edith and Florence asked the young Polly to help. After the cleaning was done Edith and Florence asked Polly why she had not helped them. Polly replied, “Well, I moved the fire-brush”. For a while after that she was called ‘Polly moved the fire-brush’ by her sisters.

At the local school Polly showed her intelligence and personality. She got top marks in all subjects, and could play the piano. When she was fourteen she gained a scholarship to study to Chester Grammar School, thus being able to gain the coveted School Leaving Certificate when she was eighteen. The world would then be open to her. She was still threatened with being “put into service”, but her intelligence at school meant that she could ignore this threat.

Wilfred formed a band in his spare time and played at village halls, making money from this activity. Polly started going to these dances when she was fifteen. A dance at a village or town hall always ran a lottery with a prize for the winner. A dance was started and the packet with the prize in it was passed from couple to couple. When the music stopped the couple holding the packet, and it was usually the girl, got the prize.

Wilfred’s surname was Wynne and Polly’ surname was Peters so no one was to know that they were step-brother and step-sister. Together they ran a lottery scam. When Wilfred saw that Polly had the packet he stopped playing. The prize could be opened and later wrapped up again for the next dance.

Polly often told those who would listen, including me, how amusing she thought it was when everyone came up and congratulated her. She did not care about the prize, but clearly was delighted at the attention and the envy. She appeared to have no second-thoughts about the morality or justice in this so that the visits to the Chapel each week cannot have had any effect. 

Polly excelled at the school, enjoyed English and played the leading role in the school play. After her success on the school stage Polly decided that Phyllis was a more fitting name and she used it whenever she could. From now on, Phyllis divided the world into those who adulated her and the rest.

When she was about sixteen or seventeen she began to go out with a boy at the Grammar School called Paul who was the son of the Chester City treasurer. Her grandfathers had been a brickmaker and a miner and now she could take a gigantic step up into the upper middle class. In Chester you could not rise much higher than City Treasurer and no boy was more eligible than Paul. Perhaps, as well, Phyllis may for the first time genuinely have been in love with another person than herself.

Paul was nineteen when he left Chester Grammar School, perhaps to become an accountant after the summer holidays. His father bought him a car to drive around in.

There was a small, shallow lake near Chester where you could hire a boat or a punt. Paul and his friend and Polly went to the lake for picnics. Phyllis stood on the bank while the boys punted and she took a photo of them standing up in the punt with Paul’s new camera. Much later my Aunt Florence showed me the photograph. The following Sunday they again went to the lake. Phyllis stood on the bank while the two boys rowed out into the middle of the lake. Paul stood up to wave, a breeze rippled over the water, and the boat capsized. Neither Paul nor his friend nor indeed Phyllis could swim. Phyllis watched in horror as the boys splashed around for a few seconds and then disappeared into the depths.

Phyllis never took another photograph, did not like having her photo taken, and looked away if she was in time to see someone taking a photo of her.

She passed her School Leaving Certificate with good grades. However, she had planned for an engagement and a marriage after school, not for a trade. Neither my mother nor any other Peters relative ever mentioned that Nain had suggested my mother become a nurse and I think the decision must have been my mother’s alone. Her father, Henry, was an invalid after injuring his hand when it became squashed between the buffers of two railway wagons. Henry died in 1929 when Polly was sixteen and his illness and injury may have influenced Polly in making the choice she did. Edith wanted to become a nurse and she may also have played a part. Also, the weekly visits when her mother took her to see her mad Aunt Amelia may also have influenced Polly. Also, there were few openings for young women of intelligence which required excellent exam results. Nursing was one of these.

Phyllis took the entrance exam to the Liverpool Royal Infirmary, then the largest hospital in the world and one with a first-class reputation.

As with Edith and Florence, Phyllis could, however, not have selected a more unsuitable profession. However, there was no National Health Service then and any medical care had to be paid for in cash so that the choice would have been of help to the family so she may have received some moral support from them. Any medicine had to be paid for, whether the doctor prescribed something of use or of no use. With four children, her husband and Mary herself there was always the risk that a medical bill would wreak havoc with the household’s financial future. A sick lodger got no pay and if he needed a doctor Mary had to make a difficult decision: she had to decide whether to let the sick lodger stay or throw a sick man out onto the street. On the other hand, she had to make money from her lodgers. A nurse in the family would solve these problems.

Also, Henry was constantly in pain after the injury to his hand. Mary had to pay for a doctor to attend to him from time to time. Then the only pain killer was Valerian which was a drink made up of wine mixed with opium or morphine.

A trained nurse could do much to prevent the need for a doctor, and could tell what was serious and what was trivial.  

Phyllis took the entrance exam and six hundred candidates passed and were accepted. Phyllis told Florence that she had achieved the best marks of all, though Florence, gullible, was in no position to tell whether this might or might not be the truth.

Once passed, and living in Liverpool Phyllis decided that the slightly comic name of Polly could be left forever and never mentioned again. Phyllis, a name of sophistication with theatrical connotations. Polly was to be no more. She used her theatrical skills to talk like the doctors talked, not like she had talked at home and not with the Liverpool accent of the other nursing staff.

Liverpool was then a city of nearly a million inhabitants and the Liverpool Royal Infirmary was the largest hospital in the world.

With her cape and uniform with the nun-like headgear, Phyllis looked like a nurse. Unfortunately though Phyllis did not like people, and especially not sick people. Nursing was then carried out according to the precepts of Florence Nightingale. A patient was first and foremost someone to be nursed, this requiring that the nurse devote herself entirely to the well-being of the patient. With little in the way of effective medicine available and antibiotics yet to be discovered nursing was indeed largely a matter of helping the patient to be as comfortable as possible and as determined as possible to become well.

An empathetic but effective nurse could make all the difference between recovery and illness and death. While mastering reading, writing and mathematics Phyllis was the last person to devote herself to nursing another. It was she who was to be the centre of attention, not some ill person who smelled and was incontinent or whose injuries needed dressing.

However, Phyllis was good at tennis and played for the hospital. The injury to her right arm meant that she played a forehand stroke equally well with both her right arm and her left arm, a tactical advantage in tennis. Here, she met many doctors who she partnered and who she willingly went out with for outings or to a tea-shop. She learned how to avoid a pregnancy, using a rubber bulb which was filled with a mixture of water and vinegar, an effective contraceptive if used soon enough. She bought a cheap engagement and marriage ring from Woolworth’s which she kept for visits to hotels with doctors during away tennis matches. When Paul slid below the waters her brief encounter with true love for another was abandoned forever.

Phyllis and Philip seemed to have slid into an engagement. I never heard of any formal date and I never heard them discuss any event which led up to it. I do not know when they did get engaged, but my mother had a very expensive engagement ring which she always wore. Philip was a man who usually thought long and hard about his decisions, but who at times could be wildly impulsive.

Phyllis may well have seen Philip as her last chance to become married before she finished up on the shelf as did so many nurses. Nurses had to leave the profession when they got married, so many chose to remain unmarried if they liked nursing enough and many did. She may have seen him as having prospects. In particular, Aunty Lena and Uncle Bert were clearly wealthy, had no children and were fond of Philip. Uncle Bert may have appeared to have a similar position to that of the Chester City Treasurer.

Philip took Phyllis to the annual May Ball at the university. He designed a red dress for her which Edith and Florence cut and sewed. At the Ball Edith and Florence stood outside a window and looked in to see Phyllis dancing in her red dress. Phyllis noticed them, went outside and, according to Florence, berated them for standing there.

“Someone might think that you are something to do with me!” said Phyllis petulantly.

Phyllis may have felt she was emulating her successful mother, but her mother had a genuinely friendly side while Phyllis, like many an only child, lacked any real feelings towards other people. In fact, being so much younger than her siblings she was like a baby with five doting parents all her childhood.

Diseases of the lung were the most common as all men smoked and most men worked in smoky industries full of dust, or in mines full of particles that stayed in the lungs. Every second man died of bronchial disease or lung cancer, a long, drawn-out death with continual coughing and spitting.

Trainee nurse Peters smiled willingly at patients who got well as they were fee-paying and usually tipped a pretty nurse, while the plain nurses stuck to nursing. If the patient died the mourners tipped nurse Peters in their grief as she played the dramatic part of the sorrow-struck nurse. She got a tip. Nurses also took care of the personal effects of the patients who died and often relatives had little interest or knowledge of how much money their relative was carrying in their wallets or handbags when they went into the Liverpool Royal Infirmary. The hospital was so large that few outside an individual ward would know who worked where. However, the unmarried, hardy ward sisters and matrons, unmarried, had no illusions about the qualities of the young nurses working under them.

After four years, in 1935, nurse Peters became Sister Peters. The coveted State Registered Nurse qualification was hers. Soon after Sister Peters became a Ward Sister with her own ward. Here it was she who decided who got morphine as a pain killer and how much they were given. When life ebbed away and it was pointless to prolong suffering it was common practice to ease the pain forever by giving a dose of morphine that that was slightly above the limit so that the patient slipped into unconsciousness and death.

Sister Peters was often on night duty and as Ward Sister was in charge of the ward although the matron above her would officially be finally responsible for the ward. Morphine was used plentifully to ease pain and in particular to ease the pain of terminally ill patients. Sister Peters would administer morphine during her night duty and was obliged to stay on in the ward if a patient died to tell the relatives of the patient that he or she had died. This she did readily as grieving relatives often gave money to the nurse who had been with their loved one during their final hours.

This was sometimes a tip, and sometimes a request that the money be handed on to some cause such as a fund for cancer research. Sister Peters began to find these handouts to be substantial and after a while an unseemly number of patients would die during her night duty. The dose of morphine required to kill a patient was very close to the dose needed to relieve pain, and it would be a difficult task to prove that Sister Peters had given the patient a deadly dose.

Finally, trainee nurse Peters after the four years course passed all the written and practical examinations. She was now Sister Peters.

Her mother, Nain was now sixty-four years old and could look forward to her nursing needs in old age being taken care of.

After the war Florence always told me that the Germans had bombed the Liverpool Records Office and it had caught fire, destroying the records about everything and everybody. The records had, however, been moved and I have checked whether nurse Phyllis Mary Peters had obtained a State Registered Nurse qualification. The records were there, but there was no Phyllis Mary Peters who was registered as obtaining the S.R.N. at the Liverpool Royal Infirmary, or even of being there.

Phyllis then decided to leave Liverpool Royal and took a three-year course in children’s nursing at the Heswall Hospital in Cheshire. It was surprising that Phyllis took this course as she disliked sick children as much as she disliked sick adults. She probably took the course to be closer to her family in Chester. In those days there was a tunnel under the River Mersey, but a journey from Liverpool to Chester was expensive and took half a day.

Phyllis was eighteen in 1931 and seven years later the year would be 1938.

Meanwhile, Philip Travis was having problems with his doctorate. He viewed these as a temporary setback as he had never failed anything in his life before. He had bought the two large green books to write a doctorate in the required two copies, but had trouble getting started. He had in a way been two successful in that he had found where plaice spawned, a discovery of some academic merit and some financial importance to the fishing industry. The value of the results was too much of a temptation to his profession who managed to steal them.

His professor did this, a fairly common happening in the academic world, by publishing the results in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society before Philip could finish his thesis. The thesis would then either have to written to some extent around the important conclusions that were already published, or he would publish what would be viewed as a repetition of his professor’s work. Philip would find collaborating with his professor in the writing of his dissertation, as was usual, difficult as his professor had already stolen the core of the thesis by presenting it in public.

Another problem was that Philip had done hundreds of drawings of the plaice which would have to be pared down for a doctoral thesis. As he was interested in drawing this had taken too much of his time although the drawings were superb as I could see when my father showed them to me.

A further problem was that Philip had used up his research grant and was now correcting exam papers for his professor at one shilling per paper which also took time which should have been used to write up his thesis.

Philip was a pedantic person which is an advantage in a researcher, but can be a problem when you are writing a thesis where much must be left out. The thesis must be defended too, which Philip would not like to enter without much preparation. Having been President of the university debating society he did not like to lose an argument.

This success and interest in debates was to lead to two sinister failings in his character that were to cause him problems. He believed that to win a debate was to win a scientific argument which is not at all the same thing, especially when his rank in the Royal Navy allowed him to win many debates without any proper argument as his subordinates had their hands tied. He also slipped into the trap of feeling he could lie as long as he won debating points which led to his becoming increasingly distrusted, something that contributed to a succession of failures in his postings and career as well as to caution from his family and friends.

Phyllis took much of his time too which he later told me was the reason he failed to write up his doctorate. There was a great deal of truth in this, but a more ruthless man would have admitted that he had made a bad mistake and ended the engagement. Instead, he spent time and money many a Sunday motoring down from Liverpool to Heswell and then to Chester with Phyllis.

Florence had married a Welshman, Owen, who also worked at the railway yard in Chester and who was thus a fellow-worker of Henry Peters. He was a kind soul, an old schoolmate of Florence and a driver of one of the steam cranes that unloaded the railway trucks. His father was a groom to a gentleman, a reserve cavalry officer, and he had joined the Army with him in 1914. Three weeks later they had taken ship to Gallipoli to fight the Turks and both had been killed soon after landing. Owen thus never knew his father.

Florence told me that the boys chased her around a tree in the school yard and that Owen was the only one who never caught her to steal a kiss from her. They had had a daughter in 1936 and the baby, Glenys, had Henry’s copper red hair, freckles and sweet looks. The baby now took the place in Philip’s heart of Philip’s much younger childhood sweetheart as an idealized, innocent female.

Philip began to persuade himself that he wanted a daughter. Philip was also persuaded that he could emulate this cheerful and happy family who lived with Mary Peters above a shop Mary had recently bought in Upton after the death of her husband, a suburb of Chester on the main road to Liverpool. Florence worked in the shop with board and lodging in lieu of payment. 

Philip had started at Liverpool University as an undergraduate in 1930 and it was now about 1938, obtaining at any rate a second class Honours B.Sc. in Zoology and Biology in 1933, and spending five years as a research student. Philip decided to try for a teaching job in a grammar school somewhere, taking his large chest of specimens, his microscope and his two empty books in which to write to the thesis with him.

Philip was offered a position as Maths master at the Bentley School at Calne in Wiltshire, a Saxon town in the South of England, miles from Liverpool, to start in the Winter term of 1938. He obtained digs with the French mistress at the school, Marion Rogers, married to the paymaster at Harris’ bacon factory in Calne.

The Rogers were a very decent family with three girls and two adopted boys whose parents had died in a fire in a car while the two boys were in the back seat. The family lived in a lovely white house built in the Art Deco style by a missionary couple who have retired after a lifetime of work in China. The house, on the Oxford Road, was called ‘Kuling’ which means Cool Winds, the name of an English-built settlement in the mountains in China used as a rest home for missionaries. ‘Kuling’ was written vertically in green paint in Chinese characters down the East side of house, making it something of a landmark, standing as it did on the outskirts of Calne.

Phyllis was now left in Heswell, secretly grieving for an illustrious past as the daughter-in-law to the Chester treasurer, a past which had disappeared as suddenly as a morning mist. Her three years training at Heswell was now at an end, and once again she finished with an examination in a profession which she disliked. She decided to follow her fiancé to Wiltshire, obtaining a position at the hospital at Melksham near Calne where she had board and lodging and weekly pay. With a population of about ten thousand Melksham was a great change from Liverpool.

The farmers’ daughters who formed the nursing staff at the Melksham hospital had no time for the la-di-da accent and manners Phyllis had adopted, or for her lack of empathy towards patients, of whom many were related to the staff. When she relapsed into the northern dialect spoken in Chester they did not understand her at all. They knew and cared nothing for the long training Phyllis had had at Liverpool Royal and Heswall. In the pig farming district of Wiltshire her beauty counted against her rather than for her.

Philip, loath to admit a mistake of judgment, seemed to convince himself that he had invested so much time and money in the relationship that he must go on. His artistic side was also still fascinated by Phyllis’ good looks and beauty. He knew no women in the district and there were no longer the enormous number of young nurses and secretarial students available to men in Liverpool, even if he had an Austin Ruby.

Following the Great War there was an excess of women, both widowed and unmarried due to the million dead and one and a half million wounded young Britons. This led to a post-war preponderance of married men over married women in the big cities which had never before occurred in British history. By the 1930s half of men aged 30 were married.

This was partly a result of life expectance being about sixty years. Additionally, if a woman was to have three or four children before she was thirty-five which was then considered to be late for a successful pregnancy she must be married before she was about twenty-eight. After that women were described as being “on the shelf”.

Philip had been content to put off a decision to marry. He had by now realized that Phyllis’ charisma went hand in hand with, and was powered by, an inability to love anyone but herself. The centre of attention, she was fascinating; as a bystander she was insignificant. As a leading lady on stage she was magnificent; without the grease paint and the play she was nothing. Philip admitted he had been tricked, but was too proud to admit he had deceived himself.

Phyllis situation was becoming acute as war approached. As a qualified Sister, and all nurses then were unmarried, she would be expected to join the Army or one of the services, engaged in a profession she hated where there would be no glamour and considerable danger and away from the only marriageable bachelor she knew. If the coming war dragged on as long as the Great War she would be thirty years old when it was over, years past the age when most women were married. Philip might be killed or posted elsewhere and she would be marooned in the wilds of a southern farming district, far from home.

Philip finished his first year at the Bentley School in the summer of 1939. Philip was an intelligent and astute man, even though he lacked the common touch, perhaps because he had been an only child until he was ten years old. He was a complex man, torn between the artistry of his father and grandfather, the military and war experience of his father, the farming heritage of his mother, and his own training as a research student in Zoology and Biology. He always claimed a great belief in Science which bordered on a religion, not uncommon in the previous century, a belief which combined some but not all of the aspects of his character.

After war broke out in September 1939 Philip was thus forced to consider what his future would be and to plan for a war that might last four years if the Great War was anything to go by. Now 27 he was also at a marriageable age. He also remembered the idyllic family life of Florence and Owen with their daughter Glenys, now aged four. My mother told me on several occasions that my father married because he wanted a daughter, but my father told me that my mother had wanted no children. Whether this was a self-justification of what might become the inevitable, or a real desire I do not know.

She never mentioned her own expectations from the union, but I was to find that she sulkily and regretfully saw it only as a means of being provided for, not as a responsibility. Philip realized this too, but too late.

The reality of war was brought home to Phillip one afternoon when he was on lunch duty at the Bentley School. It was usual to take the boys around the square after lunch for a short walk. One day it was raining and Philip decided, unusually in such circumstances, to keep the boys in the school instead of going to the square. A German bomber came over and dropped a bomb into the middle of the square. No-one was hurt, the only damage being to a stone horse trough. His casual decision had saved the lives of a hundred boys.

Phyllis situation was now dire. Philip had put off first her hints about marriage, then her indirect requests for advice from Marion Rogers, and finally her entreaties for a decision. He hoped events would move on towards war so that either Phyllis or he himself would be separated and the matter resolved with no blame placed on anyone.

Phyllis devised a scheme based on her belief that all men were fools, and that would play on Philip’s refusal to believe that his own fiancée could lie outright to him. The plan would contain as much truth as possible and an enormous lie. It was also drastic as it meant that Phyllis would lose the nursing qualification she had spent years obtaining. However, such a loss Philip would take to indicate devotion to him, while in fact it only gave freedom to Phyllis herself and lifelong entrapment for Philip.

One Sunday in the spring of 1940 she told Philip, as he recounted it to me, and as I also heard it from myself from my mother, was that the staff had ganged up against her. The Matron, she said, had ordered her to clean the washroom floor with the red tiles where the bedpans were cleaned the next day. Phyllis, as she apparently said, would never do such a menial task. If true, this was indeed a menial order as even student nurses were then never required to clean floors.

But if true it must have meant that Sister Peters was no longer a Sister: she would be in a state of suspension from the nursing profession. The situations in which such a state could have occurred would have been an accusation of intentionally causing the death of a patient, a medical mistake of such magnitude that she was dangerous or dishonesty. In those days, pain killing was only carried out with injections of morphine. Washing floors was a task carried out by hospital orderlies and Sister Peters would not have been required to do that even as a student nurse.

A ward sister such as Sister Peters would make decisions on a routine basis about how much morphine to give. She, as did doctors, would also make decisions about when it was pointless to prolong terrible suffering, and suffering could be terrible in those days. An overdose of morphine was regularly given to end intolerable pain and an inevitable death although this was in law murder or manslaughter.

However, it would be quite possible that Sister Peters had been used to going one step further and ending rather too many lives. Sister Peters’ contempt for the weak went deep in her character. At Liverpool Royal Hospital such a thing as too many deaths would be missed in that gigantic hospital. At the Melksham Hospital many of the patients were personally related or known to the staff.

It is unlikely that such an intelligent person as Sister Peters with knowing would make a gigantic medical mistake.

Sister Peters had in her teens shown herself to be proud of carrying out frauds on those around her and then to derive both pleasure and profit from robbing dead patients.

Whatever was the truth, and the whole incident may have been dreamed up by Phyllis Peters, she found a way out that relieved her of being in a profession she disliked, becoming married, and being safe from being drafted into the Royal Army Nursing Corps which is what would have happened to an experienced Ward Sister in if war broke out as seemed increasingly inevitable.

“Would Philip”, he later told me she said, “collect her in his Austin Ruby that night as she climbed over the wall around the hospital carrying her little suitcase?” It must have sounded such a little favour on his part.

Philip indeed would do it. He perhaps found the idea of arriving like a knight on a white horse, albeit a driver in an Austin Ruby, to save a maiden in distress irresistible, despite his previous reluctance to take on a woman he increasingly had ceased to trust.

There was a full moon that night and Philip waited at the agreed place. Phyllis climbed over the hospital wall. At that moment her nursing career was over forever. Marion Rogers was forced to agree to let Phyllis share Philip’s room in her home.

In June 1940 Philip married Phyllis in the registry office in Calne. The rubber prophylactic device, a bulb filled with water and vinegar used by nurses as a cheap and practical method of birth control, then lay unused on the shelf in the bathroom, Phyllis performing her one and only part of the bargain. There are no photographs of their marriage and I never heard my parents discuss it at all which rather left me with the impression that it was something they both viewed with shame. They later excused this lack of evidence to others as: “it was a war marriage”.

Phyllis missed two menstrual periods by September 1940 and in May 1941 I was born.

My father left to sign up for the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve after the school holidays. His decision to volunteer was based on several factors, the most important being that he could choose which of the armed services he would be in for the war. Secondly, he had spent a year on an Icelandic trawler doing research in 1925 which experience he enjoyed. Thirdly, he told me that if there was a war on the safest place to be was on a mobile vessel, armed against attack by the Germans.

My father’s decision to join the R.N.V.R. was an all-or-nothing decision in tune with his personality. If a ship is attacked by larger ships or aircraft during a war they either come through it more or less unharmed, or they get hit, sink and the crew drown.

On September 30 1940 Philip joined H.M.S. Ganges, a shore establishment on the east coast where all recruits were kitted out and introduced to Naval Life. At the recruiting desk the officer said to Philip, “I see you have a Bachelor of Science Degree. You will therefore join the Electrical Branch, first as a seaman coder.” Philip did not disclose that his degree was in Zoology and Biology and that his knowledge of things electrical was zero. He always thought the incident highly amusing.

After being kitted out he was given shots against several diseases and then told to swim five hundred yards in the freezing water of the swimming pool. My father could swim well, but the injections made him feel ill and at times he believed his career in the R.N.V.R. would be a short one. However, he swam the five hundred yards and clambered half-dead out of the pool. Next the recruits were told to climb the mast at Ganges to see if they suffered from a fear of heights. Philip was not scared of heights, but once again he almost fainted from the effect of the injections given in the morning. This mast was infamous as several recruits fell off it to their death each year.

For two months he was given basic training, consisting of Naval square bashing, navigation, Morse code, signaling with flags, ranks and knots. Throughout this period the recruits slept in hammocks in large dormitories called messes. Here they ate, slept and spent any spare time they had.

Philip passed out and was then an Ordinary Coder, the lowest rank in the Navy, and equivalent in the Electrical Branch of Ordinary Seaman.

He was appointed then to H.M.S. Hastings in December 1940, a sloop which was rather like an armed trawler. H.M.S. Hastings patrolled the North Sea, protecting shipping, the most part of which were coalers and tramp steamers running down from Newcastle to London. Hastings was based in Rosyth in Scotland, some six hundred miles from Calne. The Home Fleet was based in Scotland as this was furthest from the German Navy and from German bombers.

As a Seaman Coder he spent most of his time in a radio cabin coding and de-coding messages. The Hastings operated the hot-bunk system, where when one seaman went off a four-hour watch he slept in the hammock of the seaman taking the next watch. My father later told me that he found this routine of four-hour watches the hardest part of the work as he never got any proper sleep.

The other irksome duty was passing up shells to the gunner at cannon in the fore from the magazine below as these weighed a lot and had to be passed up entirely by hand. At times he was on watch duty which meant standing on the bridge for four hours, looking mostly at an expanse of grey sea. Here, he found it hard to keep awake as nothing happened, but his career would be at an end if he slept on watch as he was then the only man keeping the ship safe.

The Hastings was in a collision and put in to Chatham for repairs. Here I first met my father, though I remember nothing of that. We visited the castle at Rotherham and walked around the grounds.

In 1941 Philip was recommended for a commission and he went to H.M.S. King Alfred in Hove in Sussex as a Midshipman, the lowest rank given to those aspiring to be an officer. Here he was fast-tracked and trained as an officer in the Electrical Branch, passing out as a Sub-lieutenant. The Royal Navy needed officers fast as much of the fleet had been scrapped in 1929 in the London Agreement disarmament conference, but was now building ships as fast as the shipyards could produce them. In addition there was attrition of active serving regular officers wounded or lost at sea due to the huge losses at the beginning of the war. More and more electrical equipment was being pushed into ships to replace mechanical systems, making the need for officers in the Electrical Branch ever greater.

The R.N.V.R. in the war comprised 80% of the wartime Royal Navy. 

Philip was posted to H.M.S. Dryad in Portsmouth to learn the electrics of a ship, and especially the new naval RADAR and ASDIC systems. When he arrived he was told that the systems were so new that no-one knew anything about them: he would have to teach himself the systems and design a course for subsequent officers. A zoologist, Philip fortunately arrived at Dryad with Sub Lieutenant Stephen Spens, a natural scientist, as his junior officer, and together they designed a course in RADAR and ASDIC. Then they held a rapid succession of one-week courses.

While at H.M.S. Dryad my father stayed in Fareham with a couple called the Arnolds with whom my father appeared to have been inordinately happy and they took him in as a son. Throughout his life he mentioned the Arnolds with affection although he appeared to me to have been seeking the parents that had eluded him in his childhood. He appeared not to have thought that such adulation made my mother uncomfortable and uncertain about the care she had provided for my father at home in Wiltshire when they married. Calne is not far from Fareham, but with petrol being unavailable in the war and train tickets only available from the government my father did not appear at home. Troops being given leave were often left to hitch-hike with military transport if they wished to travel and anyone in a car always picked up a hitch-hiker.

On 16 May, 1941 I had been born in a private nursing home in Chippenham. I later wished I had been born in Calne as whenever I had to fill in a form with “place of birth” on it I had to spell a ten-letter word of a place I never lived in, while Calne would have been much easier. There is a picture of me as a baby with my grandmother Nain who travelled down for my birth. As the widow of a railway employee she had free rail travel.

After completion of his RADAR and ASDIC courses my father returned to HMS Hastings which was then patrolling the Western Approaches. These were a rectangular area west of the British Isles where U-boats attacked British shipping sailing to and from America and Canada. My father told me that one of the more horrifying aspects of this convoy patrol was that no ship could stop to pick up survivors, some of whom the Hastings passed as they cried out for help. My father said survivors only lasted four minutes so their death was quick. My father got his first campaign medal for this Battle of the Atlantic, a battle against U-boats that lasted until 1945.

Hastings was damaged in a collision and had to sail to Chatham for repairs.

One day my mother told me my father was coming home. At last I would meet my oft-mentioned Daddy! He came and it was marvellous to have a Daddy at last. He had plenty of time to play with me and was also great fun. What my mother had not told me was that he was only coming home for two weeks. The day he left I felt as though my world had fallen apart. My hero, my friend, my support, my model, my father disappeared as suddenly as he had appeared. Neither he nor my mother seemed to be certain that he would soon come back eithers.

In May 1942 my father was promoted to Lieutenant and posted to HMS Stalker, an escort aircraft carrier being fitted out for the British in America, in San Franscico. The USA had not yet entered the war and my father was Peter1yeartherefore formally transferred to the US Navy as a Lieutenant. He took ship to Canada and then took a rail trip via New York to California.

Life in Calne returned to normal. I grew up slowly extending my knowledge of my surroundings yard by yard. There was plenty to see in the Oxford Road: farmers driving pigs or sheep or cattle to market on a Wednesday, horses and wagons with loads of hay or turnips, a farmer’s boy with a long stick sitting on top of them to see nothing fell off. The occasional lorry with troops passed by. Once a military band came along the street, playing as it marched. It was a mighty moving sight which made me wish I was old enough to join the Army. Few of the neighbours had cars though the Rogers had an old black Lancaster car which was parked across the road when it wasn’t in the garage.

My father was for the time being safe in San Francisco and my mother felt less nervous when the postman came to the door. Housewives dreaded the telegram boy with a message of a missing husband or son. It was clear though that she resented being stuck in Calne while her husband was enjoying California on American pay and with a fancy uniform. During this time my father made friends and canoed up the Colorado River, sending us a photo of this.

In October 1942 HMS Stalker left San Francisco and via the Panama Canal travelled across the Atlantic to support Operation Torch, the Allied landings in North Africa. Stalker carried Seafires, the marine version of the Spitfire. For this operation my father got his second campaign medal. 

 

In 1943 women between the age of nineteen and thirty had to register for war work. As my mother was then not yet thirty years old she was sent to work at Sharp’s ammunition factory in Calne. Thus it was that the girl who, when seventeen had seen herself as joining the Chester upper classes sat at a bench in a factory and greased the threads of shells.

England was desperate for nurses, but my mother could no longer be a nurse, let alone a Sister, any nursing after she deserted from her post at the Melksham hospital being impossible. What she did was punishable in law, but in the chaos of the war such a charge was forgotten.

If I could not be with the Rogers across the road my mother locked me in the bedroom while she was at the factory.

My father sent her a fixed sum each month for housekeeping, but she was also desperate for an income having become used to having plenty of personal spending money. The Rogers family across the road, Auntie Marion, looked after me sometimes when she wasn’t teaching while most often my mother locked me in the bedroom when she left for her shift at Sharp’s. I spent long, boring hours there waiting for her to come home. The only toys within my reach were her many shoes which I spent hours rearranging, my other occupation being trying to climb on the bed and then sliding off the pink silk bedspread.

Women could avoid war work if a family was billeted on them and my mother applied for this. A military policeman from RAF Yatesbury came to live with us with his wife and a baby, Eric and Joy. This meant I wasn’t locked in the bedroom anymore. However, my mother, too mean to hire a baby-sitter, took up the practice again after the war whenever she went into town.

My upbringing was harsh with the war as a constant excuse for smackings and beatings. My mother was resentful of the blows fate had dealt her and seemed to revisit them on me. It was only her broken right arm and inability to strike hard that from saved me from any permanent damage. She was, however, a woman I early learned to understand and with great effort to manipulate to avoid at least extreme punishment and violence. She was, however, highly unpredictable and never forgave a slight.

Once she crept up and hit me, as a small child, on the head from behind. I asked her, “What was that for?” She answered that it was for something I had done the day before, as though a young child could remember such things. Creeping up on me from behind seemed a curious way for any person to behave and particularly for an adult. I could not imagine anyone at the Rogers’ household doing any such thing.

Although I never liked her I could glimpse the occasional signs of, at least feelings of professional guilt towards me which I assumed she had acquired during her years of childrens’ nursing at Heswell. It was to this sense of duty that I always addressed myself when dealing with her, couching my needs in the terms of medical necessity.

Nain’s new grocers in Upton thrived under rationing. Florence and Owen were happy with Glenys, red-haired and freckled. Owen early in the morning was busy at his steam crane in the reserved occupation at the Great Western Rail Company, all of them living together behind and above the shop.

Children in the war were often treated with some irritation due their being in the way and not part of the war effort whilst at the same time being part of the raison d’être of many families for the nation’s sufferings and privations. There were few other children around and I in vain constantly searched for other children of my age. It was not a good time to have children, though some young men departing for the war left a pregnant wife behind as some lasting remnant of themselves should they be killed.

Nappies were made of old toweling, there was no soap, and it was essential that a child early be made house-trained. I once shitted in my nappy by mistake when I was one year old and I cried with fear as I waited for the inevitable punishment, feeling the large lump of shit banging between my legs. My mother bent me over her knee and beat me with the back of her hair-brush, her usual punishment.

All children’s clothes had to be made and it was easy to see the children of poor children. They were dirty and all the girls of all ages wore just a thin dress with no underwear, although no child I knew wore underwear then.

My mother wore long woollen knickers which went down her leg a bit. These became much stained with blood and as she hung them on the radiators to dry after an ineffective attempt at washing them they formed part of the household.

These knickers were a strange contrast to the elaborate make-up my mother wore whenever she went shopping. She would sit at her dressing table in her slip spending hours putting on make-up, brushing her jet-black hair and transforming herself to my constant surprise and incomprehension to some other woman than she really was. I would wait impatiently on the bed for the exciting walk into town and this make-up seemed to take an eternity while being in my eyes entirely unnecessary.

Once satisfied she would then try on various dresses and ask my opinion, “Do I look pretty?” Strangely, as I thought she was the most beautiful woman I had seen, she seemed to value my opinion as I once said, “No” and was at once beaten. After that I always answered, “Yes” to her enquiry. Then she would try on shoes, asking me firstly if I had played with them, forcing me to lie, and then changing from one to the other, sometimes several times over. If she was finally satisfied she put on a hat and then, most oddly, carefully pulled a veil of fine black netting over her face, concealing all the work she had spent in transforming herself. This, she explained, was how a lady dressed when she went outside the house.

As soon as I could walk I always was rapidly dressed in a romper suit, winter and summer, a red harness given by the Rogers was fitted to me and we left the house. The harness had bells on the front and my mother held the reins which prevented me from moving away from her. Tired, coming home, I would hang on this while my mother told me to stand up straight and not pull on her. If she stopped to exchange pleasantries with one of the few women who would talk to her, I would swing on the harness to distract myself from the endless, pointless chatter of the women.

“It’s a bit close today”, my mother would say, and receive the reply, “Yes, but not as close as yesterday”. Wiltshire was hot and sticky in the summer and freezing cold in the winter as the west wind swept across the treeless hills and through the houses. As I grew up in the summer of 1942 England had a long succession of sunny, rainless days.

In the town centre we once passed a cluster of frightened, forlorn unwashed girls in such threadbare dresses that you seen their skinny bodies through them. I had not seen these children before in Calne and I asked my mother who they were. She answered, “They are Jewish refugees, don’t go near them, or you will catch a disease”.

There were other groups of children, often siblings who had been evacuated from some large city and distributed among the townspeople of Calne. These too were to be avoided “As you never know where they come from. You might catch polio”. There was some truth to this as many evacuees came from the slums and were covered in lice and dirt and many had rickets. Many did not have a toilet at home and soiled themselves as they were used to having no trousers or knickers and merely a long cast-off man’s collarless shirt, so they weed or shitted where they happened to be standing. There was still an open drain that ran along the High Street in Calne and they used this as a toilet which was the original purpose of the drain. Some children, however, came from good homes and were merely lost in strange surroundings.

It was only later that I was to discover the real reason for my mother keeping me apart from these and any children: she did not think they belonged to the class of which she now considered herself to be a part. If the children were from better homes she did not wish to run the risk of being snubbed as ‘common.’

There were still many wounded soldiers from the Great War who would stand in the street selling matches or shoelaces, begging being illegal. One with one leg wearing his old Army greatcoat always stood at the corner where Oxford Road turned into the square and my mother always dropped a halfpenny or a farthing into his cup.

Edward Travis, too old for service in the war, began work at de Havilland’s, his wife Sara becoming sicker by the day. Gordon had trained as a joiner and also started work at the de Havilland plant near Liverpool where they made the Mosquito fighter-bomber. He was an addictive gambler, perhaps in an attempt to emulate the success of his praised elder brother. Bookmaking was illegal, bookmakers were criminals, and Gordon could not escape their clutches once he was in debt to them. However, he was very much his mother’s son, a Rimmer with the Rimmer ugliness in his face, and was to lead an unhappy life with one disastrous escapade after another, while losing any money he made to the bookies. He finally made bets for which he could not pay and took to crime, spending some time in prison.

My father despised him and had no understanding for his weaknesses, always when I asked only briefly observing that Gordon was, “a gambler, I never knew him as he was ten years younger than me and I left home when he was two”. I had the impression he blamed Gordon for his expulsion from the family although he may only have been distancing himself from this black sheep of the family.

Gordon always came to the annual visits we had with my father’s family, though I have but the vagueness memories of him. He would make jokes in a heavy Liverpool accent to me, though I hardly understood what he said. I was puzzled about his accent, trying to comprehend why my father’s brother spoke so differently from my father who had adopted the slightly nasal accent of the Royal Navy, the only time he gave away his origins being when he said, “Gayla” instead of the Southern English “Gaala”. Had I known my father better I would have corrected him, but he was disinclined to accept any criticism. When he returned from the war I had once joked as he made a long-winded and dull attempt at translating the Marseillaise for me. His face became stony and he went quiet. I felt that it was after that episode that he decided to send me away to school, determining that the attempt to love his son was one on which he would no longer waste his time.

He never did learn to love me and I certainly never loved him and indeed hated him. As yet, however, he was a far-off figure in a ship which I could not visualize in a place never revealed by my mother, but said to be secret.

My Uncle Owen’s brother John worked at the de Havilland as a photographer. He showed me photos he had taken from another aircraft of the Javelin jets, describing how hard it was to get a good photo with the equipment and negatives then available.

Calne lies in the South Downs and there were a great number of R.A.F. Bomber Command aerodromes in the area, RAF Yatesbury lying a mile outside the town. I would lie awake at night and listen for the long drone of a bomber. At first it sounded like a car approaching far away on the Oxford Road, and then it got steadily closer until it was overhead. Then it would not slow down as car must at the turning at the end of the Road, but would fade away in the distance, hopefully towards Germany to kill Germans, though it might as well be a German on his way to bomb Bristol or Coventry. I found this slow aero plane sound most soothing and always fell asleep soon afterwards.

I had no fear of bombers, but a great fear of German soldiers whom my mother painted in vivid and earnest awfulness. If nothing else, my mother had a way with words which made you believe whatever she said. Fortunately she never found out how impressed I was with her descriptions of Germans, or she would have frightened me with them.

I often dreamed of Germans surrounding the house while I desperately looked for something to kill them with. In my dream, my rifle emptied, I would hold it up and the bullets would hit the wood of the butt and the metal of the barrel. Finally there would be so many Germans that I could not stop them and I would wake up screaming just before they shot me. The image would stay with me all my life; I was not to know that I would have cause to defend myself from an enemy as unrelenting as any German.

Aunty Marion across the road was a house full of excitements and always a welcome change from the nervousness and sudden moods of my mother. The Rogers raised boxer dogs and there were often puppies you could play with. Ginger Rogers, the elder boy was a man in my eyes, but Keith Rogers who was about ten was my friend, protector and substitute father. He made, or obtained for me a box of wooden bricks made of oak. These I made into castles, villages, houses or roads or anything that took my imagination. I would lay them out on the floor of our lounge and play with them for hours, offering an endless supply of play compared with the horrible boredom of my mother’s bedroom.

Keith also made a cart with a handle for me, painted yellow and red and with my name on the back. Keith would pull me in it, but I could never find an adult who would not soon tire to pull me. These rides only went down the concrete path of our garden between the potato patch and the shed and up to the patch with the glass seed frame where my mother grew mint which smelled so strongly. At the bottom of the garden you could also turn left instead of right and the path went down beside the neighbour’s house to the side gate on Oxford Road which was never used.

There was a girl about my age who lived at the house next door, but my mother said they were, “not our class” and I could not play with this girl. We stared at one another through the railings if we happened to see one another, but as I did not know why my mother had forbidden me to talk to her I had little to say. So much was forbidden that I could not know what was merely a whim of my mother’s and what was a fearsome law sent out by the government.

The Gough’s lived on the other side. They were apparently “our class” as I was in theory allowed to play with Christopher Gough whose father was a bank manager. However, Christopher was a hemophiliac and I was told he would bleed to death if he got a small cut. This meant he could not fall over or hurt himself in any way which made playing with him frustrating. He also knew how to take full advantage of his illness as he would hit me in the eye and stand there expecting not to be hit back, unlike any other boy. I would tire of this one sidedness and I would break off our game, knowing that the pleasure of it all was very one-sided.

Such were the children of our neighbourhood, or at least of the bit that I could reach by walking around. At the back of our house were fields with cows and across the road were a row of houses backed by fields as well.

Down the road was a blacksmith’s and cooper’s shop which heated up the rings that went round wheels. My mother forbade me to visit this workshop, but I stole there when I could. The workmen were either old men or boys not much older than Keith, and they were friendly and explained the process of heating the iron and then setting the ring onto a wooden wheel to cool. It was easy to understand expansion and contraction if you saw it happen like that and I learned far more physics from these men and boys than I ever learned from my father. They did not bother to tell me to stand away from the hot coals as my mother would have done, but seemed to trust to my good sense to avoid them. It was I saw as clear as it could be and I ran away from the heap of red coal when they carried a ring and dropped it into the fire. It was a wonder to see how they carried the red-hot ring between them with iron clamps, keeping it off their trousers, to the wooden wheel laid out on the ground. The wood hissed and smoked and if it burst into blame they doused it with an ordinary water-can.

A pony came with a trap with the milk on it each day. The bread van with its smell of new-baked bread was pulled by a horse. For some reason the bread van horse had a nosebag. The coal truck with its heavy load was pulled by two carthorses with blinkers. They all had wooden wheels clad with an iron ring and I could see why these were needed. The milk and the bread came once a day and the coal once a fortnight and I eagerly looked out for their arrival. The milkman was sour and short-tempered, but the breadman was cheerful and always asked my mother if she wanted Hovis though each day she said, “No, thank you”. The coalmen, with their blackened faces and leather back jerkins were impossible to talk to and they were too busy with their loads to listen to children. I did not realize these were old men, doing the work usually done by men in their prime, men now sent to the army, or the navy, or the air force.

I had by now the measure of my mother and I was able to ignore the worst of her moods and threats and sudden violence, with the delicate senses of a child treating her as the egocentric, unhappy, selfish child she was and was to remain throughout her life. Like a conjuror’s trick once revealed she was boring for the most part, only retaining the uncanny ability of the manipulator to size someone up in an instant. I saw, too, how the down-to-earth townspeople she met soon avoided her until her only companions were those billeted on us by the government or those with whom she did the daily business of buying and selling.

We went for walks in the fields to collect blackberries together with Sally, our spaniel. I looked forward to these outings immensely. When we could get a lift we went to Bowood to walk among the huge chestnut trees. Away from people my mother seemed to relax.

Eric and Joy had left. The young men staying with us were usually there for only a short time, often young couples so engaged in their impending separation that they had no time for a young child. I remember only one attractive and intelligent girl called Jane who kept me cheerfully engaged for many an hour until her young man too disappeared to another billet or perhaps forever in one of the bombers that seemed to surround the village on all sides, Lyneham, Wootten Bassett, Yatesbury, every place around us seemed to have an aerodrome. But I remember her as the sort of girl I would myself one day like to have as a mother, ignoring for the moment the reality of the world in which I lived, while not daring to think of having such a wife. But somehow I thought they must be too good a couple to die as my mother told Aunty Marion that this or that man had died.

My mother often went across in the evening to play gin rummy with Uncle Sid and Aunty Marion. It was then that she mentioned that she was getting a new couple billeted on her, perhaps as a politeness as it was their house, but perhaps as the tittle-tattle of war where death was not mentioned, only hinted at. “Poor girl, I wonder what she will do”, or, “Poor chap, he was so polite, such a pleasure to have around”.

These billets had an economic side, as my mother had her rent paid by my father, but the billet money she kept herself, calling it always as with all her little thefts, “her pin-money”. She also took, as she had a right to, their ration books, selling the coupons to Ginger who seemed to have connections with the black market, and economizing on their food. Many of the men preferred to eat in their messes anyway which gave an extra coupon to be used. There was usually a gap before the food ministry demanded the books back, a back which my mother used to her advantage.

Operation Torch which started in November 1942 was the Allies plan to trap the Germans between Egypt, held by the British, and French North Africa in the West. It later was designated as part of the North African Campaign. Hitler had originally hoped to drive the British out of Egypt to take control of the Suez Canal and to then move eastwards towards the oil fields of Iraq and Persia, finally linking up with German-held Bulgaria. The German commander Rommel instead was caught in Tunisia after the Allied victory at the Battle of El Alamein in Egypt.

The Americans aimed at Casablanca and Oran while a combined force including the British was aimed at Algiers. My father sailed from San Francisco to New York and then to the Mediterranean. HMS Stalker was a fleet escort carrier: its duties were to protect the fleet from attacks from enemy aircraft and enemy warships and submarines.

It was fitted with the latest naval RADAR. RADAR had been used to detect German aircraft in the Battle of Britain. The land masts were vast structures, and this had to be scaled down enormously to be carried on ships. This the British succeeded in achieving. The main task of HMS Stalker was to detect enemy aircraft and vessels and to report their presence to the fleet. At Operation Torch it also carried large quantities of Army vehicles to be used after the landings which began in November 1942. There is no information why it was carrying vehicles instead of aircraft, but it may be that the transports for jeeps were not available in time. Another explanation may be that it was felt that RADAR was the main function of HMS Stalker while aircraft could be carried on other carriers.

My father had a booklet issued to him by the US Defence Department which described how Allied troops should, having landed, behave to avoid offending Muslims. This struck me as incredibly detailed planning by the Americans.

At a Lieutenant in the Electrical branch my father’s tasks were mainly to supervise the RADAR, ASDIC and other sweep equipment. He was positioned either in the RADAR room or up on the RADAR mast at the side of the flight deck. H.M.S. Stalker was the eyes and ears of the fleet.

Operation Torch was successful for the Allies. HMS Stalker continued to escort the fleet, being equipped with Supermarine Seafires, the Fleet Air Arm version of the Spitfire. It had a shortened wing span to fit into the lift that took the planes down into the hanger on the deck below.  This operation only was possible and successful as Malta had survived a siege by Italian and German forces. 

My father’s part in Operation Torch gave him the Africa Star campaign medal to add to his Atlantic Campaign medal and his war medal.

In May 1943 the Germans left North Africa.

The Germans had been beaten at Stalingrad in February and were retreating through Russia. In July the Germans were beaten at the battle of Kursk, the largest tank battle in history. Strategic bombing with America Flying fortresses and British Lancaster bombers was reducing Germany to ruins. The ordinary German seaman, airman or soldier realized it was a matter of time before Germany would be defeated. It was only through a steady stream of iron ore from Sweden, coal in Germany and slave labour in Germany and German territories that a steady supply of planes, tanks, guns and ships was available to the dwindling number of ethnic Germans in the fighting forces.

The German population was sixty million in 1922. 600,000 boys were born in the year from 1922, when my father was born, onwards, and these would be fifteen years old in 1939. The Germans would have to maintain this birth rate and keep losses below this figure to maintain its fighting forces if conscription of non-Germans was to be avoided. In 1943 the Germans had lost over 600,000 men in the battles of Stalingrad and Kursk alone so that they could not replace losses only with ethnic Germans any longer.

In June HMS Stalker then returned to Britain for a refit at Greenock, its home port, on the Clyde near Glasgow. Stalker convoyed ships to Britain on this journey. On the way it was attacked by a Focke-Wulf 200 four engine bomber which it repulsed.

At Greenock my father was given two weeks leave, his first leave since leaving for America. My mother and I travelled up on a train to meet him. My father came along the quay with a group of officers to meet us.

“Which one is Daddy?” I asked my mother to the amusement of the other officers.

He suggested we see his cabin and stay for a drink.

The harbour was full of warships and the Stalker was not alongside the quay, but moored along another ship that was at the quay. My father told me to climb up some metal rungs up the side of a ship which appeared to me as an endlessly high wall of steel rather than a boat.

I was speechless, wondering why my father did not realize I had only recently been a baby that could not walk. Still he pushed me up the rungs and I realized he was going to force me up whether I liked it or not. For the first time in my life I had to put my life in someone else’s hands. I only hope my father, a complete stranger, knew what he was doing. He said he would be behind me and he then put his hand on my bottom and pushed me upwards. With no alternative I grasped the rungs and pulled myself up. I finally reached the top and two sailors pulled me over the railing. We walked across the deck of this first ship. There were warships as far as you could see in the harbour so that it looked like one large surface of metal decking instead of water. Down in the cabin I wondered what would happen when we returned and I had to climb down the rungs.

We sat in another officer’s cabin and he gave my mother and father drinks. My mother did not like alcohol and as soon as he left she poured the drink into a flower pot. “I hate this awful stuff”, she said. The officer came back and played back a tape recorder he had bought in America. They laughed when they heard my mother’s comment about the drink.

We left and I felt sick. A sailor said there was another way across to a gangway that had been put down from another part of the ship alongside of the quay and this we walked down instead of the rungs. I was extremely grateful to that sailor.

We stayed for two nights in a damp hotel near the docks. The granite slabs at the front of the garden were covered in damp green moss. The whole place looked most depressing. There was not a child in sight.

We got a lift back south in an F.A.A. staff car. The airmen on Stalker did not mess with the ship’s officers, but had a separate Fleet Air Arm mess. For a Naval Officer either the ship went down or it didn’t, but for the Fleet Air Arm pilots and there were continual losses.

This journey passed quickly as there were so few vehicles on the roads. Only Service vehicles had any petrol. My father had a big American suitcase with him, coloured brown and striped. When we arrived home my father emptied the suitcase and hundreds of yellow packets of State Express cigarettes spilled out onto the floor of the lounge. He also brought me a panda which I thought an evil-looking animal. There were tubes of toothpaste, at the time unobtainable in Britain.

My mother told me I could not as usual sleep with her in our bed, but must sleep in one of the bedrooms usually occupied by an airman. Alone in the back bedroom, I could not sleep and was afraid of the dark.

That first night I went downstairs and squeezed out the toothpaste to cover the panda’s black eyes with white toothpaste to make him look better. In the morning my mother was furious to find the lounge covered with her precious toothpaste. The panda looked no better for being covered with toothpaste and always appeared to me to be an evil animal. My mother’s attempts to recover toothpaste from him merely resulted in his losing most of his fur.

I had been told that my father was coming home and I assumed he would be staying for good as the other fathers around the town. He was happy and pleasant all the time and I at last was pleased to have an actual father, and such a nice man at that. When he suddenly said he was leaving after two weeks I was heart-broken.

H.M.S. Stalker left to join the fleet to take part in Operation Avalanche where the U.S. 5th Army landed at Salerno. Seafires from No. 880 squadron joined the Stalker. These aircraft were fragile and ill-suited to hard landings on a steel deck. My father later told me that he could see these landings from his RADAR nest up on the mast at the side of the deck. He said it was tragic to see planes, sometimes damaged, crash land, or miss the deck altogether, or overrun the end of the deck. Crashed planes often finished up at the end of the runway while they tried to get the airman out. If a plane landed straight after it would sometimes crash into the wreck at the end of the runway. In bad weather, only about one in four of the planes managed to land safely which killed more airmen than actual combat.

Much later, my father once talked about this landing and the amazing bombardment that took place from the guns of all the Allied ships. I took the chance to ask him how many Germans he had killed, hoping to hear of several of these monsters being dead of whom I had been so frightened in case they came to our house. He replied that it was more complicated than that as his ship was there to carry planes that stopped German planes attacking Allied ships. I pressed him, asking if the Stalker had guns. My father replied that if he was to count his ship’s share of the Germans that died at Salerno he supposed it might add up to two hundred. I could not get him to be more precise and satisfied myself that at least two hundred Germans had been killed by my father, a conclusion that gave me great satisfaction. I only wished I had a more vivid picture of these dead Germans.

The government made it compulsory for women to join the services or to work in a factory. My mother, once a trained nurse and trained children’s nurse and a ward sister, now went to Sharp’s ammunition factory in Calne. Her job, she reluctantly told me when she was old, was to grease the thread on shell casings with her finger. The arrangements for looking after me were very haphazard. If Aunty Marion was at home I would stop over with her for a while. She began to tire of this arrangement, perhaps because she already had girls of her own, two adopted boys, Ginger and Keith, and several boxer dogs and a Scottie dog.

If Aunty Marion was not at home my mother locked me in the bedroom. I began to become extremely scared of boredom. The long hours being locked up with nothing to do and strict instructions not to touch anything made the time pass very slowly. I would go through my mother’s wardrobe, arranging her shoes in neat rows. Then I would go through the laundry basket, examining all her dirty clothes in great detail to see if any story could be got out of them that would relieve the boredom. I tried on all these dirty clothes to see if I could look like any figure in a Punch and Judy show, but all the clothes were far too large and would not in any way fit me.

The dressing table was full of bottles and cases and there were drawers. I was strictly forbidden to touch this table. My mother was most secretive about this dressing table and I think she kept all her personal ‘pin money’ in one of the drawers. I was later to find this included money my grandmother gave to me and asked my mother to keep. My grandmother had no illusions about my mother and realized she would steal money she gave me so she set up a Post Office savings account for me and sent me savings stamps. My mother would finally find a way to steal this money, this theft of my Post Office account, and indeed the habit of thieving being replicated by my yet unborn sister when my mother died ninety years later. Thieving as with other vices is something learned and passed on from one generation to another.

My mother and father seemed to have had a passion for pink when they got married as the entire bed was full of pink clothes, the laundry basket was painted pink, and the chair by the bed was painted pink. Her hairbrush was pink. The bed cover was pink and the eiderdown was pink. The eiderdown was so slippery that it would slide off the bed cover very easily. I would climb onto the eiderdown and slowly slide off the bed, waiting for the painful bump when I landed on the floor.

My mother always was in a bad mood when she returned home from Sharp’s, mixing with the local teenage girls and middle-aged farmer’s wives not being to her taste nor, I imagined to hers. I was sent to fetch aspirin while my mother read a book from Boot’s lending library. I waited until she finally decided she was hungry and tried to make a meal. She had not cooked any food while she was at home, nor as a nurse so she had a very limited range of foods to put on the table. If I was hungry I was usually given bread with bacon dripping on it. For supper she might cook sausages and baked beans or egg and baked beans. She varied this diet with baked beans on toast. Rationing for my mother was a blessing in disguise as she only had a very limited number of foods to choose from.

I suffered more from the boredom that the enforced separation from other children caused. My mother had an obsession about hygiene and catching illnesses and she used to this as a reason for my not meeting other children.

The winters were cold but the summers seemed always sunny. The demand my mother made on me was that I had no expectations of any kind. I was therefore largely left alone and amused myself with the only toy I had, a collection of oak blocks that could be formed into anything my imagination could devise.

Following the success of Operation Avalanche H.M.S. Stalker sailed back to England for a refit on the Clyde and my father took some leave. We walked around Bow Wood. My father seemed to be far more formal now, and had lost the friendly, relaxed manner of his last visit. All service personnel were required to wear uniforms at all times, so my father was a permanently black figure with black cap on. He was concerned with his thinning hair and my mother stood behind him and massaged his head each day. He would wake me in the mornings with the noise of a safety razor that could be sharpened which he had bought in America. It had a strap which he ran the razor down and up, the sharpening taking place both up and down.

I too had grown older and assessed him as I assess any of the new pilots that were billeted on us for a short while, their turnover being high. I did not know if they found a better billet or were casualties, but they came and they went, usually glad to see a small boy during their stay.

One day my father complained about the dirt in the kitchen. There were no cleaning materials in the shops so there was nothing to clean the kitchen with. The coke stove in the middle smoked all day too which added to the grime. My mother started crying which I had never seen her do before. I thought my father an ogre.

They seemed to argue much of the time and the only time they seemed to love each other was in bed. My father seemed to think children knew nothing of sex and were therefore blind, so his lovemaking was quite open. I found the intensity of these meetings disturbing and frightening as they were so different to the rest of my life.

My father returned to H.M.S. Stalker to take part in Operation Dragoon, the invasion of the South of France. The strategic thinking behind this operation was that if Operation Overlord was delayed or failed then Operation Dragoon would have landed Allied troops in France. In the event Operation Overlord was on June 6th 1944 while Operation Dragoon started on August 15th 1944. The operation went well and the population were delighted to see Allied troops. My father spent some time ashore and always felt the South of France was really where he would like to live though he never achieved this ambition.

After Operation Dragoon Stalker sailed to the Aegian to support Allied troops there. Stalker then sailed for the East Indies. The ship took part in Operation Zipper which involved landing 100,000 British troops for the recapture of Malaya. She carried Seafire L.III aircraft from Squadron 809. There were 646 officers and ratings excluding the Air Group on the Stalker so my father got to know a great deal of people.

Chapter 4.
On May the first, nineteen forty-six, a Wednesday, I began school at St. Margaret’s, a mixed kindergarten which was part of the St. Mary’s girls’ boarding school.
The school gave my mother a list of the uniform items to be worn. Until then I had never worn shoes except when travelling on the train when my mother borrowed a pair of sandals. There were no shoe shops in Calne and you needed coupons to buy clothes and shoes. If you bought shoes you couldn’t buy something else. Now my mother bought a second-hand pair of sandals from a family whose child had grown out of them. My mother knitted grey woollen socks for me which had to be kept up with elastic garters. She made a pair of shorts out of an old grey coat and a shirt out of grey material that had been a skirt. Finally she cut up flannel from an old sheet to make a pair of underpants which I had not worn until then. We didn’t have a sewing machine so she did all this by hand sewing which took ages and my mother kept saying, ‘I’ll never get this done on time’.
She borrowed a cap from Aunty Marion as this also stood on the list. I was proudest of all to have a pair of sandals of my own. The pavement outside our house was paved with paving stones and the road was asphalted so you didn’t really need shoes to walk along it. The sandals meant that I didn’t have to keep looking at the ground to see if there were any stones or nails lying around.
My mother walked with me up the Oxford Road, turned left to the square and then right up Curzon Street where I had never been before. Curzon Street is part of the A4, then the main road between London and Bristol. We walked through some large metal gates and into the school. A beautiful young woman called Miss Sparks met us and took us to a nurse where I was weighed and my height measured. I was surprised to start school in this way. I weighed 2 stone, 10 pounds, which is 12.2 kilograms. I was 3 ft 7 inches in height which is 109 cm. This was the average for boys then. After that we went into a class room and I was shown to a desk at the end of a row next to the aisle. Then my mother left me. I knew none of the children in the classroom. Some were chattering to each other and seemed to know each other already.
The lovely Miss Sparks came into the classroom and told us we were all welcome to St Margaret’s. My mother had told me I was going to St Mary’s so I was worried and did not know whether to ask why I was there or not. I did not know it, but St Margaret’s was a mixed school in the same grounds as St Mary’s which was a girls’ school. Miss Sparks wore a bright white and red squared dress, and had mousy hair as did most women which she wore in the fringe and curly locks style of the day.
I loved being with other children. As my seat was on the aisle I could easily get up and talk to the other children which I did as soon as Miss Sparks started writing letters on the blackboard. I asked a girl who she was and when she replied Miss Sparks turned round, smiled, and told us that we had to stay at our own desks. I could already read so I thought talking about each letter was an interesting subject, but I couldn’t really see the point of it when you going to read words anyway. Still, anything Miss Sparks had to tell us was fascinating.
I met a girl called Elizabeth, a dark-haired pretty girl who I asked to my birthday party. In the afternoon my mother came to collect me. She explained that St Margaret’s and St Mary’s were the same school so I could stop worrying. I told her about Elizabeth. My mother looked startled, but muttered that she could come to my party.
I was very happy and looked forward to each day.
On May the sixteenth, nineteen forty-six, a Thursday, I had my fifth birthday and my mother arranged my birthday party. Aunty Marion’s two girls and a friend of the elder girl came over for tea as well. Elizabeth arrived at the front door with her mother, a well-dressed woman. Miss Barker, the teacher at my kindergarten arrived soon afterwards. I rarely went to the kindergarten which was in the town square, so Miss Barker often came round to teach me to read and write. My father knew Miss Barker when he was a maths teacher at the Bentley Grammar school before my mother arrived. Everyone we knew seemed to have been friends of my father while my mother was yet to find a new friend. Christopher Gough was invited, but could not come as he was a haemophiliac and could easily be hurt at a party when we were playing and then bleed to death.

My mother laid tea in the dining room, the room with my father’s woollen Chinese carpet on the floor. As it was a Thursday my father could not come. I thought that was just as well as he had a habit of turning all parties into parties for himself. You could not buy birthday cards so he had not sent a card. Nain, Aunty Flo and Aunty Edie had somehow managed to get hold of cards and these had arrived that morning. Nain also sent me a National Savings card with a National Savings certificate for two shillings as she wrote that she had opened an account for me. I did not know what this was, but anything was better than money which my mother would at once take. My mother explained that we must go to the Post Office to cash the cheque for stamps which you stuck into the card. I would then have money at the Post Office, though what good that was I didn’t know. I had not seen anyone going into the Post Office and asking them to buy you a lollipop.

Tea was cucumber sandwiches and then jelly and custard and then a birthday cake, all of which my mother had made. The cake had five short candles on it with black wicks. We ate a sandwich each and then had jelly and custard. I had not had jelly before, but disliked it immediately. It tasted weakly of strawberries, but otherwise was like swallowing lumps like when I had double pneumonia. Then my mother cut the cake which was a fruit cake with icing on top and the word ‘Peter’ in red icing in my mother’s round handwriting. There was squash to drink which was water with juice strained from strawberries in it. Most children hated the orange juice the government gave us in square bottles so luckily my mother had not poured that into the water.

The candles were lit and then I was told to blow them out and wish. I had never had a birthday party before nor been to one so the wish caught me by surprise. All I could think of was that I would not be forced to eat more jelly. I blew at the candles, but I was too far away so four were still lit. I blew again and the candles went out. Aunty Marion’s eldest who hardly ever spoke to me, Susan, said that as I had not blown them out all at once my wish would not come true. We were given a small slice each and then the cake was finished. The candles were saved for the next child who Aunty Marion knew who would have a birthday. There were no birthday candles in the shops so these had been at several parties since nineteen thirty-nine.
There was plenty of jelly left so my mother asked me to have some more. I said I was full. My mother said:
“Go, on, it’s your birthday. Have some more”.
“Just a tiny bit then”, I said.
My mother plonked a large quivering lump on my plate and then told me that there was no more custard. Keith was next to me and when my mother went to the kitchen I asked him if he would eat mine for me as I thought it was horrible. He scooped up most of it and when my mother returned I had eaten the rest.
“There’s more, you know Peter”, she said. I knew she hated leaving left-overs and wanted to get rid of her jelly.
“No, thank you,” I said. “Perhaps the others will have some more”.
No-one was interested in my mother’s jelly and she reluctantly took the bowl into the kitchen. I could only hope Sally would get at the bowl, or I would be eating jelly until it was finished. My mother had no jelly as she said she didn’t like jelly. Such a reason from me would not satisfy her.

So far, I was not enjoying my party.

After tea my mother and Miss Barker went into the lounge for a cup of tea and we went out to the concrete path by the kitchen door to play. Keith and Ginger went home. I knew no children’s games, but the girls first arranged a game of tag. The two elder girls were too big to catch, but they pretended to get caught.

Then we played hide-and-seek. There were two birch trees in our front garden which I hid behind but they were too small to hide anyone and even I realized that. The girls pretended to look for me although the sides of me could easily be seen. Then there were some bushes in the front garden to the left and a path to the right which we seldom used and these became hiding places. The back lawn had been dug up to grow potatoes, but there was a path beside that on each side and we hid at the ends of the paths. There was an Anderson shelter in the middle of the potatoes, but you got to that from a little mud path and the back was in the patch so you couldn’t hide there. At the end of the concrete path by the kitchen there was a tool shed made of wood so we hid in that. I was not allowed to go into the tool shed so I took the chance of going there and looking at all the tools. There were cobwebs over everything and woodlice on the walls. After a while it was frightening standing there in the dark and I was glad when the girls found me.
There was a vegetable patch behind the tool shed where my mother grew runner beans and mint so that corner smelled strongly of mint. There was a wooden wall there and the knots had fallen out so you could see the lane beside us next to Christopher Gough’s house. The lane led to a bush of nettles and then fields with cows in it. I had explored it to the edge of the field, but I was not allowed any further. My mother said there was a wood on the other side where gipsies sometimes stayed and they stole little children like me. I could not understand why they would want children. I stood behind the mint, but a girl soon found me. I had played hide-and-seek before and was enjoying my party.

Then we played “Ring-a-ring-a-roses” which I had not played before. We held hands and walked round then fell down. At the same time we sang:

“Ring a ring a roses, a pocket full of posies, atishoo, atishoo we all fall down.”

We all fell down which I thought was remarkable.
Then we sang:
“Fishies in the water, fishies in the sea, We all jump up, one, two, three”.
They shouted ‘three’ loudly and everyone jumped up. I was enjoying my party and wondered why I had not played this game before.

Ring a ring o roses was hundreds of years old. The roses were the round red marks that came on your body from the plague which was caused by a bacteria carried by rats. A posie was a bunch of herbs to protect you from the plague. You sneezed and then you died. Instead of fishies the rhyme sometimes is ‘ashes in the water’ which refers to the cremations during the plague as there were too many bodies for them to be buried.

Then we played ‘Oranges and Lemons’. Two girls stood with their hands together in front of each other to make an arch. The younger Rogers girl and Elizabeth and I ran round going under the arch. Then they sang: ‘Oranges and lemons, Say the bells of Saint Clements, You owe me five farthings, Say the bells of Saint Martin’s, When will you pay me?, Say the bells of Old Bailey, When I grow rich, Say the bells of Shoreditch, When will that be?`, Say the bells of Stepney, I’m sure I don’t know, Says the great bell at Bow, Here comes a candle to light you to bed, Here comes a chopper to chop off your head, Chop chop chop chop the last man’s head!’

I was the one under the arch and the girls dropped their arms down around me so that I was caught. I thought it was a strange game where I would get my head chopped off on my birthday, but I was amazed that the girls could remember so many words so I didn’t think too long about getting my head chopped off. We took it in turns to hold arms and I understood that they had said the rhyme so often that they had managed to remember it. It was a pity my mother had not grown up in Calne so that I would have gone to parties like the girls all seemed to have gone to.

My mother came out with Miss Barker to say that it was time my party was over and that I should say goodbye. Miss Barker bent down to kiss me and then she went inside with my mother to leave by the front door. The youngest Rogers girl held her arms around me and kissed me on my cheek. Then the elder sister and her friend kissed me on my mouth. This was quite another kiss than those my mother and father and the young girls gave me as my lips tingled when they did it. They waved goodbye and danced off down the path. Elizabeth asked me to her birthday party a month later.

A slug crawled slowly across the concrete leaving a glittering trail behind it. The party and the path and the snail with its trail were really real, but I thought it strange that in many years’ time when I was old I would look back and think it was just a memory that perhaps never happened.
Elizabeth turned out to live in a very large house with a garden four times as large as ours. Behind it were fields. About twenty children came to the party who were looked after by Elizabeth’s mother and a woman who seemed to be their maid. I said ‘hello’ to Elizabeth, but had little chance of talking to her after that as so many children were always around her. A boy took me to show a goat which he said Elizabeth had at the end of her garden. We walked down and stared at the animal. It was tied to chain and looked dangerous with its horns and strange eyes. The boy said Elizabeth’s mother got milk from it which was a great advantage as now and again there was no milk to be had during the war. We played no games and the children rushed around the house in groups doing whatever they wanted.
Elizabeth’s father was said to be in his study, but we never saw him. Elizabeth’s mother remained cool and composed throughout this chaos, guiding a child here and talking to a child there, in a calm way making sure everyone enjoyed themselves as far as they could. Mothers began to arrive to collect their children, some arriving in black pre-cars or in shooting-brakes. My mother arrived and asked Elizabeth’s mother if she could help with the washing up. I had seen the maid doing the washing up as the party progressed through sandwiches to cakes to jelly and custard.
“Thank you, Mrs Travis, but that is taken care of”, said Elizabeth’s mother with a friendly smile. I realized that mothers with maids did not expect other mothers not to have maids so asking to help with the washing up at once betrayed the class you came from. I could think of no way of telling my mother this. My mother had a woman clean the floors once a week, a woman called a skivvy. This was the first step up from the lower working class to the upper working class and asking to help in the kitchen was the same as asking my mother if you could wash the floors. You implied that she could not afford a skivvy and that she did this hard work herself. There were no machines that cleaned a floor so it had to be done by a woman getting on her knees and first washing and scrubbing the floor with a bar of block soap and water, then polishing it with floor polish.
Skivvies first tucked their dresses into their knickers and then got down on their knees. They usually had a special cushion with them to kneel on. Ours did this too. This position gave young boys their first sexual view of women apart from their mothers as you could see the tops of their stockings, their suspenders and their knickers.
My mother’s offer to help with the washing up may have been bad conscience as my aunts told me that my mother never helped with anything in the house. They called her, “I moved the fire-brush Polly” as my mother, then called Polly had said this to them when she was twelve when they asked her to help as she was well old enough to help. The fire-brush was a brush on a stand by the coal fire which was used to sweep coal dust into the grate. Before you could clean the tiles in front of the grate you had to move the fire-brush out of the way.
At St Margaret’s I had learned a game called ‘King of the Castle’ where you found a mound or pile and then someone stood at the top. At St Margaret’s there was a small grass hill where we played it. They sang ‘I’m the king of the castle, and you’re a dirty rascal’. This rhyme is very old as there is a Latin version of it from Roman times. You pushed or pulled the king until they came off the top of the hill and a new king sang, ‘I’m the king of the castle’. At St Margaret’s only pushing or pulling was allowed and girls took part.
A new family had moved in two doors down and they had a boy my age called Brian. His father was a new manager of a bank in Calne. We met on the pavement outside our house and I asked him if he wanted to play with the push cart Keith had made for me. Playing with this meant that one child sat in the cart while the other pulled it with the long handle in front. This was more fun than pulling an empty cart around. Being pulled was the most exciting part. Brian jumped into the cart and I pulled him up and down the pavement for a while. I said, ‘Now it’s my turn’. He sat where he was and said, ‘I only want to be pulled’. ‘But we must take it in turns’, I said. ‘No, I only want to be pulled’, he said.
I gave up this game and asked him if he wanted to play ‘King of the Castle’. There was a pile of rubble at the end of the lane by our house and I said, ‘I’ll go first’, remembering my experience with the cart. Brian was a fatty and not very athletic looking so he clambered up the heap to me. Then he punched me on the nose. I ran home thinking that playing with Brian was hopeless as he did not seem to understand fairness or even rules. He was a bully.
I was four when I started at St. Margaret’s which was early. It was also the last term of the school year, not the first. The law said that a child must begin at school when it was five so it was not necessary for me to begin that term. Fees had to be paid so my father must have lain behind the decision for me to go there as my mother only had a monthly house-keeping allowance while my father kept the rest of his salary, now considerable as a full Lieutenant and for a man who was only thirty-three. In June my father came home one weekend from Fareham. He said that my mother would be going into a nursing home in Calne for a few days for them to see that she was well and that Aunty Marion would be looking after me. The British and American airfields around Calne on the grassy fields in the valleys of the Wiltshire Downs had led to a number of small medical units being established in towns where there had been none before. The airmen who had stayed with us had left. I missed them as they were so cheerful and friendly with me. They went in dribs and drabs after France was invaded in 1944 and the men had moved to airfields nearer Germany. The medical units where many airmen worked were first recuperation centres and now were small nursing homes.
Then Uncle Eric and Aunty Joy and baby Eric had left.
“Why must they go?” I asked my mother.
“Uncle Eric is going back to where they really live and to his old job.”
I thought of Aunty Joy as another child might think of his mother. She was cheerful, I knew what she thought and I could rely on her. She never lied to me. I knew my mother was called my mother, but I thought that was just a word for the person that looked after your clothes and your food. She was like a skivvy with Aunty Joy as her kind, but patient mistress. Uncle Eric was always there like a mountain who I would like to be like when I grew up. I thought Uncle just meant any grown-up who was special to you, and that one could be what other children called a daddy. My father was just a word my mother used when she didn’t want to help me.
“You’ll have to wait till your father gets home”, or “You’ll have to ask your father about that”.
A bit hole in me opened up when they went and I couldn’t understand why.
With all these gone I needed my mother at home. “But Mummy is well!” I exclaimed. “Besides she has a skivvy of her own.” My mother spent most of her time at home reading novels by Daphne du Maurier and eating Fry’s Turkish Delight in the lounge. I could not see how she was unwell. I had double pneumonia when I was four in the winter before and I knew what unwell meant. It was like being dead. She had migraines and kept me on hand to fetch aspiring and a glass of water, but that had been going on for as long as I could remember. Besides, she was a nurse and should have been able to look after herself.
“It’s just a check-up”, said my father. He hated being questioned by me, but I had forgotten this and I knew that one more question and he would punch me in the chest, hard. If I still asked him he would punch me so that I fell over. If I said another word he would punch me in the face.
My father fetched me from St Margaret’s one Friday. I was surprised as Aunty Marion usually fetched me. I did not even know he had driven home from Fareham for the weekend. I got in the Austin 8 and I told him about the day at school, but my father seemed to be thinking of other things. I called him Daddy to my mother and to his face as she liked that, but I always thought of him as the mythical father that my mother talked about. I did not like him at all and I hated that I could nothing about it. He changed all the rules as soon he came home so we were topsy-turvy for two days until he went back to Fareham. He told me he had some leave which he was taking and he would be staying for three weeks.
We arrived from school. My father had taken off the big black coat he always wore and his black uniform and looked different. When we came into the hall my father said my mother had come home and she was upstairs in bed. We went up and my mother was lying in bed with her bed-jacket on and beside her was a cot.
“You have a baby sister”, said my father. “Go and look at her”.
I thought a baby was not needed and least of all, a sister. I went over to the cot and peered inside. There was something that looked like a little monkey’s face lying on a pillow. Then I saw its hands which were so tiny they fascinated me. Dolls had tiny hands, but they didn’t manage to make each finger different. The fingers were moving too.
“Aren’t you going to kiss your little sister?” said my father.
I had hardly had a chance to look at the baby, so the idea of kissing it was the last thing I was thinking about. I bent down and kissed the monkey face on its mouth. I thought it was pointless as it had its eyes shut and would not know that I had touched it on the mouth with my lips, let alone kissed it.
“She was born here this afternoon”, said my father.
I waited until they realized that I had no more reaction to give them, and I could hardly tell them that I thought it was a waste of time with a sister.
“Now go and play”, said my father.
Something had changed. My smiled at me the way she smiled at people when she was about to try and get them to do something for her. It was the smile I hated as it meant nothing, like her make-up. She said ‘Hello, dear’, something she usually never bothered to do. She only said, ‘Hello, dear’ when I was little when she was lonely, or when Calne people laughed at her behind her back and she needed me.
I had no idea how babies were born, but as my mother was called my mother I thought she must have something to do with it all. I certainly hoped my father had nothing to do with it as that would mean he had something to do with me being born.
I put the matter out of my mind and hoped nothing would change after all. It was bad enough my father coming home without having a sister as well.

 

Chapter 5.
I had to sleep on my own in the baby’s bedroom that night. The baby turned out to be a crier. It couldn’t breast feed like any other baby. I loved “some” as I called it. Perhaps some mother in a maternity ward had said, “Would you like some?” to her baby and my mother had copied this.
They discussed whether they should get a wet-nurse in, or not. My mother knew two women who wet nursed babies, but she didn’t like the idea of paying them. They decided to get a wet-nurse for the weekend and the Monday and then get hold of a glass flask and a teat on the Monday.
“Why didn’t you think of this before?” said my father, as though my mother was a sailor on one of his ships. “I will have to chase around Calne in the morning to find a wet-nurse”.
“Phil!” said my mother. “It’s perfectly simple: you just go to Mrs. Bailey and see if she can wet-nurse. If she can’t you go to Mrs. Turner. It’s only for three days”. My mother had obviously had to find a wet-nurse before for a mother in Calne during the war, though perhaps she had listened to Aunty Marion getting hold of one for somebody.
They were called ‘Phil and Phyll’ and they got on with that when they talked to each other. For anyone else it was a muddle.
The baby cried and cried that night. My mother tried to get it to breast feed and my father complained all the time.
“I wish you’d get that thing to stop crying. I’m trying to get some sleep”.
I got tummy-ache. I hoped they’d take the baby back to wherever they got it from, but my father telling me about the mongrel made me think that that wasn’t going to happen. I put my hands over my ears and pretended they weren’t there.
I must have woken up late because when I did wake up I could hear Mrs. Bailey I the bedroom talking to the child. It must have begun to breast feed as it stopped crying. I went in and saw Mrs. Bailey holding the baby which was sucking on one of her huge breasts.
“Go down to Daddy. You mustn’t come in here when Mrs.Bailey is here” said my mother. Mrs. Bailey didn’t seem to mind, but I went downstairs anyway. I could hear the pigs screeching as they hooked them up to the chain belt at Harris’s so I knew it was gone ten o’clock.
“Good morning”, said my father to me.
“Good morning, Daddy” I said.
“Bloody child’s been awake all night”, he said.
“I was asleep. I held my hands over my ears”, I said.
“That’s not much good to me, I had to sleep in the spare room in the end”, said my father.
I called the spare room Aunty Joy’s room, but my father had only met Aunty Joy and Uncle Eric a bit so he didn’t call it that. They had left and gone home as soon as Uncle Eric got demobbed. I never knew they had a home until Uncle Eric got demobbed. Uncle Eric went back to being an ordinary policeman instead of a marshal in the RAF and Aunty Joy went back to being a secretary after she found a nanny for baby Eric. I hated baby Eric so that was the only thing that was good about them going. Otherwise I felt sad about it, especially as they left without saying goodbye to me. I was at school when they left. ‘I thought it would be easier for you,’ my mother had said. I knew she didn’t want to be bothered with me crying so she let them leave without telling me.
“What’s wrong with me seeing Mrs. Bailey nursing? Aunty Joy liked me talking to her while she was nursing baby Eric”, I said.
“Well, perhaps Mrs. Bailey doesn’t feel the same way. Anyway you might set the baby off crying again so it’s best you stay out of the way. I’ve got to drive out and try and find a shop or someone with a bottle. We’ve got some dried milk here. There’s packets of the stuff. The problem is the bottle and the teat. You can come with me if you like”.
My father took a cushion and I sat in the front of the Austin. My father had a map and my mother had shown where women were who had had babies recently. I was amazed that my father could use a map to find his way around. I had to remember all the roads in my head if I went anywhere. I didn’t like him, but I had to admit he had to be clever to do all that with the map.
My father was silent while we drove around. I could see he was thinking about how he was driving and where he was. It was as though I wasn’t there. I held the map for him as he had my grandfather’s sheepskin driving gloves on which he had used in the Great War. My father could peer at the map when he wanted to when I held it. He wasn’t like the pilots who joked with me and told me they would shoot down a German for me. Sometimes they came back and told me they had shot one down for me and sometimes they didn’t come back. My mother didn’t tell me where they had got to, but I knew they had been shot down as Keith told me. I didn’t think about death unless it was a German as death was for grown-ups to think about. The boy in the mens’ outfitters shop where my father bought his tie died in a Japanese prisoner of war camp so I didn’t want to think about that as the boy wasn’t much older than I was. My father nearly cried when my mother told him the boy was dead. He was only in the Army for three weeks before they caught him. My father wasn’t like Uncle Sid either though Uncle Sid was old and quiet and sat in his armchair smoking his pipe. Uncle Sid wasn’t chatty, but he looked happy all the time. Perhaps seeing all that sea all the time made you unhappy.
My father came out from one house with a glass feeding flask. He was smiling because he had found one and he held it up for me to see as he walked out.
“She had the teat too, luckily” said my father when he got back into the Austin.
“Why did you join the Navy?” I asked.
“Well, I volunteered for three years which would mean I could choose which of the Services I would go to. If you were called up you had to go where they chose. The recruiting officer said that as I had a Bachelor of Science degree I would join the Electrical Branch. I had studied plants and animals so it was funny really”.
“Yes, but why did you join the Navy? You could of joined the Army like Grandpa or joined the RAF like Uncle Eric”.
“I was on an Icelandic trawler studying fish for a year and I liked it”, he said. He didn’t seem to realize he was using words I had never heard before. I kept quiet because of that.
“It’s the safest place to be, on a steel ship that can move around with lots of guns to protect you. You don’t have to be frightened of anyone. It’s safer than being in a house waiting for a bomb to drop on you. Grandpa had a terrible time in the Army in the Great War. He was wounded, you know. They were going to put him in the King’s Liverpool Regiment which is where he was already as a Territorial and that is an infantry regiment. When they saw he had studied engineering drawing at the Art School they put him in the Royal Engineers as a driver. Lorries were very hard to keep going then you know, not like today. The King’s had terrible losses in the trenches so he was lucky to miss that. I had no intention of finishing up in the Army.”.
“No, I didn’t know”, I said. “Was Grandpa wounded with a bullet?”
“No, it was an explosion. It hit his thigh. He couldn’t walk properly after that. You saw he had a stick when we went on the beach”.
I was a baby and couldn’t remember much about the visit so I kept quiet. All I could remember was that Grandpa was very bald and didn’t talk to me at all. Grandmother had a great red balloon below her chin which I thought was just there for some reason, but my mother told me she had a goitre which was a disease. She couldn’t talk at all because of this goitre and all the tablets she had to take. My mother had seen these all before when she was a nurse so she didn’t seem to mind it.

 

Chapter 6.

My mother came to collect me at the end of my first term. I had learned the way home and knowing the roads came me great self-confidence. Miss Sparks gave my mother my report for the term. My mother started striking up a conversation, but another parent started talking as soon as my mother had got the report. Miss Sparks smiled at my mother and then turned toward the other mother.

“I will read it to you when we get home”, my mother said as we walked down the drive. In Hoole in Chester my grandmother was an important member of the community and though she was determined she had such charm and humour that people liked talking to her anyway. My mother was determined, but charm seemed to have passed her by. My mother had humour, but it was always at someone’s expense so people learned not to trust her.

I hopped and skipped all the way home while my mother looked anxiously this way and that in case a car came along, but Calne was sunny and quiet in this day in late July 1946, eleven months after the war had ended. We walked down the drive to St Margaret’s, through the large gates, into Curzon Street. On the left was a sloping sunken road where the pavement was in line with the doorsteps and where you were stopped from falling into the road by a metal handrail. Then we were on one side of the square and walked along this passing ‘The Bull’ inn where the farmers drank their beer in the doorway on market days and keeping an eye on their livestock in the paddocks.

The only sign of the war in the square was the corner knocked off the horse trough. A pump supplied water for the trough and you could pull on the handle if you wanted a drink from the brass cup chained to the pump.

My mother had as usual put on full make-up and her best shoes, but the only person to see this was a man holding a horse in front of the trough. The horse didn’t want to drink and the man just stood there waiting to see if it would drink. The man was dressed in countryman’s clothes of old waistcoat from a suit, striped shirt with the pin-on collar missing, trousers from the suit. He wore boots which he man had probably worn in the Great War judging from his age. On his head he had a cloth cap with holes and tears in it. His cart was parked over by the Green Man hotel.

When we got to the corner of the square we kept walking along Wood Street where there was a butcher’s with carcases hanging on hooks and birds hanging in the window. I hated the bloody animal parts in trays in the window and when went home by myself I always crossed the road so that I would not have to see these. I loved animals and hated to see them cut up.

My mother dragged me past the butcher’s and past the sweet shop with its jars which held black and white striped bull’s eyes and brown toffees. At the corner of Wood Street and Oxford Road was an off-licence where my mother sent me to buy a small bottle of gin when she could afford it. I hated going there as my mother thought no one knew the gin was for my mother, but the shopkeeper knew me well and called me by my name. I had to buy five or ten Woodbines as well so she wrote this down on a piece of paper so the shopkeeper knew very well that I was too young to write as well as being too young to buy gin. As long as I brought the coupon with me he would always serve me.

If you kept on along Wood Street it became North Street and you got to where Sharp’s Ammunition factory was where my mother had worked greasing shell casings during the war.

My mother pretended not to see the off-licence and we turned into Oxford Road. The man with one leg and wearing an Army greatcoat was there selling matchsticks. As usual my mother stopped to talk to him. Like my grandfather he had no invalid pension to speak of from the Army and lived solely on selling matchsticks which was another way of begging as outright begging was against the law. They said how good it was that the war was over and then talked about the weather and how the old man’s health was. As usual my mother told him she had been a nurse and that was why she asked such a personal question as how his health really was. As usual he said he was fine. He knew as I did that my mother would never go and see him as she only liked to say that she was a State Registered Nurse. My mother dropped a farthing into his tray although she bought nothing and the old soldier thanked her.

Oxford Road was my road and I knew the bit between the end of Wood Street and our house like the back of my small hand. We crossed over to the north side where there was a row of old cottages and where an old woman with a gossip mirror sat and watched people coming up Oxford Street towards Wood Street. We stopped to talk to the old woman who said she was ninety every time my mother talked to her. My mother said she was crazy, but she still talked to her anyway.

We passed the house with the brick wall that had a flat top which I always walked on.

“You are too old to walk on walls anymore”, said my mother. “Anyway it’s dangerous as you could fall off”.

We passed another house when a little girl lived and my mother said,

“There’s a lady in here and she wants you to come to Alice’s party next week”.

We passed the house where Brian lived, the boy who had punched me on the nose when we played ‘King of the Castle’. I was frightened of him and hoped he would not be in the front garden as I would have to talk to him then.

Our house, Kuling, had a rockery outside the hedge where my mother had put stones and planted pansies she got from Aunty Marion.

My mother opened the green gate and we walked up the path between the lawn with a silver birch on each side.

“Before this was a vegetable patch this used to be a lawn”, my mother said.

“I know. You told me before”, I said.

My mother fiddled in her purse and found the door key. She looked around as usual as she was afraid someone would hide and jump out at her when she had got the door open. I knew people in Calne didn’t do things like that, but my mother couldn’t help looking. I thought she must have grown up in a terrible place. She reached up to the keyhole and got the oak door open. It was heavy so I watched out so that it didn’t bang me on the head.

“Watch out so you don’t bang your head on the door”, said my mother.

When we got inside she had made sandwiches and she set about making tea. I hated tea and preferred milk, but my father had told her that it was just a matter of practice for me to like tea. I had practised a lot, but it still tasted bitter and I hated it. I couldn’t see the point of drinking tea instead of milk anyway as it was more or less watered down milk and you spoiled the taste of the milk.

“Since it is the end of term you can drink some tea with me and then drink some milk as well. You are too old to drink milk really, you know”.

I guessed it was cheaper somehow for me to drink tea as well as being more grown-up, but I didn’t want to start an argument on the day term ended so I held my tongue.

My mother poured me a mug of tea and passed a plate of jam sandwiches. She had made jam from all the berries we had picked during the summer and this time it was strawberry jam. She kept the jam in jars with strong tops with a rubber seal to keep the air out. She wasn’t very good at this as the jam was runny.

“It’s nice jam I made, isn’t it?” said my mother.

“Yes”, I said. My mother had told my biggest help towards beating the Germans was to keep as quiet as possible and to make as little fuss as possible. Although the war was over my mother still seemed to think I should keep quiet and be as little trouble as possible.

“We will go across and collect your sister as soon as we have had tea”, she said.

I ate slowly and tried to drink my tea as carefully as possible. I even had a second cup which kept my sister out of the house a bit longer.

“Miss Sharp has written in your report that you talk to the other children too much. You must stop doing that when you go back to school next term”.

“Where has she written that?” I asked.

“In your school report. Your teachers write a report about you each term”.

“Oh, who else has written something?”

“The Headmistress, Miss Gilliam, has written that you have made a good beginning”.

“Are you going to show it to Daddy?” I asked.

“Of course”, said my mother. “He has been stationed at Bath on half-pay while he waits for his next posting”.

“Will he be coming back to our house?”

“Of course, as soon as he can”.

“Can I play with the other children now it’s the holidays?” I asked.

“Yes. I think they are the right sort of people”.

My sister started crying and my mother went up to feed her with the bottle. I went out into the garden and pulled my cart that Keith had made around. I was now a schoolboy and I therefore put some stones in the back of the cart so it wouldn’t be so silly pulling an empty cart around. Farmers sometimes came back from the market past our house with empty carts, but that was after they had sold their hayload. A boy at school told me the farmers would pay you a halfpenny if you cleaned their cart out for them. I hadn’t thought out how to hide the halfpenny from my mother yet so I hadn’t tried this.

My mother came down and said: “I will make some flapjacks. It’s not Friday, but it is the end of your term”.

“Do you want me to tell Daddy?” I asked.

“If you want to, yes”.

The sun shone every day in the summer of nineteen forty-six. I walked down the Oxford Road and went a bit further each day so that I would learn how to get around without getting lost. Soldiers with bands marched along the road without hiding from German planes on their way to the station. I thought the music was so exciting that I thought about being a soldier instead of a farm-boy. I wasn’t too sure as Brian’s punch on my nose meant that you might as easily get shot by Germans instead of me shooting them all the time.

One of Aunty Marion’s girls, Shirley told me she had decided to run away and be a tramp with a boy she had met. “Would you like to come with us? The sun is shining”.

“Yes”, I said without blinking an eyelid. “We need a staff and a red spotted handkerchief to keep our food in. You tie the handkerchief to the staff”.

“I don’t have a staff”.

“Well, a walking stick would do”.

Shirley went round to the back and then came back with a walking stick, a white handkerchief and some bread. She tied the bread into the handkerchief and then the handkerchief onto the stick.

We set out in a line along the Oxford Road away from Calne towards Oxford. We reached a house where a little blond girl lived whose father worked at Cousin’s wheelwrights. I had followed her there one day as I thought she was very pretty. After that the houses were strange and I tried to remember each one. The houses were all different and soon I knew I would not recognize them. Some had high privet fences so you could only see a bit of the house through the gateway. I had read several stories about running away and been told the story of Dick Wittington who became Lord Mayor of London after running away.

“Where are we going to stop to sleep?” I asked.

The others stopped walking and gathered round me saying nothing.

“Shirley, where are we going to sleep?” I asked.

“I don’t know. I read a story where a boy went to sleep behind a milestone”.

“Let’s go to the next milestone then”, I said.

I was hoping Shirley had run away before, but all she had done was read stories.

We came to a milestone which Shirley read aloud.

“It says ‘Oxford forty miles. Calne one mile’. We haven’t got far”.

“This milestone looks awfully small. We couldn’t sleep being a stone like this”, I said.

Shirley looked at us all. A small boy who had tagged along started crying.

“I think we have to go back this time”, Shirley said. “We can run away another day when my mother has made some sandwiches”.

We all cheered up and skipped back down the road. We had actually run away if anyone asked us.

I came up the kitchen path to Kuling and opened the kitchen door. My mother was baking and didn’t look up.

“Hello, Mummy”, I said.

“Hello, dear. Don’t ask for anything as I’m in the middle of baking”.

My father arrived later that day in the Austin 8. I recognized the car, but didn’t recognize my father. A man wearing a sports jacket and grey trousers got out and came through the front door. He was carrying the black dispatch bag that my father carried everywhere with him. He leaned down and kissed me. I recognized the smell of Navy issue tobacco, Brylcreme and whisky.

“And how are you?” he said.

“Good”, I said warily. “Why aren’t you wearing your uniform?”

“I’m on half-commission now. That means I am still in the Navy, but I don’t have to do anything. They only pay me half as much though so don’t ask me for any pocket money”.

“Mummy, Daddy’s here!” I shouted as I ran into the kitchen.

“Oh, dear. I wasn’t expecting him” she said, wiping flour off her hands.

My father entered the kitchen and put his arms round my mother.

“They put me into the Navy as a Lieutenant, but only a half commission until they find something. I have to go to Bath now and again to report”.

My father went and picked up his briefcase and took it into the lounge. He took out a revolver and put it into a draw in the desk and locked the drawer.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“It’s my service revolver. It’s a Smith and Wesson. I had to buy it myself and it was the cheapest I could find. I always have to have it with me”.

“So it’s not a Colt. Is it loaded?” I asked.

“Oh, no. I keep the bullets in another drawer”.

“How many Germans have you shot?” I asked.

“None. What my ship does is to stop the Germans shooting at our ships. I looked after the RADAR which did all this watching out for Germans. It helps aeroplanes kill Germans”.

“Well, how many Germans has the RADAR killed?”

“I suppose indirectly about two hundred, but it’s hard to say”.

“Why do you need a revolver then?”

“It’s a rule that any officer must carry a revolver. In the old days we would have needed it to shoot people”.

“Is it dangerous?”

“Not without the bullets”.

“Is Mummy frightened of it?”

My father laughed. “She hasn’t even seen it. I doubt she would be frightened. I don’t know anything she is frightened of except mice”.

The Autumn term started on Friday, September 20th, 1946. My father and my mother saw me off from the front door.

“Be careful of the cars, don’t get your clothes dirty and don’t talk to any strangers”, said my mother. I was surprised as I had left without her saying a word throughout the summer term. Now when my father was with her she was showing that she was worried about all sorts of things. My father grinned slightly as though he didn’t know what to say.

“Make sure you work hard and learn as much as you can”, he said. I knew he had been a teacher at a school in Calne before the war and I thought he would have some tricks to tell me about learning. I had heard ‘work hard’ many times before as mothers or fathers left their children at St. Mary’s and it wasn’t much practical help.

Keith had got a scholarship to Winchester Choir School as he could sing nicely. Ginger had a garage of his own and didn’t live at home anymore. I could no longer cross the road to watch Ginger mending his motorbike or to see if Keith would play with their dogs with me. Aunty Marion still had her Scottie and now also kept boxers which kept having puppies which she sold. She kept the boxers in a cage in the back garden. Uncle Sid had retired from Harris’s and sat in his chair smoking his pipe and coughing. I could no longer watch as he laid out all the pay packets on the lounge floor and filled them with coins.

Uncle Eric and Aunty Joy had left us together with baby Eric and I found I missed Aunty Joy a lot. She was always cheerful and sensible and helped my mother from putting her head in the oven although she was only a lodger. I thought of Aunty Joy as my real mother and my own mother as someone who was a poor understudy. The house seemed empty now.

Some new children had come to join the class. They were children of families who had been away for the war and had come back to Calne now the war was over. It was hard to talk to them as they were meant to be from Calne, but as soon as you asked them to go somewhere like the town square with you on their way home they didn’t know where it was and you had to explain it all.

Miss Sparks was as beautiful as before, but after she said those things in my report that gave endless trouble at home I careful with her. I did not talk to other children when she was around in case she wrote that I was disturbing them, though the other children all talked to each other all the time. She still had her red and white dress with little squares on it. Someone told me in break that she had got married, but we still called her ‘Miss’ just the same. Miss Barker still came home to see me and help me to read and write so I was always about the top one at those anyway.

One day I asked my mother if I could go home with another boy called Colin.

“I don’t know him so I don’t know if he is the right sort of boy for you to mix with”, she said.

“Well, can I ask him to come here so you can see him?” I said.

“You know very well you can’t ask boys to come here that I don’t know anything about. It’s bad enough you mixing with strange children, but I don’t want all and sundry coming here and making a mess”, said my mother.

“Could I ask Daddy if I can play with Colin here? Perhaps he knows who he is”.

“It was ages ago Daddy was a teacher here so it’s no good asking him. Besides he is not the one who has to clean up here”.

“Doesn’t Mrs Jones come and clean here?” I asked.

“She just does the floors and I don’t want you making any extra work for her. It costs me a lot as it is having her here without extra mess”.

One day the vicar came to the class to say he was having a garden party and anyone who wanted to come could write their name on a list. I wrote my name down as well as all the other children although I knew my mother would have said I couldn’t go if he had asked her at home. I just had to figure out whether to tell her later on that I was going to the vicar’s garden party. He explained that it was a party in his garden so it wasn’t like a real party where you sat indoors and ate jelly and got a present, but it all would happen in his garden and everyone would get a present anyway. When I got home that day I said to my mother,

“The vicar asked me to his garden party”.

As I had expected my mother was silent and looked like a prune. My father said,

“Before you do anything you must ask your parents first”.

“Alright”, I said. I expected he would say something silly, but I had not expected him to talk so strangely as though my parents were somewhere else.

That evening I sat on my mother’s bed with the slippery pink eiderdown trying not to fall off the bed while my mother changed the nappy on the baby. The smell was terrible and it was crying as usual. My mother had a bowl of water she had heated on the stove in the kitchen and was washing the little body with a flannel. The baby kept crying louder and louder.

“Perhaps the water was too hot?” I said.

“You mind you own business”, said my father. I expected my mother to tell him that we discussed things back and forth all the time, but she just started to dry the body and then powder it. The child still kept howling.

“I know how to handle this”, said my father.

He picked my sister up with his left hand, holding the feet so that she dangled upside down in the air. Then he started hitting her on the bottom with his right hand. He had hard hands so I knew it hurt. My sister bawled out louder than ever. My father kept hitting her. My mother just kept watching and saying nothing like she did when the doctor came round to look at me. I wanted to rescue my sister, but I knew if I did I would just get hit around the head as usual until sparks flew around inside and I would be on the floor. I felt ashamed of myself as I never had before.

My sister’s bottom and legs were bright red, but she just kept howling. My father went on hitting her. Ages went by and my sister seemed to cry less just because she had no energy left to cry anymore. She just hung there whimpering and then she was quiet.

“That’s dealt with that then”, said my father.

My mother put my sister’s new nappy on and then her nightdress. My sister was like a rag doll. I had seen a dead cat in the road and she was just like that. I hoped she was still alive and guessed she probably was as my mother seemed to think it worthwhile to put her in her cot. I slid off the bed and went into my bedroom. My father and mother might start arguing later about something and I always got a nasty feeling and a stomach-ache from that so I didn’t want to hear it.

I couldn’t understand my father. He had so much love to get just for nothing from me, but he didn’t seem to want it. I thought he might be different with his baby as he was around when it was born and when it was getting bigger, but he didn’t seem to bother about her either. If he didn’t want love from someone who gave it for nothing, what was it he wanted? I had never met a person before who was just nothing inside.

I knew how bulls got calves from heifers as I had watched the farmer’s black bull do it, and how dogs got puppies from bitches as Aunty Marion had let me watch. Keith and Ginger had told me it was the same with people. I hated that idea as it meant I came from my father’s testicles. If I hated him which I did I had to think about what I would be made of and I couldn’t agree with the end of that thought. I just tried not to think about that too much. My mother said everything would be much better when the war was over and my father came home, but it got terrible.

I looked forward to school each day as I could get away from my father and be with nice people all day. I sometimes went up to see Miss Barker as her kindergarten was on the side of the square which I went along on my way home. You just opened a door by the pavement without knocking and went up a very narrow staircase. At the top was a door you knocked on and then Miss Barker answered it. She lived with her brother in the upstairs flat with their sitting room on one side and her schoolroom on the other side. Miss Barker liked everyone including my father which was pretty amazing. She was always smiling and pleased to see me. She always asked me if I wanted tea and if school had finished early I always said, “Yes, please”. Perhaps my mother was frightened of Miss Barker because she was so nice like Nain was, and she didn’t complain about me stopping there although I knew she didn’t like it at all.

“And what have you learnt at school today?” Miss Barker would ask. She was always interested in what I said however boring I thought it must be to her considering she was a teacher herself. Her brother would sit there smiling and he was really cheerful inside, not like my father who just looked cheerful, but was annoyed inside. I loved those narrow steps up to her flat beside the square with all the things that went on outside their window like the market on Wednesdays. From their sitting room that day you could the pens with the various animals that the farmers brought in to sell. On other days the carters always stopped at the trough for their horses or ponies to drink and you could see that. If there was a band it always stopped in the square to play. The Army had a band and the Air Force had a band and Harris’s had a band and it was only the Navy that didn’t have a band.

Each weekend my father liked to drive somewhere for an outing. He would reckon how many petrol coupons he had and how far he could drive with them. He had a map with all the heights marked on it so he could reckon on how much petrol the hills would need and where he could freewheel. The Austin 8 was a big car, but my father said had a tiny motor so it didn’t always get up a hill what with all its own weight and the weight of us in the car. My sister had a pink carry-cot which filled nearly all the back seat so I had to sit on a little space between the carry-cot and the door. My father had bought a picnic basket in America with special pale red plates and cups of some stuff which was hard and light. Each knife and fork had a special leather strap it was fixed with so it was quite a business getting everything out to have a meal.

My mother had to make sandwiches and lemonade and a thermos of tea. She was not too keen about these outings. It was all hard work she said, but I think outings reminded her of Paul who had drowned and the life she was meant to lead in Chester, but didn’t. My father had money, but he wasn’t rich like Paul would have been so that you never even talked about money. I knew about Paul because Aunty Flo had told me all about him when she came to see us during the war and she showed me a photo of the rowing boat which tipped over, though Paul was standing up in it in the photograph. Aunty Flo asked me not to tell my mother about the photograph and not to talk about Paul.

When we drove somewhere my father would point to things and say,

“Look at that”.

After while this got very irritating and it made you not want to look at anything at all. You couldn’t look on your own either as you kept having to stop and look where my father pointed. My father didn’t seem to notice at all and seemed to enjoy it immensely. Even though it was warm he wore his father’s sheepskin driving gloves from when his father had his sports car.

When the Vicar’s party came along my mother walked with me to it. Instead of going home like the other mothers she said she was going to stay. I told her it was just for the children, but she said she was going to stay anyway. The only grown-ups were the vicar and his wife and a help the vicar had to clear up in the kitchen. The vicar’s wife said,

“Really, Mrs Travis, you don’t have to stay at all. We will look after Peter for you”.

“That’s very kind of you, but Peter is very attached to me, and he will be upstart if I leave so it’s best if I stay if you don’t mind”.

“Well, if you’re sure”, said the vicar’s wife. “But there’s no need if you feel you would like to go home at any time”.

I tried to play with the other children and especially the ones from my class, but as soon as they saw my mother behind me they stopped talking to me. My mother kept telling me who to go and play with, but it just made things worse. We had tea on a long wooden table on the lawn and the vicar and his wife and my mother stood up beside the table. When tea was over we all went over to barrel, one for boys and one for girls, and got a present. I got a Beatrix Potter book about a cat.

“Let me help with the washing up”, said my mother to the vicar’s wife.

“That’s very kind, but we have all that arranged thank you”.

“Oh, it’s no trouble”, said my mother. She went into the house by the servant’s entrance into the kitchen. I could see that the vicar’s help was doing the washing up and I could also see that doing the washing up was something servants did for the vicar, not the parents of people. I knew that up north in poor homes mothers joined in to help in the kitchen, but in Wiltshire it was embarrassing.

We played hide-and-seek which was a good game in that garden as it was full of hedges and paths going to bushes and small trees. While my mother was in the kitchen I started talking to other children, but by then they knew my mother was with me so it was difficult as they asked where she was. Some of the boys asked me just to tease me.

When the party was over we all got in a line and thanked the vicar and his wife for the party and said goodbye.

Some parents of the other children who lived a bit away arrived and took them home while other children left on their own. I walked home with my mother.

“It was a lovely party and you behaved very well”, said my mother.

“Yes, it was”, I said.

 

Chapter 7.

At the end of the Autumn term I had put on two pounds and grown taller. I was settled into St Mary’s and found my way around Calne as I walked by myself to and from school each day.

My father arrived each weekend and turned the atmosphere in the house from cheery to black. He appeared not to enjoy visiting us himself and resolved this by assuming that he was doing us a favour by visiting us. As soon as he arrived in his Austin 8 he planned an outing to an historic building. He appeared himself to be still enjoying the civilisation of the south of England which northerners always do when arriving in the counties that spend the money they had made in the north of England for us.

“I have been appointed to HMS Dryad” he said just before Christmas.
“Oh, where is that?” asked my mother.
“Near Fareham. On Portsdown Hill. So we have to move down to Fareham”.

I was surprised he said ‘we’ as I had never considered him to be more than a casual visitor who turned up, sometimes announced, sometimes not announced, but always startlingly late so that my mother was in a bad mood before he arrived. I could not know what he did to make himself late, but he was always getting into conversations that never ended and losing track of time. Quite how he reconciled this with a life as an officer in the Royal Navy I never knew, but I assumed that knowing something about RADAR was a trump card he always could play as the rest of the Navy knew nothing about RADAR, or at least nothing about how it worked. He didn’t know at all that much himself, but as a -Scouser was used to duping people without the least scruple. If anyone was unwise enough to ask him to explain RADAR he would go into a wealth of detail and take boredom to new heights of discomfort that verged on torture.

After Christmas we packed our meagre belongings into tea chests and two workmen carried the beds into an enormous lorry which was the size of a large bread van. Tea chests are the least suitable box for packing as they only have a thin strip of wood along the top which never bears the weight of the chest so that your fingers are soon ripped off.

I said goodbye to my friends and for the first time saw their eyes dim as though I had let them down and betrayed their friendship which I had in a way. Friendships are forever when you are six years old and departing means you can never again be trusted. I also doubted whether I could again build up the friendships that I had merely by being the same age in the same place.

The day after Boxing Day I was put between the two removal men on the gear box of the lorry. At first this was exciting, but as the journey went on the gearbox got hotter and I could no longer sit down. I hopped from one foot to another but had no chance of telling my father his idea that I sit on the gearbox was a bad one. He thought that difficulties were an advantage, but this belief did not extend to himself, protesting violently if he was in the least inconvenienced. This belief bordered on sadism and might indeed have been a cover for the pleasure he found in hurting people. If I disagreed with him he hit me hard in the chest and watched with satisfaction as I fell over backward. I saw the glint in his eye as the pain of the blow spread over my chest without the cause being visible to my mother.

The house in the Old Turnpike in Fareham turned out to be a flat in a townhouse facing north. We were not allowed in the back garden and the front was near the main road to London with lorries thundering past so for the rest of the holidays I was confined to my bedroom in the damp, cold flat. My father had been staying with a couple called the Arnolds so that he knew Fareham well. My mother complained bitterly about his choice of naval quarter, as that was what it was, and she pointed out that it was totally unsuitable my father said he only had to get in the car and he was at work in fifteen minutes, a circumstance he seemed to give paramount importance. Indeed, he seemed to consider the presence of a family at all an unfortunate and underserved burden on himself which he bore with in air of noble resignation.

He had been an only child until he was ten when his brother was born. I had seen the ruthlessness of an only child when my cousin Glenys came to visit and I recognized the type. He was seven or eight when his father came home from the First World War so he was not only an only child, but the spoiled centre of attention of his mother, a little Lord Fauntleroy. He lived in his grandfather’s house and there was plenty of money to spoil him with. The war was a long way off in France and Lancashire was a hive of industry, making money out of war production, as his grandfather owned a photo studio which thrived as young men took a last photo before they left for the trenches.

I was to attend the Rookesbury Park School, a private school five miles from Fareham backing onto the estate of Jane Austin, though in the post-war years Victorian authors were of no interest to anyone. The school interviewed me about my previous classes and how far I had got with reading, writing and arithmetic. With his usual arrogance and without any discussion with me or my mother my father insisted that I be in a class a year above that which the school suggested. He had been at school in Crosby in Liverpool where he grew up and he turned out to be an able student in later years after completing elementary school, obtaining a scholarship as a day boy to a minor quasi-public school called the Merchant Taylors School at the age of eleven. He translated this success to me by directing me to be so intelligent that I would jump classes at the age of six, something he himself never achieved. He defended this against my mother’s protestations by saying that ‘if you aim high you reach further than you would by aiming straight’. He was full of these irrelevant proverbs, perhaps as a result of his position as secretary of the debating society at Liverpool University, or perhaps from some source he never revealed. He only obtained a second class degree and failed to get a doctorate so his proverbs did not seem to apply to himself. Of this he seemed blissfully unaware and seemed to assume mere verbiage would achieve results.  

I had to catch a school bus each morning. The first morning was excruciatingly embarrassing as you were meant to say ‘present’ by using the Latin word ‘adsum’ when your name was called out as the bus queue of children got on the bus. I knew nothing of this and no-one appeared to have forewarned my father or mother. I said ‘present’ until a girl whispered that I had to say ‘adsum’, a word that was just a noise to me. Once again I suspected that my father’s arrogance which he considered bluff northern honesty had alienated the staff he met so that they declined to inform him of this, the sins of the father being visited on the son.

Being with children I did not know thus made me shy after having thrown off this reserve after two years at St Mary’s. My father had put me in a class a year too high up so that I was utterly lost in the lessons. I didn’t even know what that names of the subjects meant. I was in a geography class but did not know what geography was. Hordes of children rushed here and there in the hallway of an enormous building and I could not even find my classroom which changed for each subject, a system I was unused to and of which I had not been warned. I was sometimes saved by a passing girl, sometimes ignored until all was quiet after the bell for the start of lessons sounded and I was left standing alone in the hall. No one seemed to have been asked to introduce me to the school classrooms or indeed the school, perhaps, I suspected because my father had not bothered to ask about it while being too rude to elicit a voluntary response. It was not until the bus was about to leave at the end of the first day that I found out where the lavatory for boys was. I knew I either had to ask an older child where it was or I was going to go in my trousers on the bus so I found enough need to stop a boy I didn’t know. He took me to the lavatory and I was in luck as he waited until I was finished to that he could take me back down the maze of corridors and rooms so that I would not miss the bus home. There were six or seven buses waiting so I asked him which went to the Old Turnpike and he took me round the drivers asking which bus was mine. Without him I would not have got home at all. Although I hardly knew him I wished he was my father even though I knew I was slightly mad thinking that way.

My father was indeed able to get to HMS Dryad in fifteen minutes. He left this so late in the morning that if I was on the one lavatory he would open the door, pull me off the bowl and throw me out onto the floor in the hallway. He left home at a quarter to eight and my bus left at eight. On the floor of the hallway I lost the urge to defecate but as eight o’clock drew nearer the urge grew stronger and stronger until by five to eight when I should be walking down to the bus stop I desperately needed to sit on the lavatory again. Each morning my mother ran down to the bus stop to tell them I was on my way and after I had pulled my trousers up I managed to get down to the bus at ten past eight. All the children looked at me and wondered why I was always late. I couldn’t explain it all and even if I could I knew no child to talk to anyway. They just muttered that I was never on time and speculated on various punishments that would make me be on time.

My mother began to get up half an hour earlier to get me out of bed and onto the toilet before breakfast, but that didn’t work at all as I had no urge to go at that bleary time of the morning. My father refused to leave earlier when my mother suggested it as a solution and he was furious that she had thought his work was so unimportant that he would consider my morning habits. He had always spoken to me and of me as though I were a sailor on one of his ships. I had hoped he would begin to realize I was a child when he lived with us or now when my sister was born, but he did not change at all towards me. He often said, ‘Not even a sailor would do that’ so that I knew he still compared me with his crew. He even seemed to derive something I could not reckon out from having caused me considerable distress on a daily basis which made me start to think carefully about how his brain worked as it seemed different from all the many other men I had met. My mother assured me he was not normal but she seemed incapable of doing anything about it. I could not understand what tied her to this unpleasant man as I knew she had lived on her own as a nurse and been independent. I had also grown up together with her without her ever seeming to miss him. I knew nothing of income and money and did not know that without the small allowance for food he gave her and for rent she would be in trouble.

I found wishing that my mother had never met him to be a cul-de-sac as this wished me away as I would never have been born. Try as I might I could see no way around the fact that I was his son, whatever that meant. I knew enough about farm animals and cows and bulls to know that you had to have a male and a female to get an offspring though I knew nothing of the mechanics of it. No-one would explain how it worked to me and when they asked me why I wanted to know I could not tell them that I was trying to get my father out of the matter. Then they said I was too young to know about that although they had already asked me why I wanted to know as though they would tell me if I came up with a good enough reason. I thought the whole offspring thing was obvious if you saw farm animals all the time so I could not understand what was so special about people that you had to tell grown-ups why you wanted to know. I could ask them whether bacon came from pigs or from another animal and they were happy to tell me that and that was a pretty bloody business, at least for the pig.

I did not know it then or even think about it but I would never again be able to defecate without a feeling of imminent danger, or to avoid getting the urge to defecate as soon as I was about to leave which caused me to nearly miss car rides, trains, buses and planes.

I began to see that this toilet business was the most important thing that was happening to me at Fareham although my father had promised lots of things he said were exciting such as the sea and ships and sailing boats. So far I had not seen any ships or sailing boats or any water except Fareham Creek which was a stretch of mud. There was more water in the Calne River and in the mill pond by the place where Priestley discovered oxygen. As least boys swam in the mill pond and I was yet to see the sea at all, let alone anyone swimming in it. What I wondered most about was why my father was such a liar and how I could look out for when he was lying. As the days turned into weeks this wondering seemed to be all that happened in Fareham. I longed for Aunty Marion and Keith and Ginger and the boys from St. Mary’s.

My two terms at Rookesbury Park School were as disastrous as my time on the lavatory and as worrying. I was lost without Miss Barker as my mother seemed at sea as soon as I asked her any question not to do with children’s nursing. As the youngest of six children she had never had to reach anyone anything and did not seem to know how to set about it, but treated a question as though it were an attempt to discover some terrible secret she was hiding. I suspected my father’s attachment to this dreadful flat was due to the fact that he was there so little and spent much time at the Arnolds’ where he would be pampered and his complaints watered like precious fruit. He would in all events often come home extremely late muttering about meetings. He was now holding classes and he may have found going out with young men more fun than returning to marmite sandwiches and a cold, damp flat.

My mother believed she was the most attractive woman on the planet who would hardly have to face competition from any other woman. She also was convinced that she could twist any man around her little finger. She could not thus complain to my father about his more or less open philandering without admitting that her charm could in fact be withstood. My father had therefore only to perform a vigorous bout of marital wrestling on a Sunday morning to maintain this illusion, all carried out while my mother protested as though she were being raped. To render this more plausible this was always performed after I had awoken and joined them in bed for, I hoped, a cuddle with my mother. My father first threw me out of my mother’s arms. The performance of ‘Beauty and the beast’ was then never better executed. My mother finally admitted this to herself forty years later. Her cat had crapped on the bedroom floor and my father had stepped in it. My father had decided to move into the spare room. This decision was greeted by my mother with the words, as told to me by my father, of, ‘Now I have hobbled you!’

There were a dozen or so naval shore establishments in Portsmouth such as the submarine base and training base and the anti-submarine frigate base. Portsmouth was also the home port of the Home Fleet. The Royal Navy totalled nearly a million men and women and nearly a thousand ships in 1945. Most of these crews were gradually de-commissioned after the war so that parties were continually taking place in 1947 on ships in Portsmouth harbour which formed one enormous deck. The Royal Navy was a ‘wet’ navy so spirits were allowed at sea. At home spirits were rationed but were unobtainable as all grain was needed for food due to the German blockade. A bottle of gin, freely bought by an officer at sea for two shillings cost about a month’s wages on the black market, and a carton of cigarettes cost about three months wages. The black market flourished in Portsmouth, also supplied by the looting of bombed buildings in the absence of any police who were now in the services. There were therefore thousands of women from all classes prepared and indeed sometimes desperate to have a party for departing officers in return for whisky or cigarettes that would keep them for a month or months as these could be exchanged for clothes or food. Young women or indeed young women waiting for their husbands to return to port had next to nothing to live on and little on which to feed their babies. When I was a student in 1959 at a Toc H hostel in London the man in the bed next to me unashamedly told me he lived well in the war as a teenager taking gold rings from the dead after German bombing raids. Over eighty thousand dwellings in Portsmouth were damaged, two thousand civilians killed and two thousand injured so there were hundreds or thousands of needy women.

The ships that limped into Portsmouth from all over the world arrived to have parties for having got home, for having won the war, for being the end of the Navy for men that wanted to get home to their ordinary jobs, and for being on shore after up to five years at sea. So my father had plenty of invitations from old shipmates, old ships he had been in or old ships that had been in the same squadron or fleet, from officers in the Electrical Branch, officers in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve which he was in, or from just anyone.

I had served biscuits and drinks at so many cocktail parties at Calne that I knew the ins and outs of the Royal Navy and the war. Cocktail parties always started before my bedtime and there was no-one to baby-sit me and a waiter was always needed. I had heard of the war so much that I never wanted to hear of it again. If you are little and serve drinks to grown-ups who have been drinking for a while they do not even seem to see you there and never think that you can hear what they say. Most of the war was letters, not words, especially if you are in the Electrical Branch so if was even more stunningly boring.

My father seemed to have lost his initial interest in my sister and left her care entirely to my mother, and, to an increasing degree to me as I had to baby-sit while my mother ’popped out to do a few things’. If Kay cried there was little I could do but see to it that she was not physically damaged. She could crawl and walk and was always pulling down anything she could reach so I had to follow her around for hours at a time. She usually continued to cry while I quivered as I awaited the usual anger of my mother and father for letting the baby cry. I was not allowed to smack her as I would have liked to do, if nothing but to have relieved my feelings of helplessness. Indeed, I began to feel she liked being able to lead me around at her will, something she did with some pain with my parents.

I remained throughout my life reluctant to take part in any visit to the sick at hospitals or bedsides as the stomach-ache I got looking after my sister always returned.

By the end of two terms at Rookesbury Park School I knew less than I did when I left St. Mary’s at the same time as I had been reformed from a cheerful learner to a fearful and shy recluse. The only thing I remember doing during two terms was to fill in the blue sea line with a crayon on the outline of Britain while the others drew in the counties or cities they had learned the term before. I did not even know what a map was but slavishly drew the blue line as instructed by an irritated woman who wondered to me what I was doing in her class.

I was cold and frightened at home and warm and frightened at Rookesbury Park.

Chapter 8.

At the end of the Summer term I was six years and three months old.
“I have been appointed to HMS Collingwood to do a course,” said my father one day in July.
“Oh, marvellous, now we can leave this dreadful house,” said my mother. “Where is Collingwood exactly?”
“Near Fareham. Near here. Well, between Fareham and Lee-on-Solent. So we have to move down to Lee. We have been assigned a house to rent down there”.
“Why are you posted to Collingwood?” asked my mother.
“Well, I have been formally based at Collingwood throughout the war. They want me to do a course there now. As I say, we have a house there now”.
“How much is the rent?” asked my mother.
“It’s two pounds a month.”
“That’s more than we pay here,” said my mother.
“Yes, I get a pay increase too which is more than that. Houses are more expensive down there. It’s almost on the seashore. I’m sure we’ll manage financially. I’ve been promoted to Lieutenant-Commander, too.”
“Oh,”, said my mother. “That’s good news.” I could see she was dying to ask him how much his salary was, but didn’t dare. It wasn’t the sort of thing you talked about.
“The Electrical Branch has been formed as a separate branch now instead of being part of the Engineers Branch. Collingwood has been turned into the home of the Electrical Branch instead of Vernon so I have to design all the courses there. Anyway, I will have green between my stripes now once I get my new uniform.”
“How long do you have to wait for the uniform? What will it cost?” asked my mother.
“Morris on the Hard in Portsmouth is making it for me. He is far cheaper than Gieves and Hawkes, but he is very good.”

We packed our meagre belongings once again into tea chests and two workmen carried the beds into an enormous lorry. Tea chests are the least suitable box for packing as they only have a thin strip of wood along the top which never bears the weight of the chest so that your fingers are soon ripped off as I had learnt at Calne.

I had no friends at Rooksbury Park in Wickham to say goodbye to. Nor did I have friends in Fareham. I did not have to see any eyes dim as though I had let them down. Friendships are forever when you are six years old so I had been careful not to get to know anyone. Departing from a child at that age means you can never again be trusted. I had been right to doubt whether I could again build up the friendships that I had in Calne merely by being the same age in the same place.

My parents had decided to buy 41 Oxford Road, our house in Calne, from the Rogers. Keith and Ginger had left and the girls would one day be leaving to get married so Aunty Marion and Uncle Sid thought the bungalow would be more than enough for them. My parents had arranged to rent the house to a family called the Clarks and they arrived one day to look at the house. I didn’t like the idea of someone else living in our house and I had not even known we did not own it before now. I did not know the Rogers girls would one day be leaving to be married as I thought they would be there forever. They didn’t bother with me much, but I still thought of them as some vague elder sisters. I could still hope that one day we would return to that house, my real home.

This time I refused to sit in the removal van. The house in Lee-on-the-Solent turned out to be a huge square detached house with a large, but dull garden at the back owned by someone called Edwards. Renting a house meant that you couldn’t put a picture hanger in the wall in case the owners, in this case the Edwards, complained. You couldn’t break a cup as it would have to be replaced. Everything was on a long list which my mother checked with the Warrant Officer supply branch pusser who looked after rented houses for the Navy.

The garden was mainly lawn with one apple tree in the middle. It was in Studland Road which was an unmade road of light yellow pebbles leading off the High Street in Lee. We were about number ten and fairly near the High Street though we were on the side away from the sea. You could see a bit of the sea from my parents’ bedroom, but from nowhere else.

It was summer and a fresh, salty sea ind swept through the house. Kay’s cot was in my parents’ room. My bedroom was at the top of the stairs, the first room on the right. I felt lonely the first night and asked if I could have the light on.

“Electricity costs money,” said my father. “You can’t have it on.”

“Let him have the light on, Phil,” said my mother. “Till he get used to it here.”

“He’s a big boy now, not a child. He’ll have to get used to the fact that things cost money as the rest of us do.”

I went back up the stairs. As soon as I lay in bed I imagined there was a giant in the wardrobe. I went out onto the landing and started to go downstairs.

“Go back to bed,” said my father. “You can’t have the light on.”

I went back to bed and started to cry. I could not get rid of the idea that there was a monster in the wardrobe. I fell asleep and had terrible nightmares.

The next day my mother and I and the baby went down to the seaside. The pebbles were all covered in tar from ships that had been sunk during the bombing. Smoke came from the oil refinery to the west the other side of Southampton, from the Fawley refinery. Seaweed hung from the breakwaters that lined the shore fifty yards apart. There was a sewage pipe running down the beach with the end marked with a rusty post.

We were the only people on the beach so we walked along the beach until we found some sand where there was no tar. My mother spread an old blanket down on the sand and she gingerely sat down in a pretty dress she was wearing. She put the baby down in her cot beside her. The sun came out from behind clouds as they passed overhead and then it was hot.

“Can I swim?” I asked.

“No, you can’t. Anyway, you can’t swim. You can paddle if you like, but keep an eye out for sewage. There’s lots of old rusty stuff from the war on the bottom so be careful.”

I looked back at the concrete wall of the promenade behind us. There were large pieces missing.

“What’s sewage?” I asked.

“It’s number two. It comes out of the sewage pipe there. It’s meant to be taken out to sea by the tide, but the tide’s coming in now.”

“Why is the concrete all messed up on the wall here?” I asked.

“It’s from bombs. The Germans dropped hundreds of bombs here. They were aiming for the aerodrome at HMS Daedalus or Portsmouth or Southampton and missed. Or maybe even a ship in the Solent. They killed lots of people here. They’re nasty people, the Germans. I hope you remember that.”

“But they’re all dead now?” I asked.

“No, unfortunately not. Most of them are still alive, you see.”

“But the dead ones won’t be in the sea here?”

“No, the bodies sink when they are dead.” My mother looked down at the blanket and pulled her skirt even more tightly under her legs.

“Did Daddy see any dead Germans?” I asked.

“No. Some of us died too so he had to bury people on his ship now and again. They buried them at sea. That is they tipped them into the sea.” My mother had her nurses’ look on her face now. She looked businesslike and vaguely cheerful at the same time. I still counted her as being on my side when my father was nasty. That is I thought she still loved me. Aunty Joy had moved away and Miss Barker was still in Calne far away and Aunty Marion was busy with her girls and Nain was up North so my mother was the only one at the moment.

I looked at the sea. I could just see a town called Ryde across the water. I thought of the airmen who used to stay with us at Calne and then were there no more. I took my sandals and socks off and walked down the beach, avoiding the tar on the pebbles. The waves pushed a bank of pebbles up before them and then there was sand just behind the waves. I walked along the sand. Bits of seaweed stuck to my feet as the waves went out. The water was cold in spite of the sun shining when the clouds passed.  

On Saturday my father was free from his work at Collingwood. After breakfast my mother made a picnic and we got into the Austin 8, with the baby in the cot in the backseat. I could hardly see over my mother’s seat and I couldn’t sit in the middle and look out through the gap because of the cot. I got carsick after a few miles.

We arrived at Hayling Island and trudged out towards the beach. There were old bits of barbed wire around in the sand left after the war so I had to watch where I was walking. We reached the sea, spread out the blanket and my mother opened the leather picnic basket someone had given us. It was equipped with orange mugs made out of Bakelite and also had a set of saucers and plates pinned to the lid with straps. There was lemonade for me and tea in a thermos flask for my father and mother.

We went for a swim and then had lunch which was sandwiches. My father was in a good mood and enjoyed swimming in the woollen bathing trunks my mother had knitted for him in dark blue wool. Mine were also of wool and my mother’s too, though she had a strap on her shorts which held them up. When they were wet they hung down to my knees so I was forever pulling them up.

Towards six o’clock we packed up again and walked back to the car. After supper my father got the car out again and we all went to a pub in the country. I was left in the car with a bag of crisps and a glass of lemonade and told to look after the baby. This was fine as long as it slept, but after half-an-hour it go boring sitting there. When it started howling I didn’t know what to do although I tried all sorts of things such as letting it such my finger and putting my finger in its hand. Eventually I went into the pub and found my parents. My father told me off for coming into the pub and he wouldn’t listen to my explanation.

“When I tell you to look after Kay I expect you to do that,” he said.

My mother picked the baby up and it still went on crying so my mother sat in the car. My father had started talking to a man and arguing and he seemd to stay there for ages. At last he came and was in a bad temper because the man wouldn’t agree with him though my mother didn’t seem to understand what he had been arguing about.

He drove home in a bad mood. I once again went to bed with the light off and imagined all sorts of ghosts and monsters in the room until I went and sat on the landing, hoping my parents wouldn’t see me. My father did see me and came up the stars and hit me around the head. I asked to have the light on but again he refused.

The day after we did almost the same thing, except that we went to Southsea instead. We walked along the promenade before we went onto the beach and my father pointed at everything he thought was interesting.

“Look at that,” he would say and then go on to explain all about it until my mother and I began to feel ill with boredom.

We finally got down to the beach and had a swim. There were lots of working class couples and families on the beach The men sat in deck chairs with a handkerchief over their heads, the corners tied in a knot, and with their trouser legs folded up so that they could paddle. The women pulled their skirts up and tucked them into their knickers and took off their stockings to paddle. Their children had no bathing suits and had to paddle with their shorts on until these too got wet.

Each weekend was like this.

One Tuesday the summer holidays were over and it was time for me to start school again.

I put on the same uniform as I had at St Mary’s as I had no other clothes although my mother said they had no uniform at the school at Lee. After my father had left a girl arrived to baby sit for Kay. Then we left to walk to school. There was an alley running through Studland Road which led to the school and we walked along that. I held my mother’s hand as I was shy about meeting children I didn’t know. The alley ended and we walked along one road and then turned left into another road.

“Try and remember the way,” said my mother. “You must go on your own soon.”

I remembered the alley, but I forget which roads we had taken.

The school turned out to be flat and spread out, not like St. Mary’s which was tall and in one lump. There were girls playing hop-scotch in the playground.

We waited outside the head’s study as he was already talking to a couple of parents. Children ran past in both directions shouting and screaming. It was very different from St. Mary’s or Rookesbury Park where no one ran and no one shouted. The door opened and the head came out.

“We’ll go to the classes and see where we can fit your child in,” said the headmaster. He looked more like a porter than a headmaster.

The first classroom was filled with yelling and screaming children. I could see that they were fighting over the seats and that there was hardly any room for any more.

“I think it’s full up now here,” said the headmaster.

I thought it all seemed very off-hand, but my mother didn’t say anything. We walked through the entrance hall again to the other end of the building. There was a larger room which was full but not as full as the first room. The children seemed older.

“This will be alright, I think,” said the headmaster. He went over to a middle-aged woman at a desk. “Yes, we can fit you in though these children are really a year or so older than your child.”

The teacher walked with us to a desk at the back and said,

“You can share this desk with Shirley for the moment.” Then she left us.

Shirley moved over a bit and I sat down on half of the chair. There were even some boys standing up below the window but they seemed used to it. Everyone talked and some were fighting. A bell rang.

“I will leave you, then,” said my mother. She kissed me which made me feel very uncomfortable, especially as she didn’t usually kiss me goodbye.

The day passed. I understood nothing of what went on, but neither did half the class seem to understand or bother about the lessons either. Shirley said nothing all day and looked down at a book she had which she drew pictures in.

My mother arrived at four o’clock and we walked home.

“Have you learned a lot today?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said. I was more concerned with seeing how the way back home was.

On Friday my mother came again to collect me as usual.

“You know your way now, so I won’t have to go with you again,” she said when she collected me.

There were a couple of older girls whose house had a garden that went down to the alley. They had some rabbits in a hutch near the alley and one day they let me look at them.

Another afternoon I met a boy called Michael and we went down the end of Studland Road. It petered out and then there were some concrete slabs that made a bit of road that was left over from the war. There were some children there and one had bicycle which we all admired. One day I was allowed a turn on it. I fell off and scraped my knee.

Michael and I went down the slabs one day and into the field beyond it. We had heard that there was a farmer who had a bull at his farm somewhere. We found a bull pen with heavy bars around it. Inside was an enormous bull that was the angriest bull I had seen. He took several steps towards and snorted. We kept away from the bars so that he could not even get at us by sticking his horns through the bars or by crushing our hands against it. We stood and admired him for about twenty minutes before we went home.

The next day when I arrived at school we first had assembly which I never understood the point of. Then the class got ready for a music lesson and every child took and instrument. We had a wireless at home and we could only listen to it when my father wanted to listen to it. He listened mostly to the news and to comedy programmes which I didn’t understand. He never listened to music and my mother never sang so I had only heard Keith whistle or sing a bit now and then. I had no idea how the instruments worked or what an orchestra was. An Army band had once passed Kuling playing at full blast so I thought they were only for the Army.

“What instrument would you like to play, Peter?” asked the music teacher, a man.

I stood not knowing what to say.

“Well, you can play the triangle then. You strike it once when the others strike theirs.”

The orchestra started and I kept watching the three other boys with triangles. It was apparently an instrument for boys. They suddenly hit their triangles all together. By the time I had seen them hit their triangles I was a second too late to hit mine, but I was too late to stop hitting it. This happened three times during the piece. When it was over the music teacher came to me and took my triangle from me.

“You had better listen until you get to know it better,” he said. It was the first piece of music I had heard apart from the march of the Army band and this seemed nothing like that, nor any of Keith’s tunes which he whistled. I pretended to hit my triangle and waited for the din to cease.

School lunch finished and after that there was a break until the first lesson when we could go out into the playground. The children had been collecting paper for a national paper collection campaign which the government started as they wanted to save money on imported paper. There was a shed in the playground where the paper, which was mainly old newspapers, was kept. I went there to see if there were any letters where the stamps had not been removed as I had started to collect stamps. When I got in I saw there was already a boy there in a belted raincoat who also was looking for stamps. We agreed that he would look at one end of the shed and I would look at the other end. We both saw a letter with a stamp on which lay in the middle of the shed. We agued over who was nearest, but couldn’t agree.

“Let’s fight for it,” he said. I could see he was much bigger than I was and probably about a year or so older.

“Alright as long as you agree that the winner gets the stamp,” I said. I was frightened as he was so big, but I couldn’t give in and be a coward.

We fought in the dim light, first wrestling, then hitting each other with our fists. I had never fought with other boys in Calne or at Rookesbury Park as there were other ways of deciding disagreements. To my surprise he suddenly gave up and left the shed.

I took the letter looked at the stamp. It was a prepaid postcard with a worthless printed stamp on it. I threw it down in disgust.

I stayed at the end of the classroom listening to the racket from boys as the teacher’s mouth moved. After a term I had learned no more than I had at St. Mary’s and had even began to forget things I had learned there. I was seven, but I had made no progress since I was just five.

It got colder and wind from the sea swept through the house on Studland Road. The baby was now two and had begun to toddle around. My mother asked me to watch her while she went to the shops sometime and I managed to keep her inside the house or the garden using the same method as my parents: I slapped her around if she didn’t do as I said. One day my father and mother were going out to the pub in the car and left us both at home. He told me to watch the baby. As soon as they walked out of the door the baby followed them out into the road. I ran out of the house and there were as usual no cars as the road went nowhere and we were the only ones who had a car. I told the baby to go back in but she stayed out in the road. I slapped her and told her to do as I said.

My father leapt out of the car and slapped me around the head until my ears rang.

“But you asked me to look after the baby,” I said.

“You musn’t hit her, do you hear that!” said my father.

“But you hit her,” I said.

“We’re her parents, you are not,” said my father.

“But how can I watcher her then?” I said.

My father hit me again so that I fell over.

“Don’t answer back. Let that be a lesson. Now go back into the house.”

He carried the baby back into the house and shut the front door. He then locked the back door.

“Now mind she doesn’t break anything,” he said.

The next day he said we would be moving again after Christmas as he had been transferred back to H.M.S. Dryad again. We would live the other side of the hill though and not in Fareham.

My mother thought there was no point in putting up Christmas decorations as she would have to take them down before the New Year. They couldn’t get a turkey at the butcher’s in Lee so they bought a goose instead from the farmer that had the bull. I didn’t ask about the school but I hoped that I would go to a new school again.

Chapter 9.

The pursers found us a new naval quarter in Bedhampton at the other side of Portsdown Hill near Havant. This was a bungalow with a garden and fields at the back, with an empty plot next door where I could play, the plot perhaps the result of a bombing raid.

My mother tried to persaude my father to throw away his fish in the ammunition box. He was determined to keep it as it was his only chance of writing up his Ph.D. thesis. He also still had the two green books that the thesis was to be written in, one for an original, one for a copy. He would have to write it all by hand and draw the fish by hand twice. I think my mother realized he would never have time to do both the text and the drawings.

Instead my father chased me around the bungalow with the rubber linings from the box which had come unglued and fallen out. He hit me every time he caught up with me and I thought he seemed to gain pleasure from causing me pain. He only stopped playing this game each evening when I hit the corner of a table and my skull cracked on the corner of a table. There was blood all over the carpet.

The summer holidays passed pleasantly as there were fields behind the bungalow and plenty of kids to play with. We formed a gang of four boys and two girls around seven years old. Girls did not wear knickers in those days and we used to try to get them to show their naked parts by playing a game where we all had to try to pee into paste jars.

One day a steam roller came to lay tarmac on the road. We all came to watch this enormous machine with all its rods and wheels. It ouzed steam all over the place and a gigantic roller smoothed out the tarmac which was laid by hand. That summer seemed hot all the time and it came to an end all too soon. In September I had to start at yet another school, the third I had been to, in Havant about two miles from Bedhampton.

I arrived at the school at Havant for the autumn or winter term of 1947 taken there by my mother on the bus. The Fairfield school was a state school built in Victorian times and the infants’ entrance was to the right. All my lessons were held in the same classroom which made life much easier for me as I at least knew how to get to the right place. In the morning a hymn was written on the blackboard and we sang this while the teacher played the piano.  The worst that could happen was that stupid boys, and they seemed always to be boys, were made to stand in the corner with a dunce’s cap on facing into the corner. Order was kept by a gang of girls at the front who seemed to skilfully manage the boys and calm them down. I once again started to learn reading and writing and arithmetic where I had left off at St Mary’s. The main problem here was that there was an ocean of children in the class, about forty in all. I have no memory of the teacher, perhaps because all she aimed to do was to avoid chaos breaking out. The lessons were certainly tedious and tasks were aimed at keeping children occupied but not stimulated as this could lead to outbreaks of initiative leading to riot. I was introduced to the copybook writing exercises that had occupied children in Dickens’s days though we only used a pencil to perform these pointless exercises. Reading was kept to the morning hymn and arithmetic consisted of the tables I had learned but forgotten from St. Mary’s. Fortunately the stupid boys in workmen’s clothes found it impossible to learn or understand the purpose of these tables and I was able to answer the one question I was asked during my first term.

There was a morning break when you could try and make friends, but most of the children already knew each other and needed no more friends. During breaks I joined the ring of envious onlookers who watched the activities of those who knew each other.

The two wars and the thirties slump meant that very few new schools were built after Victorian times. They had a standard format with high windows that you could not see out of but which let in light and large ceilings. The architecture was reduced Gothic revival with pointed windows and gables and high roofs with nothing underneath. They were thus large buildings but often had only one floor which meant that there was a shortage of space as soon as the population increased.

Rich and poor mixed so that I soon acquired a Portsmouth accent. Speaking Wiltshire meant that I once was punched in the mouth. After changing from Wiltshire to Portsmouth at great speed I felt proud of myself. At home my mother was sarcastic about my accent although she spoke ‘pseudo-posh’ Welsh-border English. She believed she spoke southern received English but her northern accent was clearly discernible after a couple of words. She thus appeared to be, and was, embarrassingly snobbish. She was, after all, the daughter of a woman who had begun adult life at thirteen as a servant girl. My father told me to drop the Portsmouth accent or he would see to it that I did which meant he would punch me in the head. I flipped from being a shy child to being a neurotic child, entirely because of my father.

He seemed to think he was one of the middle class but failed to see such an obvious cue as that he should not be spreading Brylcream on his hair as he did each morning, nor should he bully and bash his son around. He drank at lunch and after tea but his punch did not become any the more inaccurate. He was pushy while the middle class officers were restrained and polite. I thought of him as living in an island called Liverpool far away where I could not reach him, nor did I wish to reach him there. The Scouser seemed to me to be an appalling type, the villain of the pantomime who all the children booed as soon as he appeared.

Kay was still a crier. In fact she had become worse. Each night she would cry and my parents would take it in turns to smack her. Her nervous system must have ceased to work properly as nothing they did made her shut up while the only solution they, or at least my father, would consider was to smack her again. This would go on for about an hour each evening while I hoped this shadow of ill feeling would not spread too far so that I got hurt in addition to getting a stomach ache. My mother appeared saddened but confused by the whole business while my father seemed to feel a quite satisfaction after hitting my sister for fifteen minutes. It was as though he had some grievance that the world should pay for every day and he had received payment that day.

The most obvious explanation of my father’s grievance would be that he had to leave home at the age of twelve as his mother became too ill to look after both her two-year old son and her twelve-year old son. However, he then lived with an aunt and uncle without children who lived in a well-to-do Liverpool suburb in a large detached house in a leafy avenue. Here he was treated with even more favour than his mother had lavished on him. Aunty Lena only lived two miles away and my father had a bike so he could come home whenever he wished. Aunty Lena’s husband, Uncle Bert was the financial director of Crawford’s Biscuits, a large company at that time. To me the explanation of the forced expulsion does not ring true. Uncle Bert lent my father money for his university studies in addition to the scholarship he received so he was well treated by both of them. Uncle Bert was, unfortunately as many wealthy childless men are, an out-and-out snob who had never suffered the humility which a baby imposes on the most arrogant man. He always wore suits with a high collar, carried a cane and wore a pince-nez.

His beloved mother’s thyroid illness, then called a goitre, meant that his home was a place of sickness and increasing financial difficulty as there was no national health service to pay the medical bills. His father had been wounded in the Great War and it took years for him to recover, though he never did entirely. His father was not a fallen hero, nor a returning hero, but one of the wounded who no-one wished to know about. Objectively speaking, my father was well out of it.

Only one in a thousand pupils entered university in 1931. Only one in ten thousand took a doctorate. The number obtaining scholarships to enter university or to take a doctorate was even fewer. My father must have considered himself rarely intelligent even though he may not have had access to the statistics then. A more likely explanation of my father’s grievance may have been his frustration over having reached such dizzy heights, but for reasons which he had difficulty in expressing he had fallen to become one of many thousands, a Royal Navy officer clinging onto a commission.

He may have considered his marriage hasty and ill-conceived as my mother was in a similar situation. ‘Marry in haste, regret at leisure’ he was often to say. He always carried a photo of a girl he thought a better match with him in his locked service naval briefcase. My mother, a scholarship girl, one of ten thousand, who had become a dishonourably discharged nurse and the wife of a junior Naval Officer had similar problems. Where had it all gone? She had married for glamour but found herself stuck with a child waiting for her husband to come home. She lived as well far from home where her very accent immediately branded herself as but a northerner.

With Uncle Bert in mind my father may have felt himself to be improbably and incomprehensibly ill-treated by a world which had lost all sense of order and merit. Moral decay followed: if the world had lost morality why should he not lose morality too?

Had all his fishes and slides had come with us and he would have been better to have his time writing up his doctoral thesis instead of hitting my sister. He had always found ways of avoiding this task and it had begun to be an event like a fairy tale that you might believe in, but which you knew you would never experience. It was ten years since he had been at Liverpool University at the research department and although he seemed to remember them I doubt that anyone still remembered who he was. Perhaps he had known that his time was up as a Doctor of Zoology but had not wanted to make the final decision of throwing all his fish down the toilet. I also suspected he had become so used to ‘yes, sir, no, sir’ as a naval officer that being cross-examined about his thesis by youngsters was not much to his taste. He had thrown the fish away at Fareham. My mother was clearly the one who had persuaded him to do this but now he seemed bent on finding a scapegoat for the lost doctorate as my mother was too powerful to be blamed. At the moment it was my sister who took his wrath, but I feared that if I put a foot wrong I might be blamed for his lost academic eminence.

The autumn of 1947 was the third autumn of peace. Although there was still rationing life was getting back to a normality I had never known. I was therefore not aware of the direction which every grown-up was taking. In fact they were getting back to a normality which was the 1930s. The Great War was followed by the roaring twenties for the upper classes and then the depression of the thirties for everyone. The ideals and norms of the thirties were therefore those of the Edwardian period before the Great War. The Empire was still discussed as though it would last forever and there was a large map of the world on the wall at the Fairfield school with the red parts of the Empire still marked. Every child knew that England governed a quarter of the globe and a quarter of the world’s population. India had become a part of the commonwealth instead of whatever it had been before, but such distinctions were beyond most children including myself. It remained red on the cracked glistening map on the wall.

The war was constantly discussed by adults as a common experience with probing for points where men had been in the same place, or the same battle, or the same continent. The women discussed the privations of the home front, the details of the black out and the ins and outs of rationing. Common to all was a hatred of the Germans. Children were a nuisance who should be as quiet as possible and be seen and not heard. I thought this was not an accurate description of life as a child in the war as we were not to be seen either. These discussions could last two hours if they got underway.

My parents started going to pubs in the evening in the Austin 8 and taking me and Kay with them with Kay in a carry-cot. I was told to look after her and to call them if there was a crisis which was not defined, but which I soon discovered did not include crying. I soon understood my parents’ desire to whack Kay, but most unfairly they forbade me from whacking her. I was left with her wailing but with no means of stopping it. Picking her up only increased the force of her shrieks. I once tried to enter a pub to tell my parents Kay was howling her head off, but I then discovered that getting into a pub was not that easy for a young boy.

As the leaves fell I kicked them on my way to school in the morning mist. It got colder and my mother said I could get the double-decker bus that passed our house to school. This meant that I entered the money economy again as the bus fare was tuppence. I had been given tuppence once before when my father came back from the war as a week’s pocket money. However, two boys had stolen it from me and thrown me and my tricycle into a patch of nettles that was the end of my few minutes of getting pocket money. “You cannot look after money”, my father had said after he had found the boys’ home on the new estate behind Kuling in Calne. He had forced their father to have them return the tuppence to him. I knew their father was a brute of a man and it was my father’s fury that had cowed him into submission. Nettles, and especially their Latin name urtica, were to cause me a lifetime of misery, but I was not to know that yet.

My father’s birthday was on Guy Fawkes’ day, November the fifth. He told me that his professor said he was born on a suitable day: “You go up in the air like a rocket and then fizzle out”. My father always looked sadly at me as though I could do something about his personality. That year he was thirty-five and wanted to especially celebrate his birthday, though I did not reckon out that he was thirty-five then. He just seemed immeasurably old and immeasurably different to the caring men and boys such as Uncle Eric and Keith who in practice had brought me up during the war. November the fifth that year was on a Wednesday and my father told us he had taken the Thursday and Friday off.

There was a large bonfire in the field behind our house. This was built by us children. We collected dead branches from the wood the other side of the field, braving the horns of the cows in the field who curiously walked towards us as we dragged our branches. We also scavenged the bomb-sites that lay along Bedhampton Road here and there for pieces of material that would burn. Bomb-sites in roads with houses were best as bomb-sites in towns had been half-cleared by bulldozers with bricks in a pile at one end and were used as car parks.

We never thought that people had lived in the houses that had been there a few years before, nor did we think about what had happened to those people. The grown-ups always said, “They were killed in a bomb raid”, and more was not said, though they looked down for a couple of seconds. My mother would purse her lips and her eyes would seem far away as though she stopped living for a while. I think it brought back memories of her boyfriend Paul who had drowned when he was seventeen. Bedhampton lay behind Portsmouth and the whole area had constantly been bombed by the Germans throughout the war in the hope that the bombs would land on the Naval docks.

The bungalow to the west of us was owned by a builder. I played with their boy who was somewhat younger than I was, but he had a fine top which we tried to get going in their drive. The top was top-heavy as however hard you got it spinning it only stayed up for a couple of seconds. I could not imagine that people could make a top that cost a lot and which would not work, but they had done that. They had a girl called Jennifer who was fourteen who was not allowed out as she had got pregnant and brought shame on the family. I did not know what getting pregnant meant and I could see her from my bedroom window. My father had a long explanation about who would pay for the baby, but as I never saw any baby I didn’t know what he was talking about. Jennifer sat at a chair and just stared into space all day so I felt sorry for her.

This builder brought home about ten scaffolding poles. He then wound some rags around the end of them and tied them on with wire. Some children made a guy out of rags and put a Mickey Mouse gas mask on its head as a face. Every family had old gas masks in the attic and the problem was getting rid of them. There was one type for grown-ups that looked like Mickey Mouse with two holes for the eyes and which was red. Then there was a type for children which I had which was black with a window of Perspex at the front. I thought this was a back to front idea as the mask for the grown-ups looked more like a toy than a gas mask and should have been the one for children. I was glad we never had to use them as it was impossible to breathe in the children’s mask because of the filter, but noone listened to me when I said that. The children had put an old army cap on the head, an army jacket on the top, and put a card on a string round its neck with “Hitler” written on it. It didn’t look a bit like Hitler, but I realized that was the best they could do.

I could see why the children made the guy because they had a bit of cardboard with “A penny for the guy” written on it and they wheeled the guy around the streets in an old push-chair. People actually gave them a penny though I didn’t see the point of this as Guy Fawkes was burned because he planned to blow up parliament. Noone paid him anything before he was burned.

On Guy Fawkes day a grown-up climbed up the bonfire and dragged the Hitler Guy Fawkes up on top. It all looked splendid, I thought. After supper my father told all the children and some grown-ups to each hold a pole with the rags up in the air and to line up. He then lit his own pole which burned marvellously. My father then went to each of us and lit our rags. He gave the order and we marched out with our blazing torches to the bonfire. Here my father told us to get in a circle around the bonfire and hold the torches up. By this time my pole was getting pretty hot. My father then gave an order for us to lower the poles onto the bonfire. It started blazing at once. All this looked very spectacular and the bonfire burned magnificently. My father seemed to thoroughly enjoy himself. The builder was said to be very wealthy and he lived up to this as he gave us all a present in a box. I wondered where my father had learned to do all this as it was hardly a business you could carry out on a ship. The present turned out to be a metal watch strap which was a grown-up thing so my father took it off me. I said I could wait until I grew up, but my father just took the strap. I rather thought he fancied the strap himself.

It was a big bonfire so it burned for quite a long time while all the grown-ups drank and the children got glasses of squash. When the guy burned up and collapsed into the fire everyone cheered.

The next day the farmer came round and knocked on our door. He wanted to know who was going to pay for the mess the fire had made in his field. As my father had taken the day off he answered the door to the surprise of the farmer. My father had spent a lot of time at his grandfather’s farm so he thought he knew how to deal with farmers. He told the farmer that we would make sure there were no bits left that were not burned and that the next time it rained all the grass would grow back. To my surprise the farmer accepted this and left. We went out and found some bits of the gas mask left, but the rest had burned up.

In December it got really cold and as the double-decker was not heated I got really frozen before I got to school with only short grey grousers and a jacket on. The bit between where the bus stopped and where I had to walk was worst as I could not feel my toes. I had a raincoat, but that did not help much as it was so cold there was ice on the puddles and no water under the ice. The class kept getting bigger and bigger. The lessons were not hard to follow, but you only got a question about once a week. If you did not understand anything there was no chance to ask and if it was arithmetic you were lost for the rest of the lesson. There were some kids that never could answer a question and the teacher, a woman, always asked them for some reason.

We had a break for milk which the government bought for us, but it was so cold the milk had frozen and half the bottles were cracked. The rough children of workmen took the unbroken bottles and fought you if you tried to get near the milk table so that you ended up with a bleeding nose. I didn’t try this out, but saw what happened to those who did try to get an unbroken bottle. I stood back with the girls and then hoped that the cracked bottles did not have any glass in the milk. For the first time I understood what it meant when grown-ups talked about the working class. These fights were pretty stupid as the milk was frozen over anyway, but the tough boys seemed to think the idea of getting the milk was worth fighting about so that they could show they were toughest. I asked about punishment, and all that could happen was that you got hit on the hand with a ruler or had to stand in the corner, but noone was there during the milk break. If you got really bad you got sent to the headmaster, but noone seemed to know what that meant.

It got so cold that our toilet froze over. I had to use a pot for peeing and my mother had to pour boiling water into the toilet when I wanted to shit, or do “big things” as she called it. It got warmer for Christmas which was just as well as my grandmother, Nain, my mother’s mother who was Welsh came down to see us. Aunty Flo, my mother’s sister and her Welsh husband uncle Owen and their daughter Glenys came as well. Both Nain’s first husband and her second husband had worked on the railways so Nain had a free railway ticket. Uncle Owen also worked for the railways and operated a steam crane at Chester Station so they had free railway tickets as well.

My father took the 1946 Austin 8 to meet them and they all managed to squeeze in. They had not seen my father’s new car so he was very keen to show it off to them. Second-hand cars cost more than new cars as you had to queue to be able to buy a new car as cars were part of the export drive. The new cars mostly went to Sweden and Switzerland and America and Canada and Australia as they were the only people with money to buy cars, and Britain had enormous war debts to pay off. My father had put his name down for a car, but he had no idea when he would be allocated one.

The Austin 8 was intended to be an Army staff car, but as the war ended the car was not needed by the Army. Some big-wig had bought it and sold it to my father at a profit. It was quite big inside but only had a tiny engine and my father had to look at the map to see if there were any hills before we went anyway. My grandfather was a driver in the Great War and knew a lot about cars. His father had bought a sports car in the 1920s so he knew about cars. My father had an Austin Ruby in the thirties so he had learned about cars then. Running a car was quite a business and they were always breaking down so you had to know how to repair them. Men talked almost as much about cars as they did about the war.

Everything always went well when Nain was around as she was a cheerful person who dominated everyone in a pleasant way. Both Aunty Flo and Uncle Owen were always cheerful so I enjoyed it when we went to see them or when they came to us, not that that had happened often. You came into the bungalow into a large open room with all the other rooms opening off it. I was standing in this room when I felt a hard blow on the back of my head. I turned round to see Kay standing behind me holding my father’s walking stick in both hands. She had swung it over her head and hit me from behind and was lifting it to hit me again. When I turned round she started howling which she always did when she hit me. My parents came in and as usual she said, “Peter hit me”. My father turned on me, his face red with fury, and was about to say something when Nain appeared at the door of the front room. “Peter did not hit her. Kay hit Peter. Kay is a liar”. I noticed she said, “Kay is a liar” instead of “Kay told a lie” and I saw she had understood the situation at once.

My father looked sheepish and said, “Kay, you mustn’t do that” and took the walking stick from her. I noticed that he made no mention of telling lies. By helping me Nain had shown me how my parents had a system going where their anger had now passed onto me instead of Kay and I was to be the scapegoat for all their problems. Nain could not stop this after she went home, but after that both she and I knew what my parents were up to. She was unfailing in her help to me until she died five years later.

Before they went home after Christmas Nain and my parents had a talk and asked her if she could help with my education by paying for some of it. I did not know what it meant as I thought the Fairfield School was free, but perhaps there was going to be some payment as there had been for St Mary’s at Calne and at Rookesbury Park at Fareham. Nain was not to know this, but it was a trap as they were not really asking for money but, as I was to understand later, for her approval to send me to boarding school instead of to a day school. Most men were looking for ways to leave the Services and find a civilian job of which there were plenty. However, my father had got a taste for the swank of life in the Navy. I had now been on some ships in Portsmouth harbour and they were really just metal boxes with boring instruments in them. The uniforms and the gold braid were to me mostly just like a silly boy who likes showing off.

I found a friend next door to the east, a boy called Graham who was a couple of years older than I was. Children my age and older were few and far between and we only made a difference between children and grown-ups during the war. If you wanted to find someone your own age you would never find anyone so we tried to play with anyone. To the west there was a boy called Simon who had a steam engine that we played with. He heated this up and a wheel turned round, but nothing much else happened so I couldn’t see the point of it. He had a younger sister and she knew a couple of younger girls so the five of us made a gang.

We went into the woods at the back of Bedhampton Road on the northern side. There were lots of thickets where you could make a camp and hazel trees from which you could cut staves and arrows. I had my father’s old naval knife so I could cut things. We made holes in a path and put jam jars in the holes. Then we covered them with sticks as an animal trap, but nothing ever fell into them except ants. When we couldn’t get jam jars we put empty paste jars into holes. These were so small that there was no chance any animal would fall into them. One day we made the two youngest girls pee into them which they had to do to join the gang which at least put the paste jars to some use. Kay was always asking to come with us but she was only two so luckily she could not come.

My mother said there were gypsies in the woods sometimes and she warned me not to speak to them. They had come to our house and tried to sell my mother stuff. She bought some clothes pegs from them which they had made from themselves, or so they said. My mother said they kidnapped children so I had to make sure Kay didn’t run into the woods. I didn’t understand why I had to do this and I didn’t understand why anyone would want to kidnap Kay as she was nothing but trouble. The only point of her was to look sweet for my father which he seemed to relish, and my mother dressed her up like a little girl. I think at least it took his mind off sex and food so my mother was pleased.

One day my parents went out somewhere and left me to look after Kay. Suddenly she was no longer in the house. I guessed she had gone to the woods so I ran into the field at the back. I found one of her shoes in the field which really scared me as I imagined the gypsies had caught her and I would be to blame. I went into the wood and was really trembling with fear as I wondered what I would do if I met the gypsies and they had her. I had heard all sorts of stories about what gypsies did to boys they caught. I found Kay on a path in the woods crying. I picked her up and carried her back across the field. Unfortunately her other shoe was lost so I would have to tell my parents she had gone missing. They came back and I told them about Kay. They were pretty angry with me, but I could see that they were not going to hit me as they knew it was themselves that should have looked after Kay and not me. Nor could my father ring up the police and complain about something as he would have to explain why they had left me to look after Kay.

A while later on I was walking alone in the woods one day and walked right into the gypsy camp without warning. I spoke to two young men who were quite friendly and not at all as people made them out to be. I asked them politely how everything like the fire was done and they explained it all to me.

 

Chapter 10.

My father and mother left me at Sandle Manor in May 1949 at the age of seven for the summer term. Another car, a shooting brake with wooden sides and a door at the back was pulled up near the front door. Two boys stood near it with cricket bats bouncing a ball on them. They seemed happy to be getting back to school and to start playing cricket. A school servant came out to help the father carry a heavy trunk into the school.

“It looks as though you will have fun”, said my father.

The servant came out again and helped my father carry my trunk into the school. I followed them in. In the main hall trunks were piled up in every spare inch. Fathers and boys were struggling with tuck boxes and trunks up the stairs to the minstrels’ gallery where the senior dormitories were. The servant said we could leave my trunk as my dormitory was at the other end of the school and would be taken up later.

My father and I carried my tuck box into the school. He had asked one of his sailors to paint the box black and to paint my name on the box in white. I saw at once that all the other boys had tuck boxes that were light brown in colour and looked different. The clothing list had said that tuck boxes could be bought at Steer and Geary’s, but when we went there my mother said the tuck boxes were far too expensive and my father had decided to use the ammunition box that had held his fishes. As we carried it in I noticed some black marks on my sleeve. The paint the sailor had used had not dried completely.

                      “You will have to be careful”, said my father.

After putting my tuck box down my father shook hands and said,

                      “Goodbye and good luck. You needn’t say goodbye to mummy”.

There were boys milling around and I did not know where to go. The servant saw me and took me to a classroom.

                      “This will be your schoolroom, sir. You will be alright here for the time being”.

Noone had called me “sir” before and I felt very peculiar. I even forgot to thank the servant. There were some boys playing a board game called “War” at a table and I went over to watch them. There were cardboard soldiers in wooden holders so that they stood up. There was a general and a spy and majors and captains and privates. They threw a dice and this gave them the number of moves they could choose to make with a piece. I didn’t understand the game, but a boy said that that different ranks gave different points which they wrote down with a pencil on a piece of paper.

After what seemed ages a woman came and said,

                      “I am Mrs Evans, your class teacher if you are in class six. Go upstairs to the matron and she will show you to your dormitories”.

                      I followed the boys along a corridor and up another staircase to another corridor. A nurse in white with a white headcap with the back falling over her shoulders stood there with a list. She read ‘Stubbs’ and then eight surnames and one was my name. She showed us into a large room with eight beds in it and a large window at the end. The beds had black frames and red blankets on them and looked like hospital beds from the Great War. She read out the surnames again, pointing at each bed for each boy. I was in the one on the right nearest but one to the window. Everything was organised while being impersonal at the same time. The matron behaved as though she had never seen any of the boys before though I could see that we were not all newboys.

                      “You must help each other to carry your tuck boxes up”.

The tuck boxes contained the clothes we were not wearing and were not heavy except for my ammunition box, but were clumsy so two boys had to carry each tuck box up. An elder boy helped me take my box up and I had to warn him not to touch the box as the paint was wet.

                      “Why don’t you have a proper box? I have pater’s box”, he said cheerfully.

I kept quiet as I did not know who ‘pater’ was and I had no good answer to why I didn’t have a proper tuck box. I thanked the boy for helping me. I felt lost but I was glad older boys helped you instead of fighting with each other. I followed him back down the staircase and into the hall. I had trouble finding my classroom as there were nooks and crannies all over the place. The Fairfield School had one straight corridor with classrooms leading off so it was easier to find your way around. Sandle Manor was like a rabbit warren. I watched the boys playing ‘war’ and after ages a gong went.

                      “That’s the tea gong”, a boy told me.

We went out into a passage and passed a very large gong which still vibrated. Above it was a large bell like a ship’s bell with a rope hanging from the clapper.

We filed into a large room with seven large mahogany tables with benches down two sides. There was a chair at each end. There were framed photographs of each boy who had been at the school in rows around the walls. I followed the other newboys to a table in half darkness near the door and at the side of the room away from the windows. There was a middle-aged master at the table. A master at the most senior table in the middle stood up and we all stood up as he said the grace in English.

We then filed up to a large tea urn and poured out tea into one of the mugs on a tray at the side. Back at our table a plate of buttered bread slices was passed around and we could choose lumps of cheese or strawberry jam to put on the bread. I didn’t like cheese so I chose the jam. None of us spoke as we did not know each other and we did not know what was going to happen next. Boys at the other tables talked to each other, but their conversation was quiet and composed rather like grown-ups conversation and not at all like the shouting and howls at the Fairfield school. The matron sat at one of the tables, but there were no other women in the room. There was a large hatch at the end near the tea end and you see women in the kitchen. There were only two or three of them but their conversation was louder than that of the whole dining room.

Suddenly everyone stood up and another grace was said. Then we took our plates and mugs up the hatch onto tray where they were taken by the women in the kitchen. I said ‘thank you’ to the women waiting to take my mug and plate.

                      “You are not allowed to talk to the women in the kitchen”, said the boy behind me.

                      “Why not?” I asked.

                      “Because they are servants and not staff like the masters. You can talk to the assistant matrons though. They are not really staff but you couldn’t get on without talking to them if you have to. They won’t really say anything unless they have to as they are not allowed to talk to us. Marchant is the head cook and Downing is the head gardener, but they don’t talk to you so you won’t have to talk to them. You have to call the masters ‘sir’ and you have to call the assistant matrons Miss Cruttendon or Miss . you call the matron, ‘matron’. Miss Rowbotham is the headmaster’s secretary, but she never talks to the boys so you needn’t bother about her. She is Mr. Rowbotham’s sister, actually. She is blonde and rather big actually, if you know what I mean. Mrs. Evans is the mistress for your form, the sixth form, but she is doesn’t talk to anyone much. Her husband was in the Navy and was killed in the war, so don’t talk about that to her. She never talks except in class so you won’t have to think about that anyway. Only the duty master is around after class”.

                      “How do I know which assistant matron is which?” I asked.

                      “The old hag is Miss Cruttendon. She is horrible. The young, pretty one is Miss. They live on the top floor, up the middle staircase. That’s out of bounds, but newboys can only use the junior staircase. That’s the one you went up to Stubbs”.

                      I thought there might be a woman somewhere I could tell how unhappy I was and wanted to go home, but so far there seemed to be none.

                      “You do you know all this?” I asked.

                      “This is my second term. I’m Yeldham, by the way”.

I put out my hand. “I’m Peter. Pleased to meet you”.

                      “We only use surnames here and we don’t shake hands. It’s considered common. My pater says the Germans do it all the time. You shouldn’t say ‘Pleased to meet you’ as that’s common, too”.

                      “I see. My name’s ‘Travis’, then”.

Yeldham smiled. “It’s pretty ghastly here, but you get used to it. Don’t fight, or you will get beaten if you’re caught. If anyone does fight you, make sure you win quickly so it’s over before a master comes. Sneaking is really bad form. Keep clear of the head if you can. Mr. Meakin was frightful, but I think Mr. Dudley-Hill is even worse as he’s got some nasty habits. He’s the new headmaster”.

We filed out and went to our classroom, the Hurlbatt where I had watched boys playing the war game. They started playing war again and some other boys got a jigsaw of a train called ‘The Flying Scotsman’ out of a cupboard.

At six o’clock the bell rang.

                      “That’s the prep bell, but it’s the first day so there’s no prep. At nine the bed bell rings for juniors”, said Yeldham.  

I again watched the boys who had been at the school before doing the Flying Scotsman jigsaw. It looked nothing like any train that I had seen. The boys had done the jigsaw so often that they even knew which bits were missing.

I had told myself that I was here on a day out and that my parents would fetch me before it was time to go to bed. This story had kept me from feeling afraid and from crying for several hours. Now that bedtime was approaching my story was coming to an end and I had to find a new one that would stop me from crying or even running out along the drive and along the road in any direction. I could not find one and the imagination Miss Barker told me I had would not work.

I did not know any of the other boys and except for Yeldham no one spoke to me. I could see who the other newboys were as they hung around silently and nervously waiting for something to happen or for an adult to arrive to tell us what to do. Everyone had to be at the school by six o’clock and there were still trunks being carried up to dormitories and tuck boxes being carried round as boys tried to find out which dormitory they were in. Each dormitory had a list of the boys on a piece of paper on the door so boys had to go from door to door trying to find their names.

A bald master seemed to be in charge and if I went out into the main hall I could see him from time to time telling some boy what to do, or answering a question someone had. The boys called him ‘sir’ all the time quite naturally. He did not seem to be a former Naval officer or an RAF officer, but probably an Army officer as he had a small Army moustache and the manner of an Army officer. He wore a sports jacket with leather patches on the elbows and grey trousers. I heard some boys talking about him and I heard that his name was Mr. Lecky. Some of the boys seemed very old and almost grown-up and even had long trousers though long trousers were not on the clothing list my mother had shown me.

I had socks my mother had knitted with the school colours in the turn-downs. She could not knit as finely as bought socks. I could see some of the boys had socks with the school colours that had been bought in a shop. These were the socks my mother had said were far too expensive to buy in the shop we went to in Southampton.

I felt nervous as there seemed to be so many boys and only one master so that if a boy like Brian in Calne turned up and started fighting I didn’t know what would happen. No one did fight though, and the boys all seemed very polite and chatted to each other about what they had done in the holidays. None of them had an accent like I had and they all spoke in the name way. I couldn’t see how they had all got to hear the same dialect as they lived in different places and clearly did not meet during the holidays. My mother telling me not to speak in a Portsmouth accent was not any help as I did not hear any other accent in Havant and she spoke with a Chester accent. I had changed my accent once already from Wiltshire and was worried whether I could change it again even if I did find out where it came from.

At nine o’clock a bell rang again and we went upstairs to Stubbs. We got undressed, put our clothes in the tuck boxes and put on our dressing gowns. The paint on the outside of the ammunition box I had instead of a tuck box had still not dried and it was hard to keep my clothes away from the paint. I envied the other boys their tuck boxes and I could not hide the fact that my box was not a proper tuck box at all. No one had a black box for one thing. Even I could see that these boxes cost new in the shop which kept Sandle Manor things an enormous amount of money. I was surprised that no one asked me about my tuck box. Some of the boys had old and worn boxes that their fathers or even their grandfathers had had at the school. They still kept the name and initial of their fathers on the lid as we only used surnames which were the same.

We filed out and went along a corridor with red lino in the middle and reached a large washroom. Miss Buckle and an assistant matron called Miss Gordon were waiting there. I was given my number thirty-seven and hung my dressing gown on a peg with the number on it. We had brought our toothbrushes with us and there was already soap on the basins. I wrapped a  towel from the peg around my waist and began brushing my teeth along with boys from Stubbs and another dormitory.

Mr Hill arrived, still dressed in a suit. He went along the line of boys looking at us. I wondered what he would do. He seemed only to be searching for someone or something as he eyed us up with one side of his face drawn up in a forced smile. When I had brushed my teeth and washed my face I took off my towel, but before I could put my dressing gown on Mr Hill grasped me by the shoulders from behind and turned me around.

“I hope you beginning to find your way here, Peter”, he said, looking me up and down with his hand on my backside.

“Yes, sir. I am thank you”.

I thought he looked like a salamander as his skin was yellow and his face seemed large above his tall, slim body.

He walked on to another boy called Thomas who he asked the same thing.
Miss Buckle and Miss Gordon stood still and made no move to talk to him and seemed to be frightened of him. There were about sixteen boys in the washroom and he chatted to several when they went to put their dressing gowns on. Finally he left.

We went back to Stubbs. I knelt on the small prayer mat beside my bed and buried my face in the red blanket on my bed. I tried to remember a prayer my mother had used when we went to bed at Calne, but it seemed ages since we had lived there. I made one up and got into bed. Once I was in bed I realized that the idea I had had that I was only out on an outing for the day was no longer a story I could use. I felt as though I would cry although it was ages since I had last cried when I was almost a baby.
Miss Buckle came in and said, “No talking. Goodnight”.
As soon as it was dark I could not help crying. I lay on my stomach and put my face into the pillow so that no-one would hear me crying. All I could think of was my mother. After a while I felt very tired and stopped sobbing. I could hear that several other boys were crying. I did not know the names of the boys in the beds beside me so I could not whisper to them even if I had dared to. I did not know what punishment there was or what would happen if we talked and Miss Buckle heard us.
I made up a new plan. I would be here until the weekend when something would happen for my parents to come and fetch me home again. I fell asleep.
I woke up as a bell was being rung in the doorway. Miss Cruttenden stood there ringing a brass hand bell.
“Put your dressing gowns on and go to the washroom” she said.
Mr Lecky was standing there when we arrived. There were two baths filled to the brim with water which looked odd after I remembered water rationing in the war and that at home my mother had continued to fill only a little bit to save on hot water.
We took off out dressing gowns and formed two lines in front of the baths.
“The water must come up over your shoulders”, said Mr Lecky.
Yeldham who had been there a term already went first. He got in and quickly dipped down into the water so that it ran out over the top onto the floor.
“Next”, said Mr Lecky. He seemed to be enjoying commanding the bathing.
I went next. I was shocked to find that the water was icy cold. I copied Yeldam and sank down into the bath. A nasty shock went through me. I got out but I had to be careful as the floor was covered in water and slippery. Mr Lecky did not explain why we had to get into a bath full of cold water. It seemed silly to me as you could not wash in that water or in the few seconds you were in it.
I brushed my teeth and washed my face as fast as I could with my towel around my waist. I shivered now and again like a dog that is cold.
Yeldham left as soon as he was finished so I left too.

Chapter 11.

“Do we have that bath because it is the first day of term?” I asked Yeldham.
“No, we have a cold bath every morning”, he replied. “We have to dress for breakfast now”.
I pulled on the vest and pants my mother had bought at Steer and Gearys, the grey shirt and the socks she had knitted. She had loose-knitted them so I could see that the others had bought socks that looked smoother. I pulled on the grey shorts with the snake belt and then the grey jacket.
“You don’t have to make your bed until you move up into Ferguson”, said a boy in the bed next to mine. “This is the last term of the year so you will be moving into Ferguson in the winter term”.
“Thanks. What’s Ferguson?” I asked.
“That’s the dorm up the steps. I think Ferguson was some old master who had been here. Most of the masters are from Scotland”.
I had never thought about where names came from so I didn’t know why he told me most of the masters came from Scotland. My mother made me make my bed so was surprised.
“Why don’t we make our beds?” I asked.
“Some newboys can’t make a bed. It’s too because they change the sheets once a week so it’s easier for them if you just leave it. Some boys can’t keep track of which day it is and make their bed even the sheets are going to be changed”.
I had to think which day it was and I remembered that yesterday had been a Wednesday so it was now Thursday.
“The best thing is to get a diary from your people so you can mark up the days. Otherwise they just seem all the same”, said the boy.
“Do you have a diary?” I asked.
“Yes, my Pater was here so he gave me one before I came”.
It was the first time I thought about my father never having been to boarding school which meant he didn’t know how things worked. I felt lonely. I was about to cry without wanting to when a gong sounded.
“That’s brekkers,” said Yeldham, looking around at the five newboys in the dormitory.
We walked down the third staircase, the junior staircase, and then walked along the dark, long passage that ran the whole length of the building. We stopped outside a large mahogany door and waited. Mrs. Evans arrived and told us to line up. A large crowd of boys were waiting at another door on the same side of the passage the other side of the gong and the bell. They were chatting quietly and confidently. There was a long, narrow space along the side of the passage where the middle staircase and the gong and the bell were.
When the older boys had gone through their door Mrs. Evans opened our door and went to a small square table by the door laid with cutlery. We were in a restaurant or dining hall. The table was in an alcove of the room formed by the gong and bell space off the passage.
“This will be your table this term,” she said. “Sit where I tell you and be careful not to knock the bench over. This is called the dining room”.
We moved the bench back to get in and a fat boy toppled it over with a bang. The other boys in the room all fell silent and looked at us.
“If you do that again you will be sent to the headmaster,” said Mrs. Evans, looking at me. None of us knew the bench would tip so easily and the fat boy had tipped the bench so I thought it was unfair she seemed to think it was my fault.
“You must not sit down before the grace has been said. So stand up again and be quiet until the grace is said,” she went on.
My mother had said grace when I was a child, but after my father came to live with us we had not said grace.
A short, tubby man wearing plus-fours and long tartan socks walked to the head of a long table next to ours in the middle of the room.  
“That’s Mr. Cunningham,” whispered Yeldham. “He’s also Scottish”.
I thought he meant ‘Scotch’ like the whisky, but I said nothing. I wanted to ask him why so many people had Scotch names, but it was too late.
“He goes out shooting rabbits in the woods every morning before breakfast so he often takes charge of breakfast,” said Yeldham.
“Are there woods here?” I asked.
“Yes, to the south side of the school. Those on this side of the stream are in-bounds while the woods the other side of the stream are out-of-bounds even though they belong to the school. You can’t go in the woods where the rhododendrons are either. Those are the woods you passed if your people drove here along the main drive. The orchard you pass there is out-of-bounds too, but the Old Orchard is in-bounds. You can tell the Old Orchard because there are no apple trees there any longer, just grass and a bamboo wood and lots of flower beds. The fields on the hill to the west are out-of-bounds unless you’re told they’re in-bounds just for one afternoon, and the field between the playing field and the woods is in-bounds, but there is nothing to do there as there is ragwort and thistles in it everywhere.”
Yeldham and the boy in the bed next to mine started to quietly argue about whether there were any apple trees in the Old Orchard. Mrs. Evans seemed to have drifted off into her own thoughts.
“Is all this written down on a notice board, or on a map somewhere?” I asked. “I mean how do you know all this?”
“My Pater told me a bit and wrote a map out for me, but you can’t know really, but after a while you get to know somehow. Mr. Hill changes it sometimes so you have to watch out. You don’t want to get caught out-of-bounds so I wouldn’t do it. My Pater said that Mr. Meakin was even worse than Mr. Hill, but everything was tougher when your Pater talks about it.”
I listened carefully, but I saw that a boy called Thomas who was only six was fiddling with his fingers and not listening. They had told me at the Fairfield  School at Havant that the headmaster could beat you with a cane on your backside when you were twelve, but that only louts who didn’t care about anything ever got beaten because they were fighting. They said they put newspaper in their trousers so it didn’t hurt. Even so I had been scared about being twelve years old one day. I thought that having to bend over and be beaten must be the thing that made you feel as though you were worth nothing. I had planned to learn all the rules at Fairfield and stick to them. I was too scared to ask Yeldham what would happen if you went out-of-bounds even if it were a mistake. I didn’t know if the rules about beating were something the school made up, or if they were something the law that my father always talked about made up, or even perhaps if the Navy made things up if your father were in the Navy. I reckoned they couldn’t have different rules for all the boys here as some had Army parents and some had R.A.F. parents and some like Yeldham seemed to have parents who looked after companies, so it wasn’t rules made up by the Navy anyway.
Now the Grace had been said we had to sit down again. There was a scraping noise as sixty boys moved their benches while trying not to tip them. I was too scared to touch our bench and let the three other boys move the bench. The floor was squared mahogany parquet which had worn unevenly. There were also cracks between the squares. Moving the bench over these squares and cracks without it tipping was not easy. We shuffled sideways in front of the bench to the places Mrs. Evans had given us. We then had to move the bench which was now behind us forward by pulling it in while facing the table. I let the other three pull it into my knees while we tried to sit down together while it was moving. I looked at the boys at the other tables. A boy at each end moved the bench and then the others squeezed in to sit down and shuffled the bench forward. We ended up sitting too far from the table.
Mr. Cunningham went to an enormous urn by the kitchen hatch that had porridge in it. He ladled out porridge from a stack of plates to three boys who walked around the tables passing out porridge. We got our porridge last. A jug of milk on the table was passed around and we took some milk.
“Don’t take too much”, said Mrs. Evans. “It has to last for all of you”.
The porridge had hardened and floated like an island on the milk. We had a bowl of sugar which was passed round and we each helped ourselves. I liked porridge so I had no problem eating it.
“Do we have to eat it all?” asked a boy.
“Yes, you do,” said Mrs. Evans. “It’s polite to eat it all as long as you don’t start to vomit.”
I realized I was very hungry and I ate all my porridge. We stacked our plates at the end of the table. The same three boys came round collecting the stacks.
“You have to go and fetch your main course, but wait until all the older boys have fetched theirs,” said Mrs. Evans.
The bench problem started all over again all over the room. There was a loud bang as a bench fell over onto the parquet.
“Who did that?” said Mr. Cunningham, his face bright red.
“We don’t know,” answered a boy at one of the tables.
“Pick it up then and don’t do it again,” said Mr. Cunningham.
“He was in the war,” said Yeldham. “He can get very angry.”
“Which war was he in?” I asked. Mr. Cunningham looked very old, especially with the plus-fours. I knew nothing about the Great War except that my grandfather had been a driver in it in France and that he had been wounded which wrecked his life.
“No-one knows”, said Yeldham. “He won’t talk about it.”
“He doesn’t look wounded,” I said.
“No, he doesn’t, but maybe it doesn’t show. Someone told me he never swims in the pool and he doesn’t play tennis or rugger so you never see him except with his plus-fours on. Mr. Lecky was wounded and you can see where the bullet went in when he goes swimming as the skin is all squiffy.”
Mr. Cunningham stood at the hatch again with an enormous bowl of something and a pile of fried bread squares beside it. We went up to fetch our second course. He dished out a tiny square of friend bread which was burned on one side and a tiny roll of bacon dripping with fat. I had never seen a bacon rasher rolled up like that.
“Thank you, sir,” I said.
The bacon tasted as fatty as it looked. It was mainly a roll of fat with just a tiny strip of bacon in it. I knew that my parents had left my ration book behind at Sandle Manor so I thought they should be able to buy the same bacon as my mother bought. The fried bread was burned so that tasted just of burned bread.
“This is disgusting,” said a boy on the other side of the table. He was sitting below a row of photographs of old boys who had a photo taken when they left Sandle Manor when they were thirteen. They were dressed with stiff high collars like Mr. Chamberlain and their hair was parted in the middle which looked very ancient.
“I liked it,” said the fat boy. He had already eaten up his bacon and fried bread.
“What do you do if you really hate this fatty bacon?” I asked Yeldham.
“Some boys put it in their jacket pockets and then throw it down the bog, but don’t get caught doing that. Your jacket smells terrible if you put food in the pocket.”
Next was a plate of buttered bread and an enormous bowl of marmalade which looked homemade. I ate a piece of bread and marmalade carefully as the marmalade was runny.
“Don’t get any on your jacket cuff,” said Yeldham. “You will have it on the whole term if you do. Miss Cruttenden and Miss Gordon clean the suits once a month, but they seem to miss the cuffs. You will have sticky wrists all the time from you jacket so watch out. You have to eat what you have taken.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I think the food is terrible. It’s my birthday in a week’s time on Tuesday so I hope my parents will take me away.”
“Why did they send you here anyway? Was your pater at the school?”
“No, he wasn’t at boarding school at all. I’ve been to three different schools already all over the country and my pater said it wasn’t good for me to go to different schools all the time. He’s in the Navy. Then I had a seven-plus test at the school and I failed it so I wouldn’t be able to go to a grammar school.”
“What’s a seven-plus?” said Yeldham. The others round the table were listening.
“It’s a test to see how intelligent you are. It’s like the eleven-plus, but when you are seven.”
“The eleven-plus is only for oiks.” said another boy.
“Well, anyway, that’s why I’m here. Sort of. I went to Durlston Court as well for an interview. Then a boy died here so there was a place here.”
“Woods,” said Yeldham. “He kept complaining about a stomach-ache, but Miss Buckle wouldn’t listen. His appendix burst and then you die. He died. He was only six so he needn’t have been here anyway. The newspapers blamed the school.”
“That’s awful,” I said. “My mother’s a nurse and even she knows you have to take an appendix out as soon as possible if it gets bad.”
“Mr. Meakin died just before that, so no-one was bothering about us much. He was the headmaster before Mr. Hill. The local papers said they were both nancy boys according to my father and that is why Mr. Hill got the school from him. Mr. Hill was only an assistant head and got a manor with lots of houses and land as well as a school. No-one knows how much money he got too. He’s a millionaire according to my pater if you reckon all the buildings and farms and the profits from the school. Mr. Meakin had lots of relatives in Scotland who thought they should get the school, but Mr. Meakin had been sick for years and my pater reckoned Mr. Hill wrote his will for him.”
Mr. Cunningham has finished serving bacon and fried bread and had come over to hear what we were talking about. We all stopped talking. He had beady blue eyes and looked from one of us to another, but after a while he walked off.
“He’s been here longer than Mr. Hill so he likes to think he runs the school. You have to be careful as he sneaks on you to Mr. Hill if he can. He used to beat boys when Mr. Meakin was head, but now only Mr. Hill does the beating. That’s what Mr. Hill told my pater anyway,” said Yeldham.
“Is he a nancy boy?” I asked.
“Well, a million men were killed in the Great War and that left a million women looking for a husband. Some of them were wealthy, too. So if you didn’t get married it meant you didn’t like women really. The only thing might be that none of the masters here are qualified to teach so they only get food and lodging and a little money so they may not be able to afford a wife. They were important in the war, but now they have nothing except their teaching post here. They at least get to boss us around.”
The dining room gong sounded and everyone stood up. Mr. Cunningham said the grace and we waited to file out.
“You have to go up to the lav. and have a crap,” said Yeldham.
After my father had thrown me out of the lavatory each morning I never wanted to have a crap after breakfast.
“What if you don’t?” I asked.
“Miss Buckle writes down what you do. If you don’t go long enough then you’re sick. It’s worse than having a burst appendix,” said Yeldham.
We filed out and went up the third staircase to the three lavatories outside Ferguson. As boys came out of each lavatory Miss. Buckle went in to see what they had produced. Then she wrote a cross for a crap, an ess for a small or a nought on a pad with a square for each day on it.
The last thing in the world I wanted to do was to crap and Miss Buckle wrote a nought against my name. Her starched white dress and cap seemed a strange uniform for examining crap.
We went to Stubbs and waited on our beds for the lesson bell. I hoped beating was for terrible things and for old boys like it was at the Fairfield School at Havant.
A bell rang and we went down to the Hurlbatt. Mrs. Evans came in and said the first lesson would be English which meant going through the alphabet. I had done the alphabet with Miss Barker three years before, but I kept quiet. Mrs. Evans’ alphabet turned out to be different from everyone else’s. I wondered if she had been a teacher before she married or not. She looked so stern and didn’t seem to like us one bit so I didn’t think she had trained to teach young children before she married. She drew swirly copper-plate letters on the blackboard which we had to write down in an exercise book. It seemed boring and pointless to me. I thought that if I never learned anything here I would be even less likely to be able to escape to a normal school.

The lesson went on. We were not allowed to look out of the window so all I could look at were the lines on the blackboard and some peas that were pressed at the side of jam jars by blotting paper. They had sent out tendrils which seemed pretty obvious to me as a country boy from Wiltshire.

Mrs. Evans’ teaching method seemed to be to tell us something she knew and then order us to do the same. The clock seemed to have stopped. After half an hour my nib crossed and a drop of ink hit the copybook. I now knew what my father meant when he said: ‘Now you’ve blotted your copybook’. I didn’t know whether to put my hand up or not. I decided to wait and see what happened. I went on writing as though nothing had happened. Mrs. Evans walked behind us in the back row, looking at each boy’s work. No one seemed to have done anything right. When she saw my blot she told me to stand in front of the class.
I waited until she had gone round the back of each boy. I hoped someone else would have blotted their copybook so I wouldn’t feel so alone. Luckily someone had. A boy called Thomas came out and stood beside me. He must have been younger than I was because he was shorter than me.
Time passed. Mrs. Evans came to her desk, opened a draw and pulled out a wooden ruler.
“Put your hands out with the knuckles upward,” she said.
“What are my knuckles?” asked Thomas. He had gone a bright red colour.
“The palm of your hand downwards,” she said. Thomas still didn’t understand so I helped him by putting my hand out with the palm downwards. He copied me.
Then Mrs. Evans hit me on the back of my right hand on the knuckles with the ruler. She flicked it so it was more painful than I had expected. I clenched my fist.
“Open your hand,” she said.
I did as I was told, hoping that she would grant us mercy at some stage, but she hit me again.
“Go and sit down,” she said to me.
Then she hit Thomas. After the second blow with the ruler tears were in his eyes. I could see he hardly knew what was happening or why.
“Travis and Thomas, you must stay behind half-an-hour after school and you can write out that page again on a new piece of copy paper.”
At the end of the copybook lesson Mrs. Evans said,
“The next lesson will be arithmetic. You can have five minutes break, but you must stay here. If you thirsty you can go out into the buzz room for a drink of water at the water fountain, but come back when you have had your drink.”
I went out and put my hand under the water as soon as it was my turn.
I came back in and wondered what the next lesson would be like, hoping it wouldn’t be as awful as the first lesson. It turned out that Mrs. Evans tested us on multiplication tables. I felt at ease as I knew these tables already, but soon she went on to tables I had not learned yet, like the nine times table. Boys became silent as the tables got more difficult. Boredom lay over the classroom like a thick layer of dust. Mrs. Evans carried out her task without a smile nor did she even scowl. She seemed more like a bad-tempered man dressed up as a woman than as a woman. After forty minutes it was time for buzz.
Buzz turned out to be yesterday’s stale bread with a thin layer of butter on the slices, all piled up higgledy-piggledy on a large plate. All the boys at the school turned up and there was a long queue. The older boys seemed cheerful and pleasant and none of them spoke in a dialect as I did. My Portsmouth accent had become excellent after playing with boys at Havant. I wondered how long it would take me to learn to speak as the boys here did. They all sounded as though they were speaking on the wireless.
I soon finished my slice of bread. There was a notice board in this small room. On it were lists of boys in teams numbered from one to three. My name was in team three for what I hoped would be cricket. I had played cricket on the beach but not in a team before. I looked for a list of school rules like the one at the Fairfield School at Havant, but I could not find one. We were here all day and night and I thought you needed to know the rules more than you did at Havant where we went home after lessons. During the war and even after the Ministry of Fuel had sent out a booklet about hot water and coal which boys had to look after during the war. My mother had a booklet about food rationing from the Ministry of Food. There were booklets from ministries about the blackout, the farms, cars and about billeting people to stay with you, all with nice pictures to show you. Yet this school did not have a single sentence about how the whole thing was organized.
A bell rang and I saw that my class went back into the Hurlbatt. You had to keep with your class or you wouldn’t know what to do when the bell went. There was no one to ask what the bell meant except the other boys.
Mrs. Evans came into the classroom and we stood up.
“You may sit down,” she said. She seemed to be as surly as she had been before the break. She had a red woollen blouse on and her bosom stood out like two pyramids. The material went tightly from one bosom to the other in a line like a ruler.
“This lesson will be reading and I expect you all to be quiet unless I ask you a question.”
We all sat down and Mrs. Evans opened a book on her desk. She told Stickland who was in the row at the front to come up to her desk. He had wet his bed during the night and Miss Buckle had pulled all the sheets off his bed and put a red rubber sheet over the mattress and made the bed again. His bed still smelled of piss when you walked past it. I wondered if Miss Buckle had told Mrs. Evans about the bed wetting, but there was no way of knowing.
“Please start reading from the book. Read the title and the author first.”
This seemed more like listening than reading to me. I already read books so I hoped the boy would be a good reader. My father was a terrible reader with a boring voice while Miss Barker was a good reader which made you listen so it all depended on who read the book. Even a boring book could be worth listening to if the reader was good. Sometimes one of our airmen or their girlfriends read to me so I had heard lots of people read.
Stickland looked nervous.
“Swallows and Amazons. Arthur Ransome,” read Stickland. He was still nervous. He was shy and nervous the day before so it wasn’t the bed wetting that made him nervous. He was just a nervous boy. They were never much fun for anything as they were too scared all the time. He read slowly, stuttering over the words and reading them one by one.
I had read this book myself before when a friend of my father had lent it to me and I didn’t like it though I read it all just the same. In it some children took a boat of their own to an island on a sort of lake. I had lived in Fareham and now in Bedhampton near the sea and I knew how dangerous boats could be. I had also never been allowed a boat of my own although my father was a sailor. He didn’t have a boat either for that matter so it seemed unlikely that children would be allowed boats of their own. There was probably some ministry that didn’t let you have a boat like the ministry that made you be careful with coal. The book had seemed very silly as it had nothing to do with real life.
Stickland stumbled on through the first paragraph. After a few sentences I felt bored and kept feeling so tired that I put my hands under my chin.
“Put your hand under the desk, Travis,” said Mrs. Evans. I guessed that she didn’t want her boring book to be dull.
“Please, Miss, I have heard this book before,” I said.
“Travis, you are not here to tell me how to conduct my lesson. You are here to learn. I won’t tell you again.”
I longed for Miss. Sparks. She had been a trained teacher and Mrs. Evans seemed more like the bossy wife of a Naval Officer, a wife who had never learned anything before she got married. I knew Mrs. Evans had a boy at the school so I wondered if that was why she had been allowed to be a teacher so she could pay for him. It seemed unfair on us. I knew my mother would agree with me about this as she was very sharp and hated it when people took advantage of someone and then someone else had to suffer for it. Nain was a Welsh Methodist and everything had to be honest and fair. My mother was like that too about other people, but she felt she could steal from me and cheat my father for some reason. It was as though I was suffering for something he had done which I didn’t even know about.
Stickland sat down and another boy got up. He read better than Stickland, but that wasn’t saying much. I could see the lesson might be alright for the boy reading and he might learn something, but for the rest of us it was a waste of time. We couldn’t even see what the boy reading was trying to read.
After four boys I realized I could read far better than the boys who had read so far. My life seemed to be going backwards to when I was five again. I looked out of the window over the playing field. It was raining and I wondered what we would do if we couldn’t play cricket. Cricket bats got spoiled in rain so you couldn’t play when it was raining. I had seen a splintered bat that had been left out in the rain. Cricket balls got spoiled too as they had a seam, but I hadn’t seen a ball that had been in the rain.
Swallows and Amazons had stopped being a story long ago and was just a list of words by now. A story could be good if you read it yourself or if the reader was good. If the reader was bad you just couldn’t believe in it. Stories were made up and you had to get in the mood to believe them to enjoy them.
Mrs. Evans seemed to realize that her method wasn’t working and she read out the paragraph before each boy read it. I wondered if it was the first time Mrs. Evans had been a teacher. Aunty Marion was a teacher and Miss. Barker was a teacher and Miss. Sparks was a teacher and the women at the Fairfield School were teachers so you got to know the difference. Unfortunately Mrs. Evans’ voice was as boring as the boys’ voices were so maybe she was just a boring person.
Then it was my turn. I got up and first listened to Mrs. Evans reading a bit. Then I read it out.
“You read well,” said Mrs. Evans when I was finished. She seemed really surprised. Perhaps she had thought I put my head on my hand because I was stupid.
A bell rang and I thought it must be for lunch, but it turned out to be a short break. I hoped reading would be over, but it turned out we had another forty minutes. I wondered again if Mrs. Evans was at the school to get her boy there as I had to think about something other than this terrible story. I knew most boys’ parents had to pay to go to the school and perhaps Mrs. Evans was paying by being a teacher.
I had heard my parents talking about paying as they said the Navy paid for me, though my mother hadn’t realized I had heard this. She kept telling me how much she paid and I should be grateful. I kept quiet about the Navy as she would have hit me about the head if I had told her about the Navy paying. My father always backed her up so he might have punched me in the face too which really hurt. My mothers’ slaps hurt too because she could wait a couple of days and then hit me from behind when wasn’t expecting it. I guessed her Welsh half-brother and half-sister slapped her around as she was such a lazy child. Nain was about forty when my mother was born and her half-brothers and Aunty Flo and Aunty Edie were much older than she was so her father spoiled her. Or at least someone did since she spent so much time looking in the mirror and hated doing any work.
If I got fed up with being told how grateful I should be I told her I was happy at the Fairfield School, but then she wouldn’t talk to me for two days which was worse as I didn’t then know when we would be having a meal or doing anything really. I was forced to sit around waiting for her to do something. My mother was so lazy that nothing could happen for ages. She could sit down for hours reading Daphne du Maurier or some other book she got from Boots’ lending library.
She liked books I didn’t like at all so there was no point in trying to sneak a read of her books to have something to do. She only paid for her own lending at Boots and was too mean to buy me a children’s card which was a penny a week instead of tuppence a week. She seemed to have a principle that she never spent any money on anyone except herself and even stole my pocket money so it was a waste of time trying to get her to pay for a subscription to Boots. It wasn’t even as though she thought of spending money or time on other people and decided not to, it was that she never even considered anyone except herself. I was proud of realizing this and I didn’t waste any time thinking she might think about you. My father kept thinking she might think about him and he made himself sad each time she let him down. She even seemed to get some sly pleasure when he got disappointed. It was like watching a child trying again and again to get a wonky dinky toy to go straight and each time it went off in a circle.
My mother didn’t like the public lending library as she said you could get any type of person in there as it was free which I thought was stupid and made me feel very sad. It was full of books and it was such a shame that they went unread by me.
I made sure I was looking at the boy reading while I was thinking about this as I didn’t want to be hit by Mrs. Evans with her ruler. She was really worse than a person who wasn’t a teacher because she actually undid all the work teachers had done to get you interested in things. I understood why Mr. Hill had told my father bringing up boys was like bringing up dogs as we were only able to do exactly what the grown-ups told us to do. I didn’t see the point of this, but I had only just arrived and I thought I would soon find out why we were kept in this strange way like dogs.
I stopped looking at the clock as it was depressing to see the minute hand move so little all the time. I was startled and happy to hear a bell rang and I guessed it must be dinner time, or lunch as they called it as it was ten to one. I was amazed by all the time I had got to go by through doing all this thinking about this and that and rather pleased with myself.
We all went up the third staircase again and into the washroom to wash our hands. There were three staircases up to the upper floor, but only one washroom so there was a queue when we got there. As usual the youngest had to wait longest.
Miss. Gordon and Miss. Cruttenden were there to watch that we did wash our hands so there was something to look at other than boys in grey suits which was something. The bit of the school with the washroom was only a couple of hundred years old so there was a lead floor and any water ran off into a gutter on the floor which was rather clever. Miss. Gordon took a scraper with a long broom handle and scraped the water into the gutter now and again. She was not stunning like some of the airmen’s girlfriends, but she was pretty while Miss. Cruttenden was quite startlingly ugly. She was as old as my mother so her chances of getting married were small. So many men had been killed in the war that there were few men left while there were lots of widows like Mrs. Evans who also were looking for a husband as well as young women. The women left over from the Great War were too old now to get married and seemed to work at something or other like Miss. Buckle did.
At last it was my turn. We each had our own soap in a bag on our peg, but my soap was missing. I thought about complaining about this, but I thought it must be an older boy who had taken it and I did not want to get them against me as I had no idea what might happen then. At Fairfield some of the older boys were real louts with hob-nailed boots and they were dangerous. I had seen an ambulance come to collect one of them who had been in a fight.
I turned the tap on at a washbasin and asked the boy beside me if I could borrow his soap.
“Of course, old chap,” he said. Even my father who tried to copy the rich people didn’t speak like this so I was surprised. I wondered if you had to be rich to get into their group or if you got there just by being with them like being at this school. If you had to get rich yourself it was a bad idea to go to a school like this where the teaching sent you backwards. If you got to join them and be rich just by being with them, then I could see a point to it. I had never before thought about how you got rich as my mother stole anything I had so it was pointless thinking about it. Nain and Aunty Flo were like my mother, very careful with money, but they were clearly not rich as they all worked all the time and seemed to get nowhere. Even Uncle Owen helped them for nothing when he had finished at his steam crane, but that didn’t make them rich; it just helped them get by. Glenys seemed to always have money, but she had a job and never spent money on anyone except herself. She had once got me a bus ticket when we went into Chester, but I think children went free even though she told me she paid for me.
I wondered if a boarding school was such a good idea. Here were two assistant matrons to see that about sixty boys washed their hands before lunch while about sixty mothers were at home doing nothing or at least very little. You were lucky if Miss. Gordon or Miss. Cruttenden even looked at you, let alone looked at your hands to see if they were clean. My mother was extremely keen on hygiene as that was all they seemed to have to look after people in hospitals. When I had double pneumonia Dr. Grey had to drive round five American aerodromes to find some penicillin and now all the Americans had gone home so there was nothing to keep germs away except hygiene. You also could avoid people, but at a boarding school you had to be near boys all the time. My father told me we couldn’t go to the children’s swimming pool at Southsea in case I caught polio and here were all these boys taking a cold bath in the morning, sleeping together and washing together. I washed my hands in the cold water and handed the soap back.
“Thanks, old chap,” I said. I felt as though I would be found out, but the boy just smiled and took his soap back.
I dried my hands and went downstairs to join the queue for lunch. Everyone here was very well-behaved while at the Fairfield school you were on the brink of violence all the time.
We filed in to find that a master sat at the end of our table and at every table. Our master was Mr. Rowbotham, a very tall man with jet black wavy hair. His sister, Ann Rowbotham, was Mr. Hill’s secretary and she sat at the end of another table. We stood up and Mr. Hill said grace. We had the problem with stopping the bench from falling over again. The two boys next to Mr. Rowbotham chatted to him, calling him “Sir” and asking him questions. They seemed very skilled at this and soon turned the conversation to the communist uprising in Malaysia. Mr. Rowbotham had apparently been in the Army as a Lieutenant in that war and he soon got talking about his time there. He didn’t seem to notice that the boys next to him had got him talking by an innocent question and he didn’t seem to notice this. There was not much else to talk to a master about so this was both interesting and kept him talking.
Two boys went and fetched a joint of roast beef, some potatoes and some cabbage in vegetable dishes. There was a boat of gravy too. I was very hungry and the food was very good. Mr. Rowbotham said the beef came from the farm on the manor, and the potatoes and cabbage came from the kitchen garden. I asked the boy next to me where the kitchen garden was and he said we could see the wall through the window, but that they were out of bounds. Mr. Cunningham grew tobacco there for his and Mr. Lecky’s pipes there, he told me. He also pointed at one of the photographs above our table and said that Alec Guinness had been at the school and that was his photo from when he was a leaver.
The sweet was an enormous great spotted dick with custard. There was enough for seconds too which everyone took.
The masters then sat drinking coffee or tea while we collected the plates and took them up to the serving hatch. I realized that boys must do nearly everything as there would have to be an enormous number of staff otherwise.
The boys next to Mr. Rowbotham managed to make the war in Malaya last until the end his coffee.
Mr. Dudley Hill, sitting at the head of the high table, stood up at the end of lunch. He still was wearing the light green check lounge suit, was sandy haired, and was about forty-two years old. I had not spoken to him since I had arrived.
“It has rained so there will be no cricket this afternoon, but rag-a-bout. No-one is to sit on the grass during rag-a-bout.”
We newboys, five of us, did not know where or how large the grounds were so we went down a path from the changing rooms to a chestnut tree overlooking the playing fields to discuss where we might go and what to do. There was no grass there and the ground under the tree was dry. We sat down in a circle. Mr. Hill came down the path to the tree.
“Come with me”, he said to us.
We followed him into the school to a small, narrow room off a dark passage.
“Stand in line in order, youngest first and oldest last”, he said.
The youngest was a small boy aged seven and a half called Martin Thomas.
“I told you not to sit on the grass and you disobeyed me. I will now beat you”.
Mr Hill opened a drawer at the side in a cupboard in which there were several rattan canes. He seemed to consider which to take by swishing three of them in the air. He then selected one which looked old and curly. There was a smell of dust in the room.
“Thomas will get three strokes and the rest of you will get four strokes. Thomas, take your trousers and underpants down and lie in that armchair”.
Thomas took his trousers and underpants down, shuffled forward and lay down in the one armchair with his head touching the back and his legs hanging over the front. Mr. Hill stood behind Thomas, lifted his arm high in the air behind his head and struck Thomas on the backside as hard as he could. The cane made a swishing sound. Thomas screamed as the cane hit him.
“As you made a noise you will get an extra stroke”, said Mr. Hill.
He hit Thomas again. Thomas’ backside started to quiver uncontrollably. Mr. Hill hit him twice more. I could see that the red double rows were evenly spaced, with two on each buttock.
“Get up. Pull up your trousers. Now I want you to shake hands and say ‘Thank you, sir’”.
Thomas was blubbing and he was red in the face. He put out his hand.
“Thank you, sir”, he said.
“Now you may leave”, said Mr. Hill.
Then it was my turn. I managed to fight the pain for the first two strokes. After the third I lost control and my body started shaking by itself. The pain was unbearable. After the fourth stroke my body started going hot in waves going up and down from my backside into my head.
I stood up, shook hands, and said “Thank you, sir”. I started to sob.
I realized I would do anything to avoid that pain. I also realized that other boys would do anything to avoid the pain. I never could trust them and never could blame them for that. That meant I would have to take care over what I told them and I knew they would take care over what they told me.
We looked at each other’s marks the next day. They stood out as bright red double rows of stripes which everyone could see in the washroom when we jumped into a cold bath in the morning and when we washed in the evening, standing naked at the row of washbasins.
“I am going to complain when I write home about that beating. It was terrible and it wasn’t even fair”, I said to Charlie Yeldham, a boy who had come to the school the term before.
“No, you can’t do that. We write home on Sunday morning after church. Mr. Lecky puts your letter into your envelope and puts a stamp on it. He takes the money for the stamp from the pocket money you gave him at the beginning of term. He reads all the letters first and if you write anything he doesn’t like you can’t go outside for rag-a-bout. You have to write a new letter all over again. You can’t leave for rag-a-bout until you’re finished so the Sunday afternoon gets spoiled”.
“I’ll run away”, said Thomas.
“You can’t run away”, said Yeldham. “If you run away you will get caught. Everyone always does. You can walk down Marl Lane which is always full of puddles, but you have to go past the cottage where Marchant the head cook lives. He always catches anyone walking past even at night. No-one has ever got past him. He brings you back and you get beaten”.
“I don’t care, I’m going”, said Thomas.
“You can go down the main drive instead, then left back down Station Road to Fordingbridge, though it’s further. There’s less chance you get caught that way. There’s a railway station at Fordingbridge, but you’ve got no money. So where would you go? Where would you hide? Who would hide you in Fordingbridge? They would just send you back here. You can’t ask anyone in the cottages here for help as they all belong to the school. If you wait till the holidays you can ask your parents to take you away”.
“I can’t” said Thomas, “They are in India and I stay with my aunt during the holidays. I can ask her though”.
We cried from homesickness as soon as matron turned the light out in our dormitory. Yeldham said,
“The first term you cry every night. The next term you cry for the first three weeks. The third term you don’t cry at all”.
A week later I was sitting in a lesson when a boy knocked, came in and said that Mr. Hill wanted to see me in his study. When I entered he was sitting in the armchair where I had been beaten. There was nowhere else to sit.
“Come here, laddie. Sit on my knee”.
I sat on his knee and he lifted my legs up over the arm of the chair. He put his right hand up my shorts inside my underpants and under my left buttock. I realized he wanted the same thing my father wanted from my mother when he put his hand up her skirt. I had seen how she kept calm and appeared to notice what he was doing, but not let herself be any part in it. Most often, my father decided to leave her alone.
“I always have a talk with all the newboys about how they are getting on. How do you think you have been doing?”
His pale blue eyes stared at me and I stared back.
“I don’t know. I suppose I have been doing all right, sir”.
I could feel his hand moving under my backside inside my underpants.
“Are you happy here?” he asked.
“Yes, I am”, I said, staring at him.
“Good. Your father has no doubt told you that you mustn’t fiddle with yourself or other boys down here.”
I could feel his fingers showing me what he was talking about and I just kept staring back at him. After a while he stopped when he was getting no reaction from me.
“I think you understand that? I will let your parents know when I ring them that you are getting on here”.
“Yes, sir”, I answered. “May I speak to them, please?”
“Some boys get upset so it’s best I do that for the boys. I’m sure you understand, Peter. Good, I’m pleased with you. You may go back to your lesson now”.
He took his hand from between my legs and I slid off his knee. I thought it was unfair and selfish that he had tried to play with me yet he would not do anything in return. He seemed to feel no guilt about what he had done.
The door into our dormitory had the word “Stubbs” painted on the outside. My bed had my tuck box and a prayer mat beside it. Under the bed was a chamber pot in case I needed to pee in the night. A boy told me that Stubbs had been a master and then an officer in the Boer War but had been killed.
I couldn’t see how being beaten and then being fiddled with would help me become either an officer in some war or a famous actor. I guessed that Stubbs and Alec Guinness had been at the school before Mr. Hill became a master. Mr. Hill could fiddle with any boy he liked as long as he had beaten him as being fiddled with was less awful than being beaten. I realized Mr. Hill was a master because he wanted something that had nothing to do with teaching or running a school. Mr. Meakin had given the school to Mr. Hill and Mr. Meakin had been a bachelor too. I couldn’t decide whether my father or Mr. Hill was the worse villain. They both seemed to cause my dreadful situation. At least all that would give me something to ponder while a boring lesson was going on or while I couldn’t get to sleep. I hoped Strickland wouldn’t pee in his bed again. I thought of my mother and cried for a while and then I fell asleep.

The mornings started with prayers and Mr. Hill often took these and read a passage of the bible with a short talk about what he had read. He might have beaten a whole dormitory the night before, or said goodnight as he did each evening while fondling each boy I turn. I was keen to see if these readings and sermons would lead to some change in the way he behaved, but they never did. I found there were passages that said you could beat people and there were lots of bits about love and charity so I supposed he just stuck to these himself.
We had lessons in the morning and afternoon of Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday while we had lessons only in the morning of Wednesday and Saturday. On Wednesday and Saturday cricket teams were arranged while on the other days there was rag-about before lessons in the afternoon. Every evening there was prep which was some reading or exercise to day. The practical problem of how to keep children supervised by an adult was solved by letting us have as little time to ourselves as possible. I was used at Calne to finding something to do myself after school was over so I found having all my time organized very strange.
If it rained we were taken on a walk by a master. Sandle Manor is on the edge of the New Forest and we usually walked into the Forest for an hour or so. There were a great many sandpits so we walked around the edge of these and saw how deep they were.
On Sundays we had to write home which was supervised by Mr. Lecky. If you hadn’t finished your letter after forty minutes you had to stay until you finished it. Mr. Lecky read the letters through so you couldn’t write and complain about beatings or abuse by Mr. Hill or anything else that Mr. Lecky considered not to be suitable. Mr. Lecky seemed to think he was an honourable sort of man, but he was doing Mr. Hill’s dirty work by covering up any complaints. My letters were often full of the details of cricket matches and the various gangs we organized for mock fights during rag-about. Letter-writing was hated by everyone and especially by those who could not think of anything to write about after forty minutes.
We also had to learn a passage of scripture or a hymn or a psalm on Sunday and recite this to Mr. Lecky before church at ten o’clock. If you could not recite this word-perfect then you had to stay in after lunch until you had learned it by heart.
We walked in a crocodile to church which was at the end of the school drive. You found a friend to walk with you. Some newboys used this as a popularity contest and said that someone else wanted to walk with them. Unless this really was the case I said, ‘Well, you walk with him then’, and I would either walk on my own or find someone else. You could also walk with the master taking the crocodile if you liked. You soon learned not to try and manipulate people by blackmailing them and no-one did this once they found it didn’t work.
This walk and the hour spent in the church was the one time you could be sure that you would not be called out to be beaten or to be stripped and fondled by Mr. Hill. I therefore found this was an hour and a half when I could relax. Each week the clergyman was different as St. Aldhems was a small church with people from Sandle Heath and the school and it had no permanent clergyman there. Each priest had his own peculiarities and we imitated mercilessly. The Reverend Hewitt stood at the step in front of the congregation to give his sermon and he seemed to fall asleep from time to time. He also rocked backwards and forwards as though he might faint. His cassock was always dirty and crumpled and he showed real clerical poverty.
The clergy came from wildly different variants of the Anglican Church and gave a bewildering range of interpretations of the scriptures.
On the second day of term Mr. Lecky said he would look after the pocket money we had been given for the term which in my case was five shillings. He said it was a good idea to save and suggested we put half of our pocket money into National Savings and I agreed to this as I already had a saving book which Nain had arranged for me. He gave an example of the enormous sum we would have if we kept on saving until we were sixty-five years old. We had no idea that we would ever be that old ourselves, but we did understand the figure he gave. There were only pencils and notebooks and ping-pong balls that you could buy from Mr. Lecky’s store so you would never be able to spend five shillings anyway. We were each given a thruppeny bit for the church collection on Sunday morning to put into the collection. I thought Mr. Lecky might just as well put a sum into the collection plate for all of us instead of having to deal it out and then collect it again.
We were allowed to go out, or rather be taken out by our parents or the parents of a friend after lunch on Saturday or after church on Sunday. My parents never came to take me out, but I had several friends and going to their houses was always fun. I was amazed by how different parents could be and I found that my father was as strict and unpleasant as I always thought he was.
One day I was taken out by Everett whose father was head of the Bovington tank training place. He had arranged for us to see tanks driving around, but I was disappointed that they did not fire at anything. Everett’s father had a large table in a room at their home with the battle of Waterloo on it with tin soldiers and all the bumps and hills of Waterloo. He explained it all to me, but it was hard to see who was who as they all had different uniforms depending on which regiment they belonged to. I wondered how the real soldiers knew who was who.
I also went out with Clement Brown. He had a very young pretty mother while his father was quite old and I thought he could have been his wife’s father. His father had a black patch on one eye as he had lost it during the war. I was surprised that such a nice-looking woman would marry such an old and wrinkled-looking man. Still, they both were very nice, kind people living in a large house in Bournemouth. Sandle Manor had been a school called Pembroke Lodge in Bournemouth until the 1930s so I guessed Clement Brown’s father might have gone to the school when it was in Bournemouth.
I was friends with Bun Dixon and I went out with him to a large house at Picket Post in the New Forest. The house was so large that when Bun showed me round he pointed to a corridor and said:
“We don’t use that part of the house so there’s nothing there to see”.
I still went down the corridor and there were real Indian arrows from South America on the walls from someone who had owned the house before. Bun told me not to touch them as there was still poison on the tips of the arrows. His father was a captain with BOAC and his mother had been an air hostess. She was very blonde and rather fat. I had to use the loo and was surprised to find a small booklet called ‘Men Only’ on a ledge beside the loo. It had pictures of naked girls in sand dunes. I had never seen a picture of a naked girl before so I was very surprised. My mother would have been shocked if she had known I had read these pictures.
The 1949 summer term was in May, June and July and was twelve weeks long. After about six weeks I felt sick one day and it got worse and worse. In the evening before lights out I went to join the queue at Miss Buckle’s surgery. She was a nurse and had looked after Haile Selassie when he was a baby. She always dressed in a white matron’s uniform with a white headdress like a nun’s which I seen in a photo of my mother after she became a nurse. Miss. Buckle would lance boils, look at sore throats or put a bandage on a cut at this evening surgery. She told me to take my pyjamas top off so she could look at me. My stomach and chest were covered in red rashes in ring shapes and when I turned round she said they were on my back too. She told me to wait until she was finished with a couple of other boys in the queue. When they were finished she took my temperature and told me it was 104 degrees. She told me to wait until she came back and left me on a chair.
She returned with Mr. Hill who also looked at my rashes. I told them I was feeling sick and had a headache too. Mr. Hill asked Miss. Buckle if she had seen anything like my rash in Ethiopia and she said she had seen such a rash and that it was quite common, but she didn’t know what caused it. She also said people died from it. Miss. Buckle asked me to bend my head forward and I could not do that as it hurt so much. I felt even worse wondering what Mr. Hill would do about me as he seemed to solve all problems by beating boys and so far I had avoided a second beating by thinking about it all the time and being careful. They talked about whether I had a nervous reaction to being away at school, but they thought it could not be that as I had both a rash and a headache and was vomiting as well. I thought about Nigel Woods, the boy who had died the term before and whose place I had taken at the school. I wondered if they were extra careful since he had died of acute appendicitis which I knew was a disease you could avoid if you took the appendix out in time.
While they still were talking I was sick on the floor of the surgery and started to feel even more unwell. Miss. Buckle asked a boy to fetch Miss. Cruttenden and when she arrived Miss. Buckle told her to make up the bed in the sickroom. Mr. Hill told me he was putting me in the sickroom until the school doctor could come and see me. I didn’t know the school had a doctor.
“What’s wrong with me, sir?” I said.
“We don’t know yet so we have to put you in isolation which means you can’t come into contact with anyone unless it’s really necessary.”
Miss. Buckle took me down past Stubbs to a corridor at the end of the building to a room at the very end of the corridor. There was a sickroom with a bed and a chair and a table arrangement for glasses and enamel bowls for doctors’ equipment. There was also a washstand with a bowl and a jug of water on it. We had a washstand in my parents’ bedroom at Calne so I knew how to wash with that. There was a bucket by the bed. I was told to get into bed.
“We can’t let anyone come and see you as we do not know what is wrong with you and it may be catching,” said Mr. Hill. “Miss. Buckle will come in to see you in the morning. If you are sick again use the bucket there.”
My headache got worse and worse until I thought my head would explode. Now and again I fell asleep for a while. When I woke up I was sick again. I had nothing to sick up and my stomach hurt each time so I tried not to vomit, but couldn’t help it. In the morning I could see that my rash had spread even more over my stomach and around my dickie and my thighs.  
In the morning Miss. Buckle came in and took my temperature again.
“Is it still one hundred and four, matron?” I asked.
“Yes, it is,” said Miss. Buckle. I was not sure whether she did not want to say any more or whether it was just that she always spoke very little. She sat at the newboys’ table for supper and she never said a word unless you spoke to her. “The doctor will be coming this afternoon to look at you.”
She opened the curtains and left. I went to the window and saw that the sickroom overlooked the PT yard where we had PT each morning at eleven. To the right was the part of the rose garden with the gate and to the left was the fire tree wood. In the distance over the parapet were the cricket fields. Swallows were flying in and out from under the eaves of the building above the window.

I went back to the bed and opened my pyjamas top to have a look at my rash. It had spread to cover the whole of my chest. I undid my pyjamas bottoms and twisted round. It had also gone down onto my backside and onto the back of my legs. I seemed to be covered everywhere with it. It was even on my feet. I felt sick looking at it and looked around for something to read.
There was nothing at all in the sickroom so I listened at the door and as there was no sound I opened it. There was a cupboard in the passage and I opened it. Inside was a book of cartoon strips with the outside cover missing. There was also a photo album with a leather cover. I took them both into the sickroom and looked at the comics. There seemed to be a man called Dagwood and a woman called Blondie. Neither of these names made sense as I had never met a man called Dagwood nor a woman called Blondie. There was an episode on each page, but none of them seemed interesting. The story went down the page and then just finished with no ending. I put the comic book into the cupboard by the bed and opened the photo album. At the front it said, “J. B. Escort”. There was an Escort at the school higher up and I wondered if J. B. Escort was a relation. There were some photos of a cricket match in the distance. The figures were so tiny at that distance that you couldn’t see who might be who. Then came some pictures of soldiers lying on the ground with rifles and tropical helmets taken from behind. There was nothing in the distance that could be something that could be aimed at and there were no captions. I knew that the uniforms and helmets were not like the ones from the war that had just ended, nor were they like the soldiers in the Great War. I thought the photos must be from a war long ago like the Boer War, but I was surprised that photography had been invented so long ago. I shut the album and put it in the cupboard. I still had nothing to do and had long hours of boredom ahead of me. I felt lonely. I hoped the doctor would find out what disease I had and would cure it quickly so I could leave the sickroom. I wondered if my parents knew if I was sick, but I thought it was unlikely. I had trouble keeping up with Mrs. Evans’ copperplate writing exercises and worried that I would get even more behind.
With no story to read I thought I would run my life like a story going back as far as I could remember. My first memories were the beatings my mother gave me if I shitted in my nappy and the nightmares I had each night. I remembered the terror I had when, as I walked one day, I felt the lump of a piece of poo poos my nappy. I thought my mother would hit me as I had stopped shitting in my nappy. My mother had not hit me though, perhaps as she could throw the lump into the lavatory and she could hang the nappy up to dry without having to wash it. I hated the meat I had to eat when we had meat as it was full of grizzle and nasty looking pieces of cow. I remembered burning myself on the kitchen fire stove three times before I could keep thinking about it enough to never touch it. Sometimes my mother would start screaming and say, “I can’t stand anymore of this. One day I’ll put my head in the oven”. I never knew why she would put her head in the oven: I had tried that one day, but all that happened was that it smelled of old fat.
I thought about when I played with Sally by pulling her tail so that I swung her round on the wooden floor in a circle. The floor was so slippery that she couldn’t get a grip with her paws.
Time went by and I realized that by day-dreaming like this I could get the hours to pass. Miss Buckle disturbed me by coming in to take my temperature and to give me some bread and butter and water while she watched as I ate. As soon as I had swallowed the bread I was sick again in the basin. I had nothing to sick up and each time I went on it hurt terribly. Miss Buckle told me to drink as much as I could and I swallowed some water. She was not standing up straight like she usually did, but was bent forward a bit so I thought she looked nervous like my mother did when I was sick. If she had been Auntie Joy she would have kissed me, but like my mother she just looked jumpy. I wondered if little Eric’s life had become terrible like mine, but I didn’t think it would have as Auntie Joy and Uncle Eric were so sensible and so kind. They didn’t get crazy ideas like my father did, nor were they fooled by nasty people like my father was. Auntie Marion and Auntie Joy would not have been frightened like my mother and would not have put up with the nonsense my father thought up. I didn’t like little Eric, but I realized that hoping he was unhappy like me wouldn’t help me one jot. I hoped Keith was happy at his singing school in Winchester. I still couldn’t understand how you could have a school where you just sang.
Miss Buckle came in again and said: “Mr. Hill has telephoned the school doctor and he will come to see you this afternoon”. She closed the door behind her and I could hear her footsteps going along the lino in the middle of the passage. I went back to my day-dreaming, but I had to get bored a bit before I could start again. I remembered my mother talking about putting her head in the oven, but I got stuck there for a while.
After watching the swallows I thought about the baby and her screaming all the time and my father spanking her. For the first time I wondered why Miss Barker hadn’t told him to stop, but perhaps he didn’t tell anyone he hit my sister all the time. I told people my father hit me if he lost his temper, but nothing ever happened to stop him. No one ever tried to explain it away like they did most things that were stupid so it was a mystery. The smell of the dust under the double bed at Kuling came back to me. I remembered hiding under the bed, but my father found me easily there when he wanted to hit me. My mother locked me in the bedroom during the war when she went to work so I knew every inch of their bedroom. Everything was pink. The overcast was pink silk and the eiderdown was pink. There was a pink wicker chair in front of the bed.
I thought about St. Marys and how it had suddenly ended just when I was doing well there. I was six when we moved to Fareham and the horrible Rookesbury Park School where I didn’t even know where my classroom was and where my mother refused to visit. The first time my mother came they realized my mother was from up north and therefore common and my mother had realized they had realized so she nearly cried when I asked her to come with me to school as though it was my fault she was common. She had been like a little princess in Calne, bossing around the tradesmen, but in Fareham they just looked at her like she was dirt and Aunty Marion was not there to protect her and to keep everyone pretending. I wanted to help, but she was from up north and nothing could help that. My father had learned to speak properly, but my mother just sounded la-di-da when she spoke.
From Rookesbury Park I had gone to the Fairfield School when we moved to Bedhampton. Being a state school half the kids were stupid anyway so it didn’t matter that you were all messed up like I was with my lessons. As long as I looked well-dressed, washed and trying the teacher was satisfied. I didn’t mind them being stupid. Some of the kids were very dirty which I hated. They just didn’t seem to wash ever, not even their faces. One day someone found a sloe on the old Anderson shelter in the yard. Even the girls came to look at it. Some thought it was a snake, but it was all black so I knew it was a sloe, but I was too shy to say anything.
After a term I had moved up a class to an old Nissan hut they had erected at the top of the playground. I didn’t know what grade or number this class was, but it was a higher class than the big class in the main building where I had started. There was a girl called Gloria who sat in front of me who had lovely golden hair. I knew she was called Gloria because the teacher called her Gloria, but I never spoke to her. The class was much smaller and we had proper lessons so we learned stuff. Mathematics was very hard while reading and writing were easy. We played up at the top of the playground during break so we didn’t have to risk getting into fights with children from poor homes as they always fought outside the boys’ lavatory.
One day my father said we had to go to the school on a Saturday afternoon when no-one was there as I had to take a 7-plus test. My father said this was an intelligence test that could tell if you would pass the 11-plus test. He said if you passed the 11-plus test you could go to a grammar school, while if you failed it you had to go to a comprehensive school. If you went to a grammar school you could go to a university like he did, but if you failed the 11-plus you had to go to a secondary modern school and you could never go to a university or become anything. I was worried by this. I had now been to four schools and lived in four different places and not learned anything since I was five. My father said the test was about intelligence and you just had that so if you had been to school or not didn’t matter. I thought it sounded peculiar. I could see children got brighter if they stayed at the same school and just went on learning without being interrupted by different courses where you had to start all over again. Everyone who was taking the 7-plus arrived early with their parents and stood around in the playground outside a Nissan hut at the girls’ side of the school.
I thought I would pass the 7-plus though as all the boys in the first class at Fairfield had been really stupid and never bothered to learn anything. I didn’t believe this intelligence idea. There was a boy from another school, a private school, who was said to be the brightest boy in Havant and Bedhampton. He came with his parents and he was wearing national health round spectacles and had a suit on with pens in his top pocket. He looked very sure of himself. He looked brighter than I was, but my father said that didn’t matter. I assumed the test was based on some boy or girl being better than you were, but my father said this wasn’t the case and the test only measured how intelligent you were and did not list you so everyone could pass, at least in theory. My father had begun to get angry then so I had not said I still didn’t agree with all this. He almost seemed to think it was his idea. He had said the idea came from America, but he always said everything good came from America. The end of his long explanation was that if I did not pass the test I had to go to a private school, a boarding school, where I could still get to university although I was stupid. I had no wish at all to change schools again and I had no wish to go to a boarding school or to live anywhere else again unless it was Calne. I had heard about boarding schools and I thought they were a nightmarish idea, being away from your mother. I remembered when my father said I was tied to my mother’s apron strings and I was not to hug her anymore. I had thought he had nothing to do with how my mother and I got on and I hated him for barging in on us. My mother and I had lived together until I was six when my father joined us so really he had nothing to do with us as far as I was concerned.
We went in and only the children were allowed in. We were each given a desk which had our name on it. Then a man came round with a little book with the questions on the pages. You had to write your name on the book and I thought I managed that alright. The first question was a picture of a mouse in front of a square with lots of straight lines on it and a piece of cheese at the other corner. I had never seen a drawing like it. It was similar to a crossword but different as there were no black squares. If it had been a crossword I would have understood it as my mother did the crossword each day and I knew what they were and how they worked. The question read: ‘Draw a line from the mouse through the maze to the cheese’. I didn’t know what a maze was so I went up to the man who had given out the papers and asked him what a maze was. He said he was not allowed to talk to us. I thought this intelligence idea really was silly like I had thought from the beginning. I thought about whether I should draw the line around the square or not, but as it said ‘through the maze’ I drew the line straight across the square to the cheese. I could see the children beside me seemed to know what to do as they were writing in the square. The boy with the glasses was working away doing something with the square, but he was far away from me so I couldn’t see what he was doing.
All the questions were like the maze question: I didn’t understand the questions even. I realized I had no chance of passing a test where I couldn’t even understand the questions. It was like having a test where you were in a foreign country like Germany and you didn’t speak the language so of course you would get nought on the test. There were a few questions about words which I could understand hopefully and I did them, though I was not sure if I had understood the question. The questions went on forever and it was only the end of the time for the test that stopped it. My father had said the questions went on so that if you were very intelligent you would do more questions and get even more intelligent.
The results arrived in a couple of weeks. I had not passed and I had a very low mark.  
I wondered if intelligence tests really could determine how intelligent you were. What is intelligence? I thought. Unless you knew what a maze was you were branded at unintelligent, but it was merely chance whether you had been to a maze or not. Someone must have written out the questions and thought them up. Perhaps there was a maze nearby where they lived and he believed everyone knew what a maze was.
Another problem was my father and what he thought of the whole thing. He seemed to think that going to a private school had been necessary to be something in life. He did not say to be a naval officer but perhaps that was at the back of his mind. If your intelligence was so important then there would not be much point in going to a private school and paying a lot of money as your intelligence, or in my case stupidity, would mean that you were not going to get far anyway. You could hardly push intelligence into someone’s head by sending them to preparatory school. Anyway, some of the boys seemed to be pretty thick to me but their parents had sent them there without bothering about an intelligence test so why had I had to take one? My father had never explained that to me and he didn’t ever suggest I ask questions either.
My mother thought the whole business a waste of time and money. In her serious moments she said, “The important thing is you do your best”. If you were stupid I couldn’t see how that would make much difference as you would just do a stupid thing anyway. It would be better for you to do nothing.
P.T. had come and gone in the yard below. Boys had played cricket and then gone in again when a bell had rung. I could see it was half-way through the afternoon. My method of dreaming off into going over my past had got me through a lot of time. I had discovered another way of spending time which was to think about why each thing had happened and to imagine how it might come about. I had felt less sick during this time and less frightened about being beaten. I had truly drifted off into my own private world which got much more time spent than looking at comics or photographs.
There was a knock at the door and Miss Buckle, Mr Hill and a grey-haired man carrying a bag with a stethoscope round his neck came in. I knew it was a stethoscope and he was a doctor as I had had double pneumonia when I was four during the war. Mr Hill left Miss Buckle and the doctor alone with me. He asked me to take my top off and then my bottoms. He first looked at the circles covering my sides and stomach and chest. Then he asked me to sit up, held my head and pushed it back and forward, asking if it hurt. After that he asked me to take my pyjamas off and he looked carefully all over. He spent a lot of time looking at a small red mark in the middle of a circle and how I had got it. I told him I didn’t know about it until he asked me now. I said it didn’t itch.
He listened to my chest and back with his stethoscope and took my temperature. I began to think I had pneumonia again.
He asked a lot more questions. He asked me if I had been bitten. I didn’t mention the tiny spiders that had crawled all over me as he didn’t ask me. Anyway, I knew spiders don’t bite.
I realized I did not have pneumonia. I began to give up hope that he would know what was wrong with me and that I would be cured.
“Have you had anything like this before?” he asked, which I thought was a poor outcome for such a long inspection and such a lot of questions.
He told me to put my pyjamas back on so I definitely would not be taking a pill and then leaving. Instead, he looked thoughtful and went out with Miss Buckle. I could hear them talking in the passage but not what they said.
Mr. Hill came in half-an-hour later. He said that the doctor thought I should stay in bed and see if I got better.
I could hear boys going to be because the dormitory doors started shutting. Miss Buckle came and took my temperature and told me it was the same: a hundred and four degrees. She said, “Good night” and closed the door.
My head still hurt and kept shivering and then sweating. I felt asleep now and again. I hoped I would die so that my headache would stop. Everything else horrid would stop too and I realized how horrid my life was really. I had not thought about that before.
The next day was the same with nothing to do and no-one to talk to. Time seemed ato stop altogether and then to start again when I heard something happen like PT in the morning. My temperature was still the same.
I slept on and off during the night. There were no aeroplanes like there were at Calne and there were no cars so it was very quiet. It was like the world had stopped.
I spent three days like this. On the fourth day the doctor came in again. He took out an injection apparatus which I had seen before when I had pneumonia and had penicillin. He gave me an injection in my backside. The next day he came back, but I still had a temperature. He looked really worried for the first time, put his hand on my shoulder and then left.
Mr Hill came and just put his head round the door. He tried to look as though he was in a hurry but I guessed he was scared he would catch my disease, whatever it was.
He said that it was best that my parents came and took me home to look after me there.
I had heard that the only way of leaving the school was getting expelled or by dying when they sent you home. It did not occur to me that I had taken the place of Woods who had died at the school before he could even get home and now it looked like I would die. As soon as I stopped day-dreaming my head hurt so badly that I thought dying was a good thing and that my prayers had been answered.
My mother and father later in the Austin Eight without the baby. They told me they came in from the side so I guessed they had parked at the side of the school by the changing rooms. My father wrapped me in our car blanket and carried me down a fourth staircase I didn’t know existed to the car at the side. No-one therefore saw that I was leaving and I pleased as I thought it embarrassing to be carried in a blanket. My father put me in the back seat and turned the car round and drove off.
Each time the car bounced my head hurt so that I could not get to sleep. I could not see over the sides of the car either. I looked up once and saw a sign with ‘Fordingbridge’ on it so I knew we had left the school. After that I lay with my head on a pillow my mother had brought and tried to daydream again, but it was impossible with the car hitting potholes and taking bends so that my head hit the armrest over the back wheel. As usual, my father drove as fast as he could.
I was put to bed. My mother was her ‘nurse’ self and was caring. I knew she did not need any help knowing what to do as she was trained as a nurse and then as a children’s nurse. I relaxed and wondered how you died. I asked my mother but she just told me what people looked like and told me not to worry about it. She didn’t say I wouldn’t die. Did you just not wake up? Did you see heaven or hell in front of you? Did St. Peter really meet you and ask you what you had been up to? There was no-one to ask as they were all dead so I gave up thinking about it. My head hurt so much I didn’t care what happened to me.
No-one came to see me, not even Nain or Aunty Flo. The days passed even more slowly as I could not even watch the swallows flying in and out of their nests. If I went to the window I could see the girl next door sometimes in her bedroom. She had made a bad mistake with a boy and had been kept in. The baby still screamed next door each afternoon and each evening until she had been beaten enough to quieten down. I hated this as my mother always hopped out of her ‘nurse’ self then and went back to being sour and nasty. The evenings were worse as my father beat the baby and then when it still cried started telling my mother it was her job to make the home a pleasant place for him. She answered back and their evening row started.
After a few days I could eat and I began to feel better. I was as thin as a rake, even thinner than when I was well. My stomach was sunken in and I could see my ribs. The circles and rashes has gone. I felt dizzy as soon as I got out of bed and my mother had to help me to the lavatory. As the days went by I hoped that for each day it was less likely that I would have to go back to the school. I would be miles behind the others anyway so I could not catch up on my intelligence, but would become even more stupid.
I started to tell my mother that they would save a lot of money and she said she would see to it that I did not have to return. I did not know that the Navy paid for the school anyway so my mother was just finding a way to try and accuse my father for spending money. She did not know if the Navy paid him all the fees or not and wanted him to tell her, but he thought money was his business and none of her business. This argument often ending up with them both blaming me so I only talked about it with my mother during the day. She would agree with me about one thing and then say the opposite thing as soon as my father came home with them both blaming me for something I didn’t know about or understand. Somehow my mother thought I owed her money for living in the house.
They had said they would keep my birthday presents from the beginning of term at home, but when I asked about them it turned out this meant that Nain had opened a post office savings book for me and the book with the stamps in it was at home.
My headache got less and less and my stomach ache went away. I could go to the lavatory normally. I started eating again. My temperature slowly dropped back to ninety-eight.
My father asked me about the reason I had my rash. I could not tell him. He discussed the school doctor with my mother and was angry because the doctor had not provided him with a reason for my illness which he called a diagnosis. He seemed to think this was important. Instead of being kind to me and saying he was sad because I felt so ill he angrily interrogated me about everything I had done before the rash. He said the doctor had thought that I had some sort of bite, but that he knew you couldn’t be bitten by a snake or an insect in England and be poisoned as there were no snakes or insects in England.
“I saw a sloe at the Havant school”, I said to try and get him to talk about something else than poisonous snakes and insects.
“Sloes aren’t poisonous. I have told you that before. Can’t you remember what I tell you?” he said, staring angrily at me while his jaw moved around.
“Yes, I remember”, I said.
“Then why tell me about sloes? I have taken a doctorate in zoology and you tell me about sloes?” he said.
“I was trying to help”, I said. He had not taken a doctorate as he hadn’t finished it. He had even thrown all his slides away so he couldn’t draw the stuff he had fished up. I didn’t say this as it would make him even angrier and then he would punch me. He seemed to think that if he punched me instead of telling me to bend down and then smack me he could say he lost his temper so it wasn’t his fault. He knew where to punch on your face and your body so that it would hurt.
 He turned to the side table and got some letter paper out of a drawer and then started writing a letter at the dining room table.
“I am writing to the school doctor to demand he give me a diagnosis”, he said to my mother.
I knew that instead of the sympathy that I had at school his letter would make everyone angry with me instead.
After four days a letter arrived back from the doctor. My father seemed pleased with himself and he showed me the doctor’s letter. He had written that he couldn’t give a diagnosis as he did not know what had caused my rash, the headache which was meningitis or encephalitis or both, the fever and the stomach ache. He had thought it might have something to do with a bite as I had bite marks in the centres of the rings of rash. He could otherwise suggest it might be due to urticaria after I had eaten something, such as strawberries. Strawberries were ripe and something I had not eaten before so it could be that or some other food I wasn’t used to at home.
After I had read the letter my father said it certainly had nothing to do with the bite marks which he didn’t think existed, and that it was almost certainly an allergy due to strawberries. He looked at me as though daring me to say anything so I said, yes, it was as he said probably strawberries.
“We think you are better”, said my father one evening, “so you can go back to Sandle”.
My heart stopped.
“Can’t I go back to Havant?” I asked. “That would cost nothing and I don’t mind”.
“I mind and that’s the important thing”, said my father.
“But Mr Hill beats us there”, I said. I thought this was my last chance.
“I hope he does. ‘Spare the rod, and spoil the child’”, said my father.
All I could do was to swear I would one day get my revenge on my father. I would use his viciousness to get through Sandle Manor and then one day take my revenge. I never thought of him as my father as the thought was so repulsive, but now I began to wonder whether he was my father. I looked nothing like him; above all I had green-brown eyes while he had brown eyes. He had jet-black hair while I had brown hair. He had a slightly hooked nose at the front while I had a nearly snub nose.
One Saturday my parents drove me back to Sandle Manor. All the boys seemed to have changed slightly. I was surprised that all my friends seemed pleased to see me again. I went into supper and again there were fresh strawberries. Mr Lecky came across and told me I could have bread and jam as usual since my father had written to the headmaster and told him I was allergic to strawberries.

I felt overwhelmingly tired sometimes and at first held my hand up to mouth to hide a yawn.

“Why aren’t you paying attention?” Miss Evans would say.

I could not say that her lesson was boring, or that I was tired.

“If you tired you should go  and see matron”, she would say, as though that would help in any way. I once went to matron and said I was sometimes very tired. Miss Buckle had looked at me scathingly and said,

“You should get a proper night’s sleep. What do you do at night if you are not sleeping?”

 Sometimes Mr. Hill called me in to see him after I had gone to bed, but before lights-out. He would undo my pajamas cord and pull my bottoms off. I thought to myself that he was doing some sort of medical inspection and ignored it after that. Then he would ask me questions about something to do with school. I kept as alert as possible as every question was a trap. The answer had to be as vague as possible without seeming dim-witted. While I avoided his probing after some weakness his hand would stroke my bottom or my thigh or my dickey. There was no point in reacting to it and the best thing was to make it seem as boring as possible. The main enemy was tiredness as I would have an attack of weariness sometimes and still had to keep answering his questions.

He had something wrong with his face as he had a one-side smile where his right nostril went upwards a long way while the left side of his face didn’t move at all. He would always call me ‘laddie’ during these sessions which was a word no-one used except him. I didn’t know where he got this word from as it was used in Scotland and he wasn’t Scottish. Mr. Cunningham. Mr. Lecky, Mr. Cameron, Miss Fergusson and Mr. Meakin, the old headmaster who had just died, were all Scottish, but Mr. Hill was not Scottish. Perhaps Mr. Meakin had used the word ‘laddie’ and as Mr. Hill had been a boy at the school when Mr. Meakin was headmaster he may have picked it up then. As far as I could find out Mr. Hill had been at in Iceland during the war with the RAF, but otherwise had spent the whole of his life at the school, even when it was Pembroke Lodge in Bournemouth before it moved to be Sandle Manor.

Mr. Hill and some of the masters kept calling the school ‘PL Sandle Manor’ which I thought was silly as the school was not in Bournemouth anymore. It was as though they were still partly at school there and not at Sandle Manor. There was a dormitory called ‘Pembroke’ which I supposed was to remember Pembroke Lodge. ‘Pembroke’ was also a Scottish name so I thought perhaps Mr. Meakin came from there. I didn’t know why all these Scots people were at the school, but as they were all different from the English and unhappy, serious and cruel I didn’t like them. I wished they had stayed in Scotland, wherever that was.

Sometimes I couldn’t get to sleep and had to lie awake with nothing to do but think. I found that getting into some daydream, or ‘nightdream’ as it should be called was better than thinking about why I was in this strange place. I tried to dream about anything as long as it took me a long way from Sandle Manor.

If I was lucky I would fall asleep as being tired the next day would make it dangerous. During payers I held my head in my hands and fell asleep usually. If I had not slept I sometimes didn’t wake up after the praying bit was over. The masters seemed to have heard every excuse before as saying that I was praying extra hard wouldn’t help. I would only get me detention or a visit to the headmaster when I would again have to be tearful with my trousers down until he decided to forgive me and not give me a beating.

My father’s face soon became forgotten. My mother’s face became first bleary and then forgotten too. It was just as well as there was no point in remembering them. My father was a menace and my mother had done nothing to save me from him so she was even more dangerous in her way. I sometimes thought lovingly about her and then remembered it would only make her betrayal feel worse. She did not betray me from weakness which I might have understood, but from selfishness, from evil. I had heard enough of the bible and of theology to know the difference.
I was strange that evening prayers held by Mr. Hill could be about love and understanding and then half-an-hour later he could take a boy out of Stubbs who would come back crying after a beating. We always wanted to see the marks and know how many strokes he had got and what he had been beaten for. By sharing his beating it was less hard for him. We also learned more about Mr. Hill’s rules and what his interest in beating boys depended on when there didn’t seem to be any rule. Had Mr. Hill been angry before? Had he been in the washroom leering at our backsides as we took off our dressing gowns to wash? Did his breath smell of sherry or whisky or just the cigarettes he chain-smoked?

Chapter 12.
I returned to the school after my illness determined to use my father’s ruthlessness and what my mother called him being ‘two-faced’ so that I could one day take my revenge on Mr. Hill for beating me. My mother called my father ‘two-faced’ as he would say one thing to one person and the opposite to someone else if it suited him.  She never seemed to think that I too suffered from him being two-faced.

I would also learn how to become as tough and self-reliant as the school would make me if my father was to be believed. I would then be able to take my revenge on my father since he had never been to boarding school and should therefore be weaker. I was sadder when I returned as I could not ever run away or get away at all. I had nowhere to run away to. I would just be sent back. I had been very ill and no-one seemed to know why I had been ill. I was said to be better because my father had said, “I think he is now well again and can go back to Sandle”.

The water in the swimming bath had warmed up enough for bathing to begin. Bathing took place after cricket or rag-about. We had no bathing suits. Mrs. Evans taught us to swim by showing us the breast stroke at the shallow end. Then she had a pole which had been a cricket nets pole with a loop of canvas on the end. We put the loop around your chest. Then you swam off along the length of the bath. At first I kept sinking now and again which was horrible and I could only hope Mrs. Evans could hold me up. The pole and the canvas loop were very heavy so I hoped Mrs. Evans would not tire after she had worked her way down the class list. As my name began with ‘T’ I was near the end of the list. After three of these lessons I found I could swim, more driven by fear of drowning than by any wish to swim. I remembered my father saying during our first interview at the school when he was asked if something would be too difficult for me, “I believe in being thrown in at the deep end. That is the quickest way to learn”. Once again, I thought it was alright for him to say with his spoiled childhood, his protective mother, his wounded father and his never going away to school. He seemed to think that because he stayed a mile away from home with Aunty Lena when he was twelve that that was the same as going to boarding school three hours driving away from home.
Mr. Hill arrived dressed in his light green lounge suit the first time we went swimming. He stood at the shallow end caressing the backside of any boy that took his fancy, leering at first one of us, then the other. We were used to this from his visits to the washroom or his occasional visits to say goodnight. I had also been in his study sitting naked on his knee and I assumed the others had also been in there too. We did not talk about it as it was part of life to be got through and talking about it would not change it, merely remind us of it. The threat of a beating then meant that no-one wanted to get near the topic. The sun shone, the water was clear.
After us the next class came until everyone had swum and then the masters swam. Daylight saving time had started so instead of getting dark at 9 p.m. it got dark at 10 p.m. and we were allowed out after prep which finished at 8 p.m. The temperature soared to the eighties and Mr. Hill cancelled prep. We all went outside and the senior boys swam. I thought the oldest boys were very grown-up, but Mr. Hill clasped their backsides just as he did ours and pulled them against his hips. They were forced to put up with it just as we were. I could see from pairs of double stripes on some boys’ backsides that he beat everyone from juniors to seniors.
Randall asked me out one Sunday. They lived in Portugal and had come to Britain on a visit to see Randall.
“Portugal is not British, but it sort of has a lot to do with Britain”, Randall explained to me.
His mother and father came to the church and I shook hands with his father. I waited to see if his mother wanted to shake hands, but she just smiled at me. She was small and looked very young, almost as though she could have been Randall’s older sister. Randall had told me she was very rich and this was a new idea to me; that a wife could herself be rich. She was dressed in a green striped summer dress with stripes going downwards at the front of the skirt and sideways at the side of the skirt. I had never seen a dress like it and it was amazingly beautiful. She had a hat with an enormous brim in the same green with a green silk bow on it. She looked more like a film star than a mother.
We went into church and Randall’s parents sat at the back with other parents and with the villagers from Sandle Heath. After church we drove off in their large car to a restaurant for lunch. Britain still had to feed our large army in Germany and to feed all the countries under British control. There had been bad harvests in Britain and rationing was worse than it had been during the war. The Randalls seemed to have lots of money and were used to lots of food in Portugal, but the restaurant seemed to have little to offer us. In the end we had soup and then sausages and mash. After that was suet pudding with custard. Randall was very nervous usually, but he relaxed. I tried to be as polite as I could and I thought both his parents looked foreign even though his father was English and only his mother was Portuguese. They both looked very dark and, to me, well-fed as they had eaten properly after the war and perhaps even during the war. Randall’s father complained rudely to the waitress about the food which my father would not have done during an outing, or at least he would have been polite about it. I was pleased to leave the restaurant and the waitress who went with us to the door saying ‘sorry’ all the time. Randall told me that his father was a businessman and that he thought you had to be direct to get anywhere even though it meant upsetting people. He also told me his father’s business paid for the trip as it was his father’s own company.
We then drove to Stonehenge which was about twenty miles from the school. I had been there before after the war with Uncle Sid and Aunty Marion and my parents, but Randall had never been there before. His parents had not been there before. You just drove off the road across the grass up to the circle and you parked alongside the stones. They opened the boot and took out a Thermos flask which I had never seen before and we had tea. They also had lots of different sweets which were still rationed. At school we had four sweets each on a Saturday and four sweets on a Wednesday. I liked Mars bars, but they counted as four sweets and Mr. Lecky cut them up if you only chose to take one sweet as a bit of Mars bar.
I did not know what to do when they just asked me to have a sweet. In the end I chose a toffee. I hoped that they did not tell Mr. Hill they had given us sweets or he would probably have stopped some of our ration. Randall had lost his usual nervousness and instead was swanky. We ran around under the stones which seemed to be a mess to me. Mr. Randall thought they were a big deal which was an American expression, and my father had thought them astonishing, but I still thought they just looked jumbled. Everyone cared how they go there, but I did not wonder about that. If you started thinking about that you had to start thinking about all the big buildings and how they got there which would take you forever. I had two buildings I kept track of and those were Kuling in Calne and Sandle Manor which was very old.
It was past three o’clock before we were finished with Stonehenge. The weather was lovely and Mr. Randall drove off to a wood. I enjoyed the trip sitting in the back of his large comfortable car which was a far better car than the Austin Eight and much faster.
We walked around in the wood which was, said Mrs. Randall, different than the woods in Portugal. We had a wood at Sandle, but this was like being back at Calne during the war while life was still nice. I felt sad in a way that surprised me. It made me once again wonder how I was living in a nightmare that I could not wake up out of. I felt sick.
The wood was apparently well-known as we saw other families now and again. None of the children were dressed in grey school suits as we were. I thought we must be the only children in England that had to dress in school uniforms on a Sunday. Mr. Hill told my father he wanted to train us like dogs and I supposed part of the training was to always be in the same uniform and to be trained all of the time, though I wondered if it was just convenience to have us dress in the same uniform. We had our Sunday suits on which was a difference as these were not crumpled and there no marmalade on the sleeves which stuck to your wrists. Mr. Randall and grown-ups didn’t have to wear a uniform all the time so I could not understand why we had to. I did not have any other clothes, but most of the boys, like the Randalls, could afford to buy ordinary clothes as well as school uniforms. We always tried to look as scruffy as possible and to mess up our clothes, but they were still grey suits and shirts and long grey socks with the school colours on the turndowns whatever you did to them.
After coming out of the wood we drove to the Black Cat café which boys had told us was a good place. We had a pot of tea and a cucumber sandwich or a jam sandwich. Then there was a small cake which I had never seen before. We each chose one. There was some white stuff in them. It tasted so disgusting I felt sick again.
“This is the muck you have to eat in England instead of cream”, said Mr. Randall. He complained to the waitress, but she said that cream was not on the ration books. Mr. Randall took out a whole book of stamps, but the waitress still said she had no cream. The owner, who looked like a fierce version of Aunty Marion, came out and asked us if she could take some of our stamps so that she did not have to buy everything on the black market.
“Help yourself”, said Mr. Randall.
“Thank you. I’ll just get some scissors”, said the owner and disappeared into the kitchen.
“There won’t be a bill”, she said when she came back with the ration book. This time she smiled at Mr. Randall who looked pleased with himself.
I had no idea what had happened as it all seemed to be what was not said rather than what was said; so very unlike the way my father behaved. I wondered if that was why he never had any money for my mother or me, but I still did not know how the owner and Mr. Randall understood each other without saying anything. Mr. Randall gave stamps away and saved his money while the owner got stamps which everyone was short of. Mrs. Randall just looked shy, smiled and said nothing. I thought Mr. Randall was smart, but wondered how he dared be like that. He must be a good judge of people.
It was five o’clock, but we had an hour before we had to be back at school for the six o’clock bell. Neither Randall nor I wished to get back before the last minute, but we didn’t know what to do. Mr. Randall decided we would go back to their hotel in Fordingbridge for half-an-hour.
“Why do you have to go to a dump like Sandle?” I asked Randall in the back of the car. “I mean, your parents don’t look as though they have to send you there. They are not poor like my parents. Why don’t you go to school in Portugal?”
“There aren’t any English schools there. Anyway, my pater says I can leave and go somewhere else if I don’t like it. My pater says there are schools all over the place if you have the money. I can even go to school in Switzerland I want”.
In the hotel lounge Mr. Randall ordered drinks for his wife and himself and lemonade for Randall and me. He asked me what I wanted to be when grew up. I had not thought about this at all.
“I suppose I want to join the Navy”, I said.
“That’s fine, but you could go into business and make yourself some money. There’s no money in the Navy”.
“My grandmother has a grocers”, I said.
“Well, you can make money if you have a lot of those, but otherwise shops are a waste of time. It’s just too easy to start one. You have to find something of your own”.
“What business should I do then?” I asked.
Mr. Randall smile and looked straight at me. “You have to find that out for yourself. Everyone is good at making money at something. Mr. Hill makes money out of the school and he is good at that because he doesn’t care what happens to you as long as your parents pay your fees”.
At first I had thought Mr. Randall was rather common: now I thought he was more intelligent than my father in a funny sort of way. He was so open you couldn’t help liking him however much he looked like a gangster.
I said nothing on the drive from Fordingbridge along the road where we went for walks and up the long winding drive to the school.
“Thank you very much for taking me out”, I said to Mr. Randall and shook hands with him. It was the first time someone had talked to me like a grown-up. This time his wife put her cheek to mine and I could smell a delicate scent she was wearing. She hugged and kissed Randall like a lover, covering his face with kisses and holding his face in her hands. She started to cry and then she let him go. He looked so lonely when she let go of him. I wondered how he would survive at the school. I felt lonely too, as though I had been left to do nothing else at the school, but look out for lonely boys with loving parents like Randall.

The next day lessons began again. There was, however, no plan for lessons on a notice board or anywhere else. You had to keep close to someone who had been at Sandle the term before and try to remember the time and place for classes. There were four lessons every morning six days a week, and two lessons after lunch on Mondays, Tuesday, Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesdays and Saturdays were games days with no lessons after lunch.
If you found yourself on your own you were in the wrong place which increased my anxiety and made me very nervous again. This meant that everyone kept in the buzz room next to the corridor leading to our classroom, the Hurlbatt. The buzz room was the corridor leading in from the main entrance of the Elizabethan Manor. The Hurlbatt had been the buttery in Elizabethan times and for goodness knows how long afterwards.
Lunch was at one o’clock in a large room with a low ceiling. This room was part of the extension to the manor put on at some time or another. The ceilings were much lower in this part so they felt enclosed compared to the rooms in the original part.
There was always a game of cricket with teams after lunch on Wednesdays and Saturdays, while on Mondays, Tuesdays Thursdays and Fridays there was some times cricket training or rag-a-bout in the woods, or a walk if it was raining. The best I could do was to make sure I was on time for everything and be in the right place. If you were in the wrong place no-one came to find you and you spent ages waiting for someone to find you by chance. I didn’t bother trying to be good at anything; I just tried to be there.
On Sunday morning the first thing you had to do was to learn some religious text which you had to recite to a master before you could leave. You had to come back after church if you couldn’t do this reciting correctly.
I found it hard to concentrate during the time I was in bed with my illness and this hadn’t gone away yet. I could think quickly and I was lively in my thoughts before I got sick, but now I had trouble remembering stuff. It was though I sometimes had a fog in my brain that wouldn’t lift and got in the way of remembering by heart. I usually managed to remember the psalm or whatever it was by the end of the lesson, but before I was ill I would have been able to remember such a thing after about twenty minutes. I used to remember stuff and never forget it, but now I sometimes forgot it after a couple of minutes. I had to go over it again and again. I usually kept beatings in my mind, but I had to stop this when I tried remembering stuff and then start thinking about avoiding a beating as soon as I knew the stuff by heart. If you were going out on a Sunday you still had to remember the religious bit so your parents or your friend’s parents had to wait until you were ready.
On Fridays there was a music lesson in the afternoon when Mr. Sanger-Davis got as many as possible to play an instrument and then we tried to play something or sing something. I was tone-deaf and couldn’t play anything so I was given a triangle to hit. I could never find the beat or remember music so I only pretended to hit my triangle. If I hit it at the wrong time it made a terrible row. There were two or three of us who were tone-deaf and we sat there for forty long minutes doing nothing except scraping the skin on our legs with a razor blade. You could collect it in a heap on your leg and then brush the heap onto the floor when no one was looking.
On Friday there was a painting lesson with Mr. Bradbury after lunch. He was an artist from Sark who mostly painted boats, but was there were no boats in the New Forest so we painted field gates. There were usually bushes or woods nearby so we painted those too. We had a paint box of water colours and a book of special paper for this. Our paintings were terrible and no one ever seemed to get any better. I thought Mr. Bradbury was a decent bloke until one day Anstee knocked over his water pot which was a tall, thin empty paste jar and very easy to knock over. Mr. Bradbury told Anstee to go to Mr. Hill and tell him he was to be beaten. I thought it was a terrible punishment as it was easy to knock your water jar over if you thought about the painting too much. Anstee was a tall bony boy with next to no flesh on his body and I imagined a beating would be really painful. When he came back to the painting lesson his face was red from crying and his eyes were filled with tears. He was the saddest looking boy I had ever seen.

Whatever reason Mr. Bradbury had for teaching painting it certainly wasn’t to help boys to learn to paint, I thought. I guessed he came all the way from the Scilly Isles to earn enough money to be able to spend the rest of the year painting back at his home. He seemed to have no wife and never spoke of one. He had a bad temper and his face was red so perhaps he drank like many of my father and many of his friends did and therefore couldn’t keep his temper. He did not seem to enjoy having boys beaten, nor did he seem to be interested in fondling us as Mr. Hill did. Drinking seemed to have a pleasure of its own which just made grown-ups not care about anyone else. My mother, Aunty Flo and Nain never drank even though my mother pretended to when we were with Aunty Marion who drank rum mixed with lemonade when they played rummy.  
Tea was at four o’clock. This was a mug of tea, bread, strawberry jam, cheddar cheese, and marmite. You chose yourself which you put on and most put on strawberry jam. This got very monotonous so we tried to vary it by putting marmite in the tea or by putting cheese on the jam or even marmite and jam together. In the end I preferred cheese with a coating of jam and to leave the tea as it was.

The bread was from the morning and beginning to get a bit stale but I was always hungry and I kept eating this stuff, finding the crispness when it was stale had a quality of its own. Miss. Buckle was always at the head of the newboys’ table and other masters took it in turns to head the dining room. They sat at the head table so we only got to talk to Miss. Buckle. She just never said anything though whatever you asked her. She was from Abyssinia and couldn’t speak English so she was not very entertaining except that she always sat bolt upright and we discussed how she managed this.

She had been Haile Selassie’s nanny and he came to the school once so she must have had some stories to tell if only she could have spoken English. Haile Selassie was an emperor and we expected a big, tall man but he turned out to be tiny, almost like a child. Mr. Hill told us that Solomon and the Queen of Sheba were relatives of his which made him half-holy. This was the first time that I thought that the Bible was a real story and not just made up. I wanted to ask him about this and if he remembered Solomon, but he just walked around without saying a word to anyone but Mr. Hill.

Mr. Hill said Haile Selassie had lived at Bath while the Italians had attacked and occupied Abyssinia which is perhaps when Miss. Buckle got to work at Sandle Manor. Bath was only fifty miles away.
Haile Selassie was wearing a lounge suit just like Mr. Hill so that didn’t make him like an emperor either. He was a scrawny beard so he looked like a tramp who had dressed up. He talked to Mr. Hill and they seemed friendly enough, and they may have met when Miss Buckle came to Sandle Manor. A grown man wouldn’t have much use for his nurse when he was a child, but perhaps he felt he must see that she was looked after and given something to do.

During the two lessons after lunch you could look out of the window and see Mr. Sanger-Davies driving a lorry with a large grass mower behind it in large circles round the playing field. This mower make a racket so you couldn’t help but watch it now and again. The lorry looked very old as though it had been made when lorries were first invented, but as it only had to go round in circles at a constant speed that didn’t matter very much. I thought Mr. Sanger-Davies did this voluntarily, but then I didn’t know how a prep school was run or even who owned it as it was obvious that the council had nothing to do with us.

Mr. Sanger-Davies had a flat with his wife and his baby girl in the stables. My parents had paid for piano lessons for me, but as I had no musical sense all that happened was that Mr. Sanger-Davies lost his temper with me. I couldn’t see the point of scales which I couldn’t play anyway as I had very small hands and fingers like a girl’s.

If there was rag-a-bout instead of cricket practice we were allowed to do what we liked in the woods. Yeldham and I liked to dam up the river that ran through the woods. It seemed to start from a spring at the end of the playing fields. Once we dammed it up just below the spring and soon we had a small pond about twenty foot across. This was probably the part where the manor had once had its fishponds as the stream had been diverted a few hundred yards after it left the spring in a sharp right-hand bend. Mr. Lecky was on duty when we made this terrific pond which we couldn’t even get across. We dared do this as Mr. Lecky didn’t usually walk this far through the wood. He suddenly appeared out from the trees and was furious.

He usually liked what you did on rag-about as he had been a boy at the school, longer than Mr. Hill, and understood it all. This time he made a really terrible fuss. We kept saying we didn’t know that a pond would get so big and that we were terribly sorry so in the end we were not sent to Mr. Hill to be beaten which is what we really were sorry about. Mr. Lecky told us to break down our dam and he said the farmer had complained. We hadn’t seen any farmer and this was the first I had heard about any farmer anyway. Apparently Mr. Hill must have had farmers who were tenants and who farmed the land that wasn’t used as a playing field. Unfortunately our pond spread out onto the fields where there were cattle, though Yeldham and I agreed with ourselves that there was still bushes around the pond and the field didn’t begin there. Yeldham was much better at making excuses that I was and did a really good job of it so it sounded as though we had discussed the matter. We let the water out and the pond soon went back to being swampy woodland which is no good to cattle anyway. Yeldham seemed to know about farms although his father had a timber business, but I knew a lot from living in Calne. In fact, cattle liked drinking from ponds so I couldn’t see the problem although they could get diseases in their hooves if they stood in water all the time.

Mr. Cunningham liked to patrol the woods and he wore plus-fours and looked like a gamekeeper, although plus-fours made him look like a German. In fact, I had never seen anyone wear them before. I assumed he was just very old as you saw plus-fours in old photographs.

He went out shooting rabbits with a shotgun every morning before breakfast so he was like a gamekeeper in a way. He also looked after the kitchen gardens on the out-of-bounds east side of the manor which is where our vegetables came from. He also grew his own tobacco for his pipe and even gave some to other masters. He showed us round once and he grew the leaves in a greenhouse which was very hot. Huge leaves hung from the ceiling in rows. They didn’t look much like what you smoked.
I often joined a gang that was building a camp which is what I did at Havant. I imagined that the Germans had invaded, killed my parents, and that Mr. Hill and the masters had joined them. This was not too hard to imagine as the King was apparently German really, and most of the masters were Scottish. I thought we were a band of Englishmen who lived in the woods.

One day we would capture Mr. Hill, tie him to a tree in the camp and torture him. I first thought I would bang his teeth out with a stone which would really hurt, but then as his teeth were very regular I thought he probably had false teeth so that wouldn’t hurt. Just hitting his legs with thin hazel branches instead of canes wouldn’t hurt a grown-up that much. Even if we used bamboo from the clump in the orchard wouldn’t hurt him either. If the worst came to the worst I would just have to hit him on the head with a stone until he was dead.   

We threw fir cones at other gangs. The aim was to capture another gang’s camp by driving them out. We made round balls from the sandy soil and mixed it with clay. We got water from the stream, wet the soil and clay then let it dry. We then threw these hard balls at the rival gang. Some put a stone in the middle of these balls, but this was considered to be unsporting as you could hurt someone badly with these. The hard clay balls were quite painful enough to force a gang out of their camp if you had enough balls and there were enough of you.
Yeldham said you had to watch out for Mr. Cunningham as he imagined we would all start fiddling with each other in the woods if we could. It was best, said Yeldham, never to be alone with a boy unless you were doing something like climbing a tree, but instead to be on your own or with two or more other boys. Mr. Cunningham wasn’t married and was middle-aged, what was called a permanent bachelor. I thought it was odd he hadn’t married and had got all this sexual stuff out of his mind. After the First World War there were plenty of young women just waiting to get married so we didn’t know why he hadn’t met someone like Mr. Sanger-Davies had. He didn’t seem to like boys’ bottoms and dickies like Mr. Hill did so it was a mystery to me why he was so interested in stopping us from the risk of fiddling with each other. There were even lots of girls and women who got to be eighteen or so after the last war and wanted to get married. Nearly a million British men had been casualties in the war. A great many women were casualties from the bombing but not nearly as many as men who had died or were wounded. There seemed to be women about forty who were widows or unmarried everywhere, teachers, nurses, cooks, landladies and governesses. We never really thought about where they came from or why they weren’t married. You had to admit that the only women at Sandle were Miss Rowbotham, Mr. Hill’s secretary, Miss Crutendon, the assistant matron, and Miss. Gordon the other assistant matron. You could see why none of these would fancy Mr. Cunningham as he was unpleasant and very hard to get to know. Also, he would not have much money as a teacher at Sandle Manor as he got his bedroom and meals free at the school, but didn’t get paid much according to my mother so he wouldn’t be able to offer a house to any woman. My father told me a qualified teacher or a teacher with a degree got paid sixty pounds a term as he had been a maths teacher before the war before I was born, so a prep school master would get much less as he had his board and lodging as part of his salary. None of the teachers at Sandle were qualified and none had been to university so they must have had little more than pocket money.

Still, there were a lot of women just waiting for men like Mr. Cunningham to ask them to marry them whatever he was like. Being left on the shelf, as my mother put it, was the worst thing that could happen to a woman according to my mother.

I picked up the school routine as I went along, feeling nervous all the time as a mistake might lead to boys ragging you, or, even worse, to searing beating. There were lessons, games, rag-a-bouts, changing rooms, washrooms, swimming, cricket, meals, prayers, church on Sundays, Miss Buckle’s evening visit to our dormitories and the fearful nights and I had to keep track of everything without having a watch. Even being at the right place at the right time was a worry as sometimes you were suddenly alone somewhere.

I felt overwhelmingly tired sometimes and at first held my hand up to mouth to hide a yawn.

“Why aren’t you paying attention?” Miss Evans would say.

I could not say that her lesson was boring, or that I was tired.

“If you’re tired you should go and see matron”, she would say, as though that would help in any way. I once went to matron and said I was sometimes very tired. Miss Buckle had looked at me scathingly and said,

“You should get a proper night’s sleep. What do you do at night if you are not sleeping?”

Sometimes Mr. Hill called me in to see him after I had gone to bed, but before lights-out. He would undo my pajamas cord and pull my bottoms off. I thought to myself that he was doing some sort of medical inspection and ignored it after that. Then he would ask me questions about something to do with school. I kept as alert as possible as every question was a trap. The answer had to be as vague as possible without seeming dim-witted. While I avoided his probing after some weakness his hand would stroke my bottom or my thigh or my dickey. There was no point in reacting to it and the best thing was to make it seem as boring as possible. The main enemy was tiredness as I would have an attack of weariness sometimes and still had to keep answering his questions.

He had something wrong with his face as he had a one-side smile where his right nostril went upwards a long way while the left side of his face didn’t move at all. He would always call me ‘laddie’ during these sessions which was a word no-one used except him. I didn’t know where he got this word from as it was used in Scotland and he wasn’t Scottish. Mr. Cunningham. Mr. Lecky, Mr. Cameron, Miss Fergusson and Mr. Meakin, the old headmaster who had just died, were all Scottish, but Mr. Hill was not Scottish. Perhaps Mr. Meakin had used the word ‘laddie’ and as Mr. Hill had been a boy at the school when Mr. Meakin was headmaster he may have picked it up then. As far as I could find out Mr. Hill had been at in Iceland during the war with the RAF, but otherwise had spent the whole of his life at the school, even when it was Pembroke Lodge in Bournemouth before it moved to be Sandle Manor.

Mr. Hill and some of the masters kept calling the school ‘PL Sandle Manor’ which I thought was silly as the school was not in Bournemouth anymore. It was as though they were still partly at school there and not at Sandle Manor. There was a dormitory called ‘Pembroke’ which I supposed was to remember Pembroke Lodge. ‘Pembroke’ was also a Scottish name so I thought perhaps Mr. Meakin came from there. I didn’t know why all these Scots people were at the school, but as they were all different from the English and unhappy, serious and cruel I didn’t like them. I wished they had stayed in Scotland, wherever that was.

Sometimes I couldn’t get to sleep and had to lie awake with nothing to do but think. I found that getting into some daydream, or ‘nightdream’ as it should be called was better than thinking about why I was in this strange place. I tried to dream about anything as long as it took me a long way from Sandle Manor.

If I was lucky I would fall asleep as being tired the next day would make it dangerous. During payers I held my head in my hands and fell asleep usually. If I had not slept I sometimes didn’t wake up after the praying bit was over. The masters seemed to have heard every excuse before as saying that I was praying extra hard wouldn’t help. I would only get me detention or a visit to the headmaster when I would again have to be tearful with my trousers down until he decided to forgive me and not give me a beating.

My father’s face soon became forgotten. My mother’s face became first bleary and then forgotten too. It was just as well as there was no point in remembering them. My father was a menace and my mother had done nothing to save me from him so she was even more dangerous in her way. I sometimes thought lovingly about her and then remembered it would only make her betrayal feel worse. She did not betray me from weakness which I might have understood, but from selfishness, from evil. I had heard enough of the bible and of theology to know the difference.
I was strange that evening prayers held by Mr. Hill could be about love and understanding and then half-an-hour later he could take a boy out of Stubbs who would come back crying after a beating. We always wanted to see the marks and know how many strokes he had got and what he had been beaten for. By sharing his beating it was less hard for him. We also learned more about Mr. Hill’s rules and what his interest in beating boys depended on when there didn’t seem to be any rule. Had Mr. Hill been angry before? Had he been in the washroom leering at our backsides as we took off our dressing gowns to wash? Did his breath smell of sherry or whisky or just the cigarettes he chain-smoked?
I had been back at school after my illness for a month and I sat at the newboys’ table having tea. The door to the dining room beside the table opened and Mr. Hill came in. He stood where everyone could see him and he looked furious.
“Someone has stolen money from my study and I want the boy to own up. If he doesn’t there will be no bathing until the culprit does own up”.
No one spoke. I had been in his study sitting on his lap while he discussed my behavior at the school during the gap between games and tea. I put my hand up.
“Please, sir, I saw threepence on the table in your study this afternoon”.
“Come with me”, said Mr. Hill.
I got up and followed him down the passage to his study. He sat me on his lap.
“Now if you took the threepence you can tell me”, he said.
“I didn’t take it, sir”, I said, “I just saw it there. It was still there when I left”.
“It will be best if you own up if you did take it”, he said.
I blushed and began to shake which I tried unsuccessfully to stop.
“Sir, I just saw the money there. I don’t know who took it”, I said.
He looked angrier and was upset because someone had done something in his study without permission. He was more upset about the threepence than my mother or my father would have been and they hated losing money.
“It was on that table, sir”, I said, nodding towards the small side-table to his right where he kept his cigarettes and his sherry or his whisky glass. “It was there when I left, sir”.
“Now if you are telling a lie I will beat you so you had better tell me the truth now”.
“I don’t have any money, sir”, I said. “I only saw that the money was there when I was here, sir, before tea”.
“Go back to your table and think about what you did. If you are lying you must come and tell me”.
I felt miserable, but I didn’t want all the boys in the school who were in the dining room to think I was a thief. I sat down at the table.
“Did you tell him you stole the money?” asked Thomas.
“No, I did steal the threepence. I just saw it there. That was all”, I said. I could see the boys did not know what to think.
“We want to bathe this evening. There is going to be swimming this evening because it is so hot unless the thief stops it”.
I could not speak. There was nothing I could say. At Saint Mary’s I would have been able to say what I wanted and Miss. Sparks would have said I was a good boy for saying something. My mother always thought Keith was stealing from her handbag and I had to keep telling her that her handbag was nowhere near where Keith had been so that she would stop talking about Keith and his stealing. She seemed happy when she could say he was stealing, but he never did steal anything.
At Lee I never saw the headmaster so you could say what you liked about stealing, but I never heard of anyone stealing there. There was nothing to steal anyway. No one had anything. No one brought any money to school because none of the children had any money.
At the school at Havant, the Fairfield, boys were stealing all the time because boys and girls would bring tuppence or threepence with them to buy a lollipop or an ice cream on the way home. If they had money they kept it in a pocket or even held it all the time. Sometimes the police came. You could say if you have seen something. I had seen a policeman thank a boy for helping them find out about a boy who was stealing coal from the coal hole at the school.
I sat at my desk in the Hurlbatt and boys came up to me and asked me if I had stolen the money all the time. I turned my pockets out and said,
“Where would I keep threepence? You can see I have no money. I have nothing”.
But they all wanted to go swimming instead of doing prep so the talking went on. I sat alone and hoped the thief would be found. I thought I would hunt for him, but I had no idea where to hunt. My mother always knew when I was telling the truth because I always told the truth. During the war there was nothing else to do but tell the truth. We were all fighting the Germans so who would lie anyway? Lying was something only the Germans did.
My father didn’t know when I was telling the truth and he looked at me as though I was lying all the time. He told me sailors lied and he seemed to think I was some sort of sailor. I couldn’t understand him. It was easy to tell if a child was lying; you could see it by the way he wasn’t like he usually was. It’s hard to lie and a waste of time anyway. My father seemed to think he gained something by not being able to tell if you were lying, but I never reckoned out what that might be. He should have spent more time with children. He said he had been a teacher at Calne, but he seemed to know nothing about children. He was sort of an only child as his brother was ten years younger than he was and only children seemed never to understand other children. Glenys didn’t either. She hung around adults all the time as she was an only child. She told lies as easily as anything, but she didn’t seem to think it was wrong.
A boy came into the Hurlbatt. He said a boy called Godfrey had stolen the money and he had owned up. I thought everyone would come to me and say they were sorry, but it was almost as though they still thought I had taken the money anyway.
Mrs. Evans came in and said we would be swimming first as we went to bed first. We were to wash and then put our dressing gowns on and then after swimming go straight to bed.
I knew Mr. Hill would come and say he was sorry he had accused me and I felt awkward. The water in the pool was really warm. The air was warm. I could smell the cut grass that Mr. Sanger-Davies had mown in the afternoon. Everything should have been terrific, but it wasn’t. I expected I would be called into Mr. Hill’s study again. He came down to watch the swimming.
When I was drying on the grass after the swim he came up to me and said,
“Why did you tell me you had seen the money when you knew nothing about the boy who had stolen it?”
The boys around stopped talking and drying themselves and listened to us.
“I was trying to help, sir”, I said.
“Now next time you keep your ideas to yourself, Peter. Finding the thief took longer because of you. He nearly got away with it. Leave such things to me”, he said. “Let that be a lesson to you”.
Everyone must have thought I was told I had been stupid, but I couldn’t see what that was. I had just told the truth. If I had kept quiet Mr. Hill knew I had been with him in his study so I might easily have been asked why I had seen the money and not said anything.
We went up and put our pajamas on and got into bed.
“Godfrey got beaten”, said Yeldham. “Six with the cane, bare”.
No one in Stubbs had got six with the cane bare. It was hard to imagine how you could stand it. Godfrey was older and in another dormitory so we would never know what he had gone through or how he had managed it. It was a long time before I fell asleep.

The next day was Saturday. We had lessons as usual in the morning and in the afternoon there was a home match against Durlston Court, the school I had got to for an interview. After lunch we rested for the quarter of an hour when our food settled. Mr. Lecky said we had to read a book for fifteen minutes after lunch as you could be sick, vomit, if you ran or even walked too soon after a meal. When the bell rang I folded up my Stewart tartan rug and walked down to the changing rooms with everyone else. We got changed into our games clothes even though we were only watching the game. We had grey sun hats to protect us from the sun and they looked just like girls’ school hats. We walked down to the pitch and I placed my rug just outside the boundary line near the table where Mr. Lecky sat and kept the score. He sat beside a teacher from Durlston who also had a score book. We won the toss and Meakin, the captain, decided to bat first. He opened the batting with Harfield. It was a dry wicket and we could score a lot of runs, but hopefully it might rain before Durlston came out to bat and then they would have a sticky wicket. The pitch would also be more cut up. It didn’t look in the least like rain, but you never knew. Some said it would have been better to put Durlston in to bat and hope the wicket got even drier.
Anstee had a scorebook of his own and he was going to keep the score as well just for fun. Meakin came out with Harfield to open the batting. Durlston was known to be a good team as they were used to wind all the time and Meakin only stone-walled or left the wide balls to themselves. Harfield didn’t seem to do much better. After a while this defensive batting got boring and Yeldham came over with Stickland to play ‘Owzthat. Most chaps had a set made of cut up pencils, but Yeldham had a metal set with red letters. We had to watch out so that we didn’t make too much noise.
Our batting wasn’t going too well. Meakin was out for ten and then Harfield was out for twelve. Durlston had a good off-break bowler and when he was on we scored no runs. Mr. Cameron had arrived to be our umpire while Durlston had their umpire at the other end. Mr. Cameron didn’t look old, but he had a shooting stick which he sat on when he was the square-leg umpire.
Durlston was a more cheerful school than Sandle and the masters seemed more relaxed. The headmaster had his wife with him. Everyone chatted. I worried about meeting the headmaster and his wife and what I would say.

We were eventually all-out for seventy-seven which was worse than Yeldham had been expecting. I didn’t know what to expect as I had never played a match and the games we had played had tiny scores. I worried that Mr. Hill would be in a bad temper and would find an excuse to beat someone in the evening.
The masters sat in a group in deckchairs in a line with the rose garden gate that was opposite the old Elizabethan entrance to the building, but which was now the masters’ entrance. It was a pity for Mr. Hill that we had batted so poorly as it was the first time he had met another school since Mr. Meakin had left the school to him. I didn’t care for his sake and I would have gone home the same day if I could, but I knew he might take it out on some of us if the score was bad. The dark cloud of worry which had become more frequent clouded my mind and my brow again.
Mr. Cameron walked along the circle of boys.

“We are have the tea-break now. Please walk up to the rose garden at the end near the gardeners’ tool shed and sit on the grass. You can leave your rugs here. Be careful not to spill your tea on the grass as it kills it. You can have one rock cake each”.

Yeldham put his Owzthat in their tin and took it with him. There were always boys who had lost one of the dice and needed to replace it to get a full set. We walked up the steps to the rose gate and found a spare space on the grass. The kitchen staff had put out trestle tables with plates of rock cakes and enormous tin kettles of tea with Miss Buckle watching over the tables. She hadn’t watched the cricket and was dressed in her matron’s uniform. They had brought out all the tea mugs and the cups and saucers we used for tea in the school. It was like my parents picnics except we had orange Bakelite crockery.

I could see the grass already had brown patches since it hadn’t rained for a month. Maybe they were left from the picnic the summer before. We stood in a line for our tea and our rock cakes. These really were hard right through and you had to take a sip of tea to get the cake to break up enough to swallow it. There were currents in them and they tasted funny from some spice they put in. I didn’t like them particularly but they were a change from the bread and butter and jam and cheese we usually had every day for tea.  

The masters had tables with tablecloths and chairs, but stood around talking mostly. Some of the ladies sat at the tables though Mrs. Evans who was rather tall stood up with the men. There was Mrs. Ferguson, Miss. Rowbothom in a pretty summer dress, Miss. Cruttenden, and the ladies from Durlston Court including the Major’s wife.
I could see that some boys got too interested in their conversation or something else and knocked their mug of tea over. Mr. Cameron, who had been in the Indian Police, appeared immediately and told the boy that he would be beaten later on. I couldn’t see how he discovered this, but he seemed to know who was careless and who wasn’t. Uncle Eric who had been an MP in the RAF wasn’t that nasty, at least not to me.

Tea was over and there was a short break for the ladies to powder their noses and for us to have a wee.

The sun still shone brightly and the wicket got faster. A fielder was put on the boundary in case Durlston Court did well, but their batsmen were no better than ours. Stickland had a bat of his own which he wiped with a cloth as he had put linseed oil on it earlier. I could see the bat was far better than the school bats though it was wasted on Stickland. I asked him if I could borrow it sometime but he didn’t seem too keen to lend it out, blaming his parents for this. His parents hadn’t even come to the match so I thought it was just an excuse. I didn’t ask again as he always seemed so nervous about something. He still wet his bed but he told no one what he was worried about.

Several Durlston court chaps were out so the match got exciting. They only had seventeen to win, but their last batsmen seemed to collapse. They were all out for sixty-three. Bacon was a spinner but had been our best bowler and terrific. We had won. The rumours were not true. Mr. Hill was smiling.

Chapter 13. Simon’s gang.

Each day seemed as sunny as the last one. I got up with my father, deciding to wait until he had used the lavatory and left before needed to go there. I guessed that might be done by having as little as possible for breakfast.

“You’ll have to have the same as daddy. I’m not making two breakfasts”, said my mother, ignoring the fact that she would be making the same breakfast for Kay and then cutting it into smaller pieces.

“That’s fine”, I said. “Please let me have smaller portions and then it won’t be much more work for you”, I said.

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s small for large portions, it’s all more work for me. Don’t think you’re doing me any favours”, said my mother.

My father came in dressed in his black Navy uniform, sat down and started to read the Telegraph. When he had gone my mother would glance at the women’s page. She would find little to interest her and then put it in the pile that would be used to screw into balls to put under kindling. My father couldn’t stand porridge so we started on our first course of sausage, beans, fried tomatoes and fried bread. My mother always poured bacon fat off into a dish and later used this lard to steak bread in. Today she had used so much lard that the bread was soggy. My father was absorbed in the paper, commenting on items that he thought deserved his attention. My mother and I made our appreciative grunts as though we were hanging on his every comment.

He was as usual in what my mother called a foul mood and railed at the stupidity of the journalists that wrote in his paper. I knew from visiting the mess at Dryad that he was genial at the Navy so he must transform himself during his journey in the Austin which would be completed as the sailors at the gate saluted. I had one sausage instead of two, one fried tomatoe instead of two but there was just as much fried bread and the beans as there was on my father’s plate. He munched aggressively as he ate so I was glad the fried bread was soggy. The first course finished, my mother put fried bread into the cruet on the table and margarine and marmalade. Unfortunately we always had butter at Sandle Manor, so I now could taste the oil in the margarine. My mother gave us each a cup of tea.

I could feel my bowels churning and I hope fervently that my father would have to visit the lavatory before me. He reached the sports page and the Telegraph wrote in detail about the County Championship. He seemed little interested in cricket and I sometimes thought he had never played as even I could now hear that his comments were more about the counties than about the cricket. In an effort to distract myself from my insides I mused about his schooling and cricket. He was always silent about where he went to school before he went to the Merchant Taylors in Liverpool so I didn’t know whether or not he even had played cricket. I had asked about this school at Sandle but no one seemed to have heard of it. My father often wore the old school tie when he put on civilian clothes so I thought it must be well known somewhere.    

  

There was a field behind the bungalow and woods beyond the field. A herd of brown and white cows with long horns fed on the grass. I hoped they were all cows and that there was no bull with them, but it was hard to see at a distance whether they had an udder or not. I waited for a gap and then walked as fast as I could across the grass. There was a barbed-wire fence at the far edge of the field and I pulled the lowest and next lowest strand apart. It would have been easier to roll under it, but then I would have dirtied my shirt.

The wood seemed quiet. There was no one patrolling the wood as Mr. Cunningham did at school. There were no noises from boys in the distance. I walked on into the wood, making sure I remembered the trees and bushes along the path and looking up at the sun to my right in the east. After a couple of hundred yards the path opened up into a large clearing. I stopped and looked around and listened. I could hear nothing, not even any birds. I walked around the edge of the clearing and there were three more paths leading off it evenly spaced round the edge, one of which was almost a track with ruts covered in grass. I stopped at some horse droppings. They were hard and dry and they were old. I walked into the centre of the clearing and there was a large burned-out fire.

I took the path to the left of the path I had come in and walked on. The path became narrower and almost disappeared with bushes growing on either side. It finally petered out by a holly tree, but I could see a field of corn ahead and I walked on. I came out of the wood and saw a large sea of ripe corn ahead. There was a shallow ditch running along the side of the cornfield but no barbed-wire fence. I stepped across the ditch and held an ear of the corn in my hand. It was wheat and ripe for harvesting. The wheat stood about three feet tall.

I turned back and followed the path back, but soon got lost. I thought I had gone too far northwards. I saw the sun above the bushes and took a few steps southwards. I tried not to panic, looking for the slightest signs of a path where the earth showed through the leaves and the weeds. I passed a tall hazel bush with some branches straight enough to make into an arrow, and some thick enough for a stave. My legs pulled back a thin lower branch without my noticing it and it swished back to strike me on my left calve. The pain was sharp and terrible. I couldn’t imagine how I had stood out with the beatings at school when I had four strokes on my bare backside. I put the thought of Sandle Manor out of my mind as though it were a nightmare that I had woken from, but was now over.

I emerged by the side of the holly tree and again followed the path back towards the clearing. The path was so slight that it was hardly there sometimes. There was no reason the gypsies might go along it to the cornfield, or for the farmer to use it if he owned the wood. So it had to be made by children, playing in the wood.

If I had got lost I didn’t know what I would do as my mother would not leave Kay to come looking for me in the wood. At Calne she walked with Sally and me along the side of fields picking blackberries. There were few trees on the downs although every down had a group of trees on top. Sometimes we went into Bowood which was all beech trees and big open spaces. My mother had been relaxed and was kind when we were alone. But she did not like the countryside particularly and would hardly go into a wood to look for me. Anyway, she now had the baby to look after so all that had been long ago.

I came out onto the edge of the gypsy clearing and waited. I could hear a bird so I seemed to have got my hearing back at least for a while. I still had the high-pitched noise like a wind or far-off whistling in my head which had come after my illness. It was at times like this when I was alone and everything was quiet that I heard the whistling, like the noise the stars made on a clear night.
I thought about going eastwards or northwards, but I risked getting lost again. I knew the route to take to get to the Fairfield School but not much else about Bedhampton. I did not even know where Dryad was although my father left each morning to drive to work there.

I carefully went through the barbed wire fence into the cow field. As I walked across some of the cows started to walk towards me, their udders hardly visible at this time of day. I hoped they were just curious and kept on walking. When they were about ten yards away they stared at me with their large brown eyes. There were tall cedar trees at the end of our garden with an old wooden fence along the trees. I turned and looked back at the cows who had now gone back to grazing the grass. I had no watch so I had no idea what the time was, but guessed it was about eleven o’clock. I had become so used to living by the school bell that I felt lost. I went in through the glass door that was set in a French window at the back of the living room. My mother had got her sewing machine out and placed it on the table we had our meals at.

“What are you making?” I asked.
“Something for Kay. She needs some clothes and if I don’t make them she won’t get any”.
I knew my mother had coupons for baby clothes, but there were none in the shops so she still had to make anything Kay needed. She toddled around and fell about a lot so she made holes in everything. Her rompers were just bits of old cotton cloth that my mother sewed together so it wasn’t surprising that they ripped all the time.
“Bugger it!” said my mother. She needed glasses really, but I guessed she thought she would look old in them. The thread had come out of the needle and my mother sucked at it to make it soft and flat so it would go through the hole in the needle. I hoped she would get it through so that I wouldn’t have to thread it.
“What’s the time?” I asked.
“Go and look at the clock in the lounge”, said my mother. She had her watch on, but I went out and sat in one of the chairs from Kuling in the lounge. It seemed all wrong for it to be here instead of Kuling. In fact, everything seemed all wrong here including the eight-day clock Nain had given my parents as a wedding present. My father wound it up every Sunday and if he forgot he still could wind it up on Monday without it having stopped. If you forgot on Monday unless you had a watch you would not know what time to set it to. Not that my father ever forgot. He was pedantic and was proud of it; it was a virtue, he said.

The clock went tick-tock all the time which I thought was comforting. It chimed every quarter and on the hour it sounded what time it was. It was made of dark oak and the hours were made of ivory in Arabic numbers in a double ring. If you just listened to it time passed and you didn’t have to worry about whether it was boring or it was exciting because it was just time passing. At Kuling I used to fall asleep on the rug in front of the fire below the clock and my mother or my father would carry me up to bed. We lit the fire in the lounge at Kuling when my father was home, but here we usually stayed in the sitting room by the kitchen as that was where Kay’s bedroom was. My parents called the room with the clock a lounge, but most people in Bedhampton would have called it a parlour because it was just a bungalow we lived in. I could see the front garden and the road which was still a dirt road in the bit where we lived.

It was eleven o’clock. I got up and went out onto the waste ground next door where a bomb had dropped. It was just grass and undergrowth now so you wouldn’t know there had been a house there. I wondered if the people had died but you didn’t ask about such things as people had a job forgetting about them anyway as it was without people like me reminding them. There were sometimes bullets and bits of bomb Keith had told me on these bombsites, but here there was nothing, not even glass.

A boy came into the plot from the other side. He was about nine or ten and dressed in a grey school uniform as I was.
“Hello”, he said. “I’m Graham”.
“Hello”, I said, and smiled briefly.
“I live next door”, he said, pointing to a house on the other side of the plot. He had a Portsmouth accent. I wasn’t allowed to talk like that after I started to when I went to the Fairfield School so I couldn’t lapse into it again.
“I live in the bungalow next door”, I said. “I’m at home from school on my holidays”.
“Well, I’m eleven and there aren’t many kids around here”, he said.
“I used to go to the Fairfield School, but I failed the seven-plus so now I have to go to a prep school. It’s awful”, I said.
“That’s bad luck. Someone told me they caned you there so I wouldn’t like to go to one”, he said.
“Yes, they do and you never go home so it’s all a long wait for the holidays”.
“But why did your parents send you if it’s awful?”
“It’s something to do with the eleven-plus and going to a grammar school, but I don’t really understand it”.
“I’m at a grammar school, and I’m sure you would have got in. It’s not that hard the eleven-plus. In fact, you have to be pretty stupid not to pass it”.
“Well, it’s too late now I suppose. I don’t really know my father that well as he only came back from the war properly when I was six. So I don’t argue with him. I’m eight by the way”.
“Gosh, you seem older”, he said. “I have a bike we can ride sometime. I have to go in and help get ready for lunch. Cheerio!”

Chapter 14.

“What do you want for lunch?” asked my mother. She was chain smoking Woodbines as usual. She never seemed to inhale, but let the cigarette hang from her lower lip. Perhaps she thought that this would save money as the cigarette lasted longer. Anyway, she had to take the occasional puff to keep the cigarette from going out. This seemed to keep her from wanting to eat as she wasn’t interested in lunch. My father had lunch at Dryad so he always had a three-course lunch finished off with coffee and cheese and biscuits.

He once told me in a fit of anger that he gave my mother housekeeping money each month and that included money for her to buy food. My mother told me I should save and that she saved with Scottish Widows. I thought this was an odd bank or whatever it was for my mother to save at as she wasn’t a widow. I wondered if she looked forward to being a widow and prepared for that.  

“What is there?” I asked. My mother looked at me as though I was about to open her purse and steal money from it. She had green eyes with a brown ring around the pupil which looked striking in sunlight. This was why she was considered beautiful, but her eyes then were beady, dark, suspicious and full of repressed self-pity.

“Well, as I have to do all the shopping and there are no shops here there’s nothing really. And I’ve got no coupons left.”

We were in the dining room at the back. There was a lounge in the front, but the dining room had French doors and it looked out over the garden with the orchard and the cedars at the end. Beyond that you could glimpse the field beyond and, when the wind blew gaps between the cedars, the wood at the far side of the field. My mother therefore preferred to sit in an armchair in the dining room and let Kay stand in the playpen on the floor. The kitchen was little more than a cubicle off the dining room with a tap and sink, a wooden draining board, and a gas stove. The larder was on the other side of the dining room.

“There are eggs and bread, aren’t there?” I said. I knew the milkman brought milk and the baker brought eggs as well if you wanted them and had coupons.

Sandle Manor had cattle grazing on the land, a kitchen garden with a full-time gardener. There were potato and cabbage fields off Marl Lane, and a kitchen staff of a cook and four or five women. I did not tell my mother about this as she had often claimed that three-quarters of my father’s salary went on my school fees. If I compared the meals at Sandle and my mother’s meals she would tell me that I owed her for this extravagance and that she had never had such meals when she was my age.

My grandmother ran a boarding house when my mother was a child so I thought that she must have had a cook who prepared meals for everyone. But she was still snotty working class really though I felt as uncomfortable with that idea as my mother did.   

“I can make you scrambled eggs on toast,” she said in a sudden turn-around, as though she had only been waiting for the chance to spoil me. I was, as usual, confused by this sudden change of mood. My mother had a limited range of meals she could make, but these she did well and I guessed that she was pleased to do something perfectly.

“You can watch Kay while I am in the kitchen.”

As soon as my mother left Kay started to slowly and deliberately drop her toys over the sides of the playpen. My mother smacked her hard when she did this, but I was not allowed to smack her. I threw the toys back while as usual I thought of how I might hurt my sister without leaving any marks and without my sister realizing that I had done it. As usual I could think of nothing and had to keep throwing her toys back into the playpen.

My sister had a harness on and this was tied to the railings of the playpen as she would otherwise climb over the side and walk off. She could get out and drag the playpen after her, but she ended up crying when it got stuck on something and my mother would then come and smack her bottom.

I felt no satisfaction when this happened, I just wanted my mother and father to find a way of getting Kay to be as well-behaved as I was and had always been. As always I thought that the existence of my father in the family after the war was like having the devil around while you were bringing up a baby. My mother should have married someone like Uncle Owen; but then I wouldn’t be around to consider the matter and that thought brought me to a dead end as usual.

My mother’s scrambled eggs were as usual excellent and without my father shouting at her she did the toast perfectly. The toast rack was at the top of the oven, but the gas pressure changed all the time so sometimes the flames roared away and sometimes they barely left the holes. You had to watch toast all the time and you couldn’t really cook anything at the same time. There were black marks on the ceiling from where toast had caught fire, but my mother always said they were there when we came to the bungalow.

I had my scrambled and a glass of milk, but my mother just made herself a cup of tea and watched me eating.

“We only have water for lunch at Sandle”, I said, hoping she would take this as a compliment.

My mother took a drag on her cigarette and blew the smoke out, looking far off into the distance at some life that was still there somewhere.

“Can I go out now?” I asked.

“I have to go out to the newsagents so I want you to mind Kay for me”, she said.

“I thought you said you couldn’t go shopping. Do you know how long you will be?” I asked.

“Well, it’s only down the road, so I can’t take long, can I?”

“I suppose not”, I said. I suspected my mother had become friendly with a woman in the road and wanted to drop in for a while. Her friends were always large, slightly coarse women. “What time do you think?” I asked, looking at the clock on the wall which had stopped long ago, but which was part of the furnishings required by the purser for lodgings for officer’s families. It was cream and enamel and would never have entered Sandle Manor. Perhaps the owners of the house put the time right when the purser was checking the bungalow.

“I don’t know, do I? You’ll just have to see”.

Popping in was easy for most people, but as my father was a naval officer the whole business was complicated by what rank the husband of the wife had if he was in fact in the navy. Other ranks and NCOs were not acceptable at all. Lower officer ranks were awkward. Senior ranks meant you were in the prep school and public school class which made my mother go wonky. The easiest thing was to hope they were civilians and then see what rank they might be if they had been in the navy. Everyone had been in something during the war so hopefully they were smart enough to keep quiet about it.

I had learned all the ranks and all the branches and which colours they had between the stripes on their sleeves. My father was in the electrical branch and he had dark green between his stripes. As a Lieutenant-Commander he had two thick stripes and a thin stripe in between. He was still a junior officer so he had no oak leaves on the peak of his cap. He had to retire when he was forty-five and apparently that was not a good age to retire.

Everything on ships was being converted to electrical controls and there was radar and asdic on top of that so only those in the branch knew what my father did.

My mother put her make-up on, and a hat, and shoes with high heels on them which made her less tiny. She had stopped wearing a veil on the front of her hat which made her look all short again.

As soon as the front door shut behind my mother Kay rolled herself over the side of the playpen onto the floor. I couldn’t see the point of keeping her in the playpen if you had to watch her all the time anyway so I took off her harness. She went into her bedroom and started to play with her doll that my father had bought her.

I went into my bedroom and fetched my book. Everyone who had been through the war wrote books about their experiences now that paper rationing was over and these had begun to appear in the public library. The army and navy people didn’t have much spare time to write but the air force people did and there were lots of books and I now had one of them. They were much better than the Henty books in the school library because the stuff was not made up.

I went back to check on Kay and she was still sitting quietly with her doll. I lay down on the carpet on the kitchen floor. It was threadbare and very dusty as my mother refused to hoover, and the floor was hard. I looked in on Kay again and then went back to my bed instead of the floor.

I had no wristwatch and not even a pocket-watch so I hardly knew how much time passed. However, my bedroom was off the hall at the back and I could see our orchard and the cedars beyond it from my bed if Kay crept out at the back somehow. I would hear Kay if she went out into the hall. I started reading.    

The book got going on the first page. I hoped Kay had begun to be interested in her doll, and not just in doing anything to annoy you. I forgot about her and I had soon read the first chapter. It seemed like just a few minutes had gone by, but I got up and went into the kitchen. The French door at the end was open. Kay had pulled one of the dining room chairs over to the window so that she could open the handle of the door.