Dear Pa

April 16, 2021

IMG_9696

17-04-2021

Dear Pa,

Your first birthday in my lifetime when you’re not here. You’re all around me every day, but I miss our irreverent chats about anything, your smile across the table, a wink to let me know the food was good, frightening cyclists half to death when you were driving us to walk Fred in the mornings, (I don’t miss that bit), your thunderous sneezes that made Fred jump out of his skin, your idolisation of everything about Fred. I miss our little rituals, tea and toast at 9 after the dog walk, lunch time nibbles with a cuppa, tea and biscuits while watching All Creatures Great and Small, Lovejoy, any vet show in the afternoon. I miss you.

I haven’t been able to write since you left, still heartbroken that you suffered so much towards the end, and probably a fair bit before that, but you kept it to yourself. I thought I was strong until you went, then I knew I’m not, but you always were, right up to the last. Every single person I speak to that knew you, talks of you with a smile on their face, remembering the ever present smile on your face, and that reminds me what you were about. I need to face the world with a smile, the way you did, but in fairness I already did, wonder where I got that from. The smile left me for a while, quite a while actually, but hopefully it’s coming back, a little at a time. I’ve started looking at our recorded conversations, and they make me smile, especially the sound of your voice. I miss you. So much.

I’m not ready to write anything long yet, but hope you won’t mind me cheating, and choosing one of our recorded chats here, I picked out one about some of your flying experiences in the Navy. So even though I miss you so very much, you left me, and everyone else, a priceless set of memories. I tried to tell you how much you’d meant to me near the end, but you, said, “now now, none of that”. Well sod that you old bugger, you meant the world to me, I just hope you can hear me saying/thinking it.

Young Navy Pa

Pa on board either HMS Ranee or HMS Vengeance. Circa 1945/6/7

 

Pa’s flying experiences

(Pa was stationed in Ceylon for part of his service, but had been trying to get ‘in on the action’ from about the age of 13 while in Guildford. I have a lot of recordings, which I hope to put together eventually, but here is one recording for now, unedited, just transcribed word for word.)

 

Me:- Right, ok, now, you’ve told me in the past, about, erm, you’ve been up in aeroplanes, and I’m guessing the airstrip at Katakarunda, or Kalutara

Pa:- No in fact, it, erm, it was off the carrier

Me:- Oh blimey, you’ve, you’ve actually taken, been a passenger, taken off from the actual…

Pa:- I’ve got the flight plan, and I can’t remember where it is

Me:- (Butting in again) Well, no, that, that really doesn’t matter, I was ju…

Pa:- It gives you date, what happened, who was there..

Me:- (more butting in) No, I wanted to ask, I don’t want to see bits of information on a piece of paper (doughnut), I want to hear from you what it was like

Pa:- Frightening

Me:- Really? I thought you would have enjoyed it

Pa:- Oh, I did enjoy it. Taking off is a bit, you know, if you’re not used to it, cos you literally go off the bow of the carrier, which is slightly lifted like that, you go up like that, and then she drops down like that, and you see the carrier, if you’ve got a mirror, you can see the carrier, growing behind you because it’s just getting taller as you’re going down, and then the prop picks up, momentum, and she pulls away like that. That’s one thing, coming in, you’re coming in to the stern of the er, of the carrier, and you’re literally, you’re, you’re dropping down below it and you think, God Almighty, you’re never gonna get me over there, and then he gradually comes up, comes up, and then drops down. It’s er, if you’re not used to it, it’s quite worrying.

Me:- Yeah, so, I mean, I don’t imagine they, it’s er, it’s a Navy warship, I don’t imagine it’s, they send people up for no good reason, so how come you were there, in the, in the plane?

Pa:- Well, I was the Squadron Writer, and erm, I had a few perks, and they said to me would I like to go up, and I said yes I would, and they prepared me for it. Oh, the gear I had, I had them, putting it on, doing it up, putting it on, doing it up. I looked like Mr Michelin, mm, but nevertheless it’s erm, it’s quite an experience

Me:- Did you do it just the once?

Pa:- Ooh yeah, only did it the once. I, I’ve been up off the ground

Me:- So, whereabouts off the ground, was that in Kalutara, in Ceylon

Pa:- No, no, no, that was down here, in erm, in the New Forest

Me:- Oh, well, when was that then, was that when you were doing your, er, when you were trying to get to the RAF was it?

Pa:- Do you know I, no it wasn’t, no. It was in fact during that period of my trying to get in to the RAF, but erm, this came, um, South Holmsley?, can’t even remember, it was down in the New Forest, Holmsley South, I’m sure it was that

Me:- Do you remember the plane that it was that you went up in?

Pa:- Oh, it was a stuffy old Anson

Me:- Not, not a very impressive plane then I’m guessing

Pa:- No, no, they’re, they’re like, like. The old Avro Anson was regarded rather like a milk cow, she’s a maid of all works

Me:- Avro’s were set up at Shoreham for a while, for a long while

Pa:- But erm, that I believe was my time in the Air Training Corps, we used to get erm, not called up, but when we, we, put your name down, that you would be on holiday for that period, or you’ll be away from work for this period, and if during that period the occasion arises where they’re giving trainees a ride in an aircraft, then your name comes up, you go in

Me:- Oh right, so that would have been when you were up at Guildford I expect

Pa:- Yes that would have been Guildford, it wouldn’t have been, certainly wasn’t Brighton

Me:- No, because you weren’t in the ATC down at Brighton were you, in fact you weren’t in Brighton throughout the war (wrong again), after you’d moved back to Guildford

Pa:- No that’s true. Yeah, cos I moved back to Guildford

Me:- Well, you went to Egham first didn’t you, stayed with your dad and Dan Dan. But anyway, ok, so, erm. What was the, do you remember what the aeroplane, was it a Fairey, erm, Firefly, when you were on the aircraft carrier

Pa:- Yes, yeah that would have been a Firefly, erm, not much to say about them, a two seater reconnaissance aircraft

Me:- So, where, did he take you, so, that was, so were you nowhere near land when they took you up

Pa:- No not really

Me:- Oh, so you were out in the middle of, what, the Pacific Ocean, or, Indian Ocean

Pa:- It would have been the Indian Ocean probably, yeah

Me:- On your way, to,.. I’m guessing you must have been on the Vengeance then, or no, I suppose it could have been the Ranee

Pa:- No no, it was the Vengeance

Me:- It was the Ven.. yeah

Pa:- The Ranee was just a personnel carrier. The Vengeance was typified as a Light Fleet Carrier, and that’s really what it was

Me:- I just wondered whereabouts you might have been. Do you think you might have been on your way to Ceylon at the time, or coming from it, or..

Pa:- No, I’ve no idea about that. Oh no I don’t think so

Me:- On your way to Port said, or..

Pa:- No I think it was something that was arranged, when I was at Katakarunda probably, because I went up, the Padre went up at the same time

Me:- What, in the same plane?

Pa:- Yeah

Me:- What, there were three of you

Pa:- Well, they’re not tiny aircraft, a two seater could be a three or four seater really, if you want to make it that way

Me:- Oh, so the Padre was with you as well

Pa:- Well I had to have all safety covered

Me:- Ha, a word to the good above while you’re there. I suppose em, did you think to say nearer than God to thee to him while you were up there?

Pa:- Yeah, holding hands. No, it was treated as a training flight, hence the need for me to type up a flight plan, from my office, on my typewriter, under instructions from the C.O of the group

Me:- Oh, ok, so that flight plan, is actually the flight plan of when you were taken up

Pa:- Yeah, that’s right

Me:- Oh well, I’ll have to have a relook at that won’t I. Well, it’s quite something to have, to have  actually taken off from an aircraft (carrier) in the plane, as a passenger, I don’t imagine too many people would have done that

Pa:- Not strictly unusual, but, but, it’s a costly business and they don’t do it too often

Me:- Not a bad experience to get to have. Did you enjoy it?

Pa:- Yeah, yeah. It was quite, you know, once you get over the, sort of, the initial uncertainty, cos you know inwardly, you’re seeing take off and landings all the time, so you’re used to that aspect it. When you do it for the first time, it’s, it’s, it is a funny experience really because you’ve seen it done time after time, but when you come to do it yourself, it’s er, an entirely different kettle of fish. Yeah, and, taking off, I mean, I couldn’t very well say, no, I don’t want to go, haha, so I did, and I did enjoy it, yes. It’s not an experience that you can say is a good experience or a bad experience really. If I’d been doing it regularly, and I’d come up on a, on a, sort of, a freebie, it would have been a pleasant experience, I think, yes it would, but when you go up, a lot’s built up into it, you’re going up with the padre, you’re going up, the two of you are, are, airborne

Me:- Do you remember who the pilot was

Pa:- His name is in that flight plan

Me:- Oh, ok

Pa:- To be honest, no I didn’t. Didn’t take much notice of that, haha. I would have much preferred it if I thought I could fly the plane, is to fly the bloody thing myself

Me:- Ah well, I don’t see them letting you practice, not coming off an aircraft carrier

Pa:- Not with the Padre there

Me:- So that was your one and only time taking off from the actual aircraft (carrier)

Pa:- Yeah, yeah, it was the only time, it was the only chance I had

Me:- And your only time of going up in an aeroplane during your service

Pa:- Oh no, no, I went up off the ground, many times

Me:- Whereabouts

Pa:- Oh, down in the West country, and down in, erm, you know, Holmsley South was, that, that linked up with my Air Training Corps

Me:- You went up many times?

Pa:- Well, probably about half a dozen

Me:- Before you joined up, when you were in the ATC

Pa:- Yes

Me:- And was it always in that Avro Anson, or did you go up in different planes

Pa:-We went up erm, that was the popular plane. The pilots used to find it easier to take a load of youngsters up, and you could put quite a load in to an Anson. It’s like a Dakota, it’s a maid of all work, and you can stuff it with lots of young people, take em up, swing em round and round and round and put them down, and they’ve had a fine time. Other types of aircraft you can only put so many people in, and you’ve got to do it more often, so it’s more costly

Me:- Just to check whether you’re air worthy I suppose, apart from anything else

Pa:- Well, up to a point yes, it was a perk from our point of view, particularly in the Air training Corps days, I mean, everybody used to scramble to try and get down to one of these airfields

Me:- Did you shoot down there on your bike?

Pa:- No, no no, I went down there, erm,

Me:- I thought perhaps you might have been able to take your Velocette down there

Pa:- That would have caused a problem wouldn’t it. I would have had all the air crew chasing round trying to get a ride on my bike

Me:- And doubtless wondering what a youngster like you was doing riding one like that

Pa:- Well, I don’t know, I’d been riding a motor bike for many years then. I mean, I’d been a despatch rider in the Civil Defence, I’d, you know, albeit underage obviously, but, I had my first licence in 1940, can’t remember, was it ’41 or ’42, only about 14 or 15 at the very most, when I had my

Me:- Shame you haven’t got that licence, that would be priceless wouldn’t it

Pa:- Well, I’m not sure I don’t have it, erm, I’ve got a little pack of licences in my desk drawer here. I’ve never checked to see what dates they are

Me:- Well, I’ve been through your, I’ll have to have another look. I don’t, I would have thought something like that would have stood out to me. I shall have to check

Pa:- I wouldn’t know for sure, but erm, I had a licence to drive, ooh, before I went into the Navy. When I came out of the Navy, I couldn’t renew it, it had lapsed, so I had to take a driving test and get another one, which I did, but er. Yeah, I always found that strange, that the licence I had, which I had to hand over when I joined the Navy, erm, yeah, strange, I never thought about it before, because it predates my Navy days, by probably a year or two.

Me:- So, did you have, you had to wait until call up to actually go into the Navy eventually didn’t you

Pa:- Eventually yes

Me:- So that meant you had to wait until you were 18

Pa:- That’s right

Me:- So you finally got into the Navy when you were 18 years old

Pa:- Yeah, three years after I’d been trying to get in. If I’d done it from 17 onwards, backwards rather, I could have got in anytime. In the Navy, you can join the Navy at sixteen.

Me:- You were busy trying to get into the RAF at that point though weren’t you

Pa:- Yes I was, I was ignoring all the obvious possibilities for getting into the service

Pa:- Just so you could get into the RAF

Pa:- Turns out, I would have been far better trying to get taken into the Navy

Me:- Ah well, hindsight’s a wonderful thing

Pa:- Yeah

Me:- But sadly, you only get hindsight after the event

Pa:- It was very sad really, because there were so many things I could have done, I wasn’t able to do because of my age. If I’d gone for the Navy before I’d even thought about the Air Force, I’d have been in, because they take boys in, in the Navy, or they used to

Me:- Yeah, but it’s understandable, given that you spent part of your time living in Hendon Way, right opposite an airfield, erm, there was no history, your cousin was in the RAF, you know, it’s really quite easy to understand why it was that you aimed for the RAF, that probably, you were in the Air Training Corps as well. Everything was aiming towards the RAF, I doubt it was even on your mind to even think of the Navy, until at least you’d exhausted the other possibilities

Pa:- Yeah, it’s only when I was shunted down the steps of the ladder, and finally got to the bottom, and realised it was the Navy or nothing

Me:- That’s, that’s just fete, it can’t be helped

Pa:- Yeah, but I would have done much better to have started off by going straight to the Navy

Me:- Yeah, but the only way that would have happened is if everything else about your life had been different up to that point. There was no way you were going for the Navy given everything that had happened to you, and that you were part of, you don’t join the ATC so you can get in the Navy do you, you join the sea cadets

Pa:- Yes, You know I don’t know if the Sea Cadets had even been formed by then

Me:- Well even if it had it I don’t imagine they’d have one in the middle of, haha, inland, haha, somewhere like Guildford.

Squire’s early memories

March 3, 2021

Squire’s story/memories.

John Stuart Ramus/ Squire/ Pa:- 17-04-1927 to 22-02-2021

Our wonderful Pa.

Pa with his dad, Reg, known as Roy, circa 1928

Since I originally wrote this up, Pa has sadly passed away on the 22nd Feb, 2021. I will continue to add to this story from the many recordings and notes I have, but here is a beginning. I hope you all enjoy it.

Over the years I have asked Pa about his early life, and during some of his spells in waiting rooms, in hospital beds, out and about, or just sitting at home, I’ve had a pen or pencil and pad, and taken notes as he tells me his various many memories. He’s lived through some extraordinary times, and has plenty of interesting stories to relate. This is just a rough outline at the moment, and ideally, I would prefer to get all his stories written down as they were told in the first person. But this is a start at least, just to give a flavour of what might be when I get it all down properly.

On the 14th July 1923, Pa’s dad, Roy, (Reginald Joseph Isaac Ramus), aged 22, married Boof, (Violet Annie Freer Read), aged 20, at Willesden Register Office, with Boof’s brother, Harry Read, and her mother, Esther, registered as witnesses on the marriage certificate. Roy’s dad, Henry, and Boof’s dad, Harry, had both sadly passed away in 1911 and 1914, but left their families very well provided for.  Boof had been a member of a dance troupe and toured Ireland with them.

On the 24th October 1924, Roy and Boof had their first child, Sheila Audrey Ramus.

In 1925 Roy, was registered as living at 126 Glengall road, Willesden.

By 1926 Boof, and Roy were living at Glenshaw Mansions, Priory road, Hampstead.

Born at 138 Wymering Mansions, Willesden, on the 17th April, 1927, Pa, (John Stuart Ramus), was the second child of Roy and Boof, and younger brother Mike came along 23rd Dec 1930, when they were living at 26 Dean Road, Willesden.

One of Pa’s earliest memories was of Boof and Roy, probably when they were living at Dean road, Willesden, coming to say goodnight to him and Sheila before they set off to the Chelsea Arts Ball, leaving She’ and John in the care of the nanny, Helen. “They were dressed up in fancy dress for the occasion, in the fashion of a Georgian couple, very flamboyant”.

Sheila, John, and nanny Helen, circa 1930. Willesden, London

Roy, despite having a cut glass English public schoolboy accent, could mimic a cockney accent like a linguistic chameleon. “He’d take She’ and I with him to Shepherds Market in the early evenings to walk around the market, adopting any dialect with ease as he talked with the stall holders, many of whom he clearly knew”. Pa remarked how he loved the horse chestnuts that were roasted on the braziers, and still loves the smell which transports him back to his childhood.

In 1932/3, living at 91 Hendon Way, opposite the Fairey Airfield. “Ma took me to look over my new school. I saw a lad waiting outside the Head’s office as he was beckoned in for a thwack with a round ebony ruler behind his knees. I remember being impressed at the time at how stoically the boy took his beating. She’ and I went to this school for about a year, boys and girls had separate classes and playgrounds”

“Dad’s business associate, Mr Lakin, another furniture dealer, used to visit quite a lot, we were there a couple of years I think. Dad had a Jowett motor car then”

Sometime around 1934, Roy ran off with the wife next door at number 93 Hendon Way, Beryl Antill, leaving Boof with Sheila, (9), John,(7),  and Mike, (2), to bring up.  Roy married Beryl in 1935, and Boof married the estranged husband, John Antill, both marriages were within a week of each other.

Pa later went to live with Roy, Beryl, and his Grandma, once they had set up home, at Ambleside cottage, in High Road, Feltham, Surrey.

I was living with dad, Girly, (Beryl), and Grandma, Dan Dan (May Ramus), at Ambleside, a cottage next to a stream, opposite the Mini Max Works fire extinguisher manufacturers, in Feltham, Surrey. The stream ran past the bottom of the garden at the back of the property, and dad kept 30 or 40 chickens in a large pen at the bottom of the garden. My favourite was ‘Droopy Wing’, which had a broken wing, and waddled around with one wing trailing, I used to cuddle and talk to it as I stroked it. I’d walk down the garden to the chicken coop, sit there with my comics, Champion, or Hotspur, and Droopy Wing would be first to arrive, I’d start reading, then one by one the other chickens would gather while I read to them all. One day I went to the coop, and got in to the chicken run to talk to Droopy Wing, when the cockerel, a big beast, jumped on my back, fearful the beast might do some damage, Pop came running and swiped it off with a spade”.

The headless chicken:-

Another time at Ambleside, “one of Roy’s ‘girlies’, a nurse, asked if she could have a go at ringing a chicken’s neck. He said she could, but she’d never done it before, and made a hash of it. It was comical, the sight of this chicken running around with its head hanging off with a broken neck, dad had to finish it off”.

Roy bought and sold furniture at this time, and all his business associates called him either Roy or Bob. “He used to take me out with him on business calls, sometimes he’d sit me on his lap and let me steer the car, a Standard, old square box thing with the battery on the running board, there was very little in the way of traffic in those days. On one occasion dad had tried unsuccessfully to sell a customer anything, so decided to nick the welcome mat on the way out. While waiting outside, I’d been sat in the car, watching an old distinctive red Brook Bond Tea van, parked up the hill of this steep road, with its wheels turned in to the curb to stop it rolling. The van came loose, wobbled down the road until it gently rolled in to our car and stopped”.

Also, on his 8th birthday, (1935, at 44 Tudor Drive, Kingston, when Boof was now with John Antill), he got a Cowboy outfit, “I was stood out in the street proudly showing it off, when the coalman calls me on board and took me on his round with his horse and cart, dropping me off later”.

Boof had started seeing John Antill, the husband to Beryl, and they were married in 1935, but Antill turned out to be a wife beater, who John remembers being a nasty bully to all of them.

During one of the beatings Antill was dishing out to Boof, Queenie Richards, (who lived next door with her sister, Ruby, and Ruby’s husband, Harold Ellis), heard the row going on and took matters in to her own hands, climbing out of her first floor window, along the window cill, and in to Boof’s house. Queenie was a fit lady, and soon had Antill be the throat, giving him the option of leaving by the back of the house, never to return, or out of the front door to the waiting crowd that had built up and were keen to dish out some much deserved justice. Suffice to say Antill left out the back way. From that moment on, Queenie and Boof became solid friends, and stayed together from then on, with Queenie becoming Auntie Dickie to the kids.

Sometime around 1935/6, they moved down to Eastern road, Brighton, opposite the Blind Boys school, taking Sheila and Mike with them.

Later, in 1936:-   “I remember at 6 Sudeley Place, in Brighton, after hearing Edward VIII abdicate on the radio, ma was crying on the doorstep, all the girls loved Teddy

……………….

Pa, circa 1937/8

Grammar School:-

“About 1938 dad enrolled me at Lewis Grammar school, where I stayed for a year before eventually running away back to Boof at Sudely Place, Brighton. I was Kitted out in the full Salt n Pepper outfit by Boof at Fosters in London Road, Brighton”.

We were quite the part walking down Lewis High Street dressed up in our best dress, with the local kids running along taunting us and sticking their tongues out

Dickensian:-

“At the ‘Old Grammar School’,Lewis, a real Dickensian establishment, the Headmaster,  Reverend Cecil Lewis, was a tartar. He was a stocky man, with one glass eye, and loud, with a short temper. I remember he walked up to one of the teachers on the quad, and after shouting something, hit him, in front of all of us pupils. The teacher he hit, Mr Davis, I recall as being a decent sort of chap. One day one of the older boys, Read was his name I think, slugged the head. He was a big lad, about to join up, and he wasn’t having any of the old man’s nonsense, so punched him on the nose and then stuck a waste paper basket over his head. He gained the everlasting admiration of the whole school”.

“Another of our teachers, Mr Jones, a Welshman, had an Austin 7 motor car, and used to take us out for weekend drives.”

Sports Day:-

On Sports day, the old man (Roy/dad) had the hump after getting beaten by Dan Dan (Grandma May) at a golf putting game on the Lewis Grammar playing fields, Dan Dan chuckling away in the car afterwards. Dad had a big Ford estate then, with wood frame bodywork”.

The escape:-

“I had decided I wasn’t hanging around any longer, so climbed out of my dorm window late at night, and eventually caught a bus back to Boof and Auntie at 6 Sudely Place, Brighton”. (Had a match box collection which gave to another pupil before leaving)

……………….

On the 1939 census:- Roy is living at 9 Strode road, staying with the Oliver family, Sydney, Minnie, Ernest, and Rosa. “I remember dad being part of a company called ‘OlRayCo’ which was a collaboration with the Oliver’s”. Roy is listed as being a ‘Hardware Factor, and fire service, Egham. Fireman’

Boof is living at 6 Sudeley Place in Brighton on this census, with Sheila, Mike, and Auntie Dickie. Pa possibly still at Lewis Grammar as a boarder. He was there about a year before he did his bunk one night and made his way back to Sudely Place.

Back to Surrey. War, and the ATC:-

“Sometime after the outbreak of war, Boof and Auntie decided to move back to Surrey, at Rydes Hill road, Guildford, where I joined the ATC.” (Air Training Corps)

During 1939/40, after volunteers were asked for, I became a motorbike despatch rider in the A.T.C, out of Stoke Park, Guildford, Surrey, (where the Surrey Control Centre was situated), and took to it like a duck to water. In charge of us youthful despatch riders, was, ‘Darkie’, (Oliver Blake), a lovely man, short, ex army, Neller Hall bandsman, an Indian in his fifties, and all round good egg, who lived in Dorking”. (Neller Hall was ‘The’ musical training place in the army). “Oliver, who played beautifully, gave me tips on playing the trumpet. I was allocated a Velocet 348cc motorbike to ride, along with my despatch rider pals on other bikes, taking despatches from one air defence control centre to another in Surrey, the main one of which was Stoke Park in Guildford. The biggest bike, a 500cc Norton Dominator, was allocated to big Norman, the other bikes were a BSA and 2 Ariels”.

Darkie managed 6 of us young dispatch riders at Surrey Control Centre, the control centre for all air raids and everything else”. Some of his ATC dispatch rider pals were:- “Norman Gunn, a big chubby boy, looked funny on a motor bike as he was so big. A well off farm lad from a well to do family. I fired my first shotgun at his farm on the Sussex/Surrey border, which blew me over, much to Norman’s amusement. Then there was Dan Gerald, a compact, healthy young lad, and Ray Jordan, a 15 or 16 year old from Jersey. Everyone called me ‘Tich’, as I was the youngest and smallest, although we were all more or less the same age. We had canvas armbands with writing on until we got our uniforms. Under Surrey Control Centre were:- Reigate, Horley, Dorking, and Leatherhead, which we despatched messages, etc to.”

It was mainly night duty as the rest of the time we were at work or school, at North Mead Boys School, and then Clarks Commercial College, which taught us short hand typing”.

Convoys:-

Watching the Dad’s Army film together, as a convoy is escorted by motor cyclists on screen, Pa said, “I used to do that”, so I asked, “did you escort convoys then?”, he said, “yes, but there were 6 of us, I didn’t do it on my own. We escorted troop convoys, or fire engines down to Portsmouth after bombing raids, leap frogging each other at junctions to keep the way clear and then bringing up the rear after the fire engines had passed.”

 

Interest from the local constabulary:-

The local bobby, PC Burbridge, lived a couple of doors away from us in Ryde’s Hill road, and came round to see Boof and Auntie about me riding a motor bike while under age, the upshot of which was that I had to pay him a visit so he could have ‘a quiet word’ with me. He told me he understood I was doing my bit for the war effort, and it was pretty much left at that. I carried on, often coming back late at night from duty, and parking my KTS Velocette in front of our garage.”

Me and the boys visit dad at the fire station:-

Egham fire station, where dad was stationed with the Egham fire brigade. Me and my ATC dispatch rider buddies turned up on our bikes, when the fire station were having a training session on the tower. We were invited to have a go, and to my horror and embarrassment, I found I had a fear of heights I hadn’t counted on until I was up there. Having watched dad climbing the tower, hitching the ladders up and fixing them as they went, when my turn came, I got up there all right, but was frozen by fear once up the top”.

‘Mate’:-

During this time we were living at Rydes Hill road, Guildford, opposite the Haydens, where Sheila met John Hayden”, (her husband to be). “Auntie Dickie was doing a milk round, in a Morris 8, and I went with her. I started driving then, first just moving the car up the road, then ended up driving it the whole round. The milk round was where the term, ‘Mate’, came to be used between us, and lasted our lifetime.”

During this time, in 1940, Auntie adopted a boy herself, Tim, who went on to grow up as brother to Sheila, John, and Mike. Auntie, while on her milk round in Guildford, had met a young girl walking her baby in a pram, crying, so she enquired what was wrong, and the young girl, Rosemary Springett, 16, told Auntie that she had to give up her new born child, Trevor Springett, and Auntie offered there and then to adopt the child, changing his name to Tim Richards once the adoption had gone through.

Trying to join up:-

In 1941, while at Rydes Hill Road, I tried at age 14 to get in to the R.A.F, as air crew or pilot, sent through by the Air Training Corps. I failed the aptitude to be a pilot, but showed great aptitude to be an air gunner. Put in a replica rear turret of something like a Lancaster, Halifax, with all the gear inside they would have, being watched and contacted by intercom, “Don’t keep your guns on that one, you’ve already killed him”, great fun as a 14 year old, firing at the lit up dots. Having failed to get through, they said I could immediately go in to the airborne troops, because they were desperate for them, this is before they did all the big stuff.”

“I got put on 18 months deferred service, but they discovered my age in the meanwhile, and the game was up. This in turn hampered my chances to join the Navy as a junior, which has a limit of age 16. By the time I was found out, I’d turned 17, so had to wait for call up for the Royal Navy now”.

Basic Training:-

Starting point was at HMS Royal Arthur in Skegness, the old Butlins camp, now used for basic training. (Square bashing etc)

HMS Demetrius, Wetherby, Yorkshire. Royal Naval Shore Training Establishment. Pa 2nd right, middle row, standing

Writer Training:-

Clerical stuff, book keeping etc. HMS Demetrius, at Wetherby, Yorkshire. Pa rowing on the River Wharfe in any spare time he had. Got to know the people running the boat hire outlet.

While on leave from training, the V.E day celebrations. A number of us Navy boys made the trip by train from Pompey to Brighton station, straight in to the Imperial Arms opposite the station, we worked our way down Queens Road in full uniform, picking up mates as we  went, determined to stop at every pub along the way, I took a left at the Clock Tower down in to North Street. No one would let me buy a drink, so by the time I reached St Peters Church, I’d had a few. I had my trumpet in a bag over my shoulder, and some people asked what was in the bag, when I told them, they demanded I play a tune. A policeman held up my music sheet, and I played for the crowd. Perhaps noticing my condition, the bobby flagged down a cabbie and instructed him to get me home. He dropped me outside Boof and Auntie’s place at the top of Elm Grove, no charge,  Auntie came out and hauled me in”.

The following day:-

“I must have been all right, as I woke up in the morning and went down to the pub with Auntie. I’d long since made a solid decision never to try and outdrink Auntie, that was a battle you’d be sure to lose, she could drink with the best of them”.

Sydney, Australia. Late 1945, early 1946

HMS Ranee, and HMS Vengeance

“HMS Ranee was my first ship, an Auxiliary Light Fleet Carrier. It was a Liberty Ship, a lease lend effort from the Yanks, and a noisy ship it was. We boarded at Pompey, went through the Med., spent a week at Gibralta, and two months at Malta, through the Suez Canal to Aden and on to Australia, at Parramatta, docking at Woolamaloo. We were lodged at Warwick Park, a dispersal area for troops moving through before being sent on.”

First night ashore in Australia we got a three course meal with a bloody great steak for half a crown, there was rationing back in Blighty. I arrived in Australia on HMS Ranee, to join HMS Vengeance as ‘Squadron Writer’ for 812 Squadron. We nicked everything we could find, photos, cloth. Everyone had to come to me for passes, rail, leave, etc”.

I typed out ticket exams for R.N.R merchant seamen coming across to the Royal Navy. Flights written up every day, the duty officer would come to me, after the Skipper and pilots had devised the flight plans, for me to type them up”.

Sydney to Bankstown, airfield outside Sydney.

Big do at Sarjents Ballroom in Sydney.

We were three months in Oz before sailing on HMS Vengeance, a Light Fleet Carrier,  to Ceylon by 1946. I practiced my trumpet playing in the bloody great aircraft hangars on board. There were two lifts, one fore and one aft.”

“Docking at Columbo, where we were ‘unshipped’, then dispersed by lorries that took us to Katakurunda, where there was a jungle airstrip made of metal roll strip. Vengeance went on to India to transport troops.”

“In Katakarunda there was a lake nearby we used to go to for a swim, lots of cases of ear infections as a result!”.

“There was a ‘leave camp’ at Nuraylia Hills,  in tea plantations set in gorgeous green hills very much like the Sussex Downs, with huts named after Sussex resorts, ‘Littlehampton’, ‘Bognor’, etc. Each hut bunked about 50 or 60”.

John Ramus- Squadron Scribe for HMS Vengeance

Coming home:-

From Ceylon, I sailed home by R.F.A, H.M.S Eaglesdale, to a west England port, possibly Portland. Back in England, we got the customs officer blotto, took a load of ‘Rabbits’ (contraband) ashore with us, I had a radio. They (the Customs Officers) must have dreaded us coming, we used to get them so drunk every time we came ashore on arrival back home. The ship birthed at Portland, and we were taken by lorries to Pompey barracks. While there, at Queens Hotel in Southsea, I was typing up 1st, 2nd, and 3rd rate ticket exam papers for Merchant navy boys navigation exams. I met up with the boys, Pat Dalton, and Johnny Phelps in Pompey. Johnny Phelps was the man for getting the beer vouchers, good snooker player and general schmoozer, six foot one, blonde, good looking lad with a great sense of humour.

Next posting:-

I stayed in Pompey a matter of weeks until I blagged an officer to get me a new posting oversees, hoping to see some action, and got Port Said, Egypt. After V.E day I was shipped off to Port Said on a Royal Mail ship, to HMS Stag, a land base, and spent Christmas 1946 there, where having drunk a bottle of cheap hooch, I ended up in hospital, and contracted malaria while in there too. Jewish terrorists were planting limpet mines on British ships at the time, Port Said was full of Liberty ships”.

1947: Back home and de-mob:-

“While in service, I’d been in contact by mail with Uncle Nev in South Africa, and once we knew we would be stopping at Port Elizabeth on our way back from Egypt, he said to let him know when we’d be arriving, and he’d show me around. I was really looking forward to seeing him, but the ship developed engine trouble, and had to bypass South Africa and head straight home to Portland for repairs. I was disappointed to miss seeing Nev and South Africa”

 

“Back in Portsmouth where we were demobbed with 4 months full pay. I went to get my first job with Brighton council as a life guard at Black Rock. Johnny Phelps had got in first, then Pat Dalton, then they wangled it to get me an interview and I got in too”.

Wangford Tyre Patch- Greyhound at Coral stadium, Hove:-

Myself, Dalton, and Phelps pooled our money to put half a crown on Wangford Tyre Patch to win. It romped home and we bagged 50 bob in winnings. When out together when times were tough, it wasn’t unheard of for items, such as jackets, to get pawned by the others to get money for beer, I came back one time and they’d hocked my Navy greatcoat when we were at Burtons snooker hall, above the shop, opposite the clock tower in Brighton”.

Simple Things

January 3, 2021

Pa and Freddie

Pa and Freddie

03-01-2021

Today I have actually been able to get some work done, just a couple of amendments for Building Control, but it seems like a lifetime ago since I could even think about work, the paid variety that is.

Pa is settled in the lounge, on his second session of foot plate walking, an electric walking machine that hopefully helps his circulation and movement. He was in hospital for 6 days, (no visiting allowed), before I was finally allowed to pick him up on the Sunday (20th), having been on intravenous anti biotics and a low fibre diet, and while in there he had also suffered a bout of gout, so I was handed a bulging bag of meds to take away too. The elation of coming home was soon wiped out for Pa by a reaction to the meds he was on, but a phone call to our local GP on the Monday, and a change of medication, (steroids for the gout), started to turn things round within a few days.

Freddie had been going up to Pa’s chair while he was in hospital, looking at it then back at me, as if to ask the question, ‘where is he?’, and he jumped up into it a couple of times, so when Pa came home and was settled back in his chair, Freddie promptly, but gently, climbed up into his arms and just lay there for a good 20 minutes. He did that a few more times, especially when Pa hadn’t been feeling on top of things in those initial days of reaction to the meds. It’s impossible to overstate just how much that meant to the old fossil, and as I said to him, “that’s the best medicine you could have”, the smile on Pa’s face said it all really.

By Christmas eve he felt well enough to come out in the car with me and Freddie, this has always been one of the goals I aim for when Pa has been ill, once he’s recovered enough, getting him out and about, and the Shoreham Fort is one of his favourite places to visit, looking out on to Kingston Bay and Shoreham Harbour while I walk Freddie around the Fort. The next goal to aim for after that is to get him back behind the wheel of his own car, which we achieved yesterday, going to the Adur Rec, then on to the Fort between 8 and 9 in the morning and very little other traffic about, I walk Freddie while Pa listens to Classic FM in the car.

Christmas day dinner was a simple roast chicken dinner with rhubarb and apple crumble pudding, which Simon joined Pa, Ant, and myself, for probably the most low key Christmas feed we’ve ever had, but it was as good as any because we had Pa there at the table, when just days earlier it was touch and go, and never mind what your mind is doing with the worrying possibilities. To be brutally honest, I don’t deal with those worries very well, I’m a natural worrier, and I’ve had years of practice, none of which makes it any easier.

There are plenty of people far worse off, and I sympathise greatly with them, but when it’s your own, you can’t see past that, and in fairness, I don’t even try, I have to concentrate on what’s most important to me, as I would expect anyone else to do. You can worry about others when you’ve got the luxury of having your own situation under control. At 93, Pa isn’t going to be running round the block, or even round the house anymore, but he is still determined to get about as much as he can by his own efforts, (however slowly it might be!), and his innate fighting spirit never ceases to amaze me. 2021 will bring what it brings, I have no preconceptions of what may lay ahead, but if Pa is there with us then it will be just fine.

Christmas Future?

December 16, 2020

16-12-2020

Me, Pa and Freddie have been having a cosy week of dog walks and watching too much TV while Ant has been down in Cornwall helping Si Wilson paint his static home there. On Friday our friend Anne Macey popped round with a brightly coloured waistcoat she made for Pa, entirely out of materials we’d given her from Ma’s extensive collection, and mighty fine it looked too. She’s a good scout, and pops round on occasion for socially distanced tea and biscuits. During the summer we could all sit in the garden, but it’s a bit nippy and damp for that now, the only real struggle is keeping the old man in his chair, adamant that he ought to be able to get up and greet visitors, even if it does take him half an hour to penguin walk across the lounge, with the occasional Jack Douglas impression at random moments! (Carry On fans will get this)

We’ve nailed the Christmas card lists, despite the double inconvenience of a)- the Lifeboat Station shop not being open, so had to get our RNLI cards online this year, and b)- not having the Sussex Yacht Club pigeon hole post box this year, both owing to Covid restrictions, but friends have rallied and helped out, just got a handful left, which I hope to get sorted soon. Our last Tesco delivery came Monday, no more slots available until the new year as it stands, but keep checking for cancellations on the advice of the friendly delivery drivers, but overall, we’re pretty well prepared for our Three Men and a Dog Christmas 2020.

Best laid plans and all that jazz, we seemed to be going along quite nicely, then in the space of 24 hours, Pa develops stomach pains, so phone Anne, she’s also a nurse, tell her Pa has a temp of 38.4 and stomach pains, “he needs help, call the doc” she told me, so call the surgery, get told he’ll have to have a Covid test first, I explain he’s 93, not very mobile even when well, and defo not now. She politely tells me she’ll pass on the info, but doubts I’ll get a different answer. Thankfully the Doctors all know Pa, he’s put some business their way in recent years, and Dr Oates was great, even if her advice was sobering, call 999, as the combination of temp plus tender stomach in acute pain not a good mix, she wanted him to have blood tests and a proper work up at hospital. By about 16.30 yesterday evening we went through what now seems a familiar routine, albeit hopefully not as drastic as the other times. The paramedics were brilliant as always, and Freddie took a shine to one of them, so that kept him mercifully quiet during the procedure of checking Pa’s vitals. They told me to prepare a day bag with pants, pyjamas, toothbrush, toothpaste, and slippers, and took him away by 17.15, at which point I think the wind was sucked out of my lungs, going through the whole not knowing headfuck.

Ant arrived back from Cornwall shortly after, “everything all right?”, “no not really”, breathe in, and explain. Fast forward to today, called the hospital Emergency Floor this morning and apparently, they believe he has a perforation of the bowel, but are hoping to deal with it by antibiotics and a (low fibre?) diet, not sure if I remember that correctly or not, and he’s on morphine for the pain. Today I took up his glasses, a book, a picture of Freddie, and a card just to tell him to hurry up, get better and come home. I should explain that I was only allowed to hand the bag of bits to a receptionist on Zone A of the Emergency Floor, and she would take it to Pa over in Zone B. I was pleasantly surprised I’d even be allowed in to the hospital, let alone walk the corridors to the Emergency Floor. Masked up and using the hand sanitisers of course. Conspiracy theorists please go and bury your head back in the sand.

Hopefully tomorrow will bring better news and that the antibiotics are doing their job. We’ve long been calling Pa, ‘Captain Scarlet’, so I’m pinning my hopes on him living up to that well-earned name, and coming back fighting fit for Christmas, that’s all I want Santa.

Timmy

November 1, 2020
Timmy at Beach Dreams ready to set up our pitch.

Timmy oh Timmy, why did you have to leave us

On Friday night at about 8pm I had a call from Brian Parsons, and he broke the news to me, hoping to let me know before I found out by accident. I can only remember bits of our conversation, I was just stunned I think, my initial thoughts being for him and Jo, Tim’s mum, Gloria, the rest of his family, and extended foster family. All I could think was, “fuck it, fuck it”, and I can’t even imagine what they’re going through.

Tim was so much more than you would think, so complex in lots of ways, but so easy going and carefree in his outlook to life, and the importance of taking it by the scruff, which he did so often. This attitude took him round the world, made him friends everywhere he went, and if it had been written down would have made a great read I have not the slightest doubt. He told me snippets over the many dog walks where our paths crossed, him with his train chasing Collie, Choo Choo Charlie, and me with wee Freddie, our Bichon. He’d lived among Maoris in New Zealand, they’d been impressed with his tattoos, lived in a squat in Sydney while working for a company ‘dressing’ swanky apartments not far from the Opera House, snow boarded wherever the opportunity presented itself, surfed, skate boarded, and lived a pretty Bohemian life as he careered around the world without a plan.

Tim dressing the shop for Beach Dreams 2015

But there was another side to Tim, a caring, proactive role within the social services, where he worked helping children from troubled backgrounds find somewhere to live, find jobs, and on occasions he would be called out to some custody centre to bail one of his charges, or have to deal with screaming irate relatives because he happened to be watching over their child and they had his number. It gave me a chill sometimes when he explained the things he was having to deal with, but that’s the kind of person Tim was, he cared, and actually did something about it, often more than he was paid to do. He told me he’d learned that from his mum, Gloria, having fostered so many children, most of who, if not all, maintained contact as if they were actual family. The tragic news of Tim’s heart-breaking final act, to take his own life, is going to break a lot more hearts.

He knew his job was taking a toll on his health, and had tried to make the break a few years back, coming to work with us on the buildings, and he was happy as Larry for a while. Sadly the work wasn’t continuous enough for him, and eventually he reluctantly went back to working in the care sector.

Timmy was a bit of a dreamer like me, and was always coming up with ideas for making things to decorate a home, night stands, picture frames, tables, chairs, and always with a beach/surf/snowboarding/ganja theme. He produced some lovely stuff, and managed to sell a good deal of it, he had a great eye for a finish, and how to ‘dress a room’ as he called it. We even had a stall at Beach Dreams in 2015 to show off our collective efforts, he was at his happiest then I think, with the promise of his creations getting noticed and possibly a new direction for him to go in life.

Tim in Andorra

The absolute happiest I ever saw him was when we went snowboarding, then he was completely in his element, but still, typical of the man he was, despite being on a different stratosphere to us as boarders, he took the time to tutor us, and especially a young Benn Grisbrook on his first time when we were snowboarding in Andorra.

When Tim asked if I’d help trace his family tree I was happy to help out, and amazed at what I found. He’d told me how his dad died early, and may have mentioned the Burmese link, but once I got going it turned out to be a hell of a story they have as a family, some generations of which, were born and raised in Burma, having arrived there originally as river pilots in Bengal in the early 1800’s. This family history, and the stories his dad had told him of their time there, his dad apparently in a plane taking off up the runway as the Japanese army were almost upon them at the outbreak of WW2 in that region, sowed the seed in Tim’s mind that he wanted to visit and track down whatever he could find out. When he asked me if I’d be interested it was a no brainer, Burma was like some mystical country, only recently at that time having opened their borders to the outside world. He was like a kid in a sweetshop virtually the whole way round, loving the people, and they loved him right back, with his infectious smile, and deadly combination of dark hair and big blue eyes. While on the one hand I’m so pleased I got to do that trip with him, I’m absolutely gutted there will never be another. He had asked if I fancied a trip to Jamaica a couple of years back, but I wasn’t overly keen on that one, and I think it slipped of his radar eventually.

The last time we spoke was on the phone about a week and a half back, and he said he was hopefully dealing with things since his bipolar diagnosis, and told me he couldn’t drive for the moment, but could take Charlie to the local park, but that Charlie was getting a bit slow in his old age. I wanted to pop over, but he said he wasn’t ready for visitors yet, thanked me for the call, and we hoped to catch up soon. That’s not going to happen now, and however much I tell myself his soul, character, and memories will live on in us, it hurts like fucking hell to even be writing this. I don’t know if anything anyone could have said would have stopped you mate, but I wish I’d had the chance. Bless your heart Timmy, you’ve broken ours.

A (not so) Brief History of Aviation at Shoreham. Part 6

October 13, 2020

A (not so) Brief History of Aviation at Shoreham.  Part 6

 

January 1912 at Shoreham Aerodrome saw flying schools getting established, as reported in Flight Magazine- 06-01-1912

Brighton-Shoreham Aerodrome

Last weekend has seen the successful completion of two machines, the Collyer-England tractor biplane and the Chanter monoplane. The first named made straight flights on Saturday and Monday, with Dowland in control, and was put through a fair amount of rolling by both England and Dowling. Mr M. Chanter took his new monoplane out on Monday, and was in the air with her shortly after leaving the shed. On Tuesday she was out again, under the pilotage of her owner, and gave still better results. Ross, Gattler, Kent, and Davies, were out on the Chanter school Bleriots.

The Chanter Flying School at Shoreham

The Chanter Flying School at Shoreham, with their two Anzani-Bleriots and their 35-h.p. monoplane modelled on Nieuport lines. At the left-hand side is Mr. M. Chanter, the Director of the school. To the right are Messrs. De Villlers, Gassier, Kent, Ross, and two of the school mechanics.

A week later, Flight Magazine, 13-01-1912,  informs its readers of a significant addition proposed at Shoreham:-

‘Things are moving apace at the Brighton-Shoreham Aerodrome. In order that shedholders may be on the spot and able to avail themselves of every period of early morning calm, a clubhouse is shortly to be erected. A view of this building as it will appear when completed appears elsewhere in this issue. It is intended to furnish 20 bedrooms for their use and two billiard rooms, each with two tables, are to be provided. Good luck to such sound enterprise.’

With Flight Magazine keeping tabs on aviation progress around the country, Shoreham continued to receive coverage of its advancement on a weekly basis, here is their report for the week ending 20th Jan 1912:-

Brighton-Shoreham Aerodrome

Practically every day last week has seen outdoor work going on. The Chanter school was very busy on Wednesday, the 10th, Kent got off the ground for the first time, and made a very steady straight flight on the Bleriot. Gassler and De Villiers were both up several times, and Hamilton-Ross put in a flight or two both on Wednesday and Thursday. On Friday, Gassler was doing a long flight in splendid form on one of the school Bleriots, but had the misfortune to run in to the wire fence between the hangars and the restaurant, damaging the machine but escaping unhurt himself. Saturday saw Chanter doing cross country work on the 40-h.p Anzani-Bleriot. In the gathering dusk his flying was brought to an untimely end by a down current of air which caused a rather abrupt landing in a field adjoining the Lancing College. The machine was smashed, but Mr Chanter was unhurt, having been thrown clear.

The Collyer- England machine has been undergoing an overhaul, and has only appeared outside on two occasions. On Wednesday England had her up and down the ground several times, and on Thursday Dowland was testing her. A cheer was raised when this neat biplane came spinning towards the sheds “two up”.

Collyer England biplane with Green engine at Shoreham.

Also in this edition, the magazine reports on Lieutenant Walter Lawrence’s movements in the ‘Air Eddies’ section:-

Lieut. Lawrence, of the 7th Essex Regiment, who was recently reported in the daily press as intending to cross the channel with miss Lottie Paine, one of the nuns appearing in “The Miracle” at Olympia, as passenger, has been for the past week at Filey, where he has been gaining experience on the Blackburn monoplane. By the time these lines appear in print he expects to be settled at Shoreham with one of the Blackburn school machines, which the firm has, in a very sportsmanlike manner, placed at his disposal, until he obtains delivery of the Blackburn two seater for which he has placed an order.

Lieut. Walter Lawrence Aviator Licence No.113 Certificate photo.
Issued by the Royal Aero Club.

 

In the January 18th edition of ‘The Aeroplane’, there is mention of the going’s on at Shoreham, and a photograph of Oscar Morison moving his Bleriot machine from the aerodrome back in the summer, with D. G. Gilmour standing in front of his car, a fine example of the transportability of these early ‘kites’:-

Morison moving Bleriot from Shoreham.

 

Meanwhile, local newspaper, Brighton Gazette Saturday 27th January 1912, reports on movements at Shoreham Aerodrome:-

Aviation at Shoreham

The “Blackburn” passenger carrying monoplane, expected at the Brighton-Shoreham  aerodrome from the north of England, arrived at Shoreham-by-Sea Station on Thursday, and Lieutenant Lawrence, who is flying this make of aeroplane, towed it over to the Aerodrome behind his motor car. As already announced, he will be staying there for a time

The last January report for Shoreham in Flight Magazine, 27-01-1912, is a brief summary of the weeks events.

Brighton-Shoreham Aerodrome

By the time this appears in print, Lieut. Walter Lawrence should have his Blackburn monoplane and have put in some good flying here.

Messrs. M. Chanter and Co’s staff have been busy getting the Bleriot’s into flying order again, and one of the machines will be at work again before the end of the week.

A 35-h.p Green is being fitted in the Collyer-England biplane as the machine has proved its worth and promised excellent results if provided with more power. Great things are looked for when she comes out again this weekend.

February saw the continuance of increasing activities at Shoreham, with the recently built hangars at near full capacity, and as always, Flight Magazine, 03-02-1912, following the aerodrome’s progress :-

Brighton-Shoreham Aerodrome

On Thursday last week the 25-h.p Anzani-Bleriot was brought out by Kent, who put in a short time at rolling practice, while Chanter was continuing the test of his new monoplane. Lieut. Walter Lawrence arrived with the Gnome-Blackburn monoplane, which has been placed at his disposal pending the completion of the passenger machine the Blackburn Company has on order for him.

On Saturday the machine was ready for working, and Lieut. Lawrence took his seat in the machine and had a rollover the ground, then did a straight flight. This was his first experience in the monoplane.

Sunday being an ideal day for flying, the Blackburn was brought out early, and Lieut. Lawrence did a little practice in her, getting accustomed to the control, and putting in some good work. During the morning, Mr B.C. Hucks took the Blackburn in hand, and, rising very quickly in to the air, made several splendid circuits, but had to come down on account of the carburettor freezing, and alighted on a piece of land outside the aerodrome. After lunch, Mr Hucks flew back in to the aerodrome and di a very fine flight. He then took Mr Blackburn up as a passenger.

Next day Lieut. Lawrence did straight flights, making excellent progress with his new mount. The Collyer-England machine has been out with a Green engine, but is not tuned up to the satisfaction of her owner yet.

Tuesday was a very busy afternoon. Lieut. Lawrence getting the Blackburn out, and rising very quickly from the ground, covered three 5 mile circuits in splendid fashion, climbing to an altitude of 1,000 ft. He vol planed, and landed very easily. The Collyer-England was brought out, and some good work put in. Mr Chanter had his new monoplane out, but after doing several runs could not get the engine to work properly. The 25-h.p. Anzani-Bleriot was also brought out, but only did rolling practice, as the engine was not working satisfactorily.


The engine was the three-cylinder 35 h.p. Anzani. The Chanter Monoplane was used for training at Shoreham, Sussex, when the school was transferred there.

In what would prove to be a  tragic week for the aviation world, progress continued at Shoreham, with Flight Magazine:- 24-02-1912, relaying the events to its eager readers of the previous week:-

During the early part of last week most of the machines were in the sheds for various reasons. The C.E biplane was having her new tractor made and fitted, the Chanter monoplane undergoing sundry minor adjustments with a view to still further increasing her efficiency, while the Blackburn was in the final stages of repair after the mishap of the 3rd.

Wednesday saw the C.E biplane up, England and Dowland in turn at the control. She is much improved with her new tractor. On Friday, further flights were put in, but the last landing resulted in a buckled wheel, which rendered the machine hors de combat for the day.

Lieut. Lawrence was on the wing again on Saturday, the Blackburn being finished. A trial flight of 3 miles in the morning proved so satisfactory that a trip to Brighton was arranged for the afternoon. At about 3.45, Lieut. Lawrence left the ground and rapidly gained the height of 1,500 feet. When passing over the front at Brighton, handbills were thrown from the machine, to be eagerly caught up as they reached the ground, it being the first time this form of advertising has been tried in this district. The trip lasted 22 minutes, and was brought to a very successful close with a graceful vol plane.

One of early Shoreham aerodrome’s most colourful characters, Douglas Graham Gilmour, suffered a fatal accident while flying out of Brooklands Aerodrome on Saturday 17th Feb 1912. He was a hugely popular pioneer of aviation, whose untimely death was reported widely throughout the world to a greatly saddened public, but he was always prepared for such an eventuality, as following newspaper reports, and friend’s testimonies, will show.

Douglas Graham Gilmour, crashed and died 17th Feb 1912

Here is the report from The Yorkshire Evening Post, Tuesday, February 20, 1912:-

THE DEAD AVIATOR

GILMOUR’S ARRANGEMENTS FOR HIS FUNERAL

“NO MOANS OR TEARS”

ONLY COLOURED FLOWERS TO LIE ON HIS GRAVE

SEALED LETTER OPENED ON HIS DEATH

Mr Graham Gilmour, the daring young aviator who was killed on Saturday at Old Deer Park, Richmond, wrote a letter last May, and sealed it, giving instructions that it was not to be opened except in the case of his death.

This letter it appears, contained his wishes with regard to his funeral arrangements. It is requested that no bell is to be tolled, and that there is to be “no mourning and no moaning”

If any flowers were to be sent they were to be coloured ones; his body to be conveyed on a four wheeled farmers cart, or a motor lorry. He also wished to be buried with his mother and father at Mickleham Church.

Further on in the article it reads as follows:-

Evidence of identification was given by Mr Staples Firth, of Upper Tulse Hill. He said Mr Douglas Graham Gilmour would have been 27 years of age next month, and had been brought up as an engineer. He was also an aeronaut, and resided at Bookham, Surrey. He had been deceased’s solicitor, and also a personal friend for some years. When he saw him last Thursday he seemed in his usual condition, but perhaps was a little run down. He was very active and vigorous, added the witness, who paused, and then said in a low voice, “and a very courageous man”.

NOT FOOLHARDY OR RECKLESS

Answering questions, Mr Firth said deceased was an expert in flying, and was not foolhardy or reckless. He calculated all that he did in relation to his flying. Deceased told witness that it was his practice to make a minute inspection of his own machine before he went up. “He had no trouble?”, asked the Coroner. “No” Mr Firth replied. “He had everything in perfect order”.

Later that year it is revealed that Gilmour wrote his will out on headed paper of the Royal Albion Hotel, Brighton, one of Harry Preston’s hotels, while staying there around the time when he and Eric Cecil Gordon England flew from Shoreham to Hove lawns on the 21st May, 1911, nearly dunking in the sea after engine failure. Perhaps it was this incident which made Gilmour think about writing a will.

Nottingham Daily Express, Friday, May 24, 1912

“Graham Gilmour’s Will

The will has now been proved of Mr Douglas Graham Gilmour, the famous aviator, who was killed whilst flying over the Old Deer Park, Richmond, on February 17th last, at the age of 26 years. His will was made on a sheet of notepaper, with the Royal Albion Hotel (Brighton) heading, is dated May 25th, 1911, and reads as follows:-

“I leave everything to Mrs Marcia Milbank, and wish her to pay Mrs. Moor, of  80, Maida Vale, W., per cent. of the income until Mrs. Moor’s marriage or death. Trustees:- T. W. S. Pollok and Staples Firth.”

The will is witnessed by Mr. H. R. Preston, (Hugh Richard Preston), proprietor of the Royal Albion Hotel, Brighton, and Mr. H. J. Preston (Harry John Preston). As he named no executor of his will, letters of administration with the will annexed of his property have been granted to Marcia, wife of Robert Charles Milbank of Goose Hill, Martock, Somerset, by whom Mr Gilmour’s estate has been sworn for probate as of the gross value of £22. 10s”

As it ever was with the growing world of aviation, life went on, and Lieutenant Lawrence, as if to emphasise the ever present danger of aviation at the time, nearly comes to grief on a flight from Shoreham to Eastbourne, covered by Flight Magazine, 2nd March, 1912:-

Brighton-Shoreham Aerodrome

On Saturday last the flying conditions were ideal the greater the part of the day, and Lieut. Lawrence gave exhibition flights during the morning. The C.E biplane has been putting in good work and is proving a very manageable machine, she is extremely steady and answers readily to her controls; she would be an excellent ‘bus for school purposes. On Monday morning Lieut. Lawrence flew to Eastbourne on the Blackburn monoplane, covering the 32 miles in 26 minutes, there being a following wind which increased from 8 m.p.h when he left Shoreham, to about 30 m.p.h. by the time he landed. As he approached Eastbourne, at an altitude of 2,500 ft, his engine failed and he was forced to come down on the beach, and although several ballast trucks were right in the path of the forced vol plane he managed to elevate the machine sufficiently to clear them and so landed without damage. The fact that Lieut. Lawrence has only recently taken to the monoplane, this being but his seventh flight on this type, speaks volumes for the capabilities of this popular officer as well as for the efficiency of the machine, which, by the way, is the same B.C. Hucks used for his tour in the west of England and the Circuit of Great Britain.

It may well have been Lieut. Lawrence that was spotted by crowds on Brighton seafront on this occasion, as reported in the Brighton Gazette of Wednesday 21st Feb:-

“It was a curious coincidence that almost as soon as the sad news of the disaster to Mr. Graham Gilmour had spread among the crowds on the Sea Front, an aeroplane was discerned approaching from the direction of the Shoreham Aerodrome, and public attention was rivetted upon the movements of the aviator. He was advancing rapidly against a headwind, and was soon over the West Pier, proceeding eastwards about three hundred feet above the channel. It was apparently one of the new type of monoplane, tapering off into a kind of dolphin tail. It struck observers that the motion was wonderfully steady, and that the aviator had complete control over the machine. Off West Street, the pilot turned inland, and passing behind the Grand Hotel and the Hotel Metropole, once more made for the line of the shore, and sailed away at a terrific rate for Shoreham, soon being lost in the haze.”

Fire at Shoreham Aerodrome

Fire at Shoreham Aerodrome hangars, Feb 29th, 1912. Photo by F. Rowe

At the end of February, disaster befell Shoreham Aerodrome, and chiefly Chanter and Co flying school, while Lieut. Lawrence’s plane had a very lucky escape, reported in Flight Magazine of March 9th 1912:-

Brighton-Shoreham Aerodrome

Three aeroplanes have been lost as result of the disastrous fire which broke out in the sheds on February 29th. Some employees were saying goodbye after a Leap Year ball at the Town Hall on the early morning of February 29th when they observed flames in the direction of the aerodrome. Making their way thither they found a furious fire raging and involving three of the hangars. In order to keep the fire under control a fourth hangar was pulled down. The three aeroplanes destroyed were a Nieuport and two Bleriots belonging to Messrs Chanter and Co. which were housed in two of the sheds, while the third shed, which usually housed Lieut. Lawrence’s Blackburn machine, was empty. Damage is estimated at over £1000.

The Brighton Gazette also covered the story in their Saturday 2nd March edition, here is a part of their coverage:-

Big Fire at Shoreham Aerodrome

Meanwhile the Shoreham Fire Brigade arrived on the scene, and the work of isolating the flames, rescuing aeroplanes and other articles from the hangars yet intact, and getting the fire under was assiduously proceeded with. Chemical fire extinguishers were brought into action, and buckets of water poured on the buildings. It was touch and go as far as the fourth hangar was concerned, but by cutting down a portion, the fire was kept away from the remainder of the block.  The Brigade got the fire under by about four o’clock. Three aeroplanes were destroyed, including a Nieuport and two Bleriots. Two engines were also destroyed, while among other effects lost were the tools of the mechanics, which are of a somewhat valuable character. The three machines taken out of the other hangars included Mr England’s aeroplane and the Metzgar-Leno monoplane. Mr Wingfield and Mr Pettett (Manager of the Aerodrome) were also apprised of the occurrence and came over from Brighton.”

It would appear that all did not go smoothly with the rebuild of the destroyed hangars, resulting in the builder, John Joseph McManus of Brighton, taking the proprietors of the aerodrome to court:-

Brighton Gazette Saturday 18th May 1912

Shoreham Aerodrome

Brighton Builder’s Appeal

In the Court of Appeal on Tuesday before Lords Justices Vaughan Williams, Fletcher Moulton, and Farwell, the appeal was heard of Mc Manus v the Brighton-Shoreham Aerodrome, Ltd. And another, on the plaintiff’s appeal from an order by Mr. Justice Bucknill in chambers. The plaintiff, Mr. John Joseph McManus, a builder and contractor, of Brighton, sued the defendants, originally known as Aviators Finance, Limited, for work done and material supplied in connection with work at the aerodrome. The plaintiff had received £500 in cash, and £400 in debentures, and he claimed that there was now owing a balance of £1,069 15s 10d. The defendants pleaded that the work had not been done according to specifications, that it was not left in a stable and proper condition, and that the plaintiff had used inferior and cheaper material. They also stated that plaintiff had been guilty of breach of contract, but all these and other allegations the plaintiff denied.

The plaintiff made an application before Master Chitty that certain portions of the defence should be struck out, on the ground that they were unnecessary, and tended to prejudice the trial. The Master refused to do this, and plaintiff then appealed to Mr. Justice Bucknill in Chambers, who dismissed the appeal, upholding the order of the Master. Against this plaintiff now appealed. The Court dismissed the appeal with costs, the appellant to pay the costs in any event.

Maurice Chanter took out an advert to alert the world of aviation that despite their losses in the fire, his flying school would continue as before:-

Chanter Flying School advert

Shoreham continued to attract the stars of the air regardless, with Pierre Verrier coming down on his Maurice Farnham biplane, on which he managed a creditable 4th position in ‘The Aerial Derby’ held at Hendon on 8th June in front of 45,000 spectators despite pouring rain on the day, proving again that aviators really were the brightest stars of this era.

Northern Whig Monday 8th July 1912

M. Verrier, on a Maurice Farman biplane, and having as passenger his mechanic, left Hendon Aerodrome for Brighton at 4.15  yesterday afternoon. He reached the Shoreham Aerodrome, Brighton, a 5.35.

Pierre Verrier-aviator

 

A Shoreham Lady Aviator

Winnie Buller (Probably at Douai, France) 1912

In The Aeroplane magazine of 21st March 1912, a half page spread was devoted to lady aviator, Mrs Winifred Buller, whose husband, George Cecil Buller, was Managing Director of the Shoreham and Lancing Land Company. The article was entitled:- ‘A British Sportswoman‘ :-

A fine example of British sportsmanship is that of Mrs Buller, whose husband owns a number of popular bungalows at Shoreham. When the Comte de Montalent was over here with the Breguet, Mrs Buller made several flights with him, and was so taken with the machine that she resolved to learn to fly it. Consequently, as her husband had to make a long business tour abroad, Mrs Buller shut up her house, packed her two small sons and their nurse into her car and drove across France to Douai, where she has since been flying. Her apprenticeship was short, for in spite of bad weather she has only been learning seven weeks, and evidently might have taken her certificate some time ago, for last week she made a flight of 100 kilometres across country from Douai to Arras and back, including several detours off the direct route to explore the country. This is certainly the longest cross country flight ever made by a woman. Mrs Buller says that the pupils at Douai have such confidence in the stability of their machines when in the air, and in the way they are protected in case of a smash, that they go out in all sorts of weather. Soon after her big cross country flight, Mrs Buller herself flew in to the wash of the Comte de Montalent’s machine and came down with quite a nasty bump, but absolutely without damage to herself. She is a firm believer in the sense of sitting behind the engine and inside a proper protective body.

Winifred Buller went on to attain her flying certificate on the 3rd May 1912 while in France

Winnie Buller’s flying certificate

 

 

Brighton Gazette Saturday 24th August 1912

Shoreham to Southampton

M. Salmet’s Daring Flight

M. Salmet left the aerodrome at Shoreham on Wednesday night to fly to Southampton. It was a very daring deed, for the weather conditions were rough and boisterous, and the aviator obviously ran great risk in starting. He passed over Worthing at about 6.40, and caused considerable excitement, as it was seen that the machine was battling against a strong wind, and making an unsteady up and down course. It looked as though the aviator might descend to the west of Worthing, but the machine rose again. Later M. Salmet encountered quite a hurricane and a deluge of driving rain, and was forced to descend near Angmering. A great crowd of people who were waiting the aviators arrival at Southampton were disappointed. It was about seven o’clock when Salmet landed near Angmering, and naturally, in a quiet country village, the unexpected arrival created the greatest possible interest. M. Salmet said he was not afraid of the wind, but it was the rain that forced him to descend. The decent was made in a field to the north of Normanhurst, Rustington. M. Salmet resumed his journey by air to Southampton on Thursday morning, leaving at 5.30.

Henri Salmet outside a hangar at Hendon Aerodrome 1912

 

Robert Bertram Slack’s 500 mile tour of the south of England by Bleriot monoplane with Gnome engine. Following on from his hugely successful 1100 mile tour of Great Britain, starting at Hendon Aerodrome on the 15th June

Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser. Friday 21st June 1912

An Air Tour of Great Britain

The tour of Great Britain by a British Aviator, Mr. Robert Slack, who started from the Hendon Aerodrome on June 15th, is arousing very great interest not only among aviators, but also among the general public. The tour has been organised by the International Correspondence Schools, and is undertaken as a means of educating the public to an understanding of the vast strides that have been made in the science of aviation.

Robert Slack, aviator flying for the International Correspondence Schools

Daily Herald Saturday 31st August 1912

Southern Aeroplane Tour

Mr Robert Slack, the aviator who is on a 500 mile tour of the south, in connection with the International Correspondence Schools, arrived at Smitham Downs, between Purley and Coulsden, yesterday afternoon. Afterwards he continued his flight in the direction of Brighton. Slack reached the Shoreham Aerodrome, near Brighton, a distance of 40 miles, in 32 minutes. He was flying at an average height of about 4,000 feet.

Brighton Gazette Wednesday 4th September 1912

Aviator’s Visit

An aeroplane passing over the Brighton Front on Monday afternoon attracted much attention. It was a Bleriot monoplane, on which the I.C.S pilot, Mr. Slack, was making a flight from the Shoreham Aerodrome to the Race Hill. Starting at five o’clock, he rose to a height of 1,500 feet near Lancing College, and then made his way via Bungalow Town, and kept right along the seafront to Brighton. Nearing the Palace Pier, Mr. Slack came down to a lower elevation, and this gave the thousands of spectators along the promenade a better view of both the aviator and his machine.

After flying round the Pier he steered for Black Rock, and turning, headed for the grand stand on the race course, near where it had been arranged that he should alight. Planing down several hundred feet he found the position of the ground awkwardly situated for the descent, and, restarting his engine, he circled the hill several times to enable him to select the best direction for alighting under the difficult conditions. By careful judgement he eventually succeeded in descending. By this time a great crowd had assembled, including members of the Brighton Corporation, I.C.S students, the Brighton staff of the International Correspondence Schools, all shewing their appreciation of his performance in an enthusiastic manner.

During his stay of about 20 minutes, the people had an opportunity of viewing the machine, and meanwhile Mr. Slack was busily engaged with inquiries about his previous circuit of 1,150 miles of Great Britain, and he signed numerous autographs. Thanks to the able assistance of the police, Mr. Slack had no difficulty in mounting his machine and preparing for the return to the hangar at Shoreham. He left the Race Hill in fine style and steered in a north-westerly direction, which afforded an excellent view to the people in neighbouring places. Nearing Portslade he made for the sea, and kept to the coast. Turning in at Shoreham over the Norfolk Bridge, he descended gracefully near the hangar within the Aerodrome. The weather conditions during Mr. Slack’s flights were by no means favourable, gusty wind varying from 15 to 30 miles per hour, making aviation by no means easy, as was apparent from the way his machine swayed at times.

Flights at Shoreham

Mr. Robert Slack made two magnificent flights from the Shoreham Aerodrome on Saturday afternoon. After circling the aerodrome several times in a masterly manner, he headed for Worthing, and, working round via the Lancing Carriage Works at a height of about 1,000 feet, he then made for Shoreham again, changing his course easily, in spite of the strong rear wind, which had accelerated his travelling speed to about 85 miles per hour. Reaching the aerodrome he alighted amid the applause of a large number of I.C.S students, friends, and prominent local visitors. A second satisfactory flight was made shortly after, in the direction of Hove, returning by way of the Dyke, and before landing the I.C.S aviator gave a demonstration of vol-planing which delighted the spectators. Several students at this stage expressed an enthusiastic desire to accompany him on future occasions.

It is interesting to note that Mr. Slack will remain for some little time, and will carry out a varied programme from day to day, visiting most of the local centres of the I.C.S students, including Brighton, Worthing, Bognor, Eastbourne, Lewes, etc.

Flight Magazine note the arrival of Avro at Shoreham. 28th September 1912

“Avro School Goes South

The Avro School, which has hitherto been located at Brooklands, has secured new quarters at the Shoreham Aerodrome, near Brighton. They are going still further south as, following an order from the Portuguese Government, it is intended to found an Avro School in Portugal.”

West Sussex Gazette 24th October 1912

It is remarked in a journal dealing with aviation that the flying ground at Shoreham will probably be the scene of considerable activity this winter. Mr A.V. Roe, a well known aeroplane constructor, is moving his flying school there, and there has been some talk of utilising the river Adur, which flows at a distance of less than a hundred yards from the hangars, for conducting experiments with hydro-aeroplanes. Near one corner of the aerodrome, which is surrounded by a high fencing of corrugated iron, so that the frugally minded cannot remark what is taking place within, stands Old Shoreham Bridge. This very picturesque structure still survives.

Oscar Morison marries daughter of Bungalow Town residents, Howard and Annie Cleaver

Brighton Gazette  Wednesday 27th November 1912

FAMOUS AVIATOR WEDDED

Yesterday the wedding took place at St. Peter’s Church, Brighton, of Mr. Oscar C. Morison, the famous aviator, who was the first to fly to Brighton. His bride was Miss Marguerite Valerie Cleaver, of Shoreham and London. A great deal of local interest was evinced in the wedding, which was also attended by a large number of guests. After the ceremony, which was fully choral, the church being charmingly decorated with palms, variegated foliage and white chrysanthemums, a reception was held at the Royal Albion Hotel, where Mr. Morison made his residence during his flying expeditions here. Some 100 guests were received in a profusely decorated lounge.

Fellow aviator, James Valentine, was a witness to the marriage, and aviators friend, Harry Preston, entertained the guests at his Royal Albion Hotel afterwards. Also, Oscar’s new brother in law, Digby Cleaver, living at Bungalow Town with his parents, was the first Boy Scout to fly in an aeroplane. The Cleaver’s lived at Coronation bungalow while in Shoreham

Marriage certificate for O C Morison and Marguerite Cleaver. Fellow aviator James Valentine is one of the witnesses

VE Day Brighton

May 7, 2020

VE Day 8th May 1945

Over time I’ve taken notes of conversations with my Pa about his young life, some of which I’ve recorded. He was born in 1927, so as you can imagine he lived through some extraordinary times. With the anniversary of VE Day approaching, here is a snippet of his recollections, while in Brighton, on leave from training, to celebrate the long awaited Victory in Europe.

John Ramus- Squadron Scribe for HMS Vengeance, a Light Fleet Carrier. (Taken at Katakarunda, Ceylon)

Coming home:-

From Ceylon, I sailed home by R.A.F.A, H.M.S Eagle(?), to a west England port, possibly Portland. Back in England, we got the customs officer blotto, took a load of ‘Rabbits’ (contraband) ashore with us, I had a radio. They (the Customs Officers) must have dreaded us coming, we used to get them so drunk every time we came ashore on arrival back home. The ship birthed at Portland, and we were taken by lorries to Pompey barracks. While there, at Queens Hotel in Southsea, I was typing up 1st, 2nd, and 3rd rate ticket exam papers for Merchant navy boys navigation exams. I met up with the boys, Pat Dalton, and Johnny Phelps in Pompey. Johnny Phelps was the man for getting the beer vouchers, good snooker player and general schmoozer, six foot one, blonde, good looking lad with a great sense of humour.

Pa on board either HMS Ranee or HMS Vengeance. Circa 1944/5

 

While posted at Portsmouth, the V.E day celebrations occurred while on leave to Brighton. A number of us Navy boys made the trip by train from Pompey to Brighton station, straight in to the Imperial Arms, we worked our way down Queens Road in full uniform, picking up mates as we  went, determined to stop at every pub along the way, I took a left at the Clock Tower down in to North Street. No one would let me buy a drink, so by the time I reached St Peters Church, I’d had a few. I had my trumpet in a bag over my shoulder, and some people asked what was in the bag, when I told them, they demanded I play a tune. A policeman held up my music sheet, and I played for the crowd. After I’d played, perhaps noticing my condition, the bobby flagged down a cabbie and instructed him to get me home. He dropped me outside Boof and Auntie’s place at the top of Elm Grove, no charge,  Auntie came out and hauled me in”.

The following day:-

“I must have been all right, as I woke up in the morning and went down to the pub with Auntie. I’d long since made a solid decision never to try and out drink Auntie, that was a battle you’d be sure to lose, she could drink with the best of them”.

Pa on leave, with his brothers, Mike and Tim.

Remembering Ma

April 26, 2020

 

26-04-2020

It was this time last year I was in the ambulance with Ma, the heavily tattooed body builder paramedic doing his best to take my mind off the, doubtless to him, obvious outcome, as we bounced along the pothole riven A259 coast road to Worthing Hospital. I didn’t expect it was going to be a one way trip for Ma, that bombshell was going to be dropped on me later, albeit in a very caring and compassionate manner by a lovely lady doctor as I blubbed like a baby in front of her. The rest of the family made their way along to say their goodbyes, with Lizbet refusing to leave Ma’s side until she passed away two days later, Sunday 28th April.

One year on and what a different world we now live in, I wonder what daily hell that poor lady doctor is now having to deal with. She was in the emergency ward then, so I guess she’s front line now, and seeing things she never thought she would have to see in her lifetime.

For us, well we’re just concentrating on doing what we’re told, and making sure we keep Pa safe from infection. Shouldn’t be too hard, but then we are very lucky to live where we do. With this lockdown situation, we inevitably find ourselves trying to fill the hours, and plenty of time to think. Ma has been on my mind fairly well constantly this last year, but with the anniversary of that fateful day closing in I’ve been doing my best to remember as many of the stories she told me as I can. You see, there’s the thing, I always expected Ma to outlive Pa, she was 7 years younger for a start, and until 2015 when she had a transient ischemic attack (T.I.A), she had also been a fitter, more active person in her later years than Pa was. As such, I’d been trying to get as many of his stories down as possible before he shuffled off his mortal coil. If I’d known then that he had a better chance than Captain Scarlet I’d have spent more time getting Ma’s stories. As it is, I do have lots of memories of things she told me along the way, and just like Pa, she had plenty worth sharing.

Ma at centre. Left to right:- Jim, Peter, David, April. Circa 1935

 

Ma was the youngest of 5, daughter of a doctor, (Charles Courtney Bennett), Granddaughter of a Rear Admiral, (Frederick William Marshall), and her Ma, Granny Pip, would have fitted in as a fearsome Duchess in Downton Abbey just by being herself. It seems strange seeing old pictures of a much younger Pip holding Ma as a baby, and contrasting that image with the occasional raging battle axe we remember. In fairness, Pip did soften as we got older, and my overall memories of her are fond. When I made the front pages of the local Argus paper for kissing Duchess Lavinia of Norfolk in 1982, the headline was, ‘Kiss for a Duchess, just like his Gran’. I’d been chosen as the youngest apprentice at Watercraft, to give her a bunch of flowers after she presented our Chief of Sales, Tim Dunlop, with the Queens Award for Industry. Tim then arranged for the front page picture of me with the Duchess to be framed for Pip, and she kept it by her bedside at the care home she was staying at in Hove.

Granny Pip holding Ma, circa 1934/5

When war was on the horizon, Pip arranged for Ma and her sister, April, to be sent to Canada to stay with friends or relatives over there, until a passenger ship got torpedoed by the Germans, and the plug was pulled on that plan. Instead, Ma and April were enrolled at St Martha’s convent school in Rottingdean, where began their lifetime devotion to the catholic church. While April appears to have been a model pupil, Ma was clearly not. With her soon to become lifelong friend, Tisha, and two other girls, they were known as the 4 Toughs apparently, which still brings a smile to my face. She told me they were some of the happiest years of her life.

Ma, April, David, Peter, and Jim, (with Tisha between Ma and April) at St Martha’s circa 1938

As youngsters, Ma and April were assigned Guardians, in the shape of their eldest brothers, David, and Peter, with David having charge of April, Peter with Ma, or ‘Babe’, as they all called her. There was quite a difference in ages, with David born 1922,  Peter 1923,  April 1930, and Ma 1934. Ma recalled those years very fondly, and always said what great fun they all had as children together.

David, Peter, and Ma-2

When school days were done, and Ma was finding herself pursued by young men, Pip would hire detectives to find out if these ‘beaus’ were suitable or not. One boyfriend clearly did not live up to Pip’s expectations, and around 1953, to effect a split, Ma was shot off to Denmark to work as an au pair, where she lived and worked for over 2 years.

10. Ma n April circa 1955

Ma and April in Denmark. Circa 1955

Not long after her return, she and April started at Southlands Hospital in Shoreham, training as nurses. I know she has mentioned her time there, but I haven’t been able to find any notes, and my memory, sad to say, cannot recall. She did tell me of the family living at West House in Albourne, by the A23, and how she used to cycle to Burgess Hill to get straw for the rabbits they kept, or how she and April would think nothing of cycling to Arundel for the day, (a good 50/60 mile round trip), and having cream teas there. She also told me how they had to get the boiler going, which was quite a rigmarole, and the general rustic lifestyle they lived, hard but enjoyable.

Ma the farm girl

Ma the nurse. Circa 1956

 

 

When Ma and Pa first met, it was through April and Leslie’s friend, Jake, who they had invited over for tea. Pa was best mates with Jake, so came along. Ma told me that Pa was very rude about April’s rock cakes, commenting when she handed him the plate, “bloody hell”, and making like they weighed a ton to a startled April as the rest laughed. From there began a whirlwind courtship, and I must presume Pip gave her approval, as it was her that took the photo of Pa down on bended knee proposing to Ma at West House in Albourne. They had a Register office wedding at Brighton on the 23rd March, which they called their ‘Daffodil Wedding’, as all their friends nicked daff’s from the Royal Pavilion Gardens on their way for the occasion. They then had the wedding proper at St John the Baptist, in Kemp Town, on May 3rd 1958, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Ma n Pa’s Golden Wedding card

 

I wish so hard I had grilled Ma more about her young life, I wish she was still here, but also know she was already leaving us a little more with every passing day because of the dementia. They’re all gone now, David, Peter, Jim, April, and Babe, up there with Granny Pip, and Grandpa Co. Such a grand family they were, and although I’m not the least bit religious, but because you really were, I shall allow myself to say, God Bless you Ma, and all you lovely C.B’s. I miss you all, and especially you Ma, but you will live on forever in my heart.

Pa’s Birthday

April 18, 2020

Pa

18-04-2020

 

It’s day 25 of Lockdown UK, day 34 of social distancing for our household, but more importantly, yesterday was the 93rd birthday of our dearly beloved Pa. We’ve maintained some semblance of normality at home during these worrying times, and thankfully kept the virus away so far. Having a birthday to celebrate, and to have chalked up 93 years at that, is always normally a reason to give thanks, but in the current situation, even more so. There was no party, or at least not the sort we conventionally think of, but we did manage a Facebook/Skype type thingy with Pa’s last living sibling, his half brother, Ian, in Taunton, and Jill, his lovely wife. We had a good natter, and decided we need to get to grips with technology and organise something called Zoom for next time, so we can involve more people from around the family.

During that call, Jill asked if I had made a birthday cake, to which I sheepishly admitted I had not, but now felt I ought to. Having then discovered we lacked most of the necessary ingredients and tools, but determined to try anyway, I Googled to find out what I could make with what we do have. (I can’t even remember the last time I had made a cake, no excuse I know). The following fiasco of culinary disaster led to me whisking the egg mix using my cordless drill, much like a plasterer knocking up his mix, getting the order arse about face, so then cleaning out, changing tins, and eventually after a flour explosion all over the kitchen, finally having a dubious mix to pour in to the marge and flour lined baking tin. What else could go wrong? Well, having had the element in the oven recently changed, it appears our oven is now more like an industrial furnace, probably more use for firing porcelain. No prizes for guessing the outcome, a perfectly charcoaled cake shaped crust, with a barely edible interior. Me and Pa tackled the centre piece, which was the least cremated, enough to tell us if it had been in there for half the time it might have been ok. The rest went in the bin once it had cooled off enough to no longer be considered a fire hazard.

Dinners continue to be based on Monday’s main meal being made to last the week. Shepherds Pie this week, with the mix left being used to make spag bol, that was last nights effort. Pa asked me and Ant if we’d have a snifter with him that evening, so once we’d had our ritual House of Games at 6pm, we got the rum out ready for our next dose of The Last Kingdom on Netflix. Pa like to fill his own rum and shrub drink, and as usual, on the rare occasions he has  a drink, he’s making up for lost time, heavy on the rum. As it was his birthday he decided to have two, not something we would encourage on a regular basis, but he had two the other night, and slept soundly as a result, so me and Ant presumed the same would happen this time.

Pa is a bit wobbly at the best of times, and I saw him upstairs to make sure he got there ok, he seemed fine, and insisted he was ok, so I left him to it. About half an hour later I heard a thump, and legged it upstairs, Ant also with the same thought charging towards the stairs. We found Pa on his backside in his bedroom, and a little confused, dare I say, a wee bit Brahms and Liszt. With a bit of effort we got him up, and then he felt sick, so Ant grabbed the bathroom bin, which the old fossil promptly began filling with his recently digested spag bol. Bless him, as he apologised over and over, I said if you can’t get pissed and throw up on your 93rd birthday, then when can you. He wasn’t quite up to laughing at the idea then, but we did get him back to bed, and Ant said he was snoring loudly later on when he went past, and still in the morning.

Dear old Pa didn’t remember any of it, just wondered how his hand came to be swollen and bruised, he’d obviously broken his fall with it. It’s possible by the look of it that he may have broken something, but we won’t be going to hospital to find out at the moment. He had no hangover, and this morning enjoyed a nice cooked breakfast, so all is well. I thought I’d share this with you two, as giggles are probably in short supply at the moment, and this might put a smile on your boat.

28 Days Later

April 10, 2020

10-04-2020

On Friday March 13th I attended the funeral and wake of Danny Seales, a local legend of the waves, a father, son, and friend to countless many. A hugely popular person, incredibly talented surfer, windsurfer, and kite surfer, he was one of those people that makes you feel welcome and liked even if he’d never met you before, and his ever present smile could light up any room. Even that early we knew not to shake hands, and had known the week  before, we knew by instinct why it was so important from what we’d seen from China, elbow touching or knuckle bumping instead of the usual handshake, even if we did make light of it at the time. That day, for many at the wake, was probably the last time they set foot in a pub, certainly it was for me, and the last day I had an alcoholic drink. Now, 28 days later, our days are counted down by food supplies in the fridge, and the next foray out to the shops to stock up again, hoping to avoid crowds, and wondering what will or won’t be on the shelves. Perhaps the Lottery should add some Coronavirus prizes, like a Tesco home delivery slot, a months supply of toilet rolls, and boxes of hand sanitizers or soap.

Wash your hands, keep your distance, don’t touch your face, stay indoors, keep well, protect our NHS!

Despite being very lucky to be where we are, living by the sea and not in a densely populated area, I still occasionally wake up with night panics after a niggling cough, or eyes itching, and start playing through my mind where I might have let my guard down and picked up the virus, then start worrying even more about how that would affect Pa and Ant too, how would we deal with it? But it’s good to have that fear, hopefully it will keep me vigilant, and the panic soon passes, sometimes with the aid of a powerful pain killer to help me sleep.

Wash your hands, keep your distance, don’t touch your face, stay indoors, keep well, protect our NHS!

We’re a week away from Pa’s 93rd birthday on the 17th, and 2 ½ weeks away from the day that Ma died on the 28th last year, 2 days before my birthday, I long ago stopped celebrating my birthday, and never felt less like it than last year, so there will be mixed emotions this month. I’m happy we’ve been able to keep things as normal as possible for Pa, despite a few fractious moments as he sometimes either forgets, or refuses to acknowledge, the importance of certain measures needed to stay safe. We do our best to turn it round with humour if things get heated, or distraction also works, given that at his age you can change the subject and 30 seconds later he’s forgotten what the argument was about. Ant is discovering what an ecological disaster area Pa is, running a bath worth of water to rinse his cup out, or filling the kettle to the brim and turning it on just to then walk away and leave it, leaving lights on, things I’ve long been battling against with varying ploys. So now I have Pa bemoaning the fact that Ant races to get the cup out of his hands as he approaches the sink, and Ant telling me all about it as if I might not have noticed during all the years I’ve been living here. These are games I have long since become accustomed to, and now we have to add beating the old boy to the post and papers in the morning, to remove the front pages with the litter picker and put them to one side for a day. We read front pages a day late, it’s only local news after all, we’ve already seen and heard of the unfurling horror show via the radio and TV anyway. Among the stories, a rather unfair shot at footballers by politicians regarding a suggested pay cut, it’s funny how they suggest footballers take a pay cut (which helps no one but the clubs), but there’s no suggestion that investment bankers and hedge fund managers help in some way. The world bailed bankers out in 2008, now would be a good time to repay that debt.

Wash your hands, keep your distance, don’t touch your face, stay indoors, keep well, protect our NHS!

To keep ourselves busy, Ant has pretty much taken over the upkeep of the garden and drive, while this week I have mostly been making shoe shelves to house the multitude of footwear Ant brought with him, it’s like Imelda Marcos moved in! Liberating bits of ply or MDF from skips on my early morning dog walks has provided well for the various projects I’ve been undertaking, but my supply of fixings is rapidly being depleted. Hopefully what I have will do, and if not, then I’ll have to go really old school and think about making wooden dowels and using joiner shop skills. As time moves along we’ll try to keep busy to wile the time away, and hopefully the house should be a good deal better organised and tidy by the end of this lockdown.

Wash your hands, keep your distance, don’t touch your face, stay indoors, keep well, protect our NHS!

TV-wise, we’re getting used to Netflix, and have been watching on alternate days, The Last Kingdom, the main character being ‘Uthred of Bebbenburg’, during the time of King Alfred and the raiding Norsemen, better known as Vikings, a cracker of a series so far, and also Marco Polo, with Mongol warriors, ninja’s, and no shortage of blood, gore, and enough sex to keep them off the mainstream channels, both of which we watch after Richard Osman’s, ‘House of Games’. I only watch the news when I go to bed, and only an hours’ worth then, checking across all the news channels to get as wide a picture as possible. It may be depressing, but it’s important to know as much as possible about the science, and the medical side of things, especially when countering some of the childish nonsense being shared on some social media. I can’t explain better it than Jane Raison did with this gem:-

‘As someone with a Masters in disease control, you can only imagine the sheer hell on earth that Facebook is for me at the moment.

From Chantelle who has impressively made the leap from bath bomb retailer to consultant virologist in a matter of weeks and can tell you exactly why the government and their experts are wrong, to Bob who claims to have secret intel from a secret government group on the secret programme of secret treatment measures that the government are definitely bringing in at 3pm next Thursday, only it’s a secret, but he’s posting it on Facebook so he feels like 007, to Steve who thinks it’s all a load of bollocks and if he wants to wander round town he bloody well can cos he doesn’t feel sick and why the hell is ‘spoons shut cos his granddad didn’t fight the Nazis for him to be told to stay inside even if pornhub premium is now free for a week.

I have left the middle section out, but she finishes with this paragraph:-

‘I’ve not even told you about the time I got the lab induced yeast infection up my nose, the time I sedated myself with chloroform during an exam, or had an entire, fully operational water treatment plant stolen over night, but, suffice to say I have a little window into this mad world we’re all stuck in together now.
I am not your government. I am not your health department. I am not the girl who decides on your country’s global treatment programme. I’m not Scully, or indeed, Mulder.

So please don’t come at me bro, I’m not interested in arguing with you because you’ve read how eating 4 oranges a day will give you a shield of protection like you’ve just had a bowl of 1970s readybrek, or how you have a file of secret evidence as to why this has been made up by the Chinese/Trump/ phone companies or your dad. I’m just here to say STAY THE FUCK INSIDE.

Now, Judge Judy is on and I’ve just treated myself to a Freddo Frog, so have fun y’all and STAY INSIDE.’

On that note, I will leave you both to ponder what the rest of Jane’s post contained, I expect if you’re interested in actually reading it for yourself, you could probably just google the first couple of lines and find it, it’s both funny and informative.

Last night we were out in Havenside clapping for the healthcare workers, another great turn out in the neighbourhood. It isn’t much, but if they can see or hear it and know we care, then it’s something. I had Pa’s old wooden football rattle, the old boy opposite had an old metal dustbin lid, others whooped and whistled, and the majority clapped. It felt good to be a part of, now let’s all do our bit and stay indoors for them.

Take care, stay safe, keep well, and do whatever you can to not get this bloody virus, for the sake of all our healthcare workers, everywhere.