"What I can recall of her life, I wouldn't wish on anybody," said my dad, Christopher, of his mother, Lucy Cater.
She had been "shamed on all sides," thrown out of her home, and told to never darken their door again, when she became pregnant. She had no where else to go but to a Salvation Army home for unwed mothers and when her time to give birth came, she bore a baby boy in Dudley Road Hospital in Birmingham.
He never knew her, or saw her, for the first 5 years. His grandparents brought him up in the slums of Hockley, in Birmingham. The conditions were appalling. One memory he had was of his grandmother, Mary, an Irish woman whose maiden name was Royle, sticking her finger in a can of sweetened condensed milk for him to suck on.
The place was alive with fleas. It was a terraced house and there was a cellar and an attic in which he loved to play with wheels and pedals and bits of machinery.
The toilets were down the road; public toilets with one cold tap.
There was also a communal laundry room, with a boiler and a mangle (wringer) and dolly tub, which was a tub with a wooden dolly, to swirl and agitate the clothing. After the washing it was the thing to have a bath in there. It was very primitive, but the community feeling was great and everyone "mucked in together" and helped one another.
Everything was very crude and poverty stricken and they really didn't know where the next meal was coming from.
Lucy, in disgrace, worked in a sanatorium as a cook. It was cheap labour, but she had no choice.
It was there that she met and married the elderly, widowed gardener, named Leonard Parkes, whose family Bible I still have. His first wife's name was also Lucy. In the Bible, his birthdate is recorded as 1849, so when Christopher was born in 1921, he would have been 73. I believe that Lucy was 17--a difference of 56 years. The photo at the top left of the page, is Lucy, and on the back is written, "Parkes," so I believe that it was taken after she married Leonard Parkes.
After he died, she had to move from the house she shared with him, and once again she was on her own and destitute.
It was at this point that the boy was sent to live with the mother he did not know. His aunt Agnes (in the photo, with Lucy,) took him to Wassall Grove, a mile and a half outside the village of Hagley, where he and Lucy lived in a cottage on Haywood's Farm.
They lived in abject poverty with Lucy working for the rector for half a crown a week and eating whatever they could get. Sometimes it was rhubarb stew on a slice of bread.
Lucy was a member of the Salvation Army then, and she would play old revivalist records. I have her old Sankey hymn book, given to her, "On April 18th 1918, by a friend," it says inside the cover. That was 3 years before my dad was born. She used to frighten her boy with the story of Daniel in the Lion's den.
Later they moved to a schoolhouse and she married Peter Thornburgh, a brutal man who knocked her about and knocked her little boy about too.
Dad always wished he could have met his father and asked him questions, but Lucy refused to her dying day to tell him who he was. Although she named him Christopher Leslie, she always called him Leslie, a name he hated. Later on he learned that she had worked before his birth, for a jeweller in the jewellry quarter of Birmingham, named Leslie Holland, and his aunt Agnes said that he was his father. This was never confirmed.
Although his stepfather wasn't a loveable man, he was the nearest thing he had to a father, and he asked him numerous questions, especially when he found out that he had fought in the 1914-18 war. But some of the things he told him, he wished he hadn't, for they didn't reflect well on him if he actually did do them.
Eventually Lucy had three more children: Frank, Sidney and Patricia and still lived in the schoolhouse with Peter Thornburgh many years later when Christopher began a family of his own.