At the Festival of Britain in 1951
Belinda at about 6 months old--1950
Mum and Dad started out their life together, apart. Dad was stationed at the Guards Barracks in Caterham, near Croydon, Surrey. Mum continued to work at Farnborough Hospital in Kent and then boarded in a cottage in the small village of Woldingham in Surrey, while waiting for rooms in married quarters to open up.
Although they were married in November 1948 and had gone together to on a trip to Holland so that he could meet Mum's family, they were still living separately when I was born on at midnight between May 31st and June 1st 1950. I wrote the dramatic story of that night in a post entitled Birth Story
Mum was alone at the cottage when she went into labour, and she gave birth alone at the hospital in Redhill, Surrey as Dad did not know she had gone to the hospital. Sometime between June 1st 1950 and February 1952 when Dad left the regiment, though, Mum and I moved into the barracks.
I have memories of Caterham barracks: the sound of the reveille; the bugle call, in the morning, and the bellicose voice of the sergeant major, harshly calling commands to the troops on the parade ground. And the barracks in the photograph on the link above, feel so familiar to me. I have one more memory from that time, of a cook in a tent. I was only 21 months old when Dad was discharged from the army in February 1952.
Dad's commanding officer noted that his military conduct was "exemplary," and his assessment of his character was : A thoroughly conscientious and hardworking man, who has done consistently well throughout his service. Clean, honest, and sober.
Dad left the army with painful shrapnel wounds in his legs and his hearing was damaged by the sound of blasts and gunfire. He also took with him certain habits. The polishing of shoes was an art. With brush and cloth in hand and a can of polish he would bring a leather shoe to a brilliant shine. Spit was an essential part of perfecting the glossy luster. In fact, someone recently told me that when their son joined the army he went to Dad (he would have been in his 70's then) to learn how to polish a shoe properly. Dad told the young recruit that the polish had to be Cherry Blossom--no other would do, and I can imagine him showing him how to take care with the details--the arch beneath the shoe where no one sees, and the part where the leather upper meets the sole.
When in later years Dad worked as a commissionaire and wore a uniform with brass buttons, I remember him using a flat strip of plastic with openings for the buttons, and that slid beneath them to protect the cloth of the jacket, and polishing these to a bright shine. He always took pride in these things as well as good posture and manners.
There were strains showing in Mum and Dad's relationship. When I cried, which I did a lot to begin with, he thought she should just let me cry. Her instinct was to comfort and she felt torn and conflicted when he was impatient with her for following her heart. He was drinking regularly. Partly this was a cultural norm in England and the army, but also a growing physical dependancy. Maybe it dulled the pain of the distant past and the more recent trauma of the battlefield. It certainly helped him feel more at ease with people, but it was also to exact a heavy price.
Still, with Dad's discharge from the army in 1952, a new life was about to begin in the civilian world. The small family moved to another isolated cottage on the outskirts of the village of Romsley in Worcestershire. It was not too far from Hagley, where Dad had grown up and he found work on Lord Cobham's estate as a woodsman in the Clent Hills.
Mum was lonely, homesick and missing her family, whom she had not seen for 3 years. They took in a lodger to help with expenses, but still, there was not much money. From that time in 1952, I remember the song Wonderful Copenhagen by Danny Kaye playing on the radio. Something about the tune captures the poignancy of those years in Romsley. And in July of 1952 another baby was on the way.