I don’t know what the argument was about but my grandparents kept away from us and we stayed away from them. Uncle Frank and his family seemed to take my grandparents side and Mum, Val and I became isolated from their lives. It was strange for Val and I not to be able to go over to their huts and be spoilt with goodies like we used to. Of course, my beloved sidecar never came back but I used to watch Uncle Franks children being pulled around the track by Jim and Uncle Frank now that it had wheels. I never got in it again.
Mum tried to find new things to keep us occupied and I remember that she fitted me out one day with a complete cowboy outfit. I had long pants and she tucked the legs of these into my gumboots. She made a waistcoat to go over my ‘loggers’ shirt. She bought a cowboy hat and I had a six-gun in a holster strapped low around my waist. From somewhere she found a sheriff’s badge and she pinned it to my shirt front and pronounced me “Sheriff David, defender of law and order.” and I ‘rode’ off to make the world a safer place to live in. Those clothes became my cowboy suit and always had a special place in my chest of drawers for my range-riding days. .
Another diversion was the Saturday morning pictures. I started going at this time and I well recall my first visit. I caught the bus down to the Embassy cinema in Chesham, queued up, paid the sixpence to get in, found a seat amongst the noisy children, and settled down.
It was plain to see that the children were there to enjoy themselves and the management let them get on with it or were too nice to spoil their fun. I was amazed at the way the unruly mob behaved and sat there in disbelief at what I saw. I was used to going to the pictures and sitting very quietly in my seat without moving around and larking about, but I soon found that the Saturday morning pictures were very different. The children ran everywhere, climbed over the seats, had fights (there was plenty of bullying), yelled, and threw balls of paper and cartons at each other. Those with cycles were allowed to bring their cycle pumps in with them and they’d roll up a small ball of wet paper, stick it into the hole at the end of their pump and ‘shoot’ it out with a quick inward push of the pump handle. These little balls of paper would sting viciously as they hit the bare skin. Others not so fortunate as to have a cycle, would bring an elastic band and, using two fingers as a prong, would make a small catapult with which they’d fire pieces of folded paper at their enemies. During the show we’d have one eye on the screen and one eye out for flying missiles. I never did get used to all this kind of disrespectful larking around. Sometimes even the people who were running the show would have to shut down for a while until the noise had quietened a bit. The manager would go up on the stage and tell us that he’d send us home if we didn’t behave. The show would re-start and all would be quiet until the Three Stoogies or something to that nature would come on, then everyone would go mad again.
After the lights went out the show usually started with a cartoon and a great cheer would go up from the children as the familiar coloured rings would appear with Bugs Bunny or something similar in the middle. They used to show Roy Rogers, Superman, Flash Gordon, Hopalong Cassidy, Batman and Robin, and many other famous heroes of the day, and the children would cheer like mad when these heroes would come racing, at the last minute, to save the day. Apart from the cartoons, all the other films were in black and white. There was always an interesting documentary, and a serial so that we’d come back the next week to see if the hero got out of trouble or not, usually Batman and Robin.
After the show I’d come out into the day-light pretending I was the current hero of the day, riding Trigger (Roy Roger’s horse) down the steps of the cinema and along to the bus stop or running down the steps full of confidence and looking all ways in my search to take on all the crooks in Chesham. I well remember seeing a man In one of the documentaries step off a bus while it was still moving, and running along beside it until he’d regained his balance. I thought I’d try it on the way home and, as the bus was approaching the bus stop outside the camp, I stood on the back of the platform, then stepped off. That man must have been very clever for I fell flat on my face as I hit the gutter and skidded two or three metres through the dirty gravel and old cigarette ends. I’d jumped off far too early. The conductor came running back and told me off, and I knew he had every right, With sand and stones embedded in my bloody palms and knees I staggered home, a wiser lad.
I wasn’t a fanatic for the Saturday morning pictures and only went when there was nothing else to do. I didn’t really like the noise that the children made, I thought that it spoiled the show.
Early that summer Mum decided to go on holiday to Auntie Eun’s over the Isle of Wight. She arranged for Val and I to be looked after by Mrs. Dumbarton. Val and I were very happy about this as the Dumbarton children were our friends and we got on well with them. In return, Mum took Pauline, the second oldest Dumbarton girl, with her, off they went leaving Val and I to wallow in the friendship of this wonderful family.
The hut was very crowded in the evenings and mornings, but Mrs. Dumbarton seemed to take it all in her stride. Cherrie, Freda, and Joyce helped to make this period without Mum flash by. We all went on walks and picnics, we spent hours climbing trees, looking for newts and frogs, playing cowboys and Indians, hopscotch, skipping, and all the other things that young children used to do to amuse themselves.
One Saturday morning we hunted for miles collecting silver paper that Cherrie said we could sell to the Woman’s Voluntary Service shop in Chesham. As we collected, we made our way towards the W.V.S. shop, and finally reached it in the early afternoon. Sadly, the shop was shut. We waited a couple of hours then finally donated all the silver paper we’d collected into the letter box and went home.
At the end of their holiday Mum and Pauline returned home and things got back to normal.
The school put on a day trip for us, we would miss a whole day’s lessons and go somewhere good, I was very excited as usual. Mum packed my lunch and away l went. Arthur and Alf were both in my class at school so I’d share a great day out with my friends. The coaches were waiting outside the school and we piled aboard with the other children from our class. Happily we set off and were soon riding through the green countryside.
First we visited St. Albans. We went around the enormous abbey, and then did a tour of the Roman ruins at Verulamium nearby. I didn’t know much about Roman ruins but found them interesting in a limited sort of way. I recall the mosaic floors very well but that’s about all. We piled aboard the coaches and set off again. I thought we were going home and wondered why we’d been told not to eat our lunch yet.
It became clear when we arrived at Whipsnade Zoo. We had our lunch while the teachers told us something about this rambling zoo set out upon the high Dunstable Downs, then they took us around to show us the animals and tell us something about them. After going around London Zoo, I found this one very open. The animals like camels, bison, deer, etc. were out in open fields. It seemed a long walk to view each different type of animal. But, we enjoyed it and marched from field to field like a platoon of soldiers, with the teachers spread around us to ensure we behaved ourselves.
As the day wore on we found ourselves on the high edge of the downs and we could see for miles. There was a fenced off area down below us and we could see the gleaming white chalk of the downs where someone had cleared the grass and top-soil away. Although, from where we stood above, this area didn’t seem to have any shape, one of our teachers told us that the white patch was in the shape of a huge lion. He told us that this lion could be seen for miles by people down on the plain. I would remember this when I’d drive up north from Reading to Birmingham in my lorry years later, and see that lion, vivid white against the green of the downs.
All too soon that memorable day at ‘school’ ended and we arrived home with hopes of more school days like it.
In her efforts to keep Val and I occupied, Mum decided to enter us into the fancy-dress competition at the Chesham fete that year. She fitted Val out as a fairy princess, making all the clothes herself but, she couldn’t decide what to take me as. While shopping in Amersham a few days before the event and still wondering what I could go as that was different, she saw an enormous cardboard soap carton in amongst some shop rubbish and her problem was solved. She struggled home on the bus with the shopping and carton.
The day of the fete arrived and Mum dressed Val in her fairy princess costume and I must admit that I thought she looked very nice. Then it was my turn. With a brown stick of stage make-up, she covered my face, shoulders, arms, and hands, until the top half of my body wasn’t revealing a speck of white skin. Then she covered my legs in white tennis-shoe cleaner. I had an old black shirt on, a pair of white shorts, white socks, and white plimsolls. She cut the bottom out of the soap carton, put a hole in each side for my arms, and a hole in the top for my head. With straps holding the soap carton in place, I looked as if I had gone down into the carton all dirty, and was coming out the bottom of it all nice and clean. I went as ‘Mr. Tide’.
At the fete we paraded around in front of the judges with the other children. Then the judges called Mum over for a whispered conference. They said that they were very impressed with my costume and the idea, but couldn’t award me the first prize that it deserved as the costume was too much like an advertisement, they hoped Mum would understand. She did and I was disqualified. We didn’t miss out for Val won first prize anyway and Mum was happy. I received a small gift for my effort but was glad to get the carton off anyway.
Mr, and Mrs. Ridgeway were given a council house and they moved away. Francis had been too much of a bully and I’d gradually stopped playing with him. Their hut next door to ours was empty for a few days and then a new family moved in. Mick Jardine, the son of that family, was my age and we would be good friends for many years to come. His Mum was very good to us children, and his father was a bit of a hero to me as he’d served in submarines during the war. He still had his roll-neck jersey from his submariner days which he seemed to wear everywhere.
Mick was only a wisp of a lad when we were young and much shorter than myself, but, in his middle teens, he shot up and left me looking up at him. Mick, with Alf and myself would have many adventures, some of them too funny to believe as will eventually be recorded in this narrative.
A circus came to a field at the Nashleigh Arms in Chesham and Mum thought it would be nice if Val and I went. The weather was really miserable with heavy rain on the day that we were going, but Mum didn’t want us to miss out. With our bus fare and threepence each to get in, Val and I set off.
We arrived at the field and Val wanted her threepence so as she could buy her own ticket. Reluctantly, I gave it to her and we struggled through the thick mud, near the entrance to the tent, that had been caused by the rain and the many people that had already passed that way. We had our best clothes on and, in the deepest mud, Val slipped face-first into the mud. She’d lost her threepence but worse, she was covered from head to toe in the sticky, wet slime. “0h no?” I thought, “Here we go again.” This time I felt very sorry for her as I helped her up, and we hunted for the lost coin with me starting to get very dirty as well. She looked like Al Jolson with white eyes and teeth peeping through the mud on her face.
The circus people saw our predicament and helped us into a side tent where they cleaned us up as best they could then led us to a ring-side seat. I explained that Val had lost her money but they told us not to worry and to enjoy the show.
We enjoyed it alright. The show was simple as circus shows go these days, but we had a great time and the clowns made our sides ache with laughter. I recall that, for the finale, a group of horses stood up on their hind legs in a circle and fireworks went off all around them. It was a wonderful sight for us children and we cheered at the thrill of it all. I remember how happy we were as we made our way through the thick smoke, caused by the fireworks, and out into the wet night to catch our bus home.
Mick was a good sport and the following weekend he decided to show me where he used to live, if I could get him to Chesham Broadway. Well, I knew how to get to the Broadway so we set off. But Mick used to live miles the other side of Chesham and we walked all day until, with blistered feet and tired legs, we finally arrived. We were all in and I knew that I couldn’t walk all that way back. I had visions of having to sleep out again, Mum being cross and myself being banned from leaving the garden once more. I’d been very good lately and stayed out of trouble in that respect.
Fortunately, Mick’s Auntie lived a couple of doors away from his old house and, seeing him standing there from her window, she called us over. She gave us a meal and her husband decided to take us back to the camp on his old motor cycle and sidecar. Mick was lucky and had the pillion seat, while I rode in the sidecar. We chugged back all those miles with Mick and I exchanging secret looks at each other and going into fits of laughter.
Mum didn’t know that I was with Mick, and Mick’s father didn’t know that Mick was with me. Not being able to turn to Uncle Frank this time, Mum had called the police. When Mick’s father called the police a while later, it was supposed that we were together. The police must have groaned when they heard my name again.
The policemen were still at Mick’s hut when we arrived there with his Uncle. Nobody could believe that we’d walked that distance in so short a time. I still don’t know where it was, but I do remember the bad blisters, aching legs, hot sun, and the thirst. Mick’s father wasn’t very happy and told us in a stern voice what would happen if we did it again. I for one, decided not to go off with Mick after that lecture.
Harvest time came once again. As the farmer from Chesham drove up the lane, us children gathered together, raced through the gap in the fence and up to the field. There were about eight children eager to help and soon we were setting the sheaves up into stooks as the farmer cut them. I used to like watching the paddles on the cutter roll over and push the long stands of hay (or whatever it was each year) into the cutting blades, then see the sheaf spat out of the side onto the ground. As the sun went down, the farmer thanked us and drove away. Covered in bits of straw, itching, and with sore eyes from rubbing bits of hay out of them, we happily walked home. We all took pride in ‘our’ field of corn stooks, keeping it tidy and replacing any fallen sheaves.
A few weeks later the farmer was back with his big trailer in tow behind the tractor. Most of us children dashed up to ‘our’ field with offers to help again. I was looking forward to helping up on the trailer as I had done the year before. We had a wonderful time with the farmer and his mates, and then ‘our’ field was empty and they were gone for another year.
A couple of weeks later I became very ill. I’d had the usual children's ailments but nothing that made me feel like this. Mum put me straight to bed and called Doctor Howell. He examined me and, suspecting pneumonia, had me whisked away to the hospital at Old Amersham where I was put into a small single bed ward. I was sick and couldn’t stand to look at any light. The nurse pulled down the blinds for me and I covered my head with the bed-clothes.
It was discovered that I had meningitis, not pneumonia.
A short time later I was taken to another room where the staff gave me a lumbar puncture. I was laid on my stomach and a needle was put into my spine, to draw out excess fluid, I believe. There was a lot of pain in my back while they were doing this, but I felt so ill that I was past caring. Then I was put back into the single room feeling very sorry for myself. The nurse gave me a tablet, I buried my head under the clothes again and everything went black.
Once more I had a lumbar puncture. Gradually I began to feel better as the days passed and the Amersham Hospital staff worked on me.
I remember Nurse Armstrong. She was young, very pretty, and I came to idolise her. She had such a gentle voice and was always smiling. She became ‘my nurse’. One day, when I was feeling a lot better, Nurse Armstrong told me that I was being move into the big ward with the other children. She and another nurse loaded all my gear onto the bed around me, then they gave me a ride, out of the door, up the passage, and into the ward. There was a spare bed-space half way down on the right, I was wheeled into it, and soon settled down. In the bed on my left was a young lad called Michael Hall, and he and I soon became good friends. Michael and I were soon larking about and generally getting into ‘trouble’ with the nurses. Nurse Armstrong used to pretend to tick us off but, because she was so good to us, she could get us to do anything for her.
One afternoon, when there was another nurse on duty, I was wheeled out into the passage on my own because Michael and I couldn’t get to sleep. She turned to me as she was about to walk away and said “If you were my kid, I’d thrash you”. (I don’t know why people always wanted to thrash me!) This upset me so much that I burst into tears. A little while later, Nurse Armstrong came by, saw me there all red-faced and tearful in the passage, and wheeled me back into the ward where I quickly fell asleep feeling more secure at being able to see her sitting at the desk, rather than the ‘dragon’ nurse.
Only parents were allowed into the ward at visiting times. Mum used to come and visit me regular but, she’d always bring Val and a couple of my friends to stand outside the window and wave. Mrs. Hall used to bring a little something for me, and Mum used to bring a little something for Michael. The pair of us were spoilt by everyone.
Michael and I were sitting up in bed one evening, and chatting to a group of children that had gathered around for a general get-together, when a young boy was wheeled in with a broken leg. It had already been plastered up and must have been very painful for the lad was screaming in agony. Nurse Armstrong was there helping him to get settled, but even she couldn’t help him bear the pain of that leg. I hoped that I would never break a leg if it was that bad. Except for when he was asleep (probably with a sedative) he groaned, screamed, and cried, keeping everyone else awake well into the night.
One day the doctor came in and told me that I was going on holiday. With a sudden burst of excitement and happiness, I turned to Michael, we had shared everything over the last few weeks and I wanted to share my joy with him now. But Michael looked very upset and I suddenly realised that we were to be parted, me to go on holiday, and Michael, presumably, to be left in the hospital. As I recall it now, it was as if I was going out into ‘the brilliant whiteness’ of a wonderful holiday, while Michael was staying in ‘the yellow’ of the ward.
Perhaps, at this point, I should briefly explain what I mean by ‘the brilliant whiteness’ and ‘the yellow’. I don’t know if this happens to other people but, all through my life I’ve had experiences that, as I’ve looked back, have taken on a particular colour. For instance; as I took off on my very young adventures, everything was so bright (I was happy). Then, as soon as I realised that I was overdue, everything would become yellow (I was happy in an apprehensive sort of way). When I think of such things as being thrashed by Mr. Kissman, being caned by Mr. Laverty, or being tossed into the storm-drain by bullies, I think of a grey colour (it happened but I took it in my stride and was happy otherwise). Years later, at the break-up of my first marriage, I would go through a very ‘black’ period (the first time that I would experience a ‘black’ colour (depression?) in my normally ‘bright’ life). To me, even at that time, my stay in the big ward at Amersham hospital was a ‘yellow’ colour, and the thought of a holiday was a very bright and exciting thing to look forward to. As it turned out, that ‘holiday’ (convalescence) would be very bright but, an illness would give me a ‘grey’ period to remember.
But, back to the story and Michael’s sad-looking face. The doctor then turned to him and said that he was not to fret at losing me, his friend, as he would be going as well. We couldn’t believe our ears and laughed and giggled at the thought of spending a holiday together after being stuck in the ward all that time.
Finally, the great day came. Mum arrived early in the morning with my case packed full of clothes and Mrs. Hall turned up shortly after with Michael’s case. They dressed us both and we walked out of the ward saying goodbye to dear Nurse Armstrong, the other nurses (even the old ‘dragon’), the doctor, and the children we were leaving behind.
It was a cold, foggy morning, that early winters day, as we at last left the hospital and climbed into the back of an ambulance with our Mums. We headed through the cold fog up into London with the four of us, plus the driver, singing ‘0h? I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside’ at the top of our voices, until we reached the Houses of Parliament. We could see people on the streets looking in surprise at the ambulance, which is normally associated with accidents, the sick, and the dying, going past them with happy singing blaring out from inside. They couldn’t see the two ecstatic boys through the darkened windows, but we could see out. We said goodbye to the friendly ambulance driver outside the Houses of parliament and went into a room just around the corner from ‘Big Ben’.
This room was crowded with children and their Mums. Some, like Michael and I, were just going on convalescence, while some were just coming home. Those who had already been were quietly confident and all of them had a toothbrush sticking out of the top of one sock. To Michael and I this was the badge of experience and we decided to make sure that we did the same when we came home. Those ‘experienced’ lads had probably decided the same when they were waiting to go. Finally, Michael and I said goodbye to our Mums and boarded the coach with a lot of other children.
The fog had now cleared and the sun was shining. There were some nurses to look after us on the coach and they pointed out the sights as we passed. I remember that we passed over the River Medway and the nurses pointed out the flying boats that once flew around the world. It was very exciting to see them as I had never seen one before.
Towards evening, we went along a seafront and stopped outside a large building. This was the St. Anne’s Convalescence Home and we were in Herne Bay, Kent. We were led into a room after waving goodbye to the coach and all the other children, who must have been going somewhere else, and given tea. A plump little lady, I think she was the cook, fussed around us and I was soon in trouble because I wouldn’t eat salad spread sandwiches or boiled fish. Something told me that I wouldn’t get on at this place very well.
But I did get on well and came to enjoy my stay there, and the kind people who looked after us.
That first night we were each put under the care of a bigger boy who had been there for a while and, I got a very nice boy also called David. David showed me to my bed-space in a large dormitory and helped me to put my clothes on the correct shelves in my cupboard. He led me to the showers and soon I was washing off the dust from the days travelling. I think that was the first shower that I ever had, we always had baths. We were allowed to sit in a large play-hall for half an hour after our shower and do things like puzzles, reading, playing dominoes, etc. David and I chatted about various things that first night. Then we cleaned our teeth and went to bed. It wasn’t long before I was fast asleep.
Suddenly, I was awakened by a blow to my head and a lot of banging and shuffling noises mixed with delighted giggles and suppressed laughter. The ‘oldies’ were attacking us ‘newies’ with pillows. I could see a beam of light being let into the dark room where a lad was keeping his eyes on the stairs in case someone heard the noise and came up to investigate. Soon the battle was on and I joined in with great gusto, quickly going under a pile of pillows and bodies.
Then those bodies took off in all directions, somebody was coming up the stairs. I ran to my bed, dived in and pulled the covers up around my head, panting like mad. As I peeped over the sheet, I could see someone standing in the lighted doorway. I started to giggle and rammed the corner of my pillow into my mouth. Then I thought that I could hear one of the other lads giggling, this caused me to giggle more, I was unable to stop myself and tears ran down my face. I buried my head under the clothes to shut out the scene and hide the sound of the other boy that was laughing. When I finally peeped out again, the door was shut and the boys were whispering to each other happily. My uncontrollable desire to laugh had passed and I soon fell asleep again.
The next morning, David showed me how to make my bed with proper ‘hospital corners’ and keep my bed-space clean and polished. We had our breakfasts and, of all things, went off to school. Michael and I thought that we were going to have a holiday. “Some holiday.” we complained.
Meanwhile, Val had been sent to St. Leonard’s on convalescence for six months for some reason.
School was great at Herne Bay and I really enjoyed going. It was a fairly modern school and there didn’t seem to be any pressure from the teachers. It was a far cry from the ‘Victorian’ style school that I’d been used to.
After school, we’d go back to the convalescent home, have tea and play games or amuse ourselves in the play-hall. The man in charge of us (I cannot remember his name) was a good sport and knew many great games to play. After a shower, supper and another half hours play we’d brush our teeth and go to bed.
Getting into bed became a ritual in itself after the first few nights. We’d soon learn to strip our beds before getting into them for the tricks played on the ‘newies’ were many, and left me helpless with laughter.
The second night we were in the dormitory, I hopped into bed to find that my feet would only go down a little way under the clothes before they hit the sheet and would go no further. I couldn’t work it out and kept trying, much to the amusement of the ‘oldies’. This was happening to all the ‘newies’ and was our introduction to the ‘apple-pie’ bed where the sheet was folded half-way down the bed and arranged to look normal. 0n the third night there was a lump of damp sea-weed in each bed and the yells of horror from us ‘newies’ had the ‘oldies’ rolling helplessly on the floor. Then there was the frog under the pillow and the mad scramble to recapture them all in the faint light from outside. Then the sprig of holly at the bottom of the bed waiting for unsuspecting bare feet. Then a few beds were left balancing on legs and collapsed when the boys hopped into them. This got a few ‘oldies’ into trouble. They got into trouble again when they tied us onto our beds while we were sleeping and we couldn’t get up in the morning. We all had a lecture on being trapped like that in the event of a fire. One morning I awoke to find my bed had changed places with another bed over the other side of the room. I had slept through all the movement. Another night, I was just dozing off when the bed-clothes were suddenly whipped away, leaving me exposed to the cold. I got up and pulled them back on, only to have it happen again five minutes later. I pulled them back up and watched in the feeble light that shone through the windows from outside. The clothes whipped back but there was nobody there as I had expected there to be. My hair stood on end and I yelled with fear and that made the ‘oldies’ laugh. They showed me how they’d tied string to the corners of my sheet at the top, and were pulling the clothes down With this string from the other side of the room. As I’d pull the clothes back up, they’d let the string go loose.
We used to play ‘He’ and a form of sack-race in that dormitory at nights as well as blanket-tossing where a boy was placed on a blanket and ‘tossed’ into the air by his mates, who were holding on to the edges. Yes, nights were fun and full of surprises.
At weekends and through the Christmas holidays we’d go for wonderful walks. It was early winter when we first arrived and we were not allowed to go swimming in the sea due to the cold weather. We’d stand on the cobble-stone beach and watch the ships going by. We could often see people on another beach across the sea, someone said they were on a beach in France and we all used to look across there in wonder. Years later I’d realise that we were only looking across the Thames Estuary at people on beaches near Southend in the opposite direction to France. We’d go through the town and out into the country, kicking up the autumn leaves when the person in charge wasn’t looking. All the fine days were spent out walking and the wet and snowy days were spent in the play-hall. .
Mum sent some money and goodies in parcels when she could afford it. David would read her letters to me and we’d share each others parcels between us two and Michael and his minder. The money would be saved until each Saturday morning when we’d all go and spend an hour in a corner shop that I remember, was an Alladin’s cave of cheap toys.
My ninth birthday arrived and all the boys sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to me. There was a parcel from Mum, one from Mrs. Puttifoot at my Sunday school, and one from Nan, Granddad, and Jim. I recall being very surprised at receiving a parcel from my grandparents and Jim as I hadn’t heard from them for so long. As I opened the parcels up in front of the boys, they cheered at the wonder of the contents. A small party was arranged at tea time and everyone had a piece of birthday cake, compliments of the cook. Then, that evening, the cook, who I thought I’d have trouble with on the first night, took me down to the big kitchen and gave me a bowl of cold custard, it was delicious. I began to realise what a kind, loving person she was. Happily, I settled down to sleep and was soon in the ‘land of nod’.
A few days later, I was ill again. They put me into a small ward all on my own and I missed my new mates as they were not allowed to visit me. I was also missing out on all the preparations for Christmas. For some reason I couldn’t sleep and spent hours watching the ‘Odeon’ sign above the cinema across the road, flashing red in the darkness. Early in the morning, a big star would make its way across the sky in front of my window and I’d watch it in wonder. I thought it was the Christmas star. With the help of the doctor and nurse, parcels from home, and a few secret goodies from the lovable little plump cook, I soon recovered and was able to rejoin my friends just in time to help decorate the play-hall and tea-room.
I had a wonderful Christmas a St. Anne’s in Herne Bay, with lots of fun and games, many parcels, and plenty of goodies. We sang carols, including some new ones that I’d learned, and all of us had a piece of an enormous Christmas cake that the cook had baked and iced for us. The whole staff did us proud.
All the time that I was at St. Anne’s I never saw any children told off. The boys were very well behaved and the staff were extremely kind and unselfish. None of them raised their voice once and they were always polite and understanding. They tolerated our pranks and us boys seemed to know when to stop before we went too far. We, in turn, came to respect the staff and their efforts to make our stay a time we’d never forget. There was a feeling of true friendship in that building between the staff and the boys and I happily wallowed in that friendship. I know that I will never forget my wonderful stay with those people.
New years day, 1952, passed by without any celebrations and, on the sixth of January, I was told that I was to go home the next day. Much to our disappointment Michael was staying on at Herne Bay for some reason, we had expected to go back home in triumph together. David was also staying on at the home. I would miss them both. The cook helped me to pack that night and I was sad as I’d enjoyed myself so much there. At the same time though, I was very excited to be going home again.
The next morning, I said goodbye to all my friends, thanked the staff of St. Anne’s, had time to notice that the lovable cook was crying, then was hustled aboard the waiting coach. I waved all down the road as the coach drove away and the little cook, Michael, and David were still there, waving as they went out of sight. They had all been very kind to me and I would miss them, but, apart from Michael and David, I was to miss the little cook the most, she was a dear.
The coach already had a few other children aboard but I can’t recall where they came from. I noticed that most of them had a toothbrush in the top of a sock. Mine had been in my sock since just after breakfast and I thought back to the day that Michael and I had resolved to make sure that we would wear that ‘badge of experience’. I had wondered, at the time, if I’d ever get around to coming home with all that confidence and experience, but the time had flashed by and I felt very contented that day. At the same time, I felt a loss that Michael wasn’t there to share this bit of glory with me. I never saw him again.
Once more we crossed the Medway and could see the flying boats. I recall idly wondering if my Mum would have remembered that I was coming home that day. We went up into south London, crossed over Westminster Bridge, turned left and stopped outside the same room in the Houses of Parliament that I’d started from.
The first face I saw, in the small crowd of people waiting there, was my Nan’s.
The Amersham Historical Museum has a Beech Barn Camp section (including Hodgemoor, Piper’s Wood and the other temporary housing camps) on their so wonderful and interesting website. Please, if you have any stories or photographs that you feel could be added for the interest of future generations, don't be afraid to get in touch with the good folk of the museum who are making every effort to ensure that as much as possible is recorded. Click here if you would like to visit the website.
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