I am told that I was born on the 19th September 1923 in Frimley, Surrey otherwise it might have been a few days earlier on the steps of the Staff College after a Ball. My father, Cyril was then posted to Catterick Camp. My brother, Bobby, sister Joan and I moved to Richmond, Yorkshire with my mother and nurse. Shortly afterwards, the second batta1ion South Wales Borderers was posted out to India. I can remember bits of the sea journey, climbing all over the boat to the worry of my mother and the 'gulligulli' man, Aden, playing tricks. When we arrived in Bangalore we had a large bungalow with tennis court and stables. I had my own servant to look after me as well as an 'ayah' (an Indian nurse) who threatened me if I misbehaved. I remember being given a donkey for a birthday present who always joined us for breakfast on the veranda for a banana. My father and Bobby would go hunting for jackal. They would also, with my mother, play tennis and golf, and I can remember being taken to a large fort when my father went shooting where I would collect the cartridge cases to play 'soldiers'. My 'boy' or servant had made me a tree house – my only complaint was that he did not supply it with running water!
In the summer, we went up in the hills to Simla. I can remember bits of the long journey, the crowded stations and trains and the heat. I have little memory of Simla except Joan and I got ringworm and had to wear skullcaps much to the distress of our parents. I still remember visiting the Taj Mahal and climbing one of the minarets with other visitors descending causing a scrum. One day back in Bangalore, I was placed in a box on wheels by my dear brother, harnessed to the donkey and set loose round the tennis court with predictable results! Also, I sat on the back of a bicycle and let my legs dangle between the frame and the spokes and damaged my ankle (75 years later I still have the scar).
After 3 years in India, we were obliged to move back to England. My father stayed on as Brigade Major to General Bannertine and his young daughter, Ruth, who many years later we met in Swanage and ran the Tilly Whim pub.
First, when we arrived in England, my mother found little or no help from my father's brothers who had sold his inheritance i.e. a Welsh cottage to pay for his own education at Blundells. This was the time of the Depression after the Wall Street Crash and the country was in bad way. Luckily, Aunt Trixie took pity on us and we stayed with her family in Ashford, Middx. This was not for long as we then all went to Malines in Belgium where Aunt Gladys had a large house and family. Uncle Leon was a successful brewer and he had 6 sons. Unfortunately, the eldest died of asphyxiation from fumes from the boiler. Joan stayed with our granny who lived in a flat around the comer in the main square. From time to time there would be the Flemish rallies, which we would watch from the window.
I enjoyed my time with the Janssen family: Peter was Joan's age, and I got on well with Raymond and Philip. It was time for us to be sent to school and Joan & I were sent to a convent. I don't recommend the experience. I knew no French, was used to a civilized life and good food. Luckily, at an early age of 6, one is able to forget the loneliness etc. except for the brief weekly visit from my sister with a bar of Côte d'Or chocolate. I suppose I have managed to eradicate most of my memories of my time in the convent. The inability to communicate with fellow pupils, slates to write on which I didn't understand, church two or three times a day, a bath once a week wearing my shirt for modesty, outside loos into pits and nuns, nuns, nuns!
Eventually after two years of misery, my mother brought us back to England to be reintroduced to my father. By now I had lost most of my English and I suppose I spoke some sort of guttural French, which my father didn't understand. During our stay in Belgium I never saw Bobby and I later heard that he had been sent to college in Bruges, tried to run away and kept there for the time we were in Belgium.
For a short time my father served for the SWB in Victoria Barracks, Southsea and I was sent to St. John's College as dayboy. I probably sat in the class, not understanding a single word. I might have met my future wife 18 years earlier if only I had roller-skated on the Common there as she was living about half a mile away.
The Regiment was moved to Catterick Camp and I got scarlet fever and went to hospital in Portsmouth only to find, when I woke up, that I was in a ward with a weird selection of mental cases. I was only about 8 years old at the time! Eventually, I was put on a train to London in the care of the guard where I was met by Aunt Trixie and then sent on in the guard's van to Richmond, Yorkshire – a long journey on a very hard seat.
We moved to a major's house in Hague Road with a maid and a batman for my father. We also acquired a spaniel, Chum, and my mother bought an old Austin Seven. I was sent to Richmond grammar school and have no recollection of my time there. I probably, once again, sat in the back of the class not actually understanding a word. However, my only memory was the singing of 'Jerusalem' at morning assembly.
I now gather from Joan that my father was to be posted to Hong Kong to join the regiment but decided that due to family commitments he would leave the army and become a secretary of the Territorial Association at Finsbury Barracks. We all moved to London to a top floor flat in Elgin Avenue. Bobby went to work for Charringtons Coal and Joan to a local school. I went to a small day prep school run by a retired Naval commander. By this time I started to understand English but I had a tutor once a week to try, poor chap, to help me to read 'Treasure Island' for half a crown an hour. Having moved from country to country and school to school, I can at last say that I met a friend, Dennis Welsh, at school. He and his twin sister, Priscilla, would spend many hours at our flat. I loved playing with my Meccano and started making crystal sets and buying earphones, wire and 'cats whiskers' from street markets in the Edgware Road.
Life changed when my mother's uncle Dick died in Gibraltar leaving her and her two sisters some money in his will. We moved to 18 Ladbroke Road, Notting Hill Gate, a nice terrace house with four bedrooms, long sitting room with a dining and kitchen in the semi-basement. I also had a shed in the yard, which was my pride & joy where I spent many happy hours knocking bits of wood together. I also had my first bicycle.
Having spent my early life in a convent with nuns I was sent to Ealing Priory School, part of Downside run by monks. What little I learnt was due to being beaten. Little did anyone realize in those days that although I could be quite practical, I found it difficult to read or write. No one in those days had heard of Dyslexia.
Bobby decided he wanted to join the RAF and after studying and taking the entrance exam he passed first into Cranwell. Joan was sent to Switzerland to a finishing school.
On the 8th May 1939, we received the tragic news that Bobby had been killed in a flying collision. This tragedy happened only days before he was due to receive the Sword of Honour at the passing out parade. As can be imagined, we were absolutely shattered and, as I learnt later, my father had a slight stroke as a result. However, after a short holiday, he returned to active service in the rank of Colonel due to the impending talk of War and became an AQMG to 52nd London Division.
During the summer holidays, we would go either to Eastbourne or, on two occasions before the War, to Brittany. On the second occasion we got back from St. Malo on a tramp steamer two days before War was declared. My father had not received orders to return to England due to a lost telegram.
When we arrived back in London we went around the shops looking for blackout material as we expected bombs to drop on London at any time. However, all was well but we decided to evacuate 'Chum' to kennels in Sussex. A few days later he was back, barking outside the house, somehow having walked many miles through London to find us. He stayed with us until he died on the steps of the War Office in 1944 at the ripe old age of 16, and I shed a tear when I heard the news while serving in Italy.
When War was declared, Joan was posted to the ATS and then shortly afterwards became a member of the WRAF. My parents then thought it would be a good idea if I learnt how to pass an exam for my future. They decided to send me to one of the most expensive 'crammers' in England at Glen Arun in Horsham with students mainly from Eton & Harrow who also hoped to pass the School Certificate. The teaching staff had studied in detail the past examination papers and as a result formed a pretty good idea of likely questions. While living in this large luxury house, which included a butler and maids, we were taught how to pass exams. This was at the time of the Battle of Britain and at the time all we were conscious of were the trails in the sky of dogfights.
One day, we received a call on the wireless by Anthony Eden to report to the police station to volunteer for the Local Defence Volunteers to protect the countryside. In time we were issued with armbands and later with battledress, which were either under or over-sized. I remember being on guard on Manning Heath Golf Course at four o'clock in the morning armed with a broomstick with a kitchen knife attached, waiting for German Paratroopers to land. We also made 'Molotov Cocktails' using bottles filled with petrol and oil with a short wick to light to throw at tanks if we could get near enough.
I returned to Ladbroke Road during the holidays, as it was a phoney war. I was however home when the first major air raid on the city and East End. My father took me to see the damage.
Somehow, I took the School Certificate and passed due to the help of my tutors. As I was too young still to join the Army (I was only 16) I got a job as a student apprentice with Fairy Aviation in Hayes, Middx. I was allotted a place at a workbench and given a file to work on bits of aluminium. I met some excellent craftsmen but, in spite of it being wartime, the morale was low, due to stoppages and strikes. However, they were building the 'Fairy Swordfish' which helped to sink the 'Bismarck' and the successful raid of Toranto Harbour in Italy. In spite of this, some of the workforce spent time making 'homers' i.e. bicycles, telescopes, model aeroplanes, which they managed to get through the guards at the gates. I decided this was not the life for me, and left.