Monday, 13 February 2012

We leave one uncertainty for another

Volume 1-Chapter8-Part2

It is always a temptation to wonder what might have been, but such flights of fancy are not part of this narrative, and idle speculation achieves nothing. As a child I was not aware that the Second World War was fast approaching, and it would seem that many adults did not know it either. Understandably the public did not want a war, and so many tried to ignore the possibility, however, it would be safe to say that the army had no doubt about it. For some months before any declaration the armed forces set about preparing for the conflict that was certain to come, though there were financial restrictions, and limits on what they were allowed to do. The barracks began to grow like it had done before the First World War, and the number of recruits began to increase month by month. From a regular soldiers point of view the situation was ideal, the army was becoming a growth industry and this meant better prospects. Promotion in the peace time army was always slow, but now my father began to find that many obstacles to promotion were fast disappearing, and this improved climate may have been responsible for his next promotion which came rather more quickly than he had expected. It must have given him a sense of great satisfaction when he finally reached the highest non commissioned rank possible; he had qualified for Warrant Officer First Class, and this allowed him to become the RQMS (Regimental Quarter Master Sergeant.) for the 1st Battalion North Staffordshire Infantry Regiment.

The other top rank of equal standing is the more familiar RSM, (Regimental Sergeant Major.), who, most army types will tell you are the backbone of the battalion and the one that really runs the whole show. This is a point of view that those in the QM branch would hotly dispute, their opinion being the RSM might look after discipline, but it is the RQMS who runs the battalion.

All the signs of expansion were to be seen, and when my father moved up we reaped some of the benefits. For example we moved into the best of the new married quarters which had just been completed, and my father now only had a short walk to his office in the very large QM stores. Another point worth noting, relevant to our standard of living at this time, was that, although pay in the British Army was, and always had been, extremely poor. At the same time married ranks were always very well cared for, being provided with everything they needed: Rent free housing, food and clothing, even such services as medical and dental care, not to mention such things as coal, gas, and other essentials. The approach of war was improving conditions for us, and if it had continued to approach without actually arriving, a satisfactory life may have been ours eventually, but to imagine such a possibility was to deny reality. In spite of all the signs my parents made no plans to counter the effects that a declaration of war would bring.

The likelihood of war was not always in our minds, and naturally for a small boy such things went undetected. I became the proud owner of a smart new tricycle, and one of my pleasures was to ride up to the doors of my father’s stores and have a young man who was one of the store men oil the gears and other moving parts for me. It must have been both irritating and amusing for him when I kept returning at regular intervals to have this service repeated. It was during one of these frequent visits that I saw a large furniture van arrive, and I stayed to watch with great interest as an enormous load of army boots were unloaded. Had I been a little older I might have deduced that such an enormous quantity of boots indicated that something unusual was happening. My father would have been aware of the significance of such a delivery, but he was not about to tell me.

There must have been many signs all around me that would have shouted out that great changes were afoot, but they meant nothing to me. It was of no great significance to me when new weapons began to arrive, though like most young boys I was interested in all the paraphernalia of a military organisation. There were new guns appeared on the scene, including the latest Bofors quick firing anti-aircraft guns, and I watched the crews clean them and train with them by the hour. It is ironic to consider that though I had not commenced any formal education, I was already quite an expert on weaponry. An interest in firearms and marksmanship had remained part of my life ever since.



Me outside Block ‘C’ of the older married quarters; I had not been well since returning from India.

For over three years I had watched the army and I knew the routine of an infantry regiment, and when its methods of training began to change I was quick to notice. Young though I was I wondered where the Lewis guns had disappeared to, and when a new light machine-gun arrived on the scene I knew immediately that this was its replacement. I can recall watching with great attention as squads of soldiers sat around their instructors learning how to strip and assemble the new 'Bren Gun'. There would have been very few children of my age who would have known anything at all about this new weapon, let alone be able to strip and assemble it as I learned to do. On the other hand most other children my age had some degree of schooling, and at the very least knew their alphabet and the multiplication tables. For me reading and writing were to remain a mystery until well after the war had begun. I would imagine that most readers would find this hard to believe, never the less it is true. It is also true that in my innocence and my ignorance I was quite happy with my condition.

The period which I presently describe, was the later part of 1938 and the early months of 1939, and though I did not know it momentous events were taking shape. We like to think that we shape the course we follow, but when you consider the matter further, it has to be said that we are deceiving ourselves if we think so. Our lives seem to move inexorably along a path that appears predetermined; though one might debate this, there can be no argument when it comes to the dramas of nature. One such drama was the winter of 1938/1939; it was extreme, and the images I have of it remain with me still. It was as if Nature knew that great events were about to take place, and had decided not to be left out. The barracks was buried deep in snow, and it was impossible to leave the house; I spent many hours at the window of one of the bedrooms looking out on this amazing and magical scene.

The winter scene, which I viewed from this window, provided much for me to watch. It was quite a large window, and I had used it often to observe the world outside from a place of safety. The view was of a large expanse of ground which was surrounded by a number of buildings, which were barrack blocks, store houses and other such premises. Normally this vista was a rather grim one, the buildings being of deep red/brown brick and mostly darkened by age, but now it was transformed by masses of snow, all thick and fluffy and dazzling white. For a while the prospect remained still and silent, but even a winter such as this could not be allowed to interfere with the determined activities of the military, and it was not long before I beheld figures struggling through the snow. Eventually work parties appeared and started to dig avenues from one building to another, I can see it now, the tiny dark figures stark against the vivid white. Eventually one party commenced digging towards our quarters, and the main stores that stood nearby, and for most of one day I watched their slow progress as they approached. It was our good fortune that there were so many fit young men to provide these fatigue parties, that dug all day long for several days, often in snow which had blown into drifts that were chest high.

The winter scene that I describe will remain in my memory always, though many occasions when I sat at that window have long since vanished from my mind. As a rule it would appear that events only become sharply etched in ones recollection when they have something dramatic or even traumatic involved. Such an exciting occurrence took place only a few weeks after the winter scene I have already described. It was early in the spring of 1939 that I witnessed another drama of nature, an incident that is rare, but not unknown. I had taken my place in the window to watch a violent thunder storm, which was performing as such storms usually do, with flashes of lightening and loud claps of thunder, accompanied of course by an intense downpour of rain. I was enjoying this spectacular display of nature’s power, and the action was so close around me that it all seemed an entertainment performed for my exclusive benefit. How long it went on for I could not say, but it was quite a long time, and then there came a lull when the rain eased and the wind dropped, though it remained very gloomy and overcast.

Was I in the eye of the storm I wonder? I suppose it is quite possible, though at the time it was not a thought that occurred to me. Whatever the situation, I was about to see something not often seen, something that imprinted itself on my memory for ever. It was at this moment that a ball of bright light appeared out of the lowering clouds, it was brilliant, almost white, but it looked somehow cold rather than hot. I watched almost mesmerized as it dropped at a steep angle, but quite slowly towards me, I was convinced it was going to come right in through the window, and it certainly came very close to doing just that. In fact it appeared to hit the roof over my head, and there was quite a loud bang as it struck. When I recovered from the shock, I dashed down stairs to tell my mother about it, but it was clear she did not believe me. She had not heard the thump on the roof, and did not take me seriously, attributing the story to my well known and sometimes over active imagination. I never discovered whether the collision with our roof had caused any damage, but if there had been and my mother had subsequently had reason to change her mind about the incident, she never told me. This phenomenon that I had witnessed was, I am sure, what is described as ‘Ball Lightening’ or possibly a ’Thunderbolt’, but whatever it was, it had been dramatic and a very close encounter. Like many children I had a vivid imagination, and it is likely that due to my circumstances I often used it as a means of escaping from the regimented life we were leading. Never the less I assure the reader that on this occasion the incident was very real and is a memory I shall never forget.

The desire to live in a make believe world is not restricted to children, grownups and especially politicians are also prone to it. It seems amazing now to look back and remind ourselves that the Prime Minister at the time, Neville Chamberlain, continued to reject the notion that Hitler was prepared to go to war to achieve his objectives. Many could see it but it was Mr Chamberlain who had the responsibility and the authority, and it was his dream world which would affect the decisions he would make on our behalf. Had he joined my mother and me on one of the visits we made to a neighbour at the barracks, and if he had been prepared to listen, he would have been told in no uncertain manner what Herr Hitler was going to do. The neighbour in question was a German lady who had recently moved into married quarters, and when we went to welcome her, we found that she was an extremely self confident and outspoken individual. It was not very long before she was telling us that: “War is not very far away. Adolph Hitler is the greatest and most glorious leader Germany has ever had and it is only a question of time before he invades England. This country needs him; he will solve all the problems here. Hitler vill come, you can be sure of that."

It is hard to imagine now that at the time many did not believe there would be a war. Maybe it was simply that they just didn't want to believe it, after all the First World War had been such a horror, surely no one in their right mind would want that again. As far as our own enclosed community was concerned one had to take into account the naturally fatalistic attitude of the average soldier. The general philosophy being, ‘Mine is not to reason why’ the impression that the casual observer would have been given was that the young men that made up the military establishment had no idea, and no interest, in what a war would mean to them. Those that knew the British soldier more intimately would not have found this attitude surprising; over generations of tradition it has become embedded in the military mind that orders are to be obeyed, without question.

I doubt that my father had much idea how unsettled mother and I were, and when you think of how well his affairs were progressing, why should he allow such minor matters to get in the way. His view may have been, if all is well with me then it must automatically be well with my family; or perhaps if he could see a degree of unhappiness in us maybe he accepted that as normal? A sure indication of how he saw life at this time was demonstrated by his action in buying a car, which, at the time was a very bold step both socially and financially. Just imagine it, in a life style as transitory as ours, and with world events looking ever more threatening by the day, my father who could not drive, buys a motorcar.

One of the first things a young recruit will do, once he has settled into army life, is to signal his confidence and his progress, by returning to civilian dress as often as possible. I would say that to my father the purchase of a car was an even more clear demonstration that all was well in his world, and that he had confidence in the future. It is also possible that he saw it as an answer to the problems he was having with his marriage; he would be able to take his family to visit relatives, it would show them and us at the same time that we were a success and that all was well. There were no others at the barracks that had an automobile, and a nice little garage to put it in. My fathers’ colleagues must have been most impressed at the sight of him driving out of the main gate in his shiny new vehicle. This newly found mobility would solve another domestic problem, and that was my mother’s frequently voiced complaint that we were trapped in our restricted world, and unable to visit family and friends.

The new car was a black Morris of eight horsepower with a broad red flash along its sides, and though it only cost just over £100 it certainly put us into a special class; the roads were still largely unpopulated, with only the wealthy and business classes owning motorcars. This proved to be a good thing in one respect at least, it meant that traffic was sparse on the main roads, and on the country lanes, which we tended to use more often than not, and it was almost non-existent. My father was not a good driver; in fact he was totally bereft of any skill and obviously unsuited to the handling of a motor vehicle. He proved to be a considerable danger both to us and to everyone else on the roads, motorists and pedestrians alike. It is to be said in his favour, that unlike some, who insist that they are good drivers and that their troubles are caused by the ineptitude of others, he freely admitted that he was completely devoid of natural ability and skill. He even went as far as to admitting that he positively hated taking the car on the road.

Perhaps it would be going too far to say that the arrival of the war shortly after we got the car was instrumental in saving our lives, we shall never know. The war came and among the many changes it wrought was the loss of the car and the new garage we had so recently acquired. It goes without saying that there was a considerable financial loss involved in having to part with these things after so short a time, and it was hard to sell at a time when there appeared to be very little chance of making use of them.

I do not recall that we made many motorcar trips to our home town of Stoke-on-Trent perhaps that was because my mother’s parents had passed away several years before, or maybe my father fostered few happy memories of the place and insisted on heading in other directions. From what little I can remember, most of our outings were in the near locality, shopping for example at Lichfield and Tamworth, and then there were picnics and country outings, sampling the delights of Cannock Chase and other beauty spots in and around South Staffordshire.

On the other side of Cannock Chase, half way between Wolverhampton and Stafford was the lovely village called Penkridge, which also became a frequently visited destination for us, now that we had the convenience of a motorcar. My father’s half brother Albert who was also stationed at Whittington Barracks, had married one of my mother’s distant cousins, the daughter of a farm manager on a large estate near Penkridge. Naturally, it became a regular objective when we wished to venture abroad, or perhaps I should say risk a journey on the highroads and by-roads of the Midlands.

The activities of a child consist mostly of unimportant events, seen from an adult perspective. So it is possible that the reader might consider these childhood memories insignificant, and lacking in interest. But my mundane memories are part of the story and I am obliged to include them.

My mother’s cousin was named Elsie, and she lived with her parents in a small semi-detached house a short distance South of Penkridge, near a crossroads called Gaily. There was a number of these little houses all owned by the estate, and my great Uncle Tom lived in the end house which had a large expanse of farmland next to it. In the corner of the field right by the house was an enormous pear tree, and one of my fond memories was the sheer delight in being allowed to climb this tree and, when in season, eating as many of its deliciously sweet and juicy fruit as I could manage.

Another image which remains vividly imprinted in my memory is that of a deep dark pond in which I saw a large number of bright red and gold carp. Uncle Tom had taken me to the farm that he managed, and it was in front of the farm buildings that I discovered this pond with the strange colourful fish. Such are the memories that remain in the mind of a child.

Not all my recollections of Gaily are happy ones. I still recall vividly the distress and unhappiness I felt on one visit, when my father punished me for what seemed no reason. We were walking along the lane to the cottages, and my father was not in a good humour, though I had not been aware of it, until he punched me in the middle of my back. His reason for doing this he informed me was because I was slouching and had my hands in my pockets. My father often chastised me and punished me physically both before he left us to fight in the war, and afterwards when he returned six years later. Which is probably why I do not think of him with any great affection? As a child I feared him and respected him, but I cannot say that I loved him, but then, love comes in many forms. As I grew older I began to understand the importance of discipline, and as long as I remained convinced that beneath his harsh exterior he held some affection for me, and then I was prepared to accept his strict ways. I suppose that if I had ever come to the conclusion that he disliked me, then it is likely I might have responded in kind.

Of all the visits to Gaily, the one that remains the clearest to me was the one we made on the occasion of Uncle Albert’s marriage to Elsie. There were lots of guests and to me a most exciting atmosphere; and for some reason I remember best of all the happy jests and jocular conversation relating to the potency of Aunt Elsie’s trifle. The application of sherry during its making had been more than a little liberal, and the effects of this liberality undoubtedly contributed to the high spirits of those who had partaken. There was an abundance of beverages, but without doubt the trifle did more than its share in elevating the mood and general feeling of merriment of the party. Even the teetotallers were consuming this alcoholic dessert, and it‘s influence on them was all the greater.

Another pleasure at Uncle Albert’s wedding party was the music, and this was a particular pleasure for me as I had an ear and a natural affinity for it. - A year or two after this I began to play myself and music has remained a lifelong pleasure. - At this time, Albert was a band sergeant in my father’s battalion, and he could play most musical instruments very well indeed. Naturally, he was expected to entertain the guests, and this he did with a piano accordion, which to me sounded a wonderful instrument. All forms of music delighted me and continued to do so for the rest of my life, but at the time I was not aware of my natural aptitude. Albert’s skill so impressed me that I made up my mind there and then that one day I also would learn to play as he did; it never crossed my mind that I might not be able to do it.

It was on the return journey from our visit to Gaily for the wedding that Dad gave us our greatest fright in the car. It was a fine summers evening, and though the hour was getting late the light was still good, it had been a beautiful sunny day and the conditions for driving were perfect. We were cutting across country and about to debouch on to the main road that ran between Stafford and Lichfield, and at this point the car was careering down a hill following a country lane, which gathered itself at the bottom of the hill to hop over a small humped back bridge immediately at the junction with the main road. - The car did seem to career quite often when my father was driving, and at these times there was a distinct feeling that the little Morris was not entirely under control. - Realizing that we were going far too fast to take the little bridge in safety, Dad took a quick stab at the brake pedal. For some reason, maybe it was the twisting and turning of the car, he hit the accelerator instead. The car reacted like a kangaroo stung by a bee, and shot up the bridge and with a zoom became airborne, it flew through the air landing squarely in the middle of the main road. I am not sure what happened after that, probably because I ended up in a heap on the floor of the car; obviously we survived but it gave us all a fright. Once we had gathered ourselves together and resumed our journey there would have been time to contemplate just how lucky we had been. The main road had been clear of traffic and so there was no violent finale to this incident.

Needless to say our close call was never mentioned or talked about, though the balance of our journey was accomplished at a much more sedate pace. So much for: ‘the joys of the open road’ an expression that my father never used, quite understandably. There might have been some observers who on seeing the small figure of my father behind the wheel of his car, might have made some comparison with 'Toad of Toad Hall', but as I have already described, he had no love for driving or motor vehicles in any form, and any such comparison would have been a total misrepresentation.

Adventures and excitement, such as travelling in a motor vehicle with my father as driver, were few, and far between. I suppose my life must have been uneventful to a large degree. Casting my mind back I do not recall that I was aware of boredom, and I doubt that most children would identify and mentally record such an emotion; in fact the impression I get when thinking back to that time, is one of contentment and general acceptance of the conditions around me. This feeling was the dominant one though I am also conscious of having a vague fear and possibly even a dislike of my father. He was of course the disciplinarian in my life, a role which was possibly highlighted by the fact that my mother had a completely opposite character and personality.

The war, which was fast approaching, was to add some adventure and excitement to my life, though it was also to destroy the daily routine and the feeling of stability, which we presently had. In spite of the uncertainties of military life, at least it had a pattern, and for me, it would not have been unreasonable to have expected the future to have yielded some opportunities, and possibly a degree of education. At my age no such thoughts were ever in my consciousness. I was a normal healthy child with at least a modicum of natural talents, and with suitable guidance and opportunities, the future could have held much promise. Such thoughts may have occurred to adults, had they been interested, but it goes without saying at the age of six I was not capable of such profundity.

If I had possessed the wisdom and experience of an adult I suppose I might have given some thought to such things as the importance of education. As a child it was natural that I was not only ignorant of such things, but when the subject did appear on my horizon my reaction to it was one of complete distaste. The first time I became aware that there was such a thing as schooling, and organized learning, occurred in the last few weeks we were to spend at the barracks. I have referred earlier to the fact that a young woman was recruited to form a class, intended to control the growing number of children who had been running wild for so long. Under the supervision of this young lady we played games and had stories read to us, but I do not recall any actual tuition of any kind. "Sit quietly and be good and I will let you go home early." This is what I remember, though I have to confess that I have very few memories of this brief time in captivity. My recollections are of a fleeting and tenuous nature, though I do know that I had little confidence in the teacher. Like predatory animals, the children could sense a lack of strength in this young woman, and it was strong handling that we needed. We were used to our freedom, and it would be a long time before we accepted any form of school discipline. Our class was doomed to failure, and events were to change everything anyway; but at the time we did not know it.

Before authority trapped me, and then failed to protect me, I had at least been able to rely on my own wits, which had more often than not proved superior to those of my opponents. Now I had lost my freedom of action, and felt unable to defend myself, which was not a pleasant feeling. Of course, we all look at such things from a personal and individual point of view. Even as adults we find it difficult to consider a situation impartially, we rarely tell ourselves that the general behaviour of the pack is impersonal. Mob behaviour is frequently directed at one unfortunate individual, and in a school environment, there is no escape from it. I was not the only target of course, anyone who was younger or had a timid nature were fair game. Looking back, I can say that it was always this way with children. It was not just this time, this place, or this particular group. Until the young have learned to control their basic instincts, their worst traits are revealed with little restraint.

I dwell on this question because it played such a part in my life, not just at this moment, but also on a regular basis. My memory is full of incidents that highlight how children behave, and how such behaviour influenced our lives. One such incident remains in my memory and I can recall it in all its drama and vividness. In the group of maybe 30 or 40 children of ages varying from six to maybe nine or ten, there had been another boy of about my age. Maybe I remember him because he looked so much like me. He had blue eyes and blond hair, and being slender to the point of being delicate. Probably I also recall him because he was different, and differences make you a target. The boy was a Scot and wore a kilt, and this difference was without doubt the reason that he had come to the attention of the other children. He was a shy boy, maybe what you would describe as retiring, rather than shy. Such characteristics are apparent to others, especially the bullies and the predators among us, who seem to have a sixth sense when it comes to detecting their victims. Whatever the facts of the case, the result was that a group of the older children decided he would provide some amusing entertainment. During a play break, when the teacher was absent, they decided they would examine the dress of the Scots lad. The main point of interest was of course his kilt, and what he wore, or did not wear beneath it.

Some might say that such behaviour was just high spirits, a prank. Possibly, it started out in that way, but to me, and undoubtedly to the little Scots boy, there was nothing amusing about it at all. The attentions of the group soon became an assault that frightened their victim, who began to panic. He began to struggle and try to fight them off, and the more he resisted the more determined the group became to get their way. It was almost as though the slightest resistance acted as a trigger and the attackers seemed to lose all control. He was seized and born to the ground and when his kilt was lifted it was found that he had beneath some neat little skin coloured knickers. The reaction of course was much ribald humour, and much to the victims shame they were forcibly removed from him and held up for the entire world to see. One has to accept that even those who would not have stooped to such offensive behaviour seem to delight in the distress and embarrassment of the victim. Nearly all the other children gathered round, laughed, and made fun of the poor boy.

Standing apart and looking on I felt the distress of this boy, imagining how easily it could have been me. Knowing how he must have felt was upsetting, but what was even worse, was the realisation I could do nothing to help him. Should I have at least raised a protest? It is interesting to note that even at such a tender age I was already conditioned to feel I was being cowardly by my inaction. I had stood by unable to risk my own safety for the sake of another boy who was a stranger to me. I was already aware of a principal, though I had never heard the saying: ’All it needs for evil to succeed, is for good men to do nothing.’ It is also true to say that I also felt a strong sense of the injustice of it all, and that I did not like a system that forced one to remain in the company of individuals whose behaviour was unacceptable.

Though this first experience of being part of a group was supposed to be my introduction to the educational process, it was actually a false start. There was no teaching and thus no learning, unless one could consider that I had discovered something about social behaviour. Education and its place in my life was never a matter of any importance to me. Long after I had left the system that was supposed to educate me, I slowly became aware that I had missed something important. Little did I realize at this point in my story that I had a brief nine years ahead of me in which to qualify for a successful future.

Of the nine years available to me for learning, a further four years was to be wasted. I did spend a little time attending various schools, but the periods of attendance were so short that nothing was achieved, and as far as I can ascertain very little effort was made to teach me anything anyway. Though I voice a personal grievance in these words, I have to say that this was the fate of many other children, who faced similar circumstances. At the age of ten, I began to attend school on a regular basis, but by this time, it was too late to do me any good. You might say I had missed the train; the educational conveyor belt waited for no one. Other circumstances also conspired against me. The average run of the mill school was low grade, and the standard of tuition was abysmal. To make matters worse the Second World War came to disrupt our lives, and the school system seemed to fall apart.

A declaration of war must be one of the most dramatic events that one can experience in life; it is momentous for a nation never mind an individual. For the military, it is as important as life and death itself; war is the reason we have an army. Yet I have no recollection of any announcement that the Second World War had begun. For many, recollections of the outbreak of war involved that modern invention the wireless set. Maybe it was because we did not have such a thing that I am unable to recollect that dramatic moment. Over the radio, the Minister announced to the country, on that fateful Sunday the 3rd of September 1939 that we were now at war with Germany. For me nothing changed, my limited world went on as if nothing had happened; of course, my parents must have experienced the drama of this moment, but even for them nothing happened for some months.

Early in this account of my life, I mentioned what appears to be a time-honoured tradition for military men. That was the apparent determination to ensure the continuance of the family name by fathering a child before departing on active service. This happened far too regularly for it to be just a coincidence or accident. I do not know whether my mother was aware that she was pregnant before we left Whittington Barracks, but she was, and there is little doubt that it was planned.

The outbreak of war was a great event in everyone’s life, and it resulted in many important and extensive changes in many lives. For my father it was an opportunity; the army would grow rapidly, and his years of experience would now ensure his rapid promotion. Usually the army allows a non commissioned officer to aspire to a commissioned rank only on rare occasions. The opening of hostilities was one such opportunity, and the fact that he was one of the most senior NCOs in the army ensured that he would be offered a commission. Once events began to move it was not long before he was invited to apply for a commission. I knew nothing of this at the time of course, and was completely amazed, when he came on leave some months later, in the uniform of an officer.

When he appeared at our little council house a second lieutenant, complete with Sam Brown belt and holster, the neighbours must have been agog with the discovery. Imagine; they had the family of an officer and as such, a gentleman, living amongst them. They were not to know of course that he was still a quartermaster, and they would not have understood that his role was considerably expanded. His orders were now to create a new unit for the rapidly expanding army. It may be of passing interest to the reader to know that the regiment was to create a number of additional battalions. Dad told me at the time that to begin with the first new battalion would be designated as a pioneer battalion. Once formed it was to be sent to the South coast of England, and like most pioneer units spent much of its time digging trenches and preparing gun emplacements and other defensive positions.

Knowing that we would be moving from the sheltering, some might say smothering, embrace of life in an enclosed military establishment, my mother must have found it a great worry. Where were we to go? How would we manage? No longer would the army be looking after our needs, now we would be responsible for our own affairs. We must make our own decisions, and no longer be a part of an enormous organisation, which, suffocating though it might have been, had taken care of us. Our medical and dental care, the food we ate, even the roof over our heads, all had been provided by the army. I suppose we had a small amount of money saved, but army pay had been very meagre. We were now like a newly married family just starting out on the long slow process of providing a home for ourselves. Imagine the position my mother was in, she was about to lose her husband for an unspecified period. She had very few goods and chattels, and little money. Possibly the biggest problem of all was that she was pregnant. No longer did she have her parents to fall back on, what was she to do? For the first time in her life, she did not have someone to tell her what to do, but neither did she have her husband telling her what she could not do. What she had longed for was to return to her family, and having recently attended her sister’s wedding she turned to her for help.

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