Jack submitted his recollections growing up on the Mile Cross estate and describes how it affected his life. The period covered extends from about 1927 or 1928 to 1950 with a gap between 1942 and 1947 for Army service.
I have been asked to try to remember my experience of growing up on the Mile Cross estate and if possible to describe how it has affected my life. It is not an easy task for several reasons, the most important being that I can have no idea of who will read what I write, if indeed anyone does. One thing is certain, any readers I may have will be younger than me and many much younger than my grandchildren, so before I deal with personal memories I think I must try to explain how very different those years were from the present century. The period I shall cover extended from about 1927 or 1928 to 1950 with a gap between 1942 and 1947 when I was away in the Army. When I try to think how distant those years must seem to a young person today I think back 80 years from my first days at school and realise that at that time I had no conception of life in early Victorian England with few railways, a restricted electorate and not even hopes of a Welfare State and a Health Service. Later writers like Charles Dickens described those days but as a five year old I had no acquaintance with such literature.
So if a twenty first century boy or girl could go back to the days of my childhood what would surprise him or her most? Obviously no computers or TV, few radios or cars, but I believe something much more fundamental would make the biggest impression, namely the place of our country in the world. The American colonies had been lost in 1792 but the nineteenth century witnessed the rapid expansion of the British empire until it became the biggest ever seen. This was the “workshop of the world” and the Royal Navy ruled the oceans. Every school classroom had maps on the walls with Great Britain in the centre and with one third coloured pink to show us all just how vast was the empire on which the sun never sets. Most adults did not realise how the First World War had made us poorer and diminished our status but I know how proud we all were to be British. Those I knew were not racialist and certainly did not hate foreigners, but we were sorry for them not having our good fortune to be born as subjects of the monarch, in my case George the Fifth.
I have mentioned the 1914 to 1918 war which seemed to be referred to in every conversation we overheard and I used to wonder why my parents and others kept going on about ancient history. In truth about ten years earlier. Not much more than half as long as from the Falklands War to today and to me that seems very recent. They had a much better excuse which can be understood by looking at a war memorial in any village. Try to imagine the place without obviously new houses and think how small it was in 1914 and how all those names on the memorial must have meant tragedy to almost every family who lived there. Not until my mother died did I find out that her pacifism must have stemmed from the death of her only brother, my only true uncle if he had lived, on Armistice Day November 11th 1918. I have dealt with this at length not because I intend to write about wars but because it so profoundly affected the world in which I grew up. Virtually all Primary and Infant teachers were unmarried ladies whose boy friends had perished in the trenches and the streets were full of wounded and blinded survivors. That made a big impression on me and I am sure others felt the same.
So when do I start to write about Mile Cross? Soon I promise you. Both my parents were from Bradford in West Yorkshire and my Dad, who was born in 1880, had served in the Boer War after which he lived for eight years in the United States and went to all the states then in the Union. Alaska and Hawaii were not yet in. When he married my mother they went to Manchester and three children were born. W died before I arrived and although I have seen photographs of R standing by my high chair, and I know he survived to come to Norwich late in 1924, I cannot remember him. My birth was in February 1924 and we came to lodgings in Doman Road later that year. Fairly soon we moved to a non-parlour house on Rye Avenue, Mile Cross and I do remember my little sister Dto whom I was clearly attached. I must have been four when I was taken seriously ill with whooping cough but it was D who caught it from me and died. Mother had four children and only I survived long enough to go to school. Life was like that and the reduction of infant mortality is in my opinion the most important improvement in my life time.
Nowadays the local press seems to describe Mile Cross much as a resident of New York would have described the Wild West in the days of Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid. I doubt if it is true now and it certainly was not like that when I lived there. One small point. My definition of Mile Cross is of a smaller area than that in vogue today. The area between the Mile Cross school and the river we called the Drayton Estate and the roads either side of Woodcock Road which my friends and I called the Klondike were only being built in the thirties. So roughly speaking I lived in the area between Aylsham Road, Boundary Road, Mile Cross Road, and Kirkpatrick Road. The city were proud of the new estate which had been built under the Post War acts passed to provide “homes for heroes to live in”. The old development along the Aylsham Road more or less ended near Upper Hellesdon Post Office and Junction Road. Then the semi-country began with the second milestone from the city centre and the old St Catherine’s Church marking the beginning of this geometrically shaped new development with tree lined avenues and at the end of Suckling Avenue attractive gardens, in one which my Dad played bowls after he retired in 1945. It was law abiding, so safe that my mother only took me to school once, that first morning in 1929, and even during the wartime blackout I never heard of a girl being attacked or of any serious vandalism or crime.
I must not paint too rosy a picture. It was not a prosperous place, particularly after the Wall Street Crash of 1929 led to the economic depression which lasted from 1931 until the late thirties. My father was not unemployed but many of my friends were less fortunate and both fathers and their older children were unemployed or working “short time”. Our main industry was making shoes and the father of one of my closest friends eked out a sort of living for his large family by repairing all our shoes and boots. Another local man had looked after horses which were being replaced by lorries and vans, and he never worked again but did his gardening in his old cavalry uniform. Paid holidays were rare and, if at all, usually for only one week a year probably spent at Yarmouth, Lowestoft or Cromer. Death was not uncommon, the great scourge being consumption (tuberculosis) although one little girl in my class died of diphtheria. An interesting digression. We moved from Rye Avenue to a three bedroomed house with a parlour in about 1930 and near neighbours suffered from consumption. “B” was two years older than me and we played football and cricket together. In 1939 he joined the Royal Norfolks as did another friend called R, or more usually “S” H. He was as powerful as B was apparently weak but both went to France, came out via Dunkirk and were sent to the Far East to be captured at Singapore. Powerful, full of fun and a popular entertainer, S died in the camp. B somehow survived and worked at Mann Egerton’s on Prince of Wales’ Road when my girlfriend, who I married in 1950, was the Works Manager’s secretary. I wonder what odds a bookmaker would have given against B and not S coming home.
As I have tried to emphasise the shortage of money, we did not miss the absence of garages, although it is now a serious problem. I only knew of one car owner, Police Inspector P whose back garden fronted onto Bolingbroke Road, which enabled him to have a garage built. I was not jealous but happy and took it for granted that I would never own a car. Buses ran from the Boundary, and later from termini up Reepham and Cromer Roads to Duke Street. A service was added which went up Botolph Street, Magdalen Street, Tombland and on to Thorpe Station which was also the bus station. Much of the city was still served by trams which all ran from Orford Place. I have to smile when enthusiasts far too young to remember them advocate their return to our narrow roads. Falling from one’s bike when a wheel went into one of the tracks or being held up when the overhead trolley which picked up the current came off the wires resulted in much joy when they were scrapped. (Please do not write to tell me how much better trams are now; I was director of a large undertaking for four years and am familiar with Brussels etc. but to be successful they need their own reserved roads and have none of the flexibility of buses.)
I have not even got to school yet, have I, apart from mentioning that first morning in Mile Cross Infants. All new estates have young families and a lot of children so in both Infants and Primary Schools, built on one level on either side of the hall we had classes of 50 children with no teaching assistants. I loved all my schools and well remember the “babies class”. Round the walls the phonetic alphabet was illustrated with a picture and both upper and lower case letters. I am sure the first three pictures were of an apple, a ball and a cat, but what did they show with the letter X? All the teachers were ladies and they were kind motherly friends to little ones, some of whom did not really want to leave their mothers and siblings. The head mistress was a gentle soul who always wore silver grey clothes, spoke softly and lived in a bungalow called Windy Ridge, just about the last house up Reepham Road. We left that school when we were seven and I am sure we could all read quite well and do a few sums. Now we are going to the big school. Actually not much bigger but some of the pupils were, great big eleven year olds and we now had a headmaster, Mr S, and also a Mr R who was in charge of the higher stream in the penultimate year. Mr R also took us for PT which was performed on the asphalt playground, but my most abiding memory is of being almost mesmerised by his reading of “Abou Ben Adam”. The poem goes on to say “may his tribe increase” and the reading did more to rid us of any religious or racial prejudice than any political speech I have ever heard.
Now for the tricky bit, and I must be careful. It was a different time and life was harder but none of the teachers were sadists and I am sure they cared for us. Mile Cross was not Dotheboys Hall or the school my mother had attended in the first decade of the century where a Mr X caned all the little boys and girls every Monday morning to remind them that he could, and severely if they made mistakes. All this to children under twelve years old. I have a good friend whose two daughters are both teachers and mothers. They tell their mother than when a child is crying perhaps after a fall, their instinct is pick up and cuddle the pupil but they dare not. That seems to me to be as perverse as Mr X of Bradford and perhaps Mr S and his assistants got it about right. We knew the rules, first offence a telling off, next time detention to write a hundred lines and if repeated a visit to Mr S for a caning on the hands. Boys only, I think the girls did behave better and the lesson we boys learned was that girls are not hit. The teacher who never hit us but sent us regularly to Mr S was a Miss T and I really do believe that if my adult career was reasonably successful it is to her and the head that I should be grateful. Somehow or other they Educated me. I was taken out of Mr R’s class just before the eleven plus, took the exam around my tenth birthday and passed for the CNS which I still think of as a Grammar School. So apart from the discipline, what else was different in the period I have been describing? A belief in competition which boys in particular appreciate. Like houses at the CNS we were divided into four groups named red, blue, green and yellow. Each week points were awarded every day in all subjects and activities and on Friday afternoon the captain of the winning team was allowed to wear crossed sashes for the next week. I was captain of yellow and was very proud of the badge of honour my boy and girl team mates had won. I have a photograph of me wearing them outside my house. I hope I am not overdoing the poverty line but by comparison with my wife’s primary school, Avenue Road, we were a very working class area and we had to work hard for the limited number of places at the Grammar Schools. The day we moved up Mr S told us we would work hard, this was a good school and was going to be a better one. I think he achieved his ambition and I for one thank him.
We were only at school for five days a week and had quite long holidays, so what did we do the rest of the time? This is where I think those who grew up in Mile Cross were fortunate. Boundary Road really was the boundary between town and country. After Overbury Road was cut through to link Boundary Road and Reepham Road there were just four bungalows between the new road and what was then Boundary Park and is now the home of B&Q. I knew young persons in three of those properties and in two the families were related. Boundary Park will be remembered mostly for the Greyhound Racing track and kennels but rugby and soccer were at various times played there and when Norwich City were planning their move from The Nest on Rosary Road the Park was a serious contender for their new home. The measures taken to deal with the worldwide depression had resulted in a major campaign to support Empire produce. New Zealand lamb, Canadian wheat, West Indian sugar all competed with home grown alternatives and our agriculture had a hard time until the Second World War. Most of the land was left unploughed and children had a huge natural playground. Beyond Boundary Park there were just fields and woods all the way to Drayton Road and we played cricket and football on the flat stretches near the road and at the top of slope beside the fence of the stadium. The woods in particular gave us our first taste of tree climbing and adventure games while we were still too young to cycle further. Up the Reepham and Cromer Roads the situation was similar and between the two was a sort of mini-Mousehold and room for splendid cricket matches which over about four years saw “test matches” between B.T.s eleven and my team.
Readers may be thinking that this sort of al fresco sport is all very well but Mile Cross had no real park with playground equipment. That is true, even Slough Bottom, which is now called a park was only a series of pitches where later I played some football and a lot of cricket. The nearest swings were in Wensum Park until in about 1935 Waterloo Park was opened. Modern parents might not like seven or eight year olds going so far away but we walked further in those days and a few older brothers and sisters looked after the little ones. I can assure any doubters that we had plenty of opportunities for healthy exercise and we had a series of good summers.
I lived in the district until 1950 so I was not a child all the time and as the poverty lessened most of us had some pocket money which we could spend on pleasure. A business man called V.H. had converted the Samson and Hercules House in Tombland to provide a swimming pool in the summer and a dance hall in winter. He decided to develop on the Aylsham Road beyond and opposite our library. The Lido was a smaller version of the Samson and when war brought hundreds of lonely servicemen to the district both became popular dance halls throughout the year. The Lido became the Norwood Rooms and later I believe Mecca used it for Bingo but I was not here then and may be wrong. Mile Cross school sent Primary children to the Lido to learn to swim but my accelerated progress meant that I only went a few times. Some complained that the chlorine in the water hurt their eyes and damaged costumes but most appreciated the warm water after the freezing cold fenced-off river they had previously used at Wensum Park.
There was a more exciting V.H. enterprise next to the Lido. The Capitol Cinema much closer to home than the Odeon in Botolph Street even if smaller and less luxurious. Programmes changed twice a week and there were usually two films, a Newsreel and perhaps a short comedy. I well remember the first film was “Tarzan of the Apes” starring the Olympic swimmer Johnny Weismuller and three days later “Hells Angels” about aerial battles in the First World War. I must have been treated to both, mind you it was cheap. A few rows at the front cost adults 7 pence and children only 4 pence (one new penny equals 2.4 of our old pennies). In my teens a friend and I used to meet two of the local girls there on Saturday evenings and have a walk as far as the Blackberry Woods about a mile past Middleton’s Lane on the Reepham Road. Happy memories of good people and a fine local asset, now long gone.
In an earlier paragraph I mentioned that at the ripe old age of ten I was going to attend the CNS which entailed a bus ride to Duke Street and a tram from Orford Place to Eaton Road. After two terms my parents must have worked out that a cheap bicycle would soon pay for itself and a whole new world opened up. With other boys from Mile Cross I went to the coast for the first time by cycle and as we got a little older some of the girls we knew also became cyclists and used to go with us to Ringland, Taverham and Felthorpe Woods to gather chestnuts and flowers and later Hemsby, Bacton and Sea Palling for example. When I look back I am proud to think how the parents of those girls trusted us to look after them, mend punctures and wait for a rest if they got tired. I am certain they would never have let their daughters go on their own but P, R, A, Ph, V and young B would get them home safely. Any female reader may be offended but I believe that girls take an interest in boys much sooner than we do in them. Did any romances blossom? Yes, I can remember two couples from the gang who married and my best friend would almost certainly have been the third had he survived the war. If J reads the archive she will know who I mean and I take this opportunity to tell her that I called my first son P and my wife and I often regretted that our children did not have a wonderful Uncle P and Aunt J.
It is interesting to write a few words about the experience of going from a council estate to a grammar school which in a minor way must be similar to the more dramatic case of a poor boy going to a boarding school. In effect I was two persons. One set of friends at school with our House loyalties, form rivalry and an introduction to culture and academic thoughts; the other with boys who would be my friends as long as they lived but who did no homework and who were a temptation to me to join them rather than study indoors. Later when I took my girlfriend home she told me that I was actually three personalities and that when we entered my house my usual Norfolk accent changed to a sort of Yorkshire dialect. Grandad could put on an almost unintelligible version just to tease her and she loved it especially when Dad sided with her and ribbed Grandad who was not much older than him. While I was still at school many of my friends went out to work and some left the gang as they met their future wives. They left school at fourteen and many were three years older than me but others remained close and one is still a friend who lives in Spain.
When I attempted an autobiography for my children’s eyes only, I had to apologise for the constant references to my extreme good fortune and years of great happiness. British people don’t like Pollyanna; perhaps it is a relic of the Puritan rule of Oliver Cromwell. I think of the mothers who seeing children playing noisily say knowingly “Yes, they are happy now but there will be tears before bedtime” or the old joke of the mother who says to her daughter, “Go and see what your little brother is doing and tell him to stop it.” This little account has been a bit like that. Were there no bad times or immoral people? In truth not many, but I will just list two with the name disguised in the first.
I must have been a very innocent twelve year old when one lunchtime during a school holiday my mother said, “I don’t want you to play with Bobbie Shafto”. I pointed out that Bobbie was much older than me and that we played with his brother “Charlie”, to be reminded simply that Bobbie was not a nice boy. After lunch I discovered that all my friends had received a similar message and we were puzzled. One day we discovered that a girl, let me call her Olive, who lived next door to Bobbie and four doors from me was to have a baby. A lot of my friends had younger siblings so we were familiar with pregnant ladies but had no idea of any male involvement in the conception. Then older brothers enlightened us and we were still puzzled as to why girls allowed it. Olive disappeared for a time and I suppose the baby was adopted and Bobbie joined the RAF as a boy entrant. The family moved away when the Dad was killed in an air raid so I lost touch with my only recollection of a teenage pregnancy on the estate.
The second memory is not of immoral behaviour but stark tragedy. Real name this time. P.R. would have made a great fighter pilot, fit, strong and adventurous. He had won the Junior Cross Country Race at the CNS a few days before cycling to school after lunch he came off his bike and smashed his head on the sort of lighthouse which stood in the middle of the junction of Drayton Road and Mile Cross Road. Another friend was at the hospital when P’s body was brought in and at once told me. When I got home and told my mother she rushed from the house to try to comfort Mrs R. P and I had been friendly rivals for years but ironically that had just finished and Ph had decided to be in my cricket team from then on. The gang collected for a wreath which I was deputed to take to their house and Mr R asked if I would like to see the body which was in their parlour. I think he was glad when I said I wanted to remember P as I had known him but I never saw him or his wife smile again.
One more sad story. I remember a chapter title in a book I read. In Latin it said “Even in the garden of Eden there was a snake”. Two happy occasions turned in a moment to sadness. In the thirties a ramshackle cinder track was converted by Max Grossgreutz, an Australian world champion speedway rider, into a good stadium and Norwich developed a splendid team. Two of our gang became professionals after the war and naturally I went to watch them on Saturday nights taking Sh with me. Later when we were married we were staying with my aunt in Bradford and Norwich Stars were riding against Bradford at Odsal Stadium so we went to see the lads. Of course we saw very many meetings which I have forgotten but on those two nights riders were killed before our eyes in identical circumstances. At the beginning of a race the four riders are close together and the front rider fell, the second man was too close to avoid riding over his neck. At Bradford we could see how desperately the second man tried to throw himself and his bike to the ground but he was just too close to save the other man. My two pals had their injuries but I am thankful to say that neither died on the track although one did die quite young.
As I approach the end of my story I realise that although I have touched on a wide range of topics I have written nothing about religion. To many people their faith is the most important thing in their lives and my omission will strike them as a serious exclusion. First I ought to say something about my own position so that readers can make their own allowances for what they may see as my prejudice. I have had many friends with all sorts of religious beliefs and of course many others with none. I served with Sikhs, swapped opinions with Chinese who claimed to be more rational than Westerners but actually had more belief in the paranormal, a Parsee, Hindus and all manner of Christians including much admired Congregationalists, Quakers, Methodists, Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic and most of all Anglicans including a Bishop and a teacher of Anglo Catholic future priests. I have never tried to change or weaken the faith of any of them but I still think that my own father was probably more spiritual than any of them. I have no automatic respect for those who have memorized some words attributed to St Paul or Isaiah or who make a show of their piety. Rather I attempt to judge by how they behave to those less fortunate or less powerful than they are. Above all I admire not those who can well afford the cheques they write but who give the one asset they can never replace – their precious time. Does the absence of a paragraph on religion mean that I grew up in a nursery for atheists? Not so, those who wanted to go to a service were spoilt for choice.
Smallest church first. A few yards up the Reepham Road was what we called the tin hut. Non denominational so far as I know and probably by the standards of the day happy clappy. I never attended but the Boundary Avenue and Boundary Road mothers went on Sunday nights to hear R.T., a 16 year old from Overbury Road, preaching. He made no great impression at the CNS either academically or on the playing field but he had the courage to stand up each week and face a congregation who were older than him. Maybe those ladies had a maternal protective feeling.
The Salvation Army Citadel on Boundary Road was not there when I was at school but the band from the main Citadel in St Giles toured the estate at Christmas and was well supported. I found out later that old soldiers never forget that in dangerous or unhealthy situations it was always the Sally Army who came with the tea and buns. I also remember that after the war when I used to take my girl friend for a drink before taking her home the Army girls came into the pubs selling the War Cry and they were always respected.
I have one funny Salvation Army Story. At the Boundary Road end of Rye Avenue, after Marshall Road, there were wooden huts built during or just after the first World War. After the second war prefabricated bungalows were factory built and quickly assembled on site. Supposed to last ten years, many provided acceptable homes for much longer and were probably more popular than the flats which replaced them. These older huts were not the same. On the left bungalows and on the right gaunt black double deckers under which rats were said to thrive. Because of their age there were few children and of course I was very young when I lived on Rye Avenue but for some reason we were a bit afraid of the boys from the huts and kept out of their way. One of the most fearsome was H. In 1943 I had one of my rare home leaves and went one afternoon to that rather strange, but cheap, cinema the Theatre de Luxe. Great value for an impoverished recruit and not the latest but usually good films. That day the lights went up and I gasped. Could that weedy little man be H., were we frightened of him? He was in Salvation Army uniform and somebody told me that he was not supposed to go to the pictures. If true, not the sharpest knife in the box.
We also had the Baptists just up Mile Cross Road after a bomb destroyed their home in the city centre. I worked with a very fine member of that congregation. On the Aylsham Road there still is a Methodist church which will be mentioned again. I and my closest friends deserted the Anglican Sunday School when we met and were impressed by the minister of the new chapel. My father would have told you he was a Methodist but his living body never crossed their threshold just as my mother’s Church of England upbringing did not seem to have taken root. Our stay with the Methodists was short-lived because when my father realised how hard I would have to work to stay in the top stream with much older boys he let me know that if I preferred to relax and enjoy my Sundays neither he nor my mother would object.
That leaves the parish church, St Catherine’s. In my youth there was a small dark church on the corner and the vicar, one Rev. D., was said to have friends in high places. I have no idea who they were but in the thirties the present edifice was built and we were told that Violet Wills, of the tobacco firm, had paid for it. Towards the end of my career I often met Sir John Wills, the Chairman of Wessex Water Authority among other offices, but never thought to ask him of his relationship to Violet or why they decided to spend money in Norwich. My first contacts with the church were when I went to the Sunday School. Now that was an awful institution full of elders who were short of stories of mercy of God but well briefed on the Devil and eternally burning in Hell. The Witches of Salem would have recognised the types, all but one sweet young lady who did not teach us much except love of children and for whom I organised a collection to buy her a present when she left and married. Soon after that came our mass defection to the Methodists whose beliefs I could not accept but who I liked as men and women.
My next unhappy Anglican experience was not their fault.M.F. had taught me the last job I did before I joined up and in 1941 he was a smart young pilot and I was invited to his wedding. My first since as a toddler I sat unwillingly through a meal in the Samson and Hercules House. Within six months J was a pregnant widow and I never went to another wedding until my own great day. These superstitious fears are strange. Was my attendance a spectre at the feast, would others die if I attended? It sounds silly but long after we marriedmy wifetold me that because her Dad died four months before she was born any husband of hers might have an early death. Her dear mother had to bring up two daughters and care for her own mother on a tiny pension and small earnings from the room in her house converted into a shop. She apparently tried not to let a man fall for her as she would have to refuse him but luckily my escapes from death seemed to persuade her that I have a guardian angel and she decided to take a chance.
Now we come to the only really nasty Mile Cross story. The serpent in Eden. In 1945 I was taken out of my unit in Europe to go to Burma and do the job I was trained to do in the invasion of Malaya and later of Japan. Two very nasty years ahead I had been told to expect. My father had served in South Africa and had a soft spot for the Americans who had come to Norfolk in large numbers. He also happened to be a lifelong teetotaller and knew that there was nothing much for lonely solders or airmen to do on a Sunday night except go to the pub. Remember that a lot of those airmen might have few more days to live. He was a great organiser and knew that although Sunday cinemas were illegal the voters in any constituency could remove the ban. Norwich was a difficult place to get a change because we had among us the Leader of the Lord’s Day Observance Society, Rev M by name. One of my friend wrote of him “like a human lighthouse flashing his warnings to the young”, the less polite christened him Misery M. I was away at the time but am not surprised that Dad won easily; he had built up the local Labour Party until it took control of the Council and won both Parliamentary seats. He could have won that plebiscite without needing to try.
What have Sunday cinemas to do with me? Dad and Mother never went but no action of his was ever for himself and I couldn’t have cared less. When I got home just after VE Day mother must have been distraught, three children dead and the fourth having survived Europe perhaps not going to be so lucky in Asia. She asked me if I had received a parcel from St Catherine’s at Christmas 1944. I said I had not and she was very angry saying the members of the church had been laughing at her because thanks to her Godless husband I had been the only serving man or woman in the parish not to get one. I just had to laugh at the petty minded persons who dreamed up that revenge and my Dad laughed with me. At Christmas my unit was not in the front line but the Battle of the Bulge put us right in line of the panzers and the SS if they got across the Meuse. Not really bothered about Christmas parcels which would have greatly amused my comrades although they would have shared whatever it was in the parcel. Mother never forgot and remembering the Sunday School sadists neither did I. It was at the lowest time of her life that she was avenged.
In 1955 I was at work in Nottingham when I took a call from our family doctor. “Come at once J, your Dad will probably die tonight.” As well as being he gentlest man I ever knew he was the toughest and he fought the cancer for a whole week while he told me more about his life than in all the past years when he had always been too busy. News vendors used to have a series of flysheets of latest stories. I was in the city the afternoon of his death and they all had the same message in huge black letters J.B. DIES. He was an alderman, a magistrate and many others things but above all a friend of the poor, the sick and the bereaved. A word from mother or me and there would have been a large civic funeral which he would not have wanted and mother would have dreaded. The Parish Church then it must be. Not on your life. Hundreds came to the Methodist Church, standing in the aisles and at the back and others outside What I liked most was the press report. Something like this “The most amazing feature was not the number of MPs and other prominent persons but that Jack’s political opponents who he had fought hard but fairly for over 30 years were all there with his fellow party members.” No mention of the Vicar of St Catherine’s who did I am sure notice my total failure to involve him or his church council when I had been married five years previously.
So that more or less concluded my story of life in Mile Cross with little about the years from 1947 to 1950. Many of the old gang were now married and naturally had family responsibilities, some were dead and others had moved. There is one legacy of those days. B.F. was younger than me and by the time he was called up the need for recruits was less urgent. Mustered for training as a pilot, he was demobbed in a few days and when I was in the East he wrote to me regularly and kept me in touch with my old stamping grounds. We fantasised about forming a cricket team from our old friends even planning bowling changes, field placing etc. Only four of our imaginary team took the field in May 1949 but this year the Anglians have their Diamond Jubilee. I realise how very old I am when I remember that one of today’s team is the grandson of a man who joined after I had left the area.
My really big change came when I met Sh in June 1947 and before long was introducing her to the survivors of my childhood crowd. It might have been tricky because although Sh’s life had been harder than mine, if her Dad had lived she would have been what was then called upper middle class. A born lady, and what was I? It was magical from the start, she was welcomed and loved by all, a sort of daughter of the regiment and equally she thought the world of them. Even better was what happened when she had the ordeal of coming to tea at my house for the first time. Parents often see a son’s girl friend as a threat who will take him away but I realise now that the sister I mourn would probably have been in the same class as Sh and Dad saw her as his lost daughter. Sh had never seen her father but now she had one she adored who teased her kindly but would have defended her with his life.
I have tried to paint a picture of what life was like and wish I could do better but I will close with the words of a far better writer. As Houseman wrote;
It is the land of lost content
where I cannot come again.
Submitted to WISEArchive in 2009 by Jack Brooksbank (1924-2015) as part of the Mile Cross Memories project.
© 2020 WISEArchive. All Rights Reserved.