Chapter 4

MY STORY

Chapter four

Derby days – social life

One of the advantages of Derby for me was the availability of the super digs which my predecessor Alan Auchnie had vacated. Miss Mabel Best my new landlady was a maiden lady and a staunch member of Derby Presbyterian Church. Her house in Ferrers Way was just up the road from the W S Marshall my boss in general veterinary practice’s house in Allestree. W S Marshall an Elder in Derby Presbyterian Church and did many jobs for the church such as editing the magazine, singing in the choir and serving on various committees.

Miss Mabel Best with her two dogs, Dart and Flight

Dart was the mother of Flight. If you moved your feet she would go for them. It did not make for a relaxed evening until you learned to sit still. I remember the cheese supper dish Miss Best used to make. It was cheese sauce over onions and bread heralded by the call “Cheesy cheesy!” at which both dogs (and us) would come running.The Rev. George Harding

Miss Best had had only two lodgers before me. The first was the Reverend George Harding minister at the Presbyterian Church.

He was a great guy. I joined his congregation and was confirmed in due course. Presbyterianism in its Scottish form is not unlike the Primitive Methodism I had been used to in Bulwell. Poor George Harding met an awful death many years later. At the end of his life he suffered from dementia and was found starved and frozen to death on an exposed place in the north of England near Berwick on Tweed whence he had retired as minister.

Bums needed on seats!

The Church men’s club met every week. I loved these meetings. We always had a guest speaker. I remember particularly a retired engineer who had done some remarkable things. During WW1 he had been involved in the transit overland of two gunboats from the coast of Africa to Lake Victoria. On that lake the Germans had an armed vessel which was of course of great strategic importance. It was the military operation which provided the plot for ‘The African Queen’. The engineer told us all about the trip and showed us graphic pictures of the route and the two steam engines which had pulled the gunboats. He also showed us pictures of Kimberley where he had been engaged in diamond mining. One picture was of the enormous mine which he introduced by saying “Well there you are gentlemen. That is the largest ‘ole ever dug by ‘uman ‘ands.” He gave us a second talk about how he raised the German Fleet which had been scuttled at Scapa Flow. They used compressed air and also underwater welding which I had though was not possible. It is if you can get oxygen down to the flame.

I got as a speaker a man from my digs at the time, an army colonel who was the Food Officer for Derby. Before the war he had been in the Government Immigration Service. In response to a question asked after his talk on the Immigration Service he said there was no such nationality as Scottish. The Scots were properly designated British. That is of course still the case. People now called Scottish are really only people who happen to live in Scotland. Advancement of this undoubted truth can I am sure be guaranteed to upset the Scots anywhere at any time.

Thistles: Scots can be prickly too!

My first digs in Derby

At the Presbyterian Church George Harding was looking for something for the young people to do; at the instigation of W S Marshall I formed Derby Presbyterian Scout Troop (Number 77). We had a tartan neckerchief, Hunting Stewart because anyone can wear the Stuart tartan. We had four scouts to start with so I formed them into two patrols. A patrol is usually 7 or eight strong. But as I had counted on, the two patrols soon recruited others because they did not wish to be outdone.

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:The 77th Derby (Derby Presbyterian) troop’s first camp

Kit Woodham is on the right. He succeeded me as scoutmaster

Treading the boards with the Presbyterian Players

I also joined the Presbyterian Players and took part in one production. They were very good. I don’t think I shone all that much but I enjoyed it. I had already been in a play when at school so had already ‘trodden the boards’. Although all the Players were amateurs in an emergency a professional might be hired. We did have such an emergency and I marvelled at how much better the professional was than we were. In particular how could he learn his lines in the two days which were available to him? He said that he would be OK but not word perfect. However we could rely upon him delivering the prompt lines. That is the words which brought the next character into the diaglogue. I asked him a few other things. He said he regularly studied people he met and without talking to them would decide “I’m going to be you tonight!”

I got to know quite a few people in the congregation. I remember particularly a Mr Miller whose father was a Presbyterian Church Minister, in other words Mr Millar was a “son of the manse”. Gordon Brown makes similar claims. I used to notice that when we came to the last few words of a hymn, or even the last verse, Miller would look round and snap the covers of the hymn book he held in his hand together. He was telling everybody who watched “I know this bit off by heart”. It was a harmless conceit.

The practice house at Blagreaves Lane

I initiated, designed and helped build a piggery in the garden of the house in Blagreaves Lane. Marshall did most of the work but I certainly helped and enjoyed doing it. At that time it was considered patriotic to keep pigs and use up all the household food scraps as an aid to the war effort.

As well as the Church I had joined the Derby Caledonian Society which the Marshalls also supported. The Society ran classes in Scottish Dancing. It was there I met a young engineer from Gateshead, Clifford Kell. Cliff worked for International Combustion and we became good friends.

Dances were held at the Derby Assembly Rooms and also there were classes in Scottish dancing which were run by two ladies, Mrs Forrest wife of Charlie Forrest editor of the Derby Evening Telegraph and Mrs Milburn wife of Dr Milburn a GP. Mr Forrest had also been a speaker at the church men’s club and had told us about the time in 1934 when he was at the Glasgow Daily Record. It was decided to print the edition reporting the wedding of Princess Marina in ink the same colour as her going away dress. That turned out to be blue. Next day the paper was inundated by calls from people complaining that their bottoms had turned blue.

Mrs Milburn was an ex school teacher and was very nice. Dr Milburn was a bit pompous. Cliff Kell and I were such good friends that Dr Milburn got completely the wrong idea about our relationship. We were delighted to camp it up a bit for him. I do not think he ever tumbled to the deception or ever realised we were merely pulling his leg.

In 1949 Cliff invited me to join him and his girl friend on a walking holiday in the Lake District. I have always loved walking but as I walked then very slowly and walk even more slowly now I thought we ought to go for a preliminary weekend walking holiday. We went to Dovedale, staying in a pub overnight. I must have passed the test for I was allowed to join Cliff and his two friends for the week trip in the Lake District. The two friends were medical students at Liverpool University, Winifride Billington and Doreen Jacobs. We stayed in youth hostels of course. I enjoyed myself so much that towards the end of the week the others got me to ring up Mr Marshall and ask if I could add the weekend to the week I had booked. He reluctantly agreed. I do not think the others fully realised what a commitment general practice was. Cliff never worked weekends. He told me once he had always gone out on a Saturday night. I wished I could say the same. The two girls of course were still students so knew nothing about practice commitments to 24hour/365 days duty.

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Doreen and Winifride and a very tentative Cliff

During a marvellous week or rather ten days we walked from hostel to hostel and I well remember climbing to the summit of Helvellyn via Striding Edge. I then discovered I was very subject to vertigo. I was terrified by the almost vertical drop either side of the ridge. My fears were augmented by a memorial placed half way along the ridge. The memorial recorded the sad death of a huntsman who had fallen and inevitably been killed. In Derby I reported back to a furious boss who told me I had already had three days of my second week’s leave. Rather than argue with him during my first year with the practice I did not take the second week. Doreen Jacobs was well connected. Her family owned Jacobs biscuits and she lived in a Hall at Southport. I liked both her and Winifride who came from a more modest background in Blackburn, but Winifride’s father was a former medal winning Warrant Officer so it wasn’t all that modest a background! The Lake District trip was in 1949.

Striding Edge: I was terrified

In 1950 I wanted to repeat the holiday we had had in the Lake District. Cliff Kell had other ideas and wanted a sailing holiday. He wished to recruit six people to form a crew to sail a Topsail Schooner “Hoshi” over to France with a paid crew of three making nine people aboard in all.

Not wishing to rush into things blindly I managed to get Cliff to go with me to see this boat. She was lying at Birdham in Chichester Harbour and on a very cold February 1950 day we were rowed out in a small dinghy to see where we were going to spend a two week holiday later that year. The owner Lt Comdr M G (Chunky) Duff and the skipper, Des Sleightholme rowed. I was most impressed with the way Duff rowed with just one great fist wrapped round the handle of his oar. He was and looked a tough cookie. During the war he had been in small boats and regularly so they said went close inshore and shot up the Germans. Des was also a captain, but his wartime service was in the army, not the navy. He was a commando. The skilled yachtsman of the two was Des though. He afterwards became famous as a very successful and world renowned editor of Yachting Weekly. In the paid crew was also Dave the mate and Jock the boy. Dave was rather fond of himself and was the only one to wear a yachting cap. Such are not de rigeur. In fact they are frowned upon.

The Topsail Schooner “Hoshi” 50 tons TM

Hoshi’s paying guest crew was duly assembled. That was Cliff, me, Winifride, Wilf Billington her brother, Jimmie Corrigan Cliff’s school friend and Anthea Gillard who was a sister midwife who worked at Mill Road Maternity Hospital where Winifride and Doreen trained. Doreen had declined saying her sort of sailing holiday involved a steward bearing a tray of drinks.

The holiday aboard Hoshi went very well. We sailed across to Cherbourg and we all had to take turns on watch. I was on watch one night with the youngest member of the crew called Jock. A headland came into view. I was later told off because Jock did not recognise what it was. Des said we ought to have woken him as he almost certainly would have known which headland it was. We just held the course he had set down and completed our watch. Jock had a very strong Hampshire accent. He pronounced Nab Tower, which we passed, as “Nab Tar”. I had to get him to repeat it several times before I cottoned on to what he was saying.

We duly arrived at Cherbourg. The plan there was to drop anchor and then swing round using the engine and secure the vessel by warps from the stern. The vessel was thus to be moored with her bow pointing back out to sea. Des wanted somebody to row in the dinghy to take the bow anchor out to the right position. Cliff was a member of the Derby Rowing Club so he got the job after denying any expertise as we all did. Then came four days or so which we spent in harbour. Every time we wanted to set sail we were told the weather was not good enough. I had not realised until then that the aim of every professional sailor is to stay on dry land as long as possible, in much the same way as nobody is more reluctant to go to war than a soldier. To a sailor the sea means work. We enjoyed our time in France though and bought yachting caps for which Des kindly bought badges at the Cherbourg sailing club.

In the evenings we went out to Cherbourg various night spots.. One night Winifride and Anthea went out by themselves. To get back aboard it was necessary to row the dinghy. “I can row the dinghy” claimed Anthea but she could not and the two ladies were tipped into the dirty waters of Cherbourg harbour to be rescued by onlookers who got them both aboard the ship. Later in the cabin somebody produced Calvados. It being a clear fluid I think perhaps its high alcoholic content was not realised. At any rate Anthea was put to bed in a cabin. This upset her a great deal but I assured her that her getting drunk was the actions of other people not her own.

Anthea had become very fond of Jimmy Corrigan. I think both Anthea and I were not very partial at being thrown together as being the only other non-Roman Catholic people among the paying guests. She also later told me that my appearance when we first met at Chichester Railway Station had rather put her off. I had ridden my motorbike down from Derby and my travel stained face (a poor thing at the best of times) was even less attractive than usual when I took my goggles off.

Tragedy came to me in 1950 when my mother died in Nottingham General Hospital from generalised cancer probably spread from a primary tumour in her ovary. Neither my father nor I were ever given a proper diagnosis. I do not think the medical services in Bulwell were very good.

Anthea had lost her father in Southampton the same year. She had lost her own mother many years before when Anthea was eight years old. Anthea’s first job was with Dr Barnardo’s homes and then she did her general nursing training at Southampton General going on to do midwifery at Mill Road Maternity Hospital, Liverpool.

Anthea aged 17 (during her general training)

Then she moved to Mill Road Maternity Hospital in Liverpool to qualify as a midwife. She was made a sister soon afterwards and she must have been very good for she was made theatre sister at one stage. After that she went on more or less permanent night duty which undermined her health. Dr Clarke, afterwards Sir Cyril Astley Clarke and at that time a consultant at the hospital more or less saved her life by diagnosing Mitral Stenosis. The Medical Superintendent who was supposed to look after the health of the staff, a Dr McPherson was hauled over to coals for it. Anthea had to have a long (6 months) period of bed rest.

Anthea on the district in Liverpool

To return to the cruise after Cherbourg we sailed to Lezardrieux in Brittany and from there to Alderney. Then we had a strong following wind back to Chichester. Des warned me at the helm to on no account allow her to be off course and let the wind get on the wrong side of the sails. In other wards do a gybe-all–standing. This could dismast the boat. This to say nothing about the enormously thick main boom which would have killed anyone whose head had hit it during a gybe. We got back to Chichester safely and I was hooked on sailing. from then on finally progressing to the eleven foot three inch dinghy called a Topper which I technically still have.

Me aboard the Topper

Cliff and Anthea on Alderney

It took a lot of persuasion to get Cliff to go so near to this savage animal

In 1951 Cliff Kell organised yet another trip. This was to Friesland where he hired a sailing cruiser, Wetterfugel, in which we sailed from Drachten across the Zuiderzee (which the Dutch call the Ijsselmeer) to places like Sneek, Stavoren, Harderwijk, Volendam. Enkhuisen, Urk, Hoorn, Marken, Haarlem and on the way back, Sneek.

Wetterfugel: Cliff Anthea and Winifride in the cockpit, Jimmy Corrigan on deck

I took the above photograph from a navigation buoy. They must have picked me up from it later!

Anthea

Although I was in love with her I don’t think Anthea ever thought about marriage. She wanted to be matron of a children’s home. One day we had got pretty close she told me that one of the medical students Johnny Brown at Liverpool was talking about marrying her. “Don’t be silly “I said “You are marrying me”. “Oh am I?” she said. “Of course you are” I replied. Not the most romantic way of proposing but those were the exact words of the conversation. At any rate you can see the result below: It was in Sneek that Anthea and I finally got together. After we were back in England I used to motor over to Liverpool to see her every week on my half days off from the practice. It was supposed to be a half day but it frequently did not start until 6.00pm. Undaunted I used to set off for Liverpool in my own Ford 8 car over the Pennines to Mill Road Maternity Hospital. Anthea as a ward sister had a room to herself and I was permitted to visit her there so long as we kept the door open at all times. After each visit round 10.00pm or so I set off to drive back to Derby usually getting some fish and chips on the way. I had a radio in the car which was unusual in those days but it provided company during the long drives.

She was offered surgery to correct her Mitral Valve. This was done at Broadgreen Hospital by the surgeon Ronnie Edwards whose father was a veterinary surgeon. After the operation which was done by the finger splitting technique she convalesced at Winifride’s home in Coniston Road, Blackburn being looked after by her mother Mrs Billington and Winifride’s father, pop Billington. They were marvellous.

Once she was able to resume work we got engaged. She used to travel over to Derby to visit me and stayed in the digs I then had with a Mr & Mrs Hall. Later still she worked for six months at Derby Royal Infirmary where she was in charge of the premature baby unit.

The bride

The Bridesmaids

Top Wendy Gillard (sister), Jean Hall (half sister)

Margaret Gillard and Mary Smith (nieces)

Best Man Stanley Osbourne, me and Cliff Kell (Usher)

The little chap on the right is one of the Marshall twins

Jean, Stan, Margaret, me, Anthea, Bob, Mary, Wendy

Larger group

I must tell you something about the people in the above photographs. Jean is Jean Hall nee Gillard and Anthea’s half sister as her father had been married three times, producing progeny every time! Stanley Osbourne was a Derby friend of Cliff and me.

Margaret was Anthea’s niece the eldest daughter of Capt. Bob Gillard MBE her half brother who gave her away.. Bob is next to Anthea in the top photograph. Mary is Mary Smith another niece of Anthea and daughter of her sister Paddy (Patricia). Wendy is Wendy Gillard, Anthea’s sister, also a midwife.

In the lower photograph my aunt Elsie (Green) is on the left. She was my father’s sister and next to her is Alice (Cunningham) another of my father’s sisters. Both Elsie and Alice were matrons of honour. Next to Alice is my father himself. I may say he wanted to wear his cap to the wedding but we talked him out of that. Next to my father is Jean Hall nee Gillard and above her Geoff Green my cousin who was son to Aunt Elsie and who was at Henry Mellish School with me. On his right is Stanley Osbourne and below him Margaret Gillard. On Anthea’s left is her brother, Capt. Bob Gillard reported in the Nottingham paper as corporal Gillard!

Cliff Kell is on his right and below him Mary Smith, then Wendy, then May Gillard the last of Anthea’s father’s wives. After the wedding May said she was now my mother but I am afraid I refuted this, saying I already had a mother. Perhaps I was unkind but May had proved a hard stepmother to Anthea. She would not allow Anthea to take up a scholarship to Southampton Art College but kept her at home to look after baby Jean and baby Charles another half brother. She also destroyed all the photographs of Anthea’s mother, and only a few survive.

I should also say what happened to Stanley Osbourne. We fell out after the wedding when he rang me up asking for a loan. I had always been warned never to make loans to a friend or the friend would be lost and also perhaps the money too. Stan had been given money by his father to pay a bill. I declined to give him a loan and told him to go and tell his father. He put the telephone down saying he did not want to listen to any preaching from me. He made a similar telephone request to Cliff Kell who must have been more kind-hearted or less Calvinistic than me because Cliff gave him the money. Cliff eventually did get it back but Stanley soon faded into Cliff’s background too.

Bride and groom

Leaving for the reception

Cutting the cake

The reception was in Nottingham at the County Hotel. It went very well. Stan as best man was in his element. Poor Nancy Gillard, Bob’s wife was occupied most of the time ferrying her two younger daughters to the lavatory.

Anthea was driven by my father to lay a wreath on my mother’s grave. That was a very nice touch and entirely Anthea’s idea.

We set off for out honeymoon in France in my father’s Ford Prefect car. In 1953 things in Britain were still very austere and the Prefect was regarded as a rather superior car it being all of ten horse power. There were a number of items tied on the car and a kipper was on the exhaust pipe. I stopped just outside Nottingham to remove all these and some tinkers driving a horse drawn cart were creasing themselves laughing but we made our way to an hotel in Canterbury, stopping on the way for me to purchase a set of pyjama’s, Edith Marshall by boss’s wife had thoughtfully sewn up mine. One of the Marshall twins is seen in a photograph above wearing a kilt.

In France we stayed in Lille one night then made our way to Annecy just south of Geneva and from there to le Lavandou near to St Tropez o the Mediterranean coast. After that we retraced our steps along almost the same route. It was a wonderful fortnight.

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