Chapter 5 Worcester

MY STORY

CHAPTER FIVE

WORCESTER DAYS (SOCIAL)

Towards the end of our time in Derby Anthea had given up her job at Mill Road Maternity Hospital and had been appointed sister in charge of the premature baby unit at Derby Royal Infirmary. This was six months before we were married on July 11th 1953. In the last chapter I gave some details about my courtship days and promised to give more. These now appear below. I apologise for any repetitions.

We had become engaged more or less. The less became more when she was telling me about her boyfriends. One was called Johnny Tate. He was a medical student and belonged to the famous Tate family. He used to call for Anthea on a motor bike. One day he called for her in a Bentley. Indignantly she asked what had become of the motor bike. She much preferred the motor bike. Tate once took Anthea home to meet his mother. I told Anthea boys never take girls home to meet their mothers unless they were seriously considering matrimony. She had never realised that.

Johnny Tate was supplanted by another medical student called Johnny Brown. I think he was much less of a rival for me than the Tate was with his millions made from sugar, his motor bikes and his Bentleys. Anthea discussed marrying Johnny Brown. I said “Well you are marrying me not marrying him” “Oh am I?” she asked?” “Of course you are” I said and that was that!

We were in Friesland in the Netherlands at a town called Sneek at the time. Our small sailing sloop was moored alongside a street. A group of boys who spoke only Dutch were making themselves a nuisance. As a scoutmaster I was used to being obeyed by boys. But I failed with these boys. Cliff Kell (teacher) and Winifride Billington (Medical student) also failed. Finally Anthea went out and scolded them in English. Go away. I have had enough of you” she said, and off they went! I was very impressed.

Worcester is famous for fruit trees and our house was in a pear orchard

At first we lived in an apartment in Hartington Street, Derby but in September 1953 I moved to Worcester to become a Veterinary Officer in (MAF) Ministry of Agriculture. We had advertised in the Worcester newspaper for accommodation giving the address of the hotel we would be staying in briefly. We got a lot of replies which annoyed the manager of the hotel. He said we ought to have notified him that we were going to do that.

The owner of a flat in Malvern offered to rent it to us for six months. It had been rented out to Sir Donald Woolfit the famous Shakespearian actor at a time when he was appearing at the Malvern Theatre. I had seen Woolfit in “The Merchant of Venice” at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal. He had impressed me when he spat on the floor of the theatre. Now that is good acting I thought! The owner of the flat in Malvern regularly let the flat as she claimed she could not possibly stay in England during the winter. Poor thing! The short lease of six months rather put us off. After a brief stay in rooms, this time in Worcester itself, Anthea got us a house in Ombersley Road where we were very happy for many months.

The Ombersley Road house was owned by a Mrs Haynes and had been rented by her to a MAF employee whom she thought was marvellous. Under his tenancy the garden had completely run down. My Aunt and Uncle, Elsie and Alf Green came down to stay for a week. Alf was a professional gardener/chauffeur. With no prompting from me he took the garden in hand and it soon became a showpiece. A few days later Mrs Haynes came to the house and I proudly showed off the immaculate garden. All she said was “What have you done with the mint?”

Our house in Cornmeadow Lane

(Our car in front)

One of Mrs Haynes’s stipulations was that there were to be no children in the house. Soon after that Anthea became pregnant so we went house hunting and with the aid of my father we bought 44 Cornmeadow Lane. Mrs Haynes then said we had no need to do that as she would not have minded a baby being in the house. But it was all for the best for the Cornmeadow Lane house was super. It was built in a former pear orchard and we had all the pears we could eat and then some. The only problem with the house was that there were only three bedrooms. We soon found we needed four bedrooms because my father came to live with us after he became ill and by that time we had two children, Elizabeth and Anne. But that problem was later solved by events.

Anthea and Lizzie

Side view of house in Cornmeadow Lane

The sloping roof is over the garage and there was a box room in the sloping roof

Andy Skea. Great friend and colleague and godfather to Lizzie

Walter’s deputy was Andy Skea from the Orkneys. He had been described as the best veterinary officer in the service and I can well believe that to be true. He needed experience in England though, as all his service up until then had been in Scotland. He had come down from Dingwall in 1953 to look after two new recruits, myself and Reginald Harold Thoumine, a Guernseyman. Reg had left Guernsey on the outbreak of war saying goodbye to his parents whom he never saw again. He joined up as a private in the Surrey Regiment and ended up as a Staff Major having been Mentioned in Despatches and been ADC to Lord Mountbatten. He had been in charge of Raffles College in Singapore. He told me the labourers were very poorly paid. He used to walk round the college and would come across a gang sweeping and a few minutes further on would see a gang sweeping at another place. But they were the same gang! Reg was a very kind hearted man and did not want to let on that he had noticed.

Left to right

Me Anthea and Reg

During the war he had landed on the Normandy Beaches in the very early days of the invasion. He said it was chaos. Of all the units he knew none in fact landed on the same beach as their equipment. Afterwards he was in Burma and spent three days in a slit trench suffering from dysentery. After demob he enrolled as an ex-serviceman at the London Veterinary College (The Royal Veterinary College – RVC) where he came under the tuition of Professor Harold Burrow founder of the Derby practice. He spoke well of Burrows.

In the foreground, Walter Scott at an office party

On the far right is the CA Jim Hawkins who stood in awe of the RVO (and of everybody else!)

Lizzie with Anthea holding Anne in her arms

During all this time our domestic life changed a lot. Elisabeth was born in 1954 and 18 months later Anne came into the world. We had been advised to allow at least two years between babies in view of Anthea’s mitral valve condition but in the event Anne arrived and was loved from the start as was Lizzie. It meant however that whilst Anthea was in hospital for the seven week’s bed rest prescribed, I had to look after Lizzie with the help of neighbours. Seven weeks later Lizzie did not recognise her mother. That was very upsetting for Anthea.

Anne’s baptism certificate

In Ronkswood Hospital while expecting Anne Anthea met Hazel Wallis a dentist’s wife from Malvern who was expecting her first baby. I used to give Hazel’s husband, Raymond, a lift to the station. We all became good friends. Raymond had been in Japan whilst he was an officer in the Dental Corps. He had learned judo whilst in Japan so Raymond had to be treated with respect. I used to say he had lethal hands! I subsequently became godfather to Janet, their third child. The first child was Graham Peter, the second son was Gareth. Raymond was a great joker. One night we were all in his house and by some means or other he got hold of my car keys and carefully moved my car into the driveway next door. There was consternation when I came out and thought my car had been stolen.

Our two babies kept Anthea very busy but she had some help in the house. When she had Anne Anthea weighed less at term than at the start. When we first arrived in Worcester Anthea wanted a job and suggested she went fruit picking. I vetoed this as the fruit pickers I had seen were a coarse lot. In any case at that time wives of professional people did not go out to work. If they did it was a slur on the husband. I had not realised how crazy Anthea was about fruit picking. In later life she became an avid amateur fruit picker.

We had joined the Presbyterian Church in Worcester. The minister was a Welshman, The Reverent Mr Osmar. Welsh Presbyterianism is very different from Scottish Presbyterianism. I suspect that Irish Presbyterianism is different again. Andy Skea had been made an Elder at the Worcester Church. He made a fine Elder too. The Osmars were very nice. Mrs Osmar was very beautiful and also nice. We had more raspberries in our garden than we could eat and Anthea organised raspberry teas and made a collection for the church.

At Walter’s house I met Capt Spreckley who was head of Spreckley’s Brewery. He was also Boy Scout County Commissioner for Worcestershire. As I was a former scoutmaster he suggested I report to the Worcester District Commissioner, a Mr Smith who owned a joinery works. Smith told me that the Claines Scout Group which was very near Cornmeadow Lane was in trouble in that the wife of the Group Scoutmaster “Chippy Wood” had tragically been found dead in bed. She had been his Akela or cub mistress. Chippy Wood was finding it difficult to carry on and after meeting him and discussing the matter with Anthea I agreed to take over as Scoutmaster under Chippy as Group Scoutmaster.

Claines scout troop on parade. I was towards the back.

But first I had to have an interview with Canon Clinch the vicar of Claines. I went one dark night to the vicarage. I was led down a dark passage by a servant. It was all very intimidating and I was shown into a dark room and told to sit in a chair. The chair was illuminated by a very bright light behind which was the vicar. He asked me a number of questions which I must have answered satisfactorily because I was accepted as the new Claines Scoutmaster. Afterwards the main lights were switched on in the room. The boys called Canon Clinch Clanger Clinch and told me he had been in the Indian police in a former career. It showed. There was a large scale map in the room at the vicarage showing all the houses. On our house was a black pin. I enquired the meaning of this and was told it was because I was a Presbyterian.

I have to say that the situation I was placed in at Claines never really worked. Chippy’s wife I suspect had been the driving force. Chippy worked for a firm of wholesale pharmacists delivering medicines to the medical profession. He always used to say how demanding these medical men were. He had a speech impediment which cannot have helped his self confidence. Chippy and me never worked well as a team. He would never say what he wanted me to do and so I did what I thought was right. He then later criticised much of what I did.

For example at camp one year we were rained out. The site was on a river bank and I think well drained. I was not really worried but local people were sure we would be completely inundated and made plans for us to move temporally into the village hall. I discussed this with Chippy and with the troop and eventually we decided as I thought unanimously to accept the kind offer of the local people. It seemed churlish to refuse. At the very last minute Chippy said “Well I am not coming”. If he had said that earlier I would have agreed to stay and in fact we did stay. I think Chippy’s problem was to some extent jealousy of me because I was comparatively highly articulate and he was almost unable to speak in company. I think too that I myself was perhaps too immature to handle Chippy properly. I should never have agreed to serve under him.

I also had problems eventually with Smith the District Commissioner. He organised a District Camping Event. We all had to send a patrol to this function. It had to be a genuine patrol, not one made up of the best scouts from several patrols. In the end it was won by a patrol from another troop made up of specially selected scouts. I of course took the Commissioner to task but all he said was that the winning troop would not take part unless they were allowed to enter a special patrol. I afterwards met my old Derby District Scoutmaster who had left Derby for a place in the country. He said it was a common experience to find that away from the big cities scouting was not the same.

I did quite a bit with the scouts during my five years in Worcester. Anthea was splendid in allowing these activities. I attended JIM (Jamboree Indaba and Moot) which was held in Sutton Park, Birmingham. It was a very big do which lasted I think a whole week. Worcester Scoutmasters taking part were in the Scout Police.

Another week I spent away was at Gilwell Park the International Scout Training HQ in Epping Forest just north of London. This was to attend the wood badge course. This is the training course for scoutmasters and it is pretty tough. There are I think two weekend courses to attend first then the final week at Gilwell. During that week the scoutmasters are organised into patrols and must do exactly the sort of things we were expecting the scouts to do. The highlight was the first class hike. Before qualifying as a first class scout everyone has to do this. It involves a night’s camping and the scout candidate has to carry all his equipment on his back, map read a course of about 15 miles and cook all his food and the menu must include meat. All is written up in a log. At Gilwell Park we all had to do this hike. The place where we camped we thought was not known to the Gilwell Staff. We were expected to leave the site completely free of litter. However the next day we were all assembled and each patrol, I think without exception, was handed a small bag containing various bits if litter. To this day I can never bring myself to throw down even a matchstick. If I pick up someone else’s litter to examine it I feel I must dispose of that too, because I have picked it up!

WOOD Badge Course

The curlew patrol at Gilwell Park The chap in the middle is a veterinary surgeon, Don Lowe. He was killed in an accident. The chap on his right is Michel Tavernier from France

We did all sorts of activities. To my shame I chickened out of an abseiling exercise. My vertigo again kicked in. I was not proud of that. But all sorts of things we did stuck with me. Camp fires I loved to lead after that week in Epping Forest. I am quite sure I gained a lot of confidence through Gilwell Park. By no means all the candidates got through the wood badge course. Several dropped out as they could not take the pressures. For myself I must be grateful that I was allowed to attend by virtue of Anthea’s generosity. All these scouting activities look a lot when written down but they were over a period of five years. One thing I remember with pleasure is that I was relating some story of my scouting activities to Reg and I said “Of course I had a good team” Reg replied “Chaps like you always have a good team!” I am sure he meant it and the remark pleased we greatly.

The children on our Ford Consul. We were very proud of it

Back in Worcester the family were slowly growing up. We enjoyed taking the babies out for walks. A treat was to give Tommy a pat. Tommy was a horse that lived in a stable on the way to Claines Church. At the end of this lane was a field and we saw a bird in the field. I watched Lizzie carefully close the field gate. This was to keep the bird in.

This is the actual gate Lizzie closed so as to keep the bird in the field

Anne and Lizzie

Both children played in the garden where there was very shallow pond. One day Lizzie came to us and said that one of the children who lived up the road was “filling the pond with his own pipe”. We disinfected it hurriedly and later converted it to a sand pit.Anne was proving at a very early age to be an independent person. We three, Lizzie Anne and me were at Gheluvelte Park on a very cold day. We were well wrapped up but Anne has always felt the cold and declared her intention to go home to mum. As we were a very long way from home I decided we must all go home together.

When she was very young Anne would eat anything

Anne’s other activities were raiding the food trough we had for “Splash” our cat. He objected to her eating his food and was spitting away in protest. We kept all the medicines in a cupboard high up in the bathroom. We thought that was quite safe. But Anne found she could climb the towel rail to get into the cupboard. She helped herself to some “Some” as she called it. This was simple linctus for coughs and colds. I think the only effect of the linctus was to make her a little sleepy. Another time she ate some Daz, a soap powder. Anthea called the doctor. I was away from home at the time. All the doctor said was “Inner cleanliness comes first!” He knew of course that she would vomit if the had eaten a lot of the powder and it was obvious she had not eaten all that much.

Anne pushing Lizzie who looks very amused

Bedtime

My Father who had lived alone in Bulwell since my mother died fell ill and we brought him back to Worcester and called the doctor. The Worcester doctor sent dad straight to hospital. What had happened in Bulwell was that he had not been eating properly. He had never learned to cook. I was not worried about this as my Aunt Florrie was a good cook and came in every day. She doted on my father. But one day I rang up and she told me he was very ill in reproachful terms. How was I to know that? I was not in Bulwell to see for myself. I do not think very highly of the medical services that existed at the time in Bulwell. He had an ulcer and that haemorrhaged badly leaving him very weak. Why had the doctors not spotted that? At any rate we brought him home. Our doctor said he ought not to have been moved. I thought with me in the car and Anthea with me the chance was well worth taking.

So I soon found myself at home in a three bed roomed house with a wife, two little girls and a father. I wanted to extend the house to make a fourth bedroom and sought the advice of a Worcester architect. We reached the stage when a decision had to be made. As my father had largely financed the house I brought him in to the discussion and asked his opinion. To my amazement his main objection was based on the difficulty in removing a large pear tree whose presence interfered with the plan. Another idea of the architect was to have a dormer window. Dad objected to this also as he said it was his experience that dormer windows always leaked. The architect said that was so in the past but with modern design that no longer applied. Both my father’s objections seemed trivial to me and I came to the conclusion that my poor father was not capable of making balanced decisions. I scrapped the idea of adapting the house and had to think of other ways in which my household could accommodate him and my family. My father had previously always seemed to me to be a man of very sound and wise judgement.

Another problem I foresaw was with regard to the education of the girls. In Worcester there was little provision for the further education of girls. True there was the Alice Ottley independent school but that was expensive and hard to get into. A post at Birkenhead Port had been advertised in MAFF (by now we had become the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food). This was with Tony (A L F) Mullen DVO with whom I had already worked in Uttoxeter. Cheshire County Council had made provision for seven times the number of places in higher education for girls than had Worcestershire County Council. Furthermore Anthea had two sisters living in the Wirral of Cheshire.

Taken all these factors into account I decided with Anthea’s agreement on a move to Cheshire where I could have built for the family a four bed roomed bungalow which would be better for Anthea’s health and also provide space for my father.

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