Tag Archives: Southampton

My Father; The Soldier.

6 Nov

I have written about my father before.  The writer, the advertising man, the playwright, but never before the soldier.

I was looking through some old boxes of photographs last week when I found his parachute regiment wings.  Then I remembered that the sixth of November, it would be sixteen years since he died.  I think perhaps he wanted me to remember him as the young and brave soldier that he was.

Peter was six months too late to fight in World War II.  He joined the army as soon as he could.   His drive was to help those that had been torn apart by war.  Joining the Royal Army Medical Corp, his first posting was at Netley Hospital in Southampton helping rehabilitate the American soldiers whose bodies had been shattered by the conflict.  He worked on their bodies and limbs getting them in a well enough condition to make the long journey back home.

My father’s next posting in 1948 was Germany.  The country had been flattened and it was part of his job to this time help get a country, rather than a man back on it’s feet again.  He was now attached to the Parachute Regiment and was trained to jump into any war zone if need be to treat the wounded and of course fight his way through as he saved lives.  Dad quickly became a sergeant and loved the responsibility of drilling and training new recruits and of course the camaraderie that came with it.  “The happiest days of my life,” dad would often say much to my mother’s annoyance.

At the beginning of the new decade, unfortunately war came calling again and dad went to Korea.  He never spoke about this much, until one evening in the 1990’s.  My father was a deeply spiritual man in a wonderful non-judgmental and life affirming way.  Dad had been pouring a few rather large whiskies and started chatting about his old life.  His face looked filled with sorrow and anxiety.  Dad told me he had killed somebody in conflict in Korea.  “I had no choice it was me or him, he was going to kill me so I fired and I had a split second to make that decision.”  Although he knew he had no other choice, the fact that he had taken another man’s life weighed so heavily on my father.  He had joined the Royal Army Medical Corp to save as many lives as he could and he had taken one.  I think this haunted him for the rest of his life.

I loved my father dearly.  He was funny, lovable, kind and brave, yes very brave.

Even when the Suez Crisis blew-up he was ready to go and do his bit.  Once again much to my mother’s great annoyance.

I can see him in my mind’s eye now showing me the correct way to salute and trying to get me to enjoy military music.  God bless dad and this November, as every November I shall salute that young brave soldier who wanted to make a difference.

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A POST WAR HAUNTING IN WUPPERTAL GERMANY – ECHOES OF WORLD WAR II

18 Oct

I can only promise you the story I am about to relate to you, I firmly believe to be true.  It was told to me with unerring regularity and honesty by both my parents, both together and separately.  Unfortunately both my parents are no longer alive, but I have utter faith that they definitely experienced the following events:

My father enlisted in the army and joined the R.A.M.C  at the age of seventeen just after World War II, having already run away to the Merchant Navy and sailed around the world at the age of fifteen.  He spent the early part of his training at the infamous Royal Victoria Hospital in Netley looking after many casualties from the recently ended conflict.

Netley Hospital, is notoriously haunted.  Dad always felt uneasy working there.  The ‘grey lady’reputedly haunts the hospital grounds and the wards.  Dad told me he hated working the night shifts there and could not wait to cycle away from the grounds, never once looking back at the forboding building.  But, it’s not the ‘grey lady’ of Netley Hospital that I am going to talk about in this blog.  If you want to read more about her here is a good place to start; http://www.southernghostsociety.co.uk/past-ghost-hunts/ghost-hunt-royal-victoria-country-park.html

No the haunting I am going to tell you about happened not long after my father left Netley.

It was whilst my father was stationed in the Southampton area that he met my mother on the legendary floating bridge, which took people across the River Itchen.  They immediately bonded being the only two northerners on that short ferry ride and they married soon after.

My father was soon posted to Germany to help the country get back on it’s feet again and being a married man, my mother was allowed to go out with him.

In those early days after the war, the military were allocated vacant civilian buildings.  The allocation was quite random and a sergeant could end up in a luxurious dwelling.

Dad was sent to Wuppertal and had quickly gained his sergeant’s stripes.  They were given the second floor of a large grand building to live in.  There were three floors in the dwelling so mum and dad had other British army personnel living above and below them.  The big white house was on a road called (as far as I can recall)  Kirschbaum Strasse (Cherry Tree Street.)

Both mum and dad were ecstatic to be given such a lovely apartment and with mum being newly pregnant, they were both very pleased with the size and privacy of the building.

The Germany my parents found after the war was far from a happy place.  I remember mum telling me how defeated and malnourished the German people looked.  There were also those that held a deep resentment for their victors and their spouses.  Mum was spat at in the street, and when she was heavily pregnant nobody would give up their seat for her on the Schwebebahn (the overhead railway system.)  The worst incident she experienced was a man pushing her off the pavement on a crowded street and her narrowly missing a speeding car.

Despite all this, mum embraced her new surroundings.  She made friends with a German woman of the same age who was married to one of the Canadian soldiers and they became the best of friends.  It must have been a daunting but exciting time for a nineteen year old Liverpudlian girl.

There was however, one problem on the horizon.  The apartment, whilst spacious, high ceilinged, well located and almost sumptuous it made my mother feel extremely uneasy.  Mum told me she was soon growing to hate it.  Mum felt that the atmosphere changed as soon as my father went to work.  She actually felt some presence or entity if you like was focusing on her.  Mum would spend as much time as she could during the day out of the apartment.  Shopping, drinking coffee, walking the streets she felt happier with the naked resentment from the Germans rather than the oppressive feeling she had at the apartment.

I remember mum telling me that she couldn’t wait for my father to get home but that when he did come home, he would almost immediately fall asleep and then she would feel even more uneasy.  Dad would tell me he tried everything to stay awake and keep her company but found he was incapable of doing so, almost like he had been drugged.  We are talking about a fit man who was eighteen or nineteen years of age.  Mum started to feel like she was being watched and it was becoming almost intolerable.  There was a part of the room where she felt it even more keenly.  Running her hands over the wallpaper she could see a cupboard or a room division had been papered over.  She forbade my father from investigating this.  Now with hindsight, of course the correct thing to do would have been to have investigated further.  But all damage to buildings was chargeable by the army and also I think mum was just too terrified to find out.

It was getting to be a real problem for my father as mum wasn’t sleeping and a few nights she turned up when he was on guard duty and refused to go back to the apartment.  Dad told me he put her inside the sentry box with a coat over her hoping she would get at least a few hours sleep and praying, for his sake that she would not be discovered.

Up until this point it was my mother who had been experiencing everything that Kirschbaum Strasse had to offer.  But that was all about to change in a chilling turn of events.

One summer’s night my parents were awoken by extremely loud noises from the floor above them.  They both described it as the sound of furniture being dragged across the floor, things being thrown and loud voices shouting in German.   Dad was very annoyed.  He got out of bed and marched out to the landing.  As he approached the door of the apartment above, the noises immediately stopped.  Dad knocked on the door and told them to ‘keep it down.’  As soon as he got back to the bedroom the noises started again, so back up he went.  Sure enough the noises stopped.  This happened a few times until dad was sick of the noises and infuriated that nobody was answering the door.

They both made the best of a fractured night’s sleep still peppered with noises from the floor above.  The next day dad was still fuming.  After knocking on the door again and getting no answer he went to find the caretaker of the building.

“Who is now living in the floor above?”  Dad asked and then told him about the horrendous noises that had kept him and mum awake for most of the night.  “The soldier who has that apartment is on leave in England at the moment,” dad was informed, and “there is nobody there at present.”  “Well you need to open it up now,” dad replied “as I think it was broken into last night.”

The caretaker and dad made haste to the apartment on the top floor to see what damage had been caused.  They opened the door to one room after another in ‘apple pie’ order.  Not a stitch or a hair out of place.  Army neatness and order throughout the apartment.  My father was thunderstruck.  There was no way after the noises he and mum had heard throughout the night the apartment could have been in any other state but a bad state.

This sealed the deal for my father.  He now realised that mum had been correct in her instincts all along there was something very wrong with the house on Kirschbaum Strasse.  From that day, dad made sure that if he was not in the house mum spent as much time as she could with her German friend and would even stay the night with her rather than spend time alone in that apartment.

The noises were heard again during the night by my parents, on other occasions and the shouting German voices but dad never again ventured out onto the stairs and up to the apartment door.  They would cuddle up and try to ignore the noises.

I myself saw the house years later in the 1970’s when as a child I lived in Holland with my parents.  We went to Wuppertal one Saturday to have a look at some of the places from my parent’s past.  I saw that big white house on Kirschbaum Strasse and as I looked up from the car a child of my own age with a melancholy face looked back at me from one of the second floor windows.

Apparently dad found out that the house had a very sad past during the war it had some form connections to the SS and Von Ribbentrop’s henchmen.  It had been used for some very dark interrogations which would of course explain the noises and voices.

“Come on Peter, I’ve had enough let’s go” mum said on that chilly Saturday afternoon as she pulled her coat to her.    I watched the girl’s face until the house disappeared out of sight.

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BUNTY, TWINKLE THEN THE DEVIL ARRIVED WITH MISTY. MY LOVE OF GIRLS COMICS.

24 Nov

One of my first memories is sitting on the bus with my grandmother on the way to Woolston in Southampton.  Gran had given me my pocket money early that week and I knew exactly what I was going to spend it on, I clutched that pre-decimal coinage in my tiny hand, it was big and it smelt of a thousand other palms but to me it meant just one thing  this week’s edition of the Twinkle comic.

The bus stopped on the other side of the road to the newsagents, but all I had to do was run across the road and I would be there in a jiffy and that is exactly what I did.  I never saw the car, but thank goodness the driver saw me, there was a screeching of brakes, the car stopped with one good old imperial inch to spare.  At that age, I wasn’t really aware of how close to death I had come, but I was aware of the stares from the people who were walking along the street and how they had now all stopped dead in their tracks.

I was also very much aware of how fuming my grandmother was, this lady who was already in her eighties looked extremely upset and very, very angry and she was never angry, especially not with me.  She started to shout at me, and tell me what a “naughty girl” I had been.  Gran’s thick Toxteth accent sliced through the hushed Hampshire air and just resulted in making it more of a ‘scene’ than it already was.

I knew I shouldn’t have left my grandmother’s side, I also knew I had been extremely lucky, all the bystanders kept telling me and my grandmother this whilst giving her disapproving looks.  But throughout all this shock, angst and kerfuffle, around me, my head was still full of one overarching desire, I wanted my Twinkle comic and this was delaying me.

Twinkle was absolutely brilliant and they had free gifts too.  I still have an old black and white photo of me sitting on a rug in the garden in my Nurse Nancy (she was one of the best characters) nurse’s hat and apron tending to a broken doll, I had probably disabled it for the photograph.

After the car ‘incident’ Twinkle was delivered to the house, it was obviously deemed far safer.  So every week, Twinkle would arrive, rolled up through the door, with our name and address written in pencil at the top.  This made me feel extremely special, this copy was just for me, I was an important reader.

As I grew a little older I started to experiment with other comics, Bunty was fabulous, it had a wonderful strip called ‘The Four Marys’.  This was about four girls named Mary from across the social divide all at the same ‘girls only ‘ boarding school and all their marvellous adventures, through thick and thin they stuck together and were the most tremendous chums.  I was determined I would go to a boarding school just like them one day, maybe I could find three other girls there named Angela who would all be my extra special chums.  Image

Every Christmas there would be an annual to look forward to this would be packed with extra feature lengths stories of all my favourite characters.  There were other comics I loved too, it was jolly hard on my meagre pocket money keeping up with them all and not having a young sister to swap comics with, I had to rely on my grandparents being generous benefactors which they always were.  Their generosity ensured I could buy Mandy, Jinty and Judy, which were very similar to Bunty.  On reflection, I think it was probably self-perservation, rather than an act of loving kindness that prompted my grandparents to support my comic habit.  Just like doting grandparents today who buy their grandchildren a film or a video game to occupy them thus giving the donator a short window of peace and quiet.  One thing was definitely true, I was never happier than when I had a brand new shiny copy of one of my favourite comics in my hand.

Then just as I reached that age when you are too old for Bunty and having briefly dabbled with Look-In magazine which was okay, but didn’t possess the drama I yearned for, arrived the queen or should I say evil black queen of all girls comics.  Sent to us from the darkside, the very Lucifer of girls comics –  MISTY.

Misty was first published on the 4th February 1978 and from the first edition I was hooked.  This was a comic packed with stories of ghosts, witches, nether worlds, spells, aliens, demons and anything supernatural.  The supernatural was presented as a reality and this comic was literally terrifying.  The tagline read “stories NOT to be read at night”.  Basically it should have been stories not to be read by children.  It was one of the most bizarre publications aimed at children to ever see the light of day.

I could not miss an issue, just like Twinkle there were often free gifts, but unlike Twinkle these usually had a creepy element to them; a black cat ring, a wheel of fortune that would predict your future “day by day”, a lucky charm bracelet.  It was breeding a nation of terrified and superstitious young girls.

“The old gypsy couldn’t believe her eyes when the young girl stepped out of the fire completely unharmed, who was she?  What was her secret”?  This was dialogue from a typical cover of Misty with the girl engulfed in flames and behind her stands a woman with red eyes in a hood looking like a dead and  dug-up ‘Grotbags’ the witch.  All this for 8 pence every Monday which ensured you had a terrible week at school because you would start the week with insomnia.

I myself had many a sleepless night over Misty, I remember one particular incident, not sure what the actual story I had been reading was but it had traumatised me to the point I could take no more.

Knocking on my parent’s bedroom door I told them in agitated gasp.  “I can’t sleep”.  “Why, what’s the matter?” enquired my sleepy and obviously irritated mother.  “Not sure, I replied, I just can’t sleep”.  There was no hiding the reason though, mum knew why “it’s that bloody comic isn’t it!”, I paused before replying knowing what the consequences of my acquiescence  would be, but always having been far too honest for my own good I answered “yes” in a resigned tone.   “ I knew it, I bloody knew it, if you don’t get back to bed this instant you are never having that ruddy comic in this house again!”

I slunk back to bed, still terrified, but also now worried my parents would deprive me of Misty  and I wouldn’t be able to get my weekly fix of all things occult.

I now know that I was far from being the only girl of my generation who experienced this. There was a legion of females who had experienced the terror and insomnia that was Misty.  My partner Dawn was another one who suffered through her love of Misty;

Dawn and her sister had been given a Misty annual each by their cherubic grandmother on Boxing Day, Dawn being a few years younger than me she was only eight years old at the time, Dawn and her younger sister both decided to read their annuals in bed before they went to sleep.  Dawn’s sister’s story was about a girl who got trapped in a mirror and the story ended with her stuck for eternity in the mirror and her friends walked pass as she tried to cry for help but to no avail.  The final frame showed her screaming in silence and sheer terror.

Meanwhile, Dawn was reading a lovely story about a boy and girl whose grandmother (who curiously had more than a passing cartoon resemblance to dawn’s own grandmother) had been killed by an alien/monster and replaced with an alien/monster in the guise of their grandmother.  The children only found out their grandmother was actually a monster/alien (after much suspicion) when they took a photograph of her and she was totally invisible.  This resulted in Dawn then assuming that her grandmother had given her this annual as some sort of subliminal message and was trying to tell Dawn that she was really a monster/alien.  Dawn and her sister then swapped annuals and which made each other worse, resulting in them both crying on their bunk beds and then being told off for reading the annuals when they should have been in bed. This has left an indelible mark on both Dawn and her sister.

Misty was a more than a comic, it was was a potential ‘life ruiner’.  Ironically  Misty is now a highly sought after publication.  I sold an annual that I found in a box of books at my store recently for £55.  People obviously treasure a magazine that was so unique and incredibly memorable.

So where does this leave girls comics in 2012?  Boys have always been the major market when it comes to selling comics and they always will be, action heroes, Marvel, DC, Manga and a plethora of ever more exotic publications continue to thrive.  I note with sadness though that D.C. Thompson is to end their print run of the Dandy and just maintain an online presence.  So I ask again, where does this leave girls comics and can there ever be a revival?   They have been pretty non-existent in recent years, but surely there has to be a market out there!  Young girls are avid readers, given the right opportunity and inspiration, look at the success over the last decade of the Harry Potter and Twilight franchises.

I would love to think there is still room out there in the publishing world for girls’ comics.  This would give young girls something to look forward to buying every week, the free gifts, the annuals, the stories, the fun of sharing the same stories with your compatriots, looking forward every week to that publication day.  I am not sure how I ever gave all that up.

Think I might just pop up the loft and see if I can find where my copies of Misty went, unless mum threw them out.  Ruddy hell I bet she did!

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THEM’S DEALERS

29 Aug

I absolutely adored my maternal grandmother.  A wonderful, warm, loving and fascinating lady, from Toxteth in Liverpool, born in 1888 with an accent thicker than than a hot bowl of best Scouse.  Dorothy, my grandmother or O.M., as I called her for ‘other mother’ was also extremely comical, but never knowingly so.  Life’s bizarre moments and odd encounters seemed to find Dorothy very easily and she always managed to recount those moments and encounters back to us in a deeply hilarious way.

The year must have been 1972, when I first became aware that my mother’s chosen profession and my future career path might not be a universally loved and respected path.  

My mother was an Antique dealer, specialising in vintage jewellery, this was in the years before Ebay and even car boot sales existed.  So her hunting ground consisted of jumble sales, auctions, church fetes and charity shops, she had a supreme eye for a bargain, and could spot a discarded 18 carat gold wedding ring amongst the ballerina twirling jewellery boxes stacked with brass curtain hooks and Christmas cracker prizes.  Mum would then, polish her purchases, price them with a white ticket, place in a velvet box and take them to a fancy Antique Fair in London, usually The Cafe Royal on Regent Street or The Horticultural Hall and achieve a mighty profit. 

So on a Winter’s afternoon in 1972, outside a United Reformed church hall in Southampton, I learnt that to many people “dealer” was a bad word.

The jumble sale was advertised for 11.00 a.m., but mum, O.M. and me rolled up at 10.00 a.m.  “We have to be first the queue mum said”, if not the other dealers will beat us to it.  Mum had already started to teach me the ropes of ‘dealerdom’.  I was her tiny protege, and the best thing about having a small accomplice was I could dodge under the taller grabbing hands and beat them to the punch.   I adored it all, saw it all as a competitive treasure hunt and nobody was going to beat us to the prize.   

O.M. on the other hand, had absolutely no interest in anything other than a nice cup of tea and a slice of victoria sponge, she was only going to the jumble sale to be with the two of us, of course she knew her daughter dealt in antiques and jewellery but she was proud of her daughter and that she had started her own business, and was doing something that she loved.

So, stood in the cold of a Southampton Winter, are three female generations of the one family all first in the queue.  Slowly, as the time moved on, other people joined the line outside the church, predominantly female, arriving in ones and twos, all buttoned up against the cold eyeing us with envy and dislike.  I was too young to notice the looks and stares, but it soon became apparent when the two lumpy ladies behind started pointing at us and enunciating in an extremely loud accusing tone “them’s dealers” and they seemed to be taking particular umbrage with O.M. as she was in their age group.  

The pointing, whispering and staring continued all the way to the end of the queue.  Mum didn’t seem too  bothered, she just told us to “ignore them, they are just annoyed that we are at the front of the queue”.  O.M on the other hand looked mortified….”did you hear what they said, they called us dealers?”  “oh so what, it will soon be open and we will never see them again” mum replied.

The doors eventually opened, a few minutes late, so O’M. had to endure an extra few minutes of derision.   Mum and I ran to the white elephant stall, which was our usual routine, grabbing anything that looked antique or valuable.  

 O’M. went immediately to the refreshments, sat down had a cup of tea, picked at a slice of cake and reflected on the mornings events.  She was still horrified at being called a ‘dealer’ and the jumble queue had taken it’s toll on her.

The sense of horror at the intended slight never left O.M., it was a story I was to hear her recount time and time again, she could never understand how anybody could just look at her and think that she was a ‘dealer’.

Yes, a DEALER, so horrifying was the word and all it’s connotations that O.M. could not bear to be labelled as such.  Now I know that the word is also commonly used to describe somebody that supplies illegal drugs.  But this wasn’t the problem, that thought wouldn’t have even occurred to O.M.  It was the profession of being a dealer in second-hand goods that had left her so mortified.  It was something she (and obviously the other ladies in the queue at the jumble sale) considered shady, irreputable and something to be thoroughly ashamed of.

I have mused on this event many times over the years and since  becoming a fully fledged and professional DEALER,.  I have experienced this attitude myself on occasion….”are you a dealer?” said with contempt or “I don’t really want to sell to dealers” muttered through gritted teeth.

So what is it in the British culture that has given the ‘dealer’ such a bad reputation?

We are supposedly a nation of shopkeepers, we built an empire on bartering, buying, selling, mark it up, make a mint.  Maybe it is the Steptoe & Son image that has tarnished the profession of the dealer, sitting in a heap other people’s junk and debris counting the profits.  

Perhaps it was the black market in World War II that spawned the disdain.  The mustachioed spiv, selling essentials to a war weary nation and profiteering on the back of a population on it’s knees.

Now, whenever I see that contempt rearing it’s sneering mouth in my direction, I hear O.M. whisper in my ear down through the decades in her fabulous accent, “them’s dealers”.  It always makes me smile and my equilibrium is restored..

 Life’s lessons when they come, are often in the most mundane of places on the most ordinary of days.  Mine came in a jumble sale queue on a cold Winter’s day in Southampton at the age of six and a half years old.

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