I must be said that my Dad was for the most part, was a terrible cynic and that particular gene I did inherit, I think? It is easy to understand this when you remember spending years being told what to do and realising or (dare I say) knowing that the instructions are going to ‘end in tears’ and some poor person is going to have to pick up the tab for it, usually not the instigator of the mess. (I digress again). He surprised me once with a cynical masterpiece, or a sardonic comment if you like that went something like this; ” Abyssinia was a god forsaken dust bowl but the Italians had press ganged the locals in to building the most amazing roads , all leading nowhere, but bloody well made and straight as a dye” I wonder if they are still there, as with the foundations of most of the roads we still use today in U.K.?
The Army spent the best part of a year “mopping up the mess” in Abyssinia and installing some semblance of normality before reinstating the emperor.
At the end of 1943 my dads battalion where instructed to pack up their stuff and await further instructions. On the second of January 1944 allowing a day off for getting over the New Years Eve celebration (how very civilised) the boys were heading for Rhodesia again, they were needed to help organise the army boys (and girls) there and have them prepare for a possible German invasion. It was, for my Dad and his mates, I’m sure, a strange time. It appears that they all had plans to call Rhodesia home when the war was over and everything was done and dusted. I guess with the huge British influence in the country Salisbury must have seemed almost like being back home in ‘dear old blighty’ !! Over the following six months “more or less I think” Dad and his fellow squaddies worked day and night to help the Rhodesians prepare themselves. Apparently there were a number of South Africans “hiding there”, what from or from whom is not very clear !
My Dad received regular letters from home both from his lovely wife and daughter and his family in Lincolnshire. It appears that his ‘baby brother’ Dick had been called up and was in the R.A.F “learning how to kill people from the air” (there’s that cynicism again, bless him). Doreen and Pat were living in Ashford with her parents (my grand parents of course) and were fine but, of course, missing him like mad. Thinking about the situation now, with hindsight,which is as we all know a wonderful luxury, the house in Ashford must have been pretty cosy to say the least! 96 Chesterfield Road was (and still is) a three bedroomed two living room Victorian semi detached house (I wonder who’s living there now?). There were at any given moment at least eight persons living there! My Mum and Pat, both Nanny and Grandad, Aunty Joan, Aunty Ivy and two of my Grandad’s brothers and one of their wives…..Although, having said that I skip ahead twenty years from then to 35 Arnold Road, there were nine of us kids and Mum and Dad in a three bedroom house on a new council estate outside Staines (pre Ali G !)Cosy doesn’t quite cover it here. My Dad wrote to Mum telling her of his plans to move out to this paradise as soon as the War was over. My Mum immediately replied in the negative! ” How can I bring a child into that under developed place with wild animals wondering the streets and what about my Mum and Dad, they’re getting on and they’ll miss little Patsy so much”. Now, in my Mums defence , I must say that I can totally understand her feeling and must state here and now that she was never given to histrionics and was no drama queen but……I sort of get it. The news reports that must have been coming out from Africa with Rommel and his army goose stepping there way across the deserts (funny pictures in my mind now including Mel Brookes etc.) Lions, elephants etc. the big five as they are affectionately know here in S.A. now must have seemed like a different planet, let alone a different continent. We must also remember that very few people travelled in those days unless they were very rich or (as with most cases) bordering on the lunatic!! My Dad told me much later that he was devastated at the response but (wisely) decided to wait until he returned home with photos and job offers to try to encourage my Mum to change her mind. Again with hindsight I am wondering what happened to those photos, who has them now? He returned to England toward the end of 1944 for some well earned, I’m sure, leave and relaxation which must have included a fair amount of good old British beers, brown and mild (ask yer Dad). I think at that time the end of the war was looking imminent but in fact it staggered on for another nine months. The excitement my Dad was feeling coming home and dreaming of convincing his wife to fall in love with the country that he now thought of as home, must have been almost impossible to contain for him………….not gonna happen Dad, not gonna happen !! ………