Chapter 1

 
I was born in Norfolk, England in November 1947, and while my childhood was not one of privilege, my sister Rose-Marie and I always felt loved and there was plenty of food on the table in our home. Home was a farm, where my father was a farm labourer and in my early years, we lived in a tied cottage. 

My mother, Marie, came from a privileged background.  While she was born to working class parents, at the age of nine my grandmother married a very successful engineer who worked in many interesting places around the world.  My mother spent her formative years in South Africa, Argentina, and France. She was trilingual, being fluent in English, French, and Spanish. My father on the other hand was what we would have called Ďsalt of the earthí - a hardworking man capable of turning his hand to anything. Jim was born in South Wales and prior to meeting my mother, had travelled extensively. He had worked down the mines, worked his way across to Australia as a stoker on a ship, and had sheared sheep. He had been a lumberjack in Canada and had served with the Canadian army during WWII in France. After the war, he came back to the UK.

Life in those days was not easy; our furniture was homemade, mostly by my dad. Our dining table was an upside-down packing crate. I developed a strong work ethic from an early age, starting with beet singling, potato and strawberry picking. I also went bush beating for which I was paid ten shillings a day and a can of ginger beer. Life on the farm meant that I grew up fit and healthy, I walked everywhere, as we lived outside of the village with no car. That alone was a great way to keep fit.

I have been lucky enough to have enjoyed good health throughout my life with the exception of the usual childhood illnesses such as Chicken Pox, Measles and Whooping Cough, and the removal of my tonsils and adenoid.

Certain aspects of my childhood I remember well - getting dressed under the bedcovers as it was too cold to get out of bed and scraping the ice off the windows to see what the day outside was like. An outdoor toilet meant we had to go down the yard and, on a snowy morning, we would put our Wellington boots on and make the trek out the back when we needed to go. We didnít have toilet paper, we used squares of newspaper instead. There was a saying ĎTodayís news, is tomorrowís arse wipe.í The newspapers were left hanging up on a nail and we crumbled them up before using them as it made them more comfortable Ė an early version of deluxe toilet paper! When I consider that living like this was normal for me as a young lad, I was amused by the panic buying of toilet paper when the first wave of the Covid pandemic came in 2020. I once mentioned to the lady who managed our office how we had substituted toilet paper with newspaper, and she couldnít believe it. In her defence, she was considerably younger than me.

I remember the pedal car I had as a child and getting my first bike. We got it from an auction, and I can still recall looking up at my mum with my pleading eyes, as the bidding got underway.  My dad taught me to ride it and held the back of the saddle until I had got my balance.

Our pets were a big part of our lives on the farm. We always had cats and to this day, Iíve always had a cat when itís been possible. At one time Rose-Marie and I each had our own rabbit, and it was our job to look after them. I canít remember what happened to Rose-Marieís, but I remember one morning I went to feed mine and it wasnít there. It turned out that we had eaten it for dinner the previous night. I still canít face the prospect of eating rabbit.

When I was seven, my father changed jobs. I had already started school and been extremely excited about it. We were living in March in Cambridgeshire and Jimís new job was in Auburn near Lincoln. It upset me at the time because I knew I was going to miss my friends.

Travel was part of my life from an early age. Every year my mother would take Rose-Marie and me across to France and we would stay with my grandmother in Lille for two weeks. My mother would take Rose-Marie and me to many historic places, especially when we travelled to France. As we always spent the day in London on the way, weíd visit places such as the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey and St Paulís Cathedral, engendering an interest in history and buildings which was to stay with me all my life.   

From Lille, we would go to Paris for another two weeks and stay with ĎAuntie Nanna and Uncle Georgeí. They werenít really our aunt and uncle. My mother had been in Paris during the Nazi occupation, and she and her friend Nanette had hidden a Jewish man called Georges. After the war, Nanette and Georges got married but they and his family never forgot what my mother did, so we were accepted as part of their family.

There are many gaps around what exactly my mother did during the war. I do know she was part of the Resistance and after the liberation, she worked with the allies as an interpreter. It was something she never spoke to us about.

Nanette was my sister Rose-Marieís godmother and Georges became a successful editor for leading French publications Marie France and Le Parisian.

I loved those trips to Lille and Paris and on 20 July 1959, both my sister and I had our First Communion in Bayonne, France, near where Nanette and Georges owned a seaside apartment.

Back in the UK, when we arrived in Lincoln, I moved straight into the junior school, which was something straight out of a Dickenís novel. It was a small school with just one classroom for the 20 pupils and one teacher who took us for all subjects. I wasnít the brightest of children, so he didnít have much time for me. He had a high desk, which he would get me to stand beside and read. Every time I got a word wrong, he would hit me behind the knees with his cane. I was certainly pleased when he left, and we got a new teacher.

The new teacher didnít last long, and we then had a young guy who I really liked. Having a teacher that I liked changed my whole attitude and I began to work in school for the first time. Unfortunately, that was shortly before I was to change schools, but it did occur to me that I would have had a vastly different experience in my early education if he had been my teacher from the beginning. It was something I carried into my later life when I was to do teaching myself.

I failed my 11 Plus, which impacted on which school I would go to and I ended up at the secondary modern. Rose-Marie was already attending the school, and some of my junior school mates started there at the same time, so at least I had some friendly faces as I moved into this new environment.

My first introduction to military life came at 13 when I joined the Air Training Corps (ATC). My friend Steve wanted to join the RAF and being member of the cadets was a useful steppingstone, not to mention the enjoyment obtained from the organisation. Both Steve and I lived in Washingborough, where I had moved 2 years earlier, this was about four miles from the ATC Training Centre so, having found out when they met, we got on our bikes and biked along.

Steve was a very bright and outgoing person, so I didnít have to do any of the talking. We were invited to tag along for the evening and see if we liked it. We met a couple of other guys, Phil, who I was to retain contact with, and Pete, and we all bonded, so at the end of the evening we agreed to meet up again at the next training evening and officially join.

The ATC is a national, voluntary youth organisation, which is sponsored by the RAF. Its aim is to provide opportunities for young people between the ages of 13 and 18 to build personal skills and self-confidence in order that they become responsible citizens.

Not only did I learn to march and understand what military life was all about, I also learned about being self-sufficient. The ATC was the first time that I went away from home by myself, as part of the cadet two-week training Summer Camp. Some of the cadets found that quite difficult and a number were homesick. I didnít have that problem, possibly because of my nature or perhaps it was due to the support that my little group gave each other. 

Meanwhile, back in my secondary school, what I lacked in appetite for academia, I made up for in my passion for sport. I got school colours for athletics and rugby and had a trial for Lincolnshire Under 15 rugby team. I left school at the age of 15 with no qualifications as the school considered that it would be pointless for me to stay on. 

My first job after leaving school was putting flower seeds in packets. The manager told me that the prospects were good and that everyone started at the bottom and worked their way up, if you worked hard and had the aptitude. The only good thing about it as far as I was concerned was the girl that worked in the office. I did get on well with the people. The guy who took me under his wing was ex-military, he had lost a leg in the war. I liked him, I felt that I could really relate to him. 

One of my colleagues used to like to have a flutter on the horses and one day he had the certainty that a horse was going to win. He said he would put something on the horse for me. I agreed and gave him six pence, eagerly awaiting my windfall. The horse limped home. That cured me of any future desire to play the horses, or any other gambling in fact.

After a few months, I was moved downstairs to the shop where I learned important things like how to sweep a floor and water plants. It quickly occurred to me that I could not envisage myself doing a job like that for the rest of my life and needed to think about a career change. My mother knew the owner of a department store who was looking for someone to work in the furniture department, so I went for an interview. An ability to get on well with people was something I had developed from an early age so I passed the interview and was offered the job. 

Unfortunately, I was faced with the same problem in this job too Ė I simply couldnít see a future for myself selling furniture. I then went on to sell encyclopaedias but clearly didnít have a flair for that as I didnít sell any.

Shop work, factory work and selling were all out, so now I turned my hand to an apprenticeship. That was one of the great things about my youth; there were so many opportunities available. I found a vacancy as an apprentice electrician at the local job centre. I was sent for an interview and was offered a place on the apprenticeship despite mistakenly calling the boss Mr. Bean instead of Mr. Beer on several occasions.

It meant I had to start work at 7.30 each morning for which I had to leave home at an ungodly hour and I travelled to work on my bike. It wasnít the greatest way to start the day. I also had my image to consider so I decided to invest in a motorbike.

The bike was a 250cc AJS Sports and I had a few lucky escapes. I once misjudged my timing overtaking a parked vehicle when a lorry was coming towards me. I remember thinking I wasnít going to make it through the gap. I closed my eyes as I waited for the crunch of metal and impending death. Moments passed and I opened my eyes to see Iíd made it through the gap and was still up-right and riding along. My time hadnít come.

During my nine months as an apprentice electrician, I worked mostly in the workshop making the control panels for a bowling alley contract. The guy I was working with had a great sense of humour. We got the work done but enjoyed it. A sense of humour has always been important to me and is something that my colleagues and bosses have always associated with me. Getting along with people is also key to succeeding at whatever you do.

After the nine months had passed, I realised that this was not for me either. I left my apprenticeship behind and secured a job as a porter and handyman at a local hotel and spa but was soon moved to the restaurant to work as a waiter due to my people skills. It was pleasant and I got by but was soon faced with the same problem Iíd faced in every job Iíd had so far Ė I simply could not imagine myself doing this in 40 yearsí time.

My time in the Air Training Corp had given me a flavour of military life and with my love for travelling, a career in the military appealed. With that in mind, I began the application process and was soon accepted to the Royal Marines.

 
1-RoseMarie_and_I

Rose-Marie and I


 
1-In_France

In France -L to R My mother's 2nd stepfather, Nannette, my grandmother, Rose-Marie, Georges and me.



1-Labour_Office

Labour Office - my mother sat on the right with the dog.



1-Junior_School

Junior School with the nice teacher.  I am standing 2nd from the left.



1-204_Sqn_ATC

204 Squadron ATC awaiting departure for Summer Camp.  Seated on cases L to R: Pete, me, Phil, and Steve.



1-Ron_on_Moter_bike

Me with my Motorbike - taken when I was 16 years old.

 
 
 
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