The Early Years
It was early one morning on a cold winter’s day not many months after World War 2 had started when arrived in this world. The place was No 1 Coastguard’s Cottages in Alverstoke, Gosport, Hampshire. I was the third son and my mother was not sure of a name for me. She looked out of the window and noticed a small red breasted bird, hence my name.
When there was an air raid warning during the war people had to don a gas mask, however it was not practical for a small baby and they had to be placed in a ‘Gas Cot’ which was completely sealed with a small viewing panel to let the mother see the baby.
My Mother told me that, on the whole, I was not a bad child but I did not like being put into the ‘Gas Cot ‘ and protested noisily every time I had to be put into it.
My first memory is going to meet the people who I would be evacuated to in the Isle of Wight. It was around Christmas and I Remember a huge Santa on the wall of their living room. I have a few memories of the time during my evacuation, chatting to the land Girls over the fence, aircraft flying low and time in the air raid shelter sing 10 green bottles.
I suppose most of my childhood was normal with just a basic secondary education. My father was in the army and I cannot recall seeing much of him in the early days. I do remember him coming home one day on an army Motor cycle. He was serving in Palestine around 1948 and we were to join him and excitement was high. Unfortunately trouble was brewing in that area at the time and it was deemed to be too dangerous for us to go there, which was a great disappointment. His next move was to Freetown in Sera Leon in West Africa. This time we were luckier and shortly followed him out there in 1949.
This was a great adventure for a 9 year old. It was virtually unheard of in those days for people, apart from the rich and famous, to fly anywhere. Therefore it was out of this world experience fore us. It took four days to get there in the twin engines Varsity aircraft. The first overnight stop was in Gibraltar where we stayed in the Rock Hotel. We had a refuelling stop somewhere in the desert and this is where I saw a Black man for the first time. He assisted me down from the aircraft by lifting me under the arms. I was wearing a brand new white shirt and I looked to see if any of his black had transferred to my shirt. Our next stop was in Accra then capital of the Gold Coast (now Ghana) in West Africa. The aircraft had developed a technical fault therefore we had to stay there for two nights. This was quite good as it gave us the opportunity to visit the fantastic sandy beaches nearby. We finally arrived at Freetown airfield which was on Lungey Island and, as it was after nightfall, we had to stay on the island until the next morning to be taken by launch to the mainland.
We had to attend a school run specifically for army children who were transported in from various locations. My Teacher was Miss Buxton. Because of the low numbers attending the School she had a wide age range of primary children and the class was split into three groups who where being taught at different levels. This was to have an effect on my future education.
We travelled to school in an army 3 ton truck which had bench seats fitted down the side. The sides of the truck were normally open but in the monsoons canvas covers where rolled down to keep us snug and dry.
The African Ladies transported their goods balanced on their heads and one day when passing a line of these ladies along the road we put our rulers out but raised then above thier loads so that they were not knocked off. However, my brother didn’t raise his far enough and knocked a Jar of palm wine from one of the woman’s heads spilling the wine all over her. This obviously got my brother into serious trouble.
To Be Continued