St. Paul's Cathedral Concert June 2011
HomeWent The Day Well Original ArticlesWesley Roddie LettersThe Writings of Ian RoddieThe AnthemJOGLE Cycle RideOur BlogSite MapContact Us
St Pauls Cathedral







Went the day well?
We died and never knew.
But, well or ill,
Freedom, we died for you.
Went the day well?

When you go home,
Tell them of us and say,
"For your tomorrows,
These gave their todays".



Invited articles

Tom and I have invited several people to write a short article entitled: 'Went the Day Well?' for this site and these have been printed below. We would love to receive more, so if you have a special day that you would like to write about, please do so and send it to us by e-mail via the 'Contact Us' button. The article can be prose or poetry, be factual or fictional, serious or light-hearted and preferably less than 1500 words in length (although longer articles will be considered). All that we ask is that the authors do not trivialise the serious message of the original epitaph.

We cannot thank our contributors enough for the time, thought and effort they have taken to write something for our site. We love each and everyone of the stories, which are printed below in the order in which they have been received, with the most recent at the top.


Went the Day Well?

by Sir Neville 'Kim' Reynolds Hall

(For more information about this article go to the 22 Nov 2019 blog)

Sir Neville 'Kim' Hall's Childhood Memoirs

Steam plough

Chapter 5
Newstead 1905-1906

There are some who turn their eyes to the hills and others to the lush valleys and green pastures, but I think my father would have found his comfort by the still waters, for when he walked with me to the hump-backed bridge we always discussed our plans for converting an old barge into a house-boat in which we could explore the disused waterways.  Although this never came about in our time the idea became popular fifty years later.  But he sometimes hired a boat from "The Open Anchor" and rowed us to a little water meadow where we had tea.  The kettle would be boiled on sticks, for Dewar’s flask was only used for storing his liquid air and had not yet come on the market under the name of "Thermos ".

The little scene on the bank has faded to be replaced by one that is strongly suggestive of Rex Whistler.  I see a tall man wearing a Norfolk jacket and starched butterfly collar, sitting on the grass with his legs crossed before him and his arms stretched out behind him to support his back.  His hair and moustache are fair and his eyes dark blue and crinkled with the radial lines of kindness and tolerant amusement.  What is it that give him such an air of distinction?  Not his steel-rimmed monocle I think, for that was not uncommon in those days, but perhaps the rather thin ears that lie flat against his perfectly poised head.  By his side there is a woman in a large hat that does not entirely hide her sepia hair.  She has hazel eyes and a rather large but peerlessly shaped nose, and, at the moment, she has the slightly worried expression of someone who has mislaid her pince-nez, though in the picture they are clearly to be seen on the lid of the picnic basket.  She is spreading scones from a jar labelled Damson Cheese.  Behind them are two small boys of about seven and five years old wearing dark blue smocks called overalls, brandishing their butterfly nets at a purple emperor of tropical dimensions.

How small was the compass of our world when the hump-backed bridge was the measure of my distance!  Of course, I was propelled a little further in my milk float and we were driven to Queniborough Hall in the brougham, but this was no more than a black box in which we entered at one front door and emerged at another, feeling a little sick as the windows were always closed against the deadly effects of draughts.  The same could be said of railway journeys, during which I slept or listened to my mother reading one of Stead's "Books for the Bairns", which she bought at Leicester station for a penny.  But subjectively such separations were as meaningless as light-years.

It was not long, however, before our world expanded.  Mr Smith’s small shop in Syston sold and repaired bicycles and displayed on its forecourt an antiquated trailer, which could be hired for six pence a day or bought outright for five shillings.  My father had lately come by a Sunbeam bicycle that had been specially made for his huge first-cousin, Colonel Hallewell, and as these two peculiar vehicles appeared to have been built for each other they were soon mated and brought home.  You can be sure that it was not long before Bobby and I were safely tucked in and my father mounted his enormous machine by putting one foot on a step and kicking off with the other before climbing over the saddle.  To appreciate speed, you must be close to the ground and in the open with the wind in your face, and I have no doubt at all that we reached seven miles an hour, or one hundredth of the speed of sound.  Over the hump-backed bridge and away we spun along the elm-shaded lane to Wanlip, like Tom, Tom the Piper’s son.

One Sunday morning, when my grandmother was staying with us, she expressed a wish to go to Wanlip Church with my parents.  This might have appeared to some to present insurmountable difficulties as it was far beyond her walking distance and we had no carriage, nor could we hire one as we sometimes did, as the coachman held fast to the fourth commandment, if to no others.  My father took this request calmly and after tapping the barometer went off to pump up his tyres.

As the five-minute bell began to toll, the curious equipage turned into the private road that led to the church.  My grandmother is sitting erect in the wheeled basket-chair, supported by cushions and wearing her black bonnet and cloak, but her shoulders are hidden by an Indian Shawl that the late Queen had probably given to Great-Aunt Charlotte when she was living at Hampton Court by Grace and Favour.  The handle-bars of my father's great bicycle are raised to their limit so that he can ride as he walks, with a straight back, and he is wearing an old but impeccable blue suit made by Samuel Gardner and Sons at the corner of Clifford Street and Savile Row, and a bowler hat that had been moulded to his head by Scotts.  With his monocle firmly fixed in his right eye he appears to be indifferent to Lady Georgina’s raised eyebrows as she is helped from her carriage by her cockaded footman; but he loses no dignity by putting expediency before it.  This, of course, is surmise, but knowing the two stars and their props so well the little scene is not far wrong.  I can match this with a bit of typical Leicestershire conversation of the period.

On returning home to her husband, Sir Pumfret Steeple-Chase, who had excused himself from matins owing to a sharp attack of gout, Lady Georgina said:
"You missed quite a bizarre sight, my dear.  You know those new people who have come to live near Syston, called Hall?  Well, the tall man took an old lady to church in a kind of basket behind his bicycle.  Are you better?".
“No.  Worse.  Any relation of Sam Hall who was hanged at Tyburn?”
“Of course not, my love, Tyburn was centuries ago.  Besides, I am told that these people are well-connected".
"Then he can do as e’ damn well likes.  Who does he hunt with?”

Well at any rate we had a nice donkey at home that Griff had bought for thirty shillings, which was soon to be given in part exchange for a pony called Tommy, and Nurny, who I think I mentioned had her private means, gave us a smart little governess cart.  I must explain to those who may be a few years younger than I am, that this was a small two-wheeled tub, with seats all the way round, including one on the door at the back, which had to be carefully closed to prevent a child from falling out.

Griff now added that of groom to his numerous other duties, and once a week he put on his coat and Sunday bowler and drove Bobby and me to collect the butter and cream from Mr Perkins' farm at Barkby.

In the early years of the century the minor roads were shaded by large trees and tall hedges where the honeysuckle, dog roses and purple and yellow woody nightshade rambled in profusion; but those between the big fields in this hunting district had to be kept trim or the M.F.H. (Master of Foxhounds) would “make a noise about it" to use Griff’s expression.  The roads were narrow and the verges wide, where the uncut grasses waved their flowering plumes.  But in comparing these Arcadian byways with our modern tarmacked lanes I suppose I should be fair – an attitude that I dislike as much as anybody else – in remembering the cloud of dust that rose at the slightest disturbance, so that the ladies had to envelop their head in gauze veils like joints of meat in the larder.

Barkby was a small village with a large church and square Georgian Hall where Squire Pochin lived with his wife and grown-up son, Norman.  We used to stay at the farm longer than it took Griff to collect the butter and cream, as he liked to have a good gossip with Mr and Mrs Perkins, and Bobby and I were allowed to play in a field behind the house where, to our delight, we had found a double-decker horse bus.  I remember once that the jug was upset, and the cream poured down the side of the trap.  When we got home, Griff went to fetch a sponge and leather but, on his return, he found that the job had been done.  We had licked it clean.  So much for nursery hygiene!

My father used to go to local sales with Griff to bid for him, and he sometimes found useful pieces of wood for his workshop.  On one occasion he saw a "hard top" which looked as though it would fit our governess cart and it was knocked down to Griff for a few shillings, but when it was brought home my father’s fertile imagination had found a still better use for it as the cabin for a water-line model ship which he proposed to build for us on the sunken lawn in front of the long room windows.  The outline of the hull was marked out and dug to a depth of about a foot and in a month the bulkheads were built, and in another she was commissioned.  As well as the cabin, which obviously had the capacity of the governess cart, there was a ladder up to the bridge, with a wheel that moved the rudder through a system of pulleys and imposed yet another tax on my father's “Argosy” braces.  The mast had a proper truck and halyards so that we could run up signal flags, that were kept in the stern locker, and which we soon learnt to read.  She was a beautiful thing and greatly admired by everyone, but her perfection was her undoing as a play-thing, for the nearness to reality quenched our imagination, and the lawn was never the open, perilous sea that surrounded us as we sat in our box in the yard at Beeby House.  Rag dolls are more stimulating than the china-faced beauties that walk and talk and require changing.

Beyond our house the Fosse Way ran between fields as far as Thurmaston and the fringes of Leicester, and to the west there was an unbroken view towards Charnwood Forest, with a line of hills whose slate-blue colour gave a false impression of their height and distance.  Perhaps it was the flatness and simplicity of the foreground that made this gentle and unassuming landscape a perfect stage and backcloth for the little period scenes that have remained with me.  It was a pretty sight, though common enough, to see three or four brightly coloured balloons drifting over the sky, as untroubled by the wind as the cumulus clouds.  It was here that I saw Haley's comet and my first aeroplane, and the steam plough at work.  It was a huge double-ended implement with the two shears fixed at an oblique angle and balanced on a pair of wheels at their apex, so that as one cut the furrow the other rode clear of it.  It was drawn to-and-fro by steel ropes wound on drums under a pair of magnificent steam engines that advanced in steps on each side of the field.  On "Plough Monday” the plough-boys used to blacken their faces and call at the house, cap in hand, but more to keep up a tradition than through want.

I shall never know why I was so strongly attracted to Charnwood forest that I would stop and turn my eyes to the slate-blue ridge that shortened our westward horizon.  Was it the name or the magic of something clearly seen yet so far beyond my reach, like Algol or the Evening Star?  But one spring day, though I have long forgotten how or why it came about, I found myself awake in this strange land of my day-dreams, walking with my father and Bobby through a ride in Bradgate Park, as wide as the Mall and still so clear in my mind that I could paint it if I were an artist.  On our left we passed the ruined mansion where Lady Jane Gray was born in 1537.  She was the eldest daughter of Henry Gray, Marquis of Dorset, and later Duke of Suffolk, and the Great Granddaughter of Henry the Seventh.  When she was only seventeen years old, her kinsman, the Duke of Northumberland, proclaimed her Queen, which led to her execution on Tower Hill nine days later.  My father pointed out the great oaks which were beheaded in memory of Lady Jane.  Presently we came to a wide-open space sprinkled with cowslips that still hung their heads and, sitting with them, was my mother spreading damson cheese.

Sometimes Bobby and I would have tea with the Griffins in Archdale Street, a row of small houses about five minutes’ walk from Newstead.  Mrs Griffin was an extremely proper person and always addressed her husband as Mr Griffin in front of us, as though this might instil in him a little of her respectability – an ever-forlorn hope.  It was a neat four roomed house with the usual unoccupied front parlour and flourishing aspidistra, and a bright kitchen at the back where we always had a generous tea with chocolate biscuits.  The back door led on to a worn brick path between beautifully planted flower borders.  I well remember admiring a grey-green leaved plant with pendant pink and white flowers like ballet dancers, which the botanists call dicentra spectabilis, the homely call bleeding heart and the vulgar call Grandmamma’s drawers, and which must have inspired Edward Lear’s manypeeplia upsidownia.  The path ended at a little arbour that faced away from the house towards my slate-blue hills, and after tea we used to sit here with Griff between us, smoking his pipe and telling us stories that would not have brought a blush to the cheeks of a maiden aunt.

Griff grew his vegetables in an allotment on the other side of the road, where there were a few small houses in one of which lived the fattest man I have ever seen; they do not grow like that in these days.  He travelled round the district in a very small and light two-wheeled cart, sitting on a great block of salt, which he sold for a penny a lump, but my mother did not fancy it.  We used to wonder how such slender wheels could carry such a weight, and one day they collapsed and pitched poor Fatty Salto into the road.  He was too well padded to be badly injured, but he retired from business.  There was also an itinerant fishmonger called Mr Yellowbelly, who heralded his approach by calling out his name at the top of his voice, which must have surprised our visitors.  The purlieus of my early boyhood were not without character and retrospective charm.

When my mother's birthday was drawing near Griff showed us the present he had prepared for her.  It was a beautifully arranged collection of ferns growing in a large urn-shaped vessel, painted silver, and it was not until we had recognised it as what the genteel would call a toilet pedestal that our enthusiasm became tempered by misgivings of its reception.  When the day arrived, however, a curious procession could have been seen moving slowly from Archdale Street towards Newstead, with Griff pushing his masterpiece in the wheelbarrow and Bobby and me marching behind, looking excited, if a little apprehensive.  When we arrived, no doubt my father's monocle magnified the twinkle in his eye as he watched my mother to see how she would cope with an awkward situation.  She belonged to a generation who were incapable of telling a lie, however white or good the cause, but she had a formula that neither gave offence nor pricked her conscience.  If, for instance, she were asked her opinion on a hideous hat that gave pleasure to its owner she would give the matter due thought before declaring that it was “quite remarkable".  After thanking Griff for his kindness in remembering her birthday and stressing the remarkability of his gift she told him gently that she was unable to accept it, in a manner that clearly indicated that the artist should never part with his magnum opus.  So we were all happy again, not the least Griff, who, after gazing at the urn like Keats drawing inspiration from an Attic vase, trundled it home to Archdale Street to be his pride and joy.

Thursday was my mother's "at-home day" when she wore her smartest hat and shoulder of mutton sleeves and sat in the drawing- room from three o'clock onwards, to receive visitors.  At the proper moment tea was sipped from the green Minton cups, known as the Cockatrice pattern, and wafer-thin bread and butter was nibbled, followed by snow-white angel cake.  The tea-pot was replenished from an urn that stood on bow legs over a methylated spirit stove, and my father once told me that one of his aunts, having turned on the tap to fill the pot, would say to the urn: "Thank you, that is quite enough", which she repeated until the tray was flooded unless someone knew the drill.  My father was not expected to join these parties; and since we had exchanged our white silk frocks and blue sashes for what we called "overalls" we did not have to be shown off.

We once had an untrained country maid, who was most anxious to do everything correctly, but when my mother told her that if any callers arrived she was to tell them that "she was not at home" she blushed and replied: "Oh Mum, but you are.”  For some time we were fortunate in having a second generation servant, who called my father Mr Lionel, but she left, rather to our surprise, to get married.  She was followed by   a terrible woman who had to be dismissed after a day or two without notice, which led to our being served with a summons.  My father consulted a solicitor who said she was well known to him and made a living this way, having played the same trick on his sister, but he would have to pay up.



Went the Day Well?

by Sir Neville 'Kim' Reynolds Hall

(For more information about this article go to the 30 May 2018 blog)

Sir Neville 'Kim' Hall's Childhood Memoirs

Bristol's three handed clock

Chapter 4
Southsea 1905

During our second winter at Newstead Bobby and I suffered from too many feverish colds and sore throats that even homeopathic tincture of aconite and stockings soaked in Pond's extract of wych-hazel and wrapped round our necks failed to alleviate.

My parents therefore decided to consult our good Dr Elliston who was soon to be seen stepping from his carriage in his frock coat and the top hat in which he always mixed his physic, according to my father.  The verdict was reassuring though the doctor said that a month or two in a bracing climate would do us a lot of good and, accordingly, on the 18th of January 1905 Nurny took us to stay in Southsea with Grannianmarty.  This was our collective name for our paternal grandmother and her inseparable companion Martha Hunt.

In those days grandmothers were not the attractive youngsters that they are today, and Granny was a very daunting person.  In some ways she was rather like Queen Victoria, for, apart from a touch of purple in her lace cap, she had worn deep mourning ever since our grandfather had died thirty years previously, and she believed in keeping children and others in their proper place.  But her apparent haughtiness to strangers, whom she looked through without seeing, was just that, for she was totally blind.

There was nothing frightening to us about Marty though grown­ups were apt to shy off her for she was stone deaf as well as being extremely eccentric.  We got on with her famously and I think she enjoyed playing with us.  She put us up to all kinds of tricks and soon taught us the finger language.  She had a curious way of speaking, dividing long words into widely separated syllables without any inflexion at all.  For instance, her favourite fruit was a bar-nar-nar and she enjoyed a glass of mar-sar-lar; all of which we greatly admired and tried to imitate.  After a conversation with Marty it was only too easy for the absent-minded to turn to someone else and continue in the same manner, and my mother once produced "a scene" as Nurny would have called it.  She was taking my grandmother to see a world-renowned eye specialist in Wiesbaden and they had to change trains in Paris, where she gave the already over-excited porter his instructions on her fingers and then spoke to poor Marty in fluent French.

Marty had been a little sewing-maid who came into my grand­mother's life when her daughter Helen died, and the pent-up affection soon flowed in the direction of the poor little deaf girl – a not uncommon occurrence.  She was an avid reader and must have been very intelligent for, with my grandmother's help, she became a well-educated woman who could keep her end up with anyone prepared to talk to her.  On the whole people were kind in this respect but I think with my grandmother there was a hint of "love me, love my companion"; but with failing eye-sight in one and stone deafness in the other they became mutually indispensable.

My grandmother was a daughter of Major General Sir William Reid, whose extraordinary career must have had a great influence on her early life for she grew up from a baby to a young woman under the royal flag, her father having been successively Governor of Bermuda, Barbados and Malta, and during one of her early visits to England she was heard to say, without a trace of affectation, that it was not very comfortable to sleep without a sentry outside her bedroom.

Verdalla Towers, the Governor's Summer Palace in Malta, must have been an earthly paradise for a girl just out of the school room, with its constant stream of visitors from Admirals to Midshipmen and Generals to Subalterns and it was here that she met my grandfather, Basil Sidmouth de Roos, as a young Naval Officer, but it is quite likely that the two families were acquainted as the Reids had lived for many years at Kinglassie, which is not far from our ancestral home of Dunglass.

I used to gaze at the painting of Verdalla, the square turreted fortress covered with luxuriant creepers and standing in its beautiful Mediterranean garden and I never tired of my grandmother's funny little anecdotes of her happy, early life there.  She told me, for instance, that she once had a competition with a Midshipman to see who could eat the greater number of peaches at a sitting but wisely agreed to call it a draw at thirty apiece, without ill effects.  On another occasion a budding poet challenged her to find a word that he could not include in a poem and she promptly offered him "ipecacuanha", which was then used as a powerful emetic.  Without a crease on his brow he recited:

“Seated in her shady bower
I found the fair Suzannah
Apricots I gave my love
With ipecacuanha.”

One of my favourite stories showed that my great-grandfather also liked his bit of fun. When he was being conducted round the grounds for the first time he suddenly waved his hat and danced a little jig.  His A.D.C. was naturally alarmed, thinking, no doubt, that he was touched by the sun, but he had just seen a notice that stated in bold letters that:


My grandfather died as a Post Captain while traveling with my grandmother in Germany when my father was a small boy and it seems almost certain that both he and his daughter, Helen, had acute appendicitis, before it was proved to be operable on King Edward.  My grandmother kept their house in Southsea, where she had so many Naval friends, though she intended to find a place in the country where she could enjoy her garden.  But with failing sight and the reluctance to change her way of life that this imposed on her, she died in 1923 in the same house at the age of 86.  Although her mind and memory never deteriorated I think her blindness sheltered her a little against the march of time, for she always referred to Southsea as the village and spoke of the windmill as though it were still there.  She told me once that you had to pay toll between London and Kensington, where she liked to attend services at St Mary Abbot's when staying in Town.  I remember her using the term "Railway Time", for in her youth she would have altered her watch when travelling across England – a fiddle that must have saved Mr Bradshaw a deal of trouble.

I always enjoyed my grandmother’s reminiscences of the village and the people she knew when she first came to live there.  An old shepherd called Jacob watched his flock on the common and always wore the same old hat shaped like a brimless bowler, which was the origin of our name of "Jacob's hat" for apple pudding.  In the fullness of time the poor old man died in the workhouse from the shock of receiving his one and only bath.  Then there was the eccentric peer who made his living by grinding a barrel-organ, and the "Southsea Poet" who dedicated his magnus opus to my grandmother.  It was entitled "The Sinking of the Euridice" and started with the admirably direct approach:

All amongst the snow and ice
Down went the Youry Dice.

The Commander in Chief, who was an old friend of my grandmother, once sent his coxswain with a note inviting her to dine at Admiralty House but the door was opened by a new maid who did not know the ropes, for she slammed it in the poor man’s face having told him that her mistress never took notes from sailors.  Fortunately, the Admiral met my grandmother a few days later and probably told her how wise her precautions were but hoped he might be considered an exception.

This was my second visit to Southsea though I remember little of the first apart from the memorable trip to Ryde, but it was the third time that Bobby had been here as he and my father were staying with our grandmother at the time of the late Queen's death, and the sight of the royal barge carrying the coffin over the water made a great impression on them both.  My father says in his diary that there was a magnificent sunset that reminded him and many others of a painting by Turner.

No. 7 Clarence Parade was a fair-sized Regency house of considerable character and charm and had about it the indescribable but not unpleasant smell of antiquity produced by much polishing and old leather-bound books.    But through the green baize door in the hall and down the stone stairs there was another world, white-washed and as fresh and cool as well-water.  We always had tea with the servants and as this was our last meal we were given a poached egg on toast dripping with butter.  I remember only the stout cook, Clara and the German Butler, Awald, who was kind and gentle.

Our grandmother had gone to great pains to prepare for our visit and had engaged a governess, Miss Pyke, and a music mistress to teach me the violin, while Bobby was to have drawing lessons in a nearby house.  We started work by singing "All things bright and beautiful” and lasted for about two hours I think, but I was generally dismissed from the room for bad behaviour before the end.  I must have been a great embarrassment to poor Bobby for my indolence and uncouth wit were a shocking contrast to his industry and courteous manners, but I still blame my preceptors for treating me as though I were mentally retarded rather than a very intelligent but grossly spoilt dunce, which was a mistake my parents never made.

We were given a large room to play in, which stabled a piebald rocking-horse that would gallop on a curved base and shake the house and there was a huge Noah' s ark with at least a hundred pairs of animals including fleas as big as the elephants' trunks.  For a special treat we were shown the wheel of life, which must have been the fore-runner of the cinema.  It was a hollow drum with narrow slots round the side through which could be seen a cavalcade of prancing horses when it was given a spin.  I lost sight of the Noah’s ark during the second world war but years later a friend, who knew it well, saw it knocked down at an auction sale tor £70.

These toys had belonged to my father and his brother, our Uncle Basil, and I wonder if the sailor suits that we wore had also been inherited from them.  I still have these beautiful little garments which were made by Lancaster and Sons, Royal Naval Tailors, Portsea, and they are still as good as new.  I know that my father and his brother were dressed in this way owing to a curious story which might have ended in tragedy.  As small children they were sent with their French governess to a little school in Versailles, and their mother – and still more strangely their governess – had overlooked the fact that their hatbands displayed the name of H.M.S. Bellerophon, which was the ship that took Napoleon to St. Helena.  Soon after their arrival in France they were stoned and had to take refuge in the nearest house, where the offending ribbon were removed.  The visit seems to have been fraught with peculiar dangers for my father once told me that while they were in the palace gardens one blusterous day and their governess was sheltering in a corner between two walls, she began to gyrate in a whirlwind rose to the height of the first-floor windows before she fell.  She escaped with no more than a strained ankle so perhaps her crinoline acted as a parachute.

Marty had a sitting room at the top of the stairs and when the choking smell of burning cedar wood reached our play room we knew that she was up to her poker work and we would rush upstairs to watch her decorating a trinket box with the glowing needle.  This was kept at red heat by squeezing a rubber bulb that blew methy1ated spirit vapour through it, which interested me more than the hideous art.

It is not always easy to isolate the early memories of a house that was familiar for twenty years, yet when I think of No. 7 it is often through the eyes of a child who was not quite six years old.  Perhaps this was owing to its never changing pattern for my grandmother had to move about the house by touch.  I remember the hall so clearly, with the festoons of poisoned arrows and spears on the walls – at least Bobby and I were convinced that a scratch from them would kill us instantly.  There were the terrestrial and celestial spheres that spun on their inclined axes at a touch and the two wooden chairs with crests on their backs that in some former house had been used by the waiting footmen.  In one corner there was a huge coke stove and fixed to the wall by its side the telephone with a handle that had to be turned for ringing up.  Curiously enough this antiquated instrument used the modern dialling system for local calls.  I remember this distinctly as I was sometimes lifted up to operate it as a special treat, and I was told that Portsmouth was one of the first districts to try it out.

We paid our daily respects to our grandmother in the drawing room, which was made to appear twice its size by the looking glass with its gilt rope-like frame tied at the bottom with a reef-knot, that filled the chimney breast.  On the left of the fireplace there was a Raeburn of our great grandfather, Basil Hall, the first of the three Naval Captains of that name in our family, whose eyes followed me into every corner of the room.  I have been told that this is the resu1t of the sitter looking straight at the artist, but I have never seen it so marked in any other portrait.

Basil Hall was a Fellow of the Royal Societies of London and Edinburgh and of the Royal Astronomical Society, and his great telescope, which he bought from Dolland in 1826, stood in the bay window of the drawing room and could be trained on everything from Spithead to the Dockyard.  One of our little treats was to tell the time from the clock on Ryde church. Like most drawing rooms of this period it had its curios from all over the world, collected by members of the family.  There were the exquisite openwork spheres, carved one within another from solid ivory, and a nest of lacquered boxes, so thin and closely fitting, that they covered the table when separated.  Marty taught us to play spillikins with miniature ivory spears, lances and halberds, and the secret of clearing the solitaire board of its glass marbles with their beautiful spiral centres.

There were three baths which stood on curved legs with clawed feet, and got their hot water from polished copper geysers, which roared and spluttered and emitted puffs of steam, playing on my engine-loving mind in a delightful way.  By the side of each was a varnished notice warning the bathers of the various kinds of death that would follow the slightest deviation of the instructions.  There was an alcove in the principal bathroom containing one of those raised mahogany thrones, on which the raising of a recessed handle would release a torrent, that to my scale of values had something of the grandeur of the Victoria Falls.  I had to take care not to slip in and go down the hole.

On the North side of the house there was a rather gloomy room, which I think was called the Library, but through the French windows there was an attractive spiral staircase leading down to a dank little garden that grew nothing but ferns.  At the far end there was a large greenhouse filled with oleanders that had originally come from Malta, where, I think, part of my grandmother's heart was left behind.  There was also a door that opened on to a quiet little Street of old houses standing in their small walled gardens which had a peculiar appeal to me, for it was as though the door separated space and time by a hundred miles and as many years. As a young man my father bought one of these houses fully furnished, for £1,000 – a big price ninety years ago – but sold it a few years later.  He kept a set of dining room chairs that my mother thought to be Hepplewhite and some very good Chinese porcelain, which is in a cabinet by my side as I write.

Southsea did what Dr Elliston had anticipated.  The cold winds braced our bodies, the movement of the ships in the Solent, our minds, and the complete change in the pattern of our lives did both.  There were moments of excitement when the Town Crier rang his bell and warned us to unlatch    our windows to save them from fracture by the sound of gunfire from Spithead.  One day a Punch and Judy man gave us a private show in the hall, but neither of us appreciated it as much as we should have done; perhaps we would have enjoyed it more in its natural setting on the beach with other children.  Our greatest treat was a drive in one of the beautiful little goat carriages on the Common.  The old man who owned them was supposed to lead us sedately by the halter, but this did not suit us at all.  We always chose the hansom cab and as I scrambled inside Bobby jumped on to the dicky and, brandishing the whip, we galloped over the rough ground, rocking from side to side and whooping with delight, until the goat stopped dead to have a nibble at the short grass.  I don't think our grandmother would have disapproved as she must have been an intrepid horsewoman, unless the picture at Verdalla was a gross exaggeration, and she had no use for milksops.

We were told that the Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra were to drive along Clarence Parade, so Bobby and I dressed in our best sailor suits and with Nurny between us we stood in front of No. 7 to wait for the carriage to pass.  Prince George was in Naval Uniform and I shall never forget the grave and proper way he returned our salutes.  Nurny was well up in her knowledge of royalty and always tied her boots with a Beatrice bow, having been shown the method by none other than Her Royal Highness.
The walk was an important part of our routine and on fine days we were sure to meet our next-door neighbour, Admiral Raby, V.C., taking the air along Clarence Parade in his Bath chair.  On  the 18th of June 1855, immediately after the assault on Sebastopol, Commander Henry James Raby, Royal Navy; John Taylor, Captain of the Forecastle; and Henry Curtis, Boatswain's Mate, Royal Navy, together under heavy gunfire and at imminent risk of their lives, rescued a soldier who had been shot in both legs, and for this act of valour they were the first to be awarded the Victoria Cross, Commander Raby being the first officer to receive it from the Queen at its inauguration in Hyde Park on the 26th of June 1857.  Sometimes, tor a special treat, Bobby and I were given a ride in the Bath chair, which was propelled by a Crimean veteran who also brought a bucket full of sea-water to No. 7 every morning to strengthen my legs.

We often walked along the front, past the row of bathing machines and the Castle, as far as the point where the old wooden pier had been burnt to the water-level during my previous visit to Southsea.  But our favourite walk was to the canoe lake where we sailed our boats, which could be retrieved by a boy on stilts when they got stuck on the island in the middle.  After this exercise Nurny used to take us to Brewers, in Palmerston Road, where she had a cup of coffee while we ate a boat-shaped pink meringue.

It was during this visit that Bobby became fired by his intense interest in ships and the Royal Navy and he soon gained a surprising knowledge, being able to name the rig of any sailing craft and the class of all the Naval vessels.  It was not much over twenty years previously that Uncle Basil had left Portsmouth under sail, with my father as a guest of the gunroom, but things were now changing rather rapidly.  The Dreadnought had just been launched and the older ships, with their thin raked masts and tall smoke-stacks were beginning to look old fashioned.  We were taken over the Dockyard, where Bobby could see the ships at close quarters, and I became absorbed in the machine-shops, where I saw Naysmyth's steam hammer forging a huge piece of white-hot metal into shape.  The operator told us that he could crack an egg without breaking it, and was prepared to demonstrate this if we happened to have one on us at the moment – perhaps a safe bet, though l believe it was true.  I remember seeing the blocks being made out of lignum vitae, that grainless and dense wood that sinks in water and turns on a lathe like metal.  The waste chips and shavings, called the arisings, were sent to Buckingham Palace for fire wood, for which it has no equal, and was one of the royal perquisites, like sturgeon.

After Bobby's birthday a fine model yacht could be seen sailing over the canoe lake, bought, I think, from a branch of Hamley’s, just off Palmerston Road.  In the window of this delightful shop I had seen a steam engine that surpassed my dreams for it was no toy but a model with a water pump and glass gauge, but alas, the price of nineteen shillings and six pence was so far beyond my means that it exceeded the bounds of covetouness.  In a short time my father came to visit us and I showed him the engine.  The next day my grandmother gave me a little wooden box beautifully enamelled with flowers on a pale blue background.  The box rattled when it was shaken, and on opening it I found a golden sovereign – the only one I have ever possessed in my life.  Having, l hope, thanked my grandmother adequately for her generous present, I thrust the box into my father's hand, and without asking a question he ran from the house in the pouring rain – so clear is the picture in my mind – and   returned with a large cardboard box and six penn'orth of methylated spirits, and as we raised steam together, I believe he was as excited as I was.

In another month our visit was coming to an end.  Bobby won a prize of a stick of Southsea rock at his drawing class, but it was snatched from his hand on his way home and he arrived very unhappy and badly shaken.  I received the second prize in Miss Pyke's class of two, which must have been coals of fire as I never did a stroke of work and was consistently naughty.  We returned to Newstead at the end of March.


Went the Day Well?

by Sir Neville 'Kim' Reynolds Hall

(For more information about this article go to the 25 March 2018 blog)

Sir Neville 'Kim' Hall's Childhood Memoirs

Syston Mill

Chapter 3
Newstead 1904

This was the first time that Bobby and I had stayed in a farm, or even seen one that I can remember, for although we lived in the country our movements were very restricted.  We enjoyed it immensely.

I have forgotten the inside of the house except that we had a sitting room and dining room to ourselves, but at the back there was a clean and pleasant yard where we could play.

We found a large wooden box, big enough to hold us both, which became our ship and the yard any one of the seven seas.  Before setting sail, we spent some time at the victualling yard – a dead tree stump – where we filled empty tins with the dried powdered wood and the red seeds from the dock plants that grew at its roots.  We never tired of this as we might have with expensive toys and I sometimes think that our imaginations were more vivid than reality.

In the front garden there was a curious double hedge forming a dark passage that led to a little leafy arbour where the sunlight made a dappled carpet of the dry mud floor – a wonderful secret hiding place for children.  I have often puzzled over its origin and wondered who the previous owners were who planned such a charming idea, for I am sure the farmer would not have had the time to spare.

Our changed circumstances were fortunate in bringing us closer to our parents for there was no nursery at Beeby House, although Nurny and Dashy were still with us.  Dashy had her meals in the kitchen with the farm family and I remember her telling us that they always ate their pudding before their meat, but whether this was an economy or to lay a solid foundation we never knew.

It was here that my mother first read ‘Alice in Wonderland’ to us from the old illustrated edition printed in script, and some years later we used to see the original ‘Mad Hatter’ who was then a very old Canon of Lichfield Cathedral, whose thin, rather nasal but lovely chanting voice floated through the nave like a thread of silver.
We stayed at Beeby for about three weeks while my father continued his search for a house in the neighbourhood, which he found at last, and moved into at the end of September 1904.

Newstead stood on the old Roman Fosse Way five miles to the north of Leicester, with Queniborough a few miles to the east and Birstal about the same distance to the west, so we stood between our relations at the Hall and the Holt.  Our immediate surroundings were very uninteresting, with a row of terraced houses leading to Syston station and a few larger detached ones scattered about.

Our house was semi-detached and Victorian standing a short way back from the road behind cast iron railings, with a big window each side of the front door and three windows above them, but to the left were double coach-house doors and beyond this a long windowless annex joined to the other house, which was occupied by a retired butcher and his wife.  The rent was £45 which I think included the rates.

Looking back, I feel very sorry for my parents as they stood outside waiting for Mr Tyler, the owner, to open up.  They must have been torn between utter revulsion of the place and reluctance to accept any more hospitality from our kind relatives; and, besides, it did not seem big enough to hold all our furniture.  Having decided that it was quite impossible, they felt it would be discourteous to leave without looking round, and the moment they did so they found that things were not as hopeless as they had supposed.  To begin with, the house was not nearly as small as it appeared to be.  It went back a good way from the road and had a third sitting room and excellent kitchen quarters, including a big scullery with an endless supply of rain water under the floor.  Beyond this there were stables, though this was hardly surprising in the Quorn country.  There were five bedrooms and a large dressing room, and it was when my parents were looking at this that they noticed the second door, which Mr Tyler seemed reluctant to unlock, as though a skeleton might fall out.  My father insisted on his opening it, however, and it disclosed a huge room with four large windows, and rows of drying rails suspended from the ceiling by ropes and pulleys; and there was hexagonal coke stove for heating flat irons.  Mr Tyler, who manufactured leather goods in Leicester, explained, rather apologetically, that he had used the room to prepare his skins, but my mother saw it as an ideal laundry, and my father as a perfect theatre for his magic lantern displays and amateur theatricals; and it would solve the problem of storing our surplus furniture.  A staircase led down to a similar room with a door into the coach-house, so here was an excellent workshop.  This clinched the matter, and the house was ours.

From the front of the house we could see a windmill across green fields, and nothing else: not a spectacular view but a great relief to my parents, who would not have liked to see another house from their own.  I feel sure that what might now be considered an affectation was the reason for the building of many a folly, and I was once told that a former Duke of Westminster erected the obelisk in his long drive because he could see on of Mr Gladstone’s chimneys at Harwarden from a window at Eaton Hall, five miles away.

The mill became a great interest to us, and between family prayers and breakfast, when my father always tapped the barograph, he could also get rough idea of the strength and direction of the wind by the speed and orientation of the sails.  I remember being shown over it once and seeing the enormous wooden cogwheels and axles, greased with mutton fat, and the flour running from the grooves between the stones, and being told that if it ran short the mill would soon catch on fire by the friction.  We soon started making bread at home and always got the flour direct from the miller; but a few years later there was a storm in the night, and when we looked out of the dining room window in the morning the familiar sight had gone, for the ‘tree’ about which the whole wooden structure turned to face the wind had snapped at the base and all that remained of the mill was a heap of matchwood. 

The drawing room had a second window looking out onto a gravelled space which would now be called a patio, the little sitting room at the back having the same outlook.  The eight windows of the long rooms – as they came to be called – faced a sunken lawn backed by a very high wall that hid our neighbour’s house from us.  The whole of this side of our house was covered by Virginia creeper, the fiery scarlet seeming to give a little warmth to the cool Autumn days.

The middle path of a big-walled garden, full of fruit trees, led to a summer house that opened into a fair-sized greenhouse, whose entire roof was shaded by a magnificent Marechal Neil – surely the most lovely yellow rose ever raised.  Through a door near the stables there was a tennis court and kitchen garden, surrounded by high walls and a beautiful clipped privet hedge, which showed that a good gardener had been at work.  This imposed a problem on my parents, who did not want any extra expense; but it was settled for them, whether they liked it or not, the very next day.
When the furniture arrived the first to jump out of the van was a little man with a trim beard and a nose as red as a ripe plum, who directed the operations with such authority and efficiency that my parents naturally took him to be the foreman: but when he reported that the job was well and truly done my father was surprised to see the van moving off.  He told the little man to hurry or he would be left behind, and was even more astonished at the answer: “That’s all right, sir, it’s nothing to do with me.  My name is Griffin and the Mistress has engaged me as gardener.”  Not waiting for the stunned silence to abate, he hurried off to find my mother and repeated the formula.  “My name is Griffin, Mam, and the Master has engaged me as gardener.” 

Thus it was that John Griffin engaged himself at a weekly wage that was less then a jobbing gardener would now charge for half an hour’s work, becoming my parents’ indispensable servant and our devoted playmate.  He was also a self-appointed court jester – perhaps the wisest foot in Leicestershire.  Impertinent but never insolent, and quite irresistible, even winning the heart of our grandmother, who was neck and neck with the late Queen as a stickler for proper manners.  I believe he came of good farming stock, and his brother was keeper of Leicester Castle, but Griffin must have been a rolling stone.  He told us he had been butler to Sir Archdale Palmer, the local squire, with whom he used to play billiards; postman, butcher’s assistant, drummer in the local band and scene-shifter in the theatre in Leicester, which had taught him to misquote Shakespeare in a most original way.  When he joined us he still looked after a row of oil street lamps, lighting and extinguishing them near dusk and dawn, and carrying a ladder over his shoulder and a can of paraffin in his hand.

On our first morning at Newstead, Bobby and I wasted no time in getting into the garden to explore, and found Griffin already working in one of the borders and wearing an apron, leggings and a bowler hat – a good compromise for a single-handed head gardener.  Bobby always used a direct approach and having introduced himself he fixed his eyes on the plum-coloured nose and said: “Mr Griffin, have you ever been drunk?”  Not at all offended he answered, “No Colonel, I can’t say that I have, but if you’re thinking of my nose, it’s the indigestion.”  I may have felt that Bobby had been a little too eager in broaching what might be considered rather a personal question, so I changed the subject, and assuming the disinterested manner of one discussing the weather over a cucumber sandwich, I said, “Mr Griffin, have you ever been in prison?”  This time he hung his head, perhaps to hide his twinkling eyes, as he replied, “No, Major, not even that.”  From then onwards he became Griff and for some reason he always gave us those military ranks.  When Douglas was born, five years later, he became the Corporal and was soon promoted to Sergeant, flatly refusing his application for a commission, and when he became Governor of Somaliland fifty years later, I feel sure that Griff would have referred to him as His Excellency the Sergeant if he had been alive to do so.

The two long rooms were soon put to use, the upper one being equipped already as a laundry.  My mother found a good woman, called Mrs Pick, who came once a week to do the washing.  This was put in a tub of hot, soapy rain-water and was agitated briskly with a heavy, four-legged and cross-hilted truncheon call a dolly.  In order to render the linen ‘whiter than white’, the water was stained with the blue bag, which was also used for relieving wasp stings.

Meanwhile my father was preparing the lower long room as his workshop, which was stocked up with pine wood – then known as deal – from a local timber yard.  His first big job was to build a hen house to lodge a hundred birds.

My mother was about to start a chicken farm on the tennis court, and the new house was soon filled with the help of an incubator and foster mother, which were heated by means of oil lamps.  I remember that one of the lamps failed during a cold night and a chick appeared to have perished, but it was put in a nest of cotton wool in front of the fire and given a tot of brandy through a fountain pen filler; it soon recovered and began to behave in a silly way, showing off to its young relations on returning to them.

The games that Bobby and I played together in this pleasant Victorian garden reflected the books that were read to us during our rest, when we lay flat on our backs on the hard floor of the little room to improve our posture.  For instance, we were red Indians at the time that we were listening to ‘The Last of the Mohicans’, and ‘The Deer Slayer’, but changed to Knights of the Round Table as our minds were steeped in the Arthurian Legends, which appealed to us even more I think.  Newstead was not a good background for some of our favourite books, such as Mrs Molesworth’s ‘Children of he Castle’ or ‘The Cuckoo Clock’. We enjoyed Mrs Nesbet very much, and it was ‘The Railway Children’ that inspired my father with the idea of turning the summer house into a signal box.

To anyone unacquainted with my father it would be difficult to see a connection between his braces and his inventions, but the explanation is simple.  He always wore a brand called ‘Argosy’ which worked on a system of beautifully made little pulley wheels, so that when he started wearing out his braces at an abnormal rate we knew that something interesting was brewing in his fertile mind.  It was not long, therefore, before the signals were connected by strings passing over pulleys to a neat row of levers in the summer house, and the Newstead Railway was opened with my father in the signal box and Bobby and me as engine drivers.  If a signal were against one of us and a goods train crossed our path, a strong imagination might see a resemblance to Griff’s water cart and hear the rumble of its iron wheels.
It was at this period that I was sacked from school.  Aunt Ida, of Birstal Holt, had given me a most handsome present of a beautiful model milk float to replace my mail cart, with a flap that let down on chains at the back to hold two churns with real taps.  One day I set off with Nurny between the shafts and full of good intentions, to Miss Langton’s select little Dame school on the outskirts of Syston.  Here I joined my cousins from Queniborough Hall at a large round table and we did Art, with Nurny standing by to see fair play, and I must say I found it dull stuff compared with the responsible job of an engine driver.

On my second day at school Nurny had been instructed to leave me after I had settled down as nurses were not encouraged to be in attendance during working hours.  I did not like this at all, neither was I content to find myself in a position in which I was no longer in supreme command.  Moreover, I had been offered a lilac-coloured, round pencil instead of a red, hexagonal one, my father’s first rule for economy being to buy the most expensive, since this this was sure to be the cheapest in the end.  I stood this almost intolerable situation for some time, until I could bear it no long – a good five minutes I dare say – when I set up a bawling that could be heard the length of the street, which did not abate until my float was announced to be at the door.  Miss Langton was as a just and good woman and I suppose I cannot blame her for telling my parents that my uncalled-for behaviour did little to enhance the reputation of her establishment.

Although by now I was able to get about the garden very well, I still did not enjoy walking on the roads, but with the acquisition of a light tricycle my legs began to strengthen, and I was soon willing to walk a distance outside the gate.  I need hardly explain to any intelligent person that my unit of length was defined as that which I was willing to walk.  As my legs improved my unit increased so I may be said to have conceived the special theory of relativity, in which length is dependent on the observer, before Albert Einstein.  If only Miss Langton had discussed this theory with me instead of telling me that A was an apple, I might have stayed the course.
I often went for a walk with Griff, and we sometimes stopped at a little shop around the corner, where he would buy an ounce of ‘James’s Navy Cut’, dark brown and pungent.  My father smoked ‘Country Life’, which was considered expensive at fourpence half-penny.  Griff was not allowed to smoke in the house when he brought in the vegetables, or to clean the boots, or rub the steel-bladed knives on the wooded board covered with dark brown powder.  One day, however, he disobeyed this order, and my mother sent for him and said in her most severe voice, “Griffin, the house reeks of your horrible tobacco.”  He replied in surprise rather than shame, “Strange, Mam, same as the Master smokes.”  Perhaps he had been given a pipe-full from my father’s pouch.  I know he always gave him a cigar on his biennial birthdays.

We did not have to go far before we came to the pleasant by-ways.  Griff and I had much in common I think.  He was an oldish man whose pleasures were receding towards those of his childhood while I was a very small boy with strangely advanced thoughts in some directions, so that somewhere along the line we met.  By mutual and silent consent, we often walked along the Wanlip road as far as the disused canal, with its hump-backed bridge and ‘The Open Anchor’, which was Griff’s name for the little inn that had once served the watermen.  Here he would sharpen his knife on the worn coping stone while I stood and looked over the edge at the still water.  This was one of my places, defined as somewhere that will forever live in my mind; and just as distance increased with the strengthening of my legs, so I see no reason why a place should not mature and gather substance in my mind like vintage port in its bottle.

How could I describe the details of what I saw over our bridge more than seventy years ago?  Yet now I see the reflections as still as the willows that give them, and a flowering rush, more lovely than any garden flower I know, with a large dragonfly crystallized above it like a bar of emeralds; and smell the water mint, more nostalgic than a first romance; as time loses its meaning through lack of movement.  But after a few seconds, or eternity, for it makes no odds, I hear the plop of a fish, and as the circles spread over the surface of the water, time flows again on its unknown purpose.  So are the golden fields at Woking still alive though they may be covered by concrete.



Went the Day Well?

by Sir Neville 'Kim' Reynolds Hall

(For more information about this article go to the 30 January 2018 blog)

Sir Neville 'Kim' Hall's Childhood Memoirs

Chapter 2
Queniborough Hall

Memory has a trick of vanishing in one place and reappearing in another without a hint of what had happened in between.  It was thus that I have a clear picture in my mind of standing with my mother and Bobby on a very big lawn as though I had woken up on my feet, or that this was the beginning of a new book, which in a sense it was.  On our left there was the grey wall of the churchyard, to the right the sweeping branches of a great cedar, which I soon found was the home of a red squirrel, and before us the long white front of Queniborough Hall, sometimes referred to as the New Hall as there was a still older one outside the village.

Uncle Herbert had bought the house only a few years ago, after he had started a family and hoped to increase it, and as he had six brothers and two sisters and both he and Aunt Kitty were fond of entertaining, he had added his little Palladian wing to what was already a fair-sized place.  The new part contained a large inner hall which was big enough for a dance rather than a ball, a biliary room and the day and night nurseries.  Behind the Doric columns there was a deep loggia facing the tennis court where the white-clad figures could sit in their wicker chairs and discuss the flower show or church bazaar while they waited for their game and hear the dove in the cedar murmur “Love all”.  Though by no means one of the stately homes it was a house of great character and charm.

But returning to the little group on the lawn it was not long before Aunt Kitty came hurrying from the house to greet us with her rather low-pitched voice that always seemed to have an amused chuckle in it.  I remember thinking how much stouter she was than my mother but, of course, I had no idea that she was soon to have Freddy, her third boy.  How Edwardian she was!  Her pink and white complexion had surely never seen the sun and her rather full-lipped mouth and dancing eyes were shaped by the joy of living and not by indolence, for she was a busy woman who knew as much about gardening as her head gardener, was her own excellent housekeeper, served on every committee that needed her and was a magistrate for many years.  Bobby and I were whisked off to the nursery to be introduced to our cousins Brian and Christopher Reynolds, who matched our ages within a year, and to that admirable despot called Nurse, who summed me up as a grossly spoiled brat in no time at all.

What came next I do not know, for memory, which has been clear up to now, has done its vanishing trick once more.  I think it must have been the evening for we had travelled by train and carriage from Southsea, so imagination suggests a glass of warm milk with a cracknel, a bath and bed in the night-nursery next door.  No doubt my mother would have a rest while her cases were unpacked and her evening dress laid out, but I am certain of one thing, she would have to wait until the soup was set in front of her before she was offered a glass of dry sherry, for to drink in the drawing room before a meal would have been considered the rock-bottom of vulgarity.  I believe it was permissible for the family lawyer Mr Gotobed – but not his junior partners Alday and Knight of course – to offer a favoured client a glass of Bristol Cream and a slice of plummy cake at eleven o’clock in the morning, and a country squire might still be found who could remember his father fortifying himself from a decanter of brown sherry in his box pew during a two-hour diatribe against his favourite pastimes.  But in the drawing room, never!

It soon became apparent that Nurse and I were incompatible, but a reluctant generosity compels me to own that the fault was always mine.  It was not long, for instance, that I took one of her rigid rules too literally and put Christopher away in the toy drawer having finished playing with him.  According to Nurse I might have been the death of the sweet child, but he took it like a man and even appeared to enjoy it.  In addition to Nurny, I had a staunch ally in Wicks, the head housemaid, who always had tea in the nursery with us and was one of the sweetest women I have ever known in a long lifetime.  With the unnerving instinct of her kind she must have known that our finances were at low water and treated us all as minor royalty, and we accepted her for what she was, a most gracious lady.

Anyone brought up the hard way under a traditional nurse should be thankful for survival, for life, we were led to believe, was fraught with unexpected dangers.  Think, for example, of the risk of not changing wet socks, or the attack of acute appendicitis that followed on the heels of every swallowed orange pip.  Dashy went so far as to say that tomato skin could wrap itself round the heart, but this was taken with an open mind as she was only a nursemaid.  Draughts were often fatal though an east wind could be endured provided there was plenty of wool next to the skin and the remedial effect of the walk overweighed the hazards.

The inevitable and invariable walk took us to the Old Hall and back and required two nurses since Christopher and I were at the ‘small cart’ age.  To our left as we returned home, the village footpath rose a little above the road as it passed the cottage where Cliff, the head gardener, lived with his sons, George and Arthur.  At this time they both worked in the gardens under their father, but in a few years George was to replace Newbold, the present coachman, as chauffeur.

The village shop was on the other side of the road and like all others of its kind it displayed a row of glass jars half filled with peppermint bull’s eyes, jelly babies, aniseed balls and liquorice allsorts, and breathed of paraffin and fire-lighters through its open door, but we were denied the former delicacies for neither Nurse nor Nurny would have approved.  As a matter of fact, we were none of us addicted to sweets for those that passed their stringent censorship were wholesome rather than tempting.  Apart from a box of Edinburgh rock which a Scottish cousin used to send Bobby and me from Prince’s Street at Christmas, we were given the spiral sticks of barley sugar that always came out of small glass jars or rugged lumps of sugar-candy, which left in your mouth the piece of rough string on which the crystals had been formed, and scraped its way down the spinal cord when accidently swallowed.  Sometimes my mother gave us ‘pomfret cakes’ which were made from the roots of the iris-like liquorice plants that grew outside the Yorkshire town of Pontefract, and Nurny, who was a north-country woman, used to return from her holidays with an extraordinary confection call bathpipe – or was it Bath pipe? – which I might describe as having the appearance of a slate pencil and flavour of coltsfoot, should anyone have the slightest idea of what I am talking about.

By now the little procession would have reached the gate of at the end of the village and turned into the drive, which ran between the churchyard wall and the long herbaceous border, back by the square-cut box hedge that had such a delicious smell after a summer shower.  It was redolent of the delightful woodcuts in Robinson’s ‘English Flower Garden’ and the splendidly poignant names – Gloire de Dijon, Albéric Barbier, Frau Karl Druschki – that the magic of it resurrects.  This would be my desert island choice for I might as well die of nostalgia for Madame Abel Chatenay or the gentle Dorothy Perkins as from a surfeit of coconuts.

At the end of the herbaceous border the drive branched to the right to pass the front door – properly placed at the back of the house – and to the left to reach the stable yard before vanishing into a dark tunnel of trees.  Both branches met a second drive that, in one direction dissolved into the grey mists of a forgotten terrain, and in the other, ran beside the brook-bordered meadow to the back gate.

From the moment that we entered the front door the atmosphere became heavy with the scent of the hot-house plants that Cliff piled up on the iron stands in the outer hall, but the rest of the house was always cool and fresh with only a breath from the bowls of roses and sweet peas.  Indeed, my memory of Queniborough is inseparable from the scent of flowers, but as we climbed the stairs all traces of the tropical vapours were left behind us as with those, I had heard of, who took to the hills for their recuperation.

I think I must have been something of a connoisseur of smells though I believe the olfactory sense leaves its mark the longest.  At any rate, here I go again, for when the nursery door at the end of the long passage was opened there was the reek of the very thick and soft cork carpet that an unimaginative tradesman had spread over the entire floor to receive the impact of limbs and skulls without fracture.  Apart from the speaking tube, placed high above my head, and sometimes emitting a shrill whistle, there was nothing else remarkable about the room.  I think I was neither happy nor unhappy in it, passing the time in a rather colourless neutrality.  At six o’clock the pleasant smell – and this, I swear, shall be my last – of warm towels, hot rainwater and soap, vied with that of the cork, for Christopher and I had our baths in the nursery, with celluloid ducks, though Brian and Bobby were allowed to play with clockwork boats in a proper bathroom.  My cot in the night nursery was under a window, so that on a warm might I could be woken and lulled to sleep again by the strains of a Chopin nocturne that floated up through the Grecian pillars below me; a sentence, I hasten to add, to typify the age of sentiment.

I think we saw no more of our parents than we did at Woking, though, of course, we were dressed up for the usual inspection after tea, and all that I remember of the drawing room is the faded garlands of flowers on the wallpaper and the glazed chintz chairs and sofa from which I used to slide to the floor from lack of friction.  In fact, outside our own quarters, I doubt if we ever entered another room in the house, with one exception, for I have a clear picture in my mind of whipping off our tops in the huge tiled lavatory off the inner hall, and of the four fixed basins, each having three taps marked hot, cold and hot rain.

It seems extraordinary that I cannot recall a single meeting with Uncle Herbert during this visit.  He was a good deal older than my mother and he and his elder brother, Uncle Will, were in business together in Leicester, Uncle Herbert driving there and back in his brougham and Uncle Will in BC1, the first ever car to be registered in that town.  Uncle Will and Aunt Ida lived in a pleasant country house call Birstall Holt about four miles from Queniborough and I remember it best by the magnificent rhododendrons on each side of the drive.  From the little I got to know of these uncles later I remember them as rather small, serious but kind men, with none of my father’s genius for becoming one with the children he played with, if they ever played at all.  Both, I suppose, had ten times my parents’ income with a tenth of their ageless exuberance of spirit.  I knew Aunt Ida very well, however, for although she was large and commanding, and many found her a little quelling, I shouted into her monstrous shell-like ear trumpet with no inhibitions at all.

What I enjoyed most was the unrestricted and unattended freedom of the gardens, though to have set one foot outside the gates would have exceeded the bounds of naughtiness into the hitherto unexplored realms of wickedness, calling on the intervention of God rather than Nurse who was merely his instrument.  At any rate we never took the risk.  It could not have been long before our cousins showed us round, but as I was only four years old at the time I am apt to get a little confused with memories from our many subsequent visits, which followed much the same pattern.

At the division of the drive a curved path between box hedges led to the great walled kitchen garden and the greenhouses.  I remember a sensitive plant whose fern-like leaves curled up at the lightest touch, and the rows of begonias whose heads were so heavy that they were apt to fall off when I stared too hard at them.  In another house Cliff gave us each a tomato which we bit into warm from the plant before the first flush of flavour was lost.  It was not for nothing that the boys had chosen this route for our conducted tour for beyond the glass and the nursery garden, the neat path dwindled into the track that led us to a forest of overgrown gooseberry bushes, displaying their total neglect by the prodigality of their luscious fruit.  Greatly refreshed, and even a little inebriated by this ripeness, we came to the great 16th century thatched barn, where we played in the vintage hay, where memory has vanished into its heady sweetness – as soporific as mandragora – and where I must leave myself, dreaming perhaps, of the Elysian fields of its harvesting.  The barn showed no sign of age than in its architecture for it still fulfilled its purpose.  But beyond it there were the remains of ancient thatched cob walls, now even abandoned by the ghosts of their past enclosure, that was old before Bacon wrote his essay on gardening. 

An unfamiliar door in a wall stimulates the imagination like an envelope in an unknown hand-writing.  Both should be pondered over before curiosity is satisfied, for efficiency, which I have been told can be a good servant, is always a dull master.  The door I had in mind led into the kitchen garden, enclosed on three sides by high brick walls and on the fourth by the irregular line of the stable buildings.  I suppose it was typical of its kind, divided into three parts by long straight paths edged with foot-high box, and with Victoria plums on the walls and espalier fruit trees on each side of the central path.  The strawberry bed would not yet have yielded its last fruit, but although I was not considered a good child, I had my code even though I had set my sights lower than Bobby’s, and nothing would have induced me to help myself unbidden.  I remember that my younger brother, Douglas, when he was at the same age, was told to take an extra fine specimen to my father who was sitting in his swing chair a little way off.  As he handed him his offering he said, “It’s all there, I’ve only licked it.”

Sometimes I would find Aunt Kitty picking her sweet peas, which might be considered poor things in these days, for it was still a few years before the wavy petalled Spencer variety was introduced I think.  But what they lost in size they gained in sweetness.  If there is an affinity between flowers and people, sweet peas were to Aunt Kitty as cowslips to my mother.

Equipped with large, string-handled jam jars and small nets we crossed the meadow to the stream that marked the boundary of the small estate.  Here we fed the roots of memory by the limpid touch of the water, the sight of the great translucent dragonflies and darting water boatmen, and the smell of the wild mint – though I swore that I would have done with smells.  I refrain from describing the gentle sound, for poets in plenty have made the bubbling brooks their copyright.

Not far from the bank there was a small round house that sometimes emitted subterranean groans and gurgles that would have curdled our blood had we not been told that it merely covered the deep well that supplied the house by means of an electric pump.  A few years later my friend George, who looked after the light engine, unlocked the door and gave me my first lesson in natural science – apart from being told that Newton had discovered gravity by seeing an apple fall, though I had known all about it since I had first dropped my rattle.  I now learned that the depth that water can be ‘sucked up’ depends on the atmospheric pressure and cannot exceed about 30 feet.  As this well was considerably deeper the pumps had been lowered, with their plungers joined to the cranks at the top by long connecting rods.  This was the method of two generations ago.

I have been told by those who should have more respect for their elders, that one of the figments of my fertile imagination deals with the climate of my early life, when February filled the dykes, March gave us the peck of dust worth a king’s ransom, April refreshed the seedlings with its sunshine and showers and June compelled the shedding of wool next the skin.  Thus, on a certain day in July that could be planned well in advance, we hurried after breakfast to toss the hay under a blazing sun in the meadow in the good company of Newbold, Cliff, George, Arthur, nurses and nursemaids, nymphs and shepherds in floppy sun bonnets and Panama hats.  How fortunate we were to have been born into this pastoral way of life.

We left Queniborough Hall after five happy weeks to take furnished rooms in the nearby Bebby House, and from there my parents found a suitable place, where we lived for the next eight years.



Went the Day Well?

by Sir Neville 'Kim' Reynolds Hall

(For more information about this article go to the 30th November 2017 Blog)

Sir Neville 'Kim' Hall's Childhood Memoirs

Chapter 1

I was born in a house called Riverside, near Woking, on the day that Kimberley was relieved, which was a double relief to my parents as I had kept my mother waiting long enough.  I soon became known as Kim but I was christened Neville, after my great uncle Field Marshall Sir Neville Chamberlain.  According to family tradition, which is apt to get distorted in the telling, Uncle Neville was so badly wounded during the Indian Mutiny that his death was prematurely reported, but he rallied in time to read his obituary in the Times and continued to live for many years longer.

This was a big name for a very unimportant person to follow but in my small way I took his example in refusing to die on more than one occasion when it was fully expected of me, for I had infantile paralysis, as poliomyelitis was then called, followed some years later by rheumatic fever and pneumonia before the days of antibiotics, after which my parents were advised not to bother much about my education.  Robert Louis Stevenson said that it soon became apparent that he would have to live quietly in one place and I suppose I had no choice but to remain in the green lanes while other children, younger than myself, hurried along the main roads.  I mention this as it explains why my childhood did not follow the usual rigid pattern of the day and both my father and mother were wise in withholding any kind of sympathy that would have made me feel abnormal.

My elder brother was born two years before me – another Aquarian – and I first remember him as a cheerful and sturdy little boy who always hopped and skipped as he ran about, which probably explained why he was always called Bobby, though he was christened Lionel, after my father.  He was a tremendous chatterbox, which was a great worry to me, as I was convinced that we were all born into this world with a definite ration of breath and at the rate he was using it he could not last long.  For the same reason I remained rather taciturn until I had discussed the matter with my father, who seemed to doubt the validity of my argument.
Little boys and girls were dressed alike in voluminous frocks and petticoats and perhaps my first memory is of climbing over the high nursery fender and catching them on fire.  I remember that Bobby ran from the room, screaming for help which came only just in time as I saw the flames creeping up me; but by a miracle I was neither hurt nor frightened.

I think this incident may have precipitated the change in our nursery dynasty.  I cannot remember our first nurse but I have been told that in spite of glowing references to, if not from, royalty, she showed an indulgence for ‘Geneva spirit’ that increased rather than diminished after the anxiety of my arrival was past.  Our new nurse was a delightful person in every way though there was a slight mystery about her that I have never resolved.  She was a well-educated woman and a good artist, teaching Bobby to paint in watercolours at the age of seven.  My parents and their friends and relations had a great respect for her and always called her Miss Robinson, but I have recently looked at her photograph, in which she is holding me in her arms, and she is wearing the orthodox starched cap and apron of her calling and a wedding-ring.  Nurse seemed too stiff a name for Bobby and me to use and the newer name of ‘Nanny’ had not yet come into use long enough to meet with my parents’ approval, so we compromised and called her ‘Nurny’.  The nursemaid, Sally Barnwell, was quite normal.  She was a pretty girl, never far off laughing and always as fresh as a daisy with the long white streamers hanging from her cap, which tickled our face in the bath and must have been perpetually in her way.  Like an old-fashioned sailor she did everything at the double, so we called her ‘Dashy’.

It was quite usual, of course, for children born into our set-up to see little of their parents apart from the after-tea inspection in the drawing-room, to be shown off to visitors who must have disliked the ordeal as much as we did, for no normal person could enjoy passing or receiving such remarks as “Sweet little Codlins and Cream” or “My Precious Butter-Ball” when our gender was clearly indicated by the blue sashes tied round our white silk frocks.  I remember one day I rebelled and having been togged out in my full-dress I climbed into the nursery coal-box so that Nurny had to make my excuses in the drawing room.

It is rather sad that I saw so little of my mother during the first four years of my life for she was a lovely person in every way.  I have one clear memory, however, of her singing to me from ‘The Baby’s Opera’ as I sat on her lap at the piano and gazed at Walter Crane’s delightful pictures and I can still see stout Mrs Bond of the ‘Take Inn’ wearing a huge poke bonnet and offering the poor fat duck a bunch of sage as my mother sang:

              “Cry dilly, dilly, dilly, dilly come and be killed
              For you must be stuffed and the customers filled”.

This seemed fair enough at the time but now I would often rather see the friendly looking duck filled and the fat customers stuffed.

I do not suggest that I loved my mother less, but I know that I remember my father a great deal better at this time.  He had a genius for finding my focus and could not only project himself into my way of life but draw me up into his own with no apparent effort.  For instance, I have a very clear recollection of him telling me that you can always distinguish between a steam and petrol motor car because the former rings a bell and the latter blows a horn.  A strange discovery to share with a child of three it might be thought, but the fact remains that I have remembered it for more than three quarters of a century, though I am still waiting to put it to the test.  He used to chat to us at bedtime, when we had our rusks soaked in hot milk – disgusting, though excellent with Stilton – and I remember him telling us about a wonderful machine that he had seen from which a human voice came out of a trumpet, which must have been Edison’s phonograph.  The next morning, I demanded a shoebox into which I spoke with a loud and clear voice before snapping down the lid.  But my first scientific experiment was a failure as Bobby had predicted for, on opening the box, not the faintest echo was heard.

The first controlled aeroplane flight was made on the 17th September 1903, and my father records in his diary for this date that he saw a flying machine passing over the City in the direction of St Paul’s.  It seems extraordinary that such a hazardous feat should have been undertaken over London.  Although he must have told us all about this wonderful sight I remember nothing, but children have their own scale of values and the first time I was taken to the Zoo I turned my back on the lions and stood entranced to watch a man using putty on a window while my father sighed and murmured, “I might have shown him this at home”.

We always waved to him from the nursery window as he left the house in his frock coat and top hat to catch the morning train for London, as he was then private secretary to his first cousin Edward Hore.  I suppose Cousin Ned would have been called a financier for amongst other things he helped to launch the British Automatic Company, which made and filled the penny-in-the-slot machines for the railway stations.  My father was a director of this company until it was taken over by Hatry, not long before his City-shaking crash.  As far as I know I never met Cousin Ned though he used to visit my parents at Riverside, but he has always been familiar to me as a colourful character in our bedtime gossip.  His motoring enthusiasm had begun at the end of the last century with a Benz dogcart propelled through a system of flat belts that were sometimes thrown out under the hoofs of the London traffic, and it was one of the duties of a private secretary to retrieve and replace them amidst the ribald humour of the cabbies and horse-drawn bus drivers.

Cousin Ned also owned a fine steam yacht called the Aries, and he sometimes sent for my father to join him on board instead of in London, which was always a joy to him as he disliked the City and loved the sea.  He often told us about her, so I feel that I once knew her myself.  For instance, I have a clear but probably quite inaccurate picture in my mind of the old Scottish Engineer in his blue dungarees, a neat little man with a small trim beard, polishing the gleaming brass of his beloved engines and chatting to my father who is smoking his pipe, which has just been cleaned on the special steam valve made for this purpose.

One day the Aries was on her way to the Continent to pick up Cousin Ned, when the incomparable chef came to my father to discuss the menu.  He was a man who enjoyed rich and exotic food as much as others, but he also had an incongruous passion for tapioca pudding, which he always took with a piece of dry bread.  Apparently in the grip of this strange lure he made an urgent appeal for nothing else than this, “without eggs, cream, nutmeg, marron glace or nonsense of that sort”.  The situation might have been eased if my father had assumed a greenish pallor rather than his usual normal healthy colour.  I suppose there comes a time in the lives of the great masters when loyalty to a patron hangs in the balance with ambition, and I am afraid this uncharacteristic breach of diplomacy tipped the balance, for the great artist soon gave his notice to take service with the German Emperor.

I remember nothing of the servants except that the gardener’s name was Christmas and that the boot-boy blackened his face and jumped out of a cupboard at the cook.  To quote my father’s diary: “We lost them both without regret”.

Of our visitors I have a faint memory of my Danish masseuse who used to pummel me on the nursery table and a much clearer one of Dr Binny who would first order us to put out our tongues at him, which we considered rude, and then punish us by prescribing a Gregory Powder.  The doctor had two little girls of about our ages who sometimes played with us, and one of them died through drinking infected milk I believe.  The poor doctor implored my mother to have our milk Pasteurised but years afterwards she told me that she had to give this us as we did not thrive on it: I make this comment with an open mind.  This was the first time I had come across death and I think Nurny must have told me that it was the parting of the soul from the body for I had a strange dream of a hearse – something I already knew about – closely followed by a man pushing a hand-cart on which there was a small, neatly wrapped brown paper parcel.  I imagine that small children think far more deeply than their means of communication implies.

I have only a very faded picture or Riverside in my mind as a pleasant little country house set well back from the road but too modest to have a drive.  There was a bed of blood-red wallflowers by the front door that still stands out against the hazy background for it was this sight and scent that struck the first spark of my lifelong love of flowers.  In the now almost forgotten day-nursery there was an equally clear image of a screen covered with the coloured plates that my father had cut out of gardening magazines.  It was this that kindled a second fire in my small mind that began to brighten when I first met Sowerby’s ‘English Botany’, increasing in temperature with Maund’s ‘Botanic Garden’ and reaching its height when I saw the incomparable flower portraits in Kew Palace, made from nothing but snippets of coloured paper by Mrs Delancy, the friend of George III and Queen Charlotte.

There was the usual walled kitchen garden behind the house where the strawberries and asparagus grew.  Apart from the latter’s delicious taste we were encouraged to eat it in our fingers, which was bad manners and forbidden, for some reason, with cutlets.  One day while I was grubbing about I found a small, round object.  On showing it to Dashy, she took it from me without comment but presently returned it on a saucer, hot and floating in molten butter.  I had discovered the new potato.

A garden gate led into a small square lawn surrounded by hedges where the Flagstaff stood, from which St Andrew’s Cross was flown on birthdays and Blue Peter before setting out for the summer holidays at Paignton in 1902 and 1903, when we rented a house, taking our servants with us.
All that I can remember of the first visit is being hoisted on to my father’s shoulders to see a firework display to celebrate King Edward’s coronation, but the following year, when I was three and a half, has left me with a few little detached scenes that are far clearer than anything I have from Woking.  I remember that our excitement began when we saw the open sea at Dawlish and my father told us that the white crest on the breaking waves was Devonshire cream.
Paignton itself was much the same as it is today.  It is the summer population that has changed its nature, for even in August it was a quiet little place.  The iron footbridge over the level crossing was there, for I remember standing on it to watch the trains pass underneath until I was enveloped in a cloud of smoke and steam.  There were no mown lawns or trim flowerbeds among the front, but a common that ran down to the red sand.

We used to bathe on what we called the shelly beach, on the way to Goodrington, and had it to ourselves.  My mother had a dashing bathing dress with long sleeves and trousers, a short skirt and a sailor collar trimmed with white ribbon and my father wore what had the appearance of a pair of dark blue and very thick combinations, reaching to the knees and elbows.  In the years to come the moths ate up this patriarchal robe and between the shopkeepers’ assurance that there was now no demand for this style and my father’s flat refusal to be seen in any other it looked as though he would be deprived of one of his greatest pleasures.  He persevered, however, until a replica was found for him, which he wore with complete indifference to the enraptured gaze from other bathers.  But to return to Paignton.  I was evidently more daring, for an entry in his diary says that: “Kim greatly enjoyed bathing in his flannel”.

We spent the mornings on the beach and the afternoons in the cool, high banked Devonshire lanes which came to within a few minutes’ walk of the town.  My parents sometimes carried me, in a canvas seat between them, supported by straps around their shoulders, or I might ride astride my father’s neck, using his head as a pummel, but I was also able to walk short distances quite comfortably by now.  Occasionally we hired a carriage and I remember going to Berry Pomeroy Castle and Cockington Village.

Memory is like wine, in which the insipid juice may turn to water or gain in spirit over the years, and I have in mind a little scene in which a trace of fermentation may have taken place.  Be that as it may, there was a morning when Dashy, Bobby and I set off on our favourite walk along Poppy Lane in Woking, with a bag of dry bread.  Passing the cottage on our right where the gardener, Christmas, lived we soon came to the gap in the hedge through which we could see a score of swans making their stately way over the lake towards us to be fed.  To show willing I cast my crusts from my perambulator without a splash, for my mind was on Bobby, whose determined manner showed that he was up to something big.  I was not disappointed for he approached the gap in the manner of a bowler about to deliver a fast ball, but on arriving there he vanished from sight.  Dear land’s sake, what a taking!  I am now in a position to prove the validity of this rather strange story for I have found the following entry in my father’s diary: “9th February 1902.  Bobby fell into the duck pond while feeding the ducks.”

These were our dream days when we ate the lotus flowers and time moved slowly, more slowly than the drift of petal on the tadpole stream, yet the seasons changed and were well marked.  Christmas came, when we pinched our lumpy and angular stockings to see if we could guess what they contained before bumping them along to our parents’ bedroom, which would be lit up already as they had to go to the Early Service after sharing our excitement.  We did not really believe in Father Christmas but did not like to disillusion them.

This was the time of the muff warmer, which was a double-walled metal box filled with glowing charcoal, and before setting off for the walk my chest was rubbed with Chile paste to keep out the cold, my hands thrust into my muff to grip the little furnace and my head covered with a huge, flat hat make of lamb’s wool more suitable for a Doctor of Divinity on state occasions.  Then one day a joyful sound would be heard over the country and our hearts would leap up, for it was the time of the cuckoo, and Bobby and I would sit in the golden fields while Dashy held buttercups under our chins to prove by their reflection that were fond of butter, and the hedges would be covered with the deep scented, speckled may.

But already a little cloud was gathering on my parents’ horizon, for things were not going well for Cousin Ned in the City, and by the time of the poppy my father was looking for a smaller house and other employment; yet no shadow was allowed to fall on us.

In January 1904, we left Woking for good to stay with my grandmother in Southsea.  I cannot think that this was a happy time for my parents, who continued their fruitless search for a house in the country, for neither of them could contemplate one in a town.  Once or twice they found what they wanted only to be told that it has been sold that day.  I remember nothing worth recording except for one incident that when told, perhaps were best forgotten.

It was high summer and my father’s birthday, so my grandmother suggested that we should take a trip to the Isle of Wight, which Bobby and I had only seen from over the Solent.  My father wore his new straw hat for the first time, with its green and yellow ribbon of his old Militia regiment and we embarked on board the paddle steamer for Ryde, but on arriving at the pier we were unable to land owing to a heavy swell.  As we slowly rose and fell under the blazing sun, complexions soon began to change colour and I whispered to my father that I felt funny inside.  Lifting me to his shoulders he carried me up and down the heaving deck until the crisis came when his beautiful new hat was inverted, and I used it.  He was the kindest of men and thinking of nothing but my discomfort he carried me to the open doors of the engine room and drew my attention to the beautiful rhythm of the great cranks and Stevenson’s link motion.  Wrapped in the heavy atmosphere of hot oil and steam, my third life-long passion was born – flowers, their portraits and now, steam engines.
But that my father regretted the loss of his hat may be seen from the one cryptic line in his diary: “18th July 1904.  A disastrous day, my new hat ruined.”

We left Southsea two days later to stay at Queniborough Hall, in Leicestershire, with Uncle Herbert and Aunt Kitty Reynolds, my mother’s brother and sister-in-law.




Went the Day Well?

by Lionel Reid Hall

(For more information about this article go to the 14th August 2016 Blog)

Letters home from the Trenches, 1917

Posted Folkestone. 25th February 1917
Troop Train 2.05 pm
My dear Mother and Daddy,
The train is shaking rather badly, so I can’t write very much.
Don’t worry about me in the least, I am perfectly happy.  I have all my equipment and I have quite enough money.
The following is most important, first would you send a cheque for £2, made out to Miss Edith Stisted and address it to Auchendinny House, Milton Bridge, Midlothian.
I went down there several times, and finally this morning, came to the conclusion that I could do with a bit more money and Edith made out the cheque for me. 
My last few days here were extraordinary happy.  I saw a great many of my friends.  I saw the Stisteds every day. ….. I also saw Benjy several times.  She had written in the book she gave me, “To Bobby, in memory of the wonderful 3rd, from Benjy.”
This refers to Feb 3rd, when we had our little show.  I taxied down to say Goodbye today.
I had a big dinner party at the Patersons – about 20 of us.  It was rather a rag, but I had to leave to catch the last bus, just when they began dancing.
I spent a most amusing time at the Pitmans last evening.  Mrs Pitman was almost affectionate and took a long time saying Goodbye.  Olivia gave me her practically undivided attention, from 4:30 until 6, which was kind.  We had rather an amusing time together.
I also spent a very jolly hour and a half with Lady Clarke.  It was too late to see the latest arrival.  Of course I have also seen a crowd of other people, several new friends, including Mrs Natby, wife of our senior major of the 3rd Battn.
The Battn was also very nice, the Colonel said Goodbye awfully nicely and said he had tried to keep me back but had failed.
Bussel was also very nice, as also Northy and C Carlton, the Majors.  Old Captain Salmond and Balfour Stisted were all awfully decent.  I didn’t see Francis or Clarke.  Hugo and Cowan were both extremely nice.
I am travelling down in a troop train with Blackwood and McBraine who are taking over a draft to France. 
Now don’t you worry, I am extraordinary happy.  Ever since I have got definite orders I have felt horribly bucked with myself, I suddenly seemed to lose all worry.  I suppose it is some special help which we all get in France.
I think I have got a decent chance of getting out to the 2nd Battn which is a glorious Battn, filled with only the very best.
If you don’t hear from me for a bit, it’s because I am very busy.  Never worry.  If anything happens you will hear soon enough.  No news is good news.

Posted Folkestone 11 PM 25th February 1917
Folkestone 9PM
My boat leaves in an hour from now.  I’m not quite sure where my valise is but I expect it will turn up all right.  My address for the next few days is almost sure to be 21st I.D.B., Etaples.  So a letter would be very thankfully received.  But don’t enclose anything in it as I am not absolutely certain of the address.
I sent Douglas a tea cup and saucer with the Edinburgh arms on it.  I think it is rather a nice one.  Give my love to him.  I’ve scribbled a line to Kim.  I’m very sorry I couldn’t see him but it was impossible.
Now don’t worry about me.  I shalln’t be in the firing line for weeks probably; and you know we are all just as safe wherever we are.  Circumstances make no difference really.

25th February 1917
This is just to say I’ve arrived here all serene and for a wonder brought all my kit with me so far.  I leave for Etaples at 6 pm tonight or thereabouts; probably it will be about 9 before we start.  I shall then remain there for a little while, before moving up to the lines.
I feel quite bucked with myself.  I don’t think I could ever have stuck remaining at Glencorse after I was 19.  But it was nice of the C.O. to say that he had tried to keep me.
I saw my first annual confidential report on myself the other day.  In the remarks column, Bussel put, “Ought to make a very good officer.”  This no doubt was meant kindly; but it struck me there was an uncalled element of futurity.
Had a very simple crossing.  We passed within a few yards of a French submarine which was interesting. 
By the way, I have found those photographs……...
Well send a line to 21st I.D.B. if you have time.
(This letter was examined by the Base Censor.)

26th February 1917
Here I am in Etaples, about the last place I shall be able to mention by name for a little while.  By the way, it is 20th I.D.B. not 21st as I had thought. 
Had rather a comical night, indeed a comical day as well.
I got down to Folkestone about 4am.  I had a bath and shave, found my kit after some difficulty, and then went across.  Blackwood and McBraine had to take their men in the other boat.  However, I saw them again in Boulogne.
In Boulogne I did a bit of shopping.  I saw Shearman there.
In the evening I came on here.  The train took exactly three hours to do the 15 miles.  But I travelled down with a very good fellow in the West Kents.  I forget his name.  I slept last night in a tent.  My kit was down at the station.  I got hold of three sopping wet blankets and wrapped myself up on them.  I thanked Heaven for my beautiful trench coat with the three linings.  It rained all night.  But we kept the tent open and the fresh air kept out the rheumatism.  I was a little cold but am none the worse.  In fact, I think a slight cold I had got was checked.  I shall have my valise tonight but I sigh when I muse when next I shall sleep in pyjamas.  I expect we shall be able to do this when we are behind the lines.
I shall be here about four days.  After that I move up.  I may be put into a wire school for a month before going into the lines; but I hope not.  Probably I shall get a job as Sig. Off. sooner or later.  I think I have everything I want.  My greatest difficulty is to keep my feet and legs warm when lying down.  My coat and beautiful waistcoat will keep any cold off my body, but my legs are apt to get a tiny chilly; I am very glad I got those excellent pants, they are twice as thick as ordinary ones and all wool.
I have great hopes of getting to the 2nd Battn.  I shall be able to tell you my Battn.  If I manage this my address will be 2nd Battn., The Royal Scots, B.E.F.  Don’t put 2nd Royal Scots; this is dreadfully wrong!
My tent is next door to a large internal combustion engine.  The noise takes a little getting used to but it is a convenient guide for identifying my tent.  You cannot imagine the size of the camp.
This is a lovely summer’s day.
This afternoon my friend and I are going down to Paris Plage in a train.  It will be lovely today I expect; do you know the place?  I wonder if Nina or Mrs Hill are here.  I don’t quite know how to ask or who to ask. 
My new tin hat is a glorious spectacle and quite comfortable.  I shall look quite war-like soon.
I have an excellent little batman here, as far as I can make out, he is a Scot in an Irish Regiment.  He employs his leisure in walking about the Lines with a stick and is altogether very superior.

20th I.B.D. Etaples.
I have had a very jolly time so far.  Blackwood and McBraine turned up last night and slept in my tent.  We were four in the tent all on the floor.  However, I have got all my kit up now and can sleep in pyjamas which is a great comfort.
I love this place for several things.  It is so happy go lucky.  One thing I miss and that is women friends.  However, the latter are a great obstacle to hard work; also I am certain to get lots and lots of letters from them.
Blackwood seems to think I have an excellent chance of getting the 2nd Battn.  It’s just about the best Battn. in France, so I hope I shall.  I’ve heard nothing about posting as yet.
How goes the family?  I have heard nothing yet; but I expect the letters take a long time.  I believe we get letters through very well at the Front.
You will be relieved to hear that my letters will be quite private as I censor them myself.  They are liable to be opened at the Base I believe; but the chances are a thousand to one against and besides the people at the Base have no personal connection with me so it doesn’t make any difference if they read my letters or not.
How goes the family?  It was rather sudden the way in which I rushed off.  But somehow I really feel it’s the best way.  You see I saw you all just before, and the time we had together was not spoilt by the knowledge that I was leaving directly after because we didn’t know.  It was very annoying missing Kim.  However, it couldn’t be helped.  I was rushed to an extraordinary degree.
I was sorry I had to borrow the £2 from Edith Sti. but she didn’t mind……
Have had an interesting day.  We went down a sort of tunnel built up with oil tins.  This tunnel was filled with asphyxiating gases.  Of course we wore helmets.  Then we went through some lachrymatory gas without any protection.  My eyes streamed but the smell would have been rather nice if it hadn’t been quite so strong – like essence of pear.  Then we played about with smoke bombs.
I went to Paris Plage with a friend yesterday afternoon.  It is a topping little place.  There is a beautiful “front” running for about a mile along the sea, and all the houses are built in different ways and all quaint; some are built of brick of every shade of red from purple to orange.  Others are of wood and painted in quaint shades.  All the wood work etc. is painted in harmony with the various colours of brick.  The whole effect is simply lovely – so unlike anything I have ever seen before.  We had a jolly little tea at a place where they sold things they called “scones”!
I had a rather amusing conversation with one or two shopkeepers.
Must close as I several letters I must write and I am tired.
(Posted 01.03.1917)

2nd March 1917
9.15 am.  Somewhere in France.
I’m on my way to the Front in a huge troop train.  As usual I’ve been lucky.  I’ve got hold of a 2nd class carriage and there are only four of us in it – all good fellows.
I’ve been posted to the 11th Battn. so my address will probably be 11th Royal Scots, B.E.F. that is all.  However, I may not be up to the Lines for a week or two.  I’ll write in a day or so and let you know.  Perhaps it would be better not to write until I tell you.
Have unfortunately lost my muffler.  I’m afraid it was stolen out of my tent in the 20th I.D.B.  Perhaps you could send me another when I get up to the Lines.
Now don’t worry about me the least little bit.  It’s an extraordinary thing, before I went out I used to worry a little now and then, but now quite suddenly everything seems to have become simple.
Of course I don’t know how I shall feel when I get to the Lines but at present I haven’t the slightest apprehension.  I sleep well and never dream.  You know I feel sure we get a lot of extra help out here.  One is never given anything to do without the means to do it.  This may seem awful cant, but I tell it you because I honestly believe it and I think it will comfort you.
I daresay I shall be back home very soon, they send one back for very little things, I narrowly missed a strafe of a bomb the other day.
France is looking topping.  The weather is so beautiful, perfect for us and we are smashing up Brother Bosche quite well now.
I’m joining the Battn with Paton, a very old friend of mine and a fellow I like very much.  Of course I should have liked the 2nd Battn. but there are several wash-outs there.  The 11th is part of the “first hundred thousand” and I believe an excellent crowd.
I love being here.  The men are splendid, quite different from what they are in “Blighty”.  The French too are awfully nice.
There doesn’t seem much to say.  Of course I can’t tell you where I am going up to.  One has to be all the more careful since one censors one’s own letters.
It was awfully jolly seeing Blackwood here.  He has always been a very special friend of mine.
I know – at least I think I know – at least two of the men in the 11th, who are both quite good fellows.  I shall probably find I know others when I get out there.
By the way, I’ve lost my blue patrol… Can’t think what I have done with it.  Of course I don’t want it out here, but I should like to trace it if I can.
I did not manage to trace Nina.  I was rather busy at the Camp.  But I don’t think she was there at all.  I must write to her home address and find out where she is.  I believe Winnie Paterson is coming over too.  Benjy is not strong enough.
We are passing through a very pretty part of the country, quaint villages and pretty country.
Later.  Have been waiting about one and half hours in a station.  It is quite possible we shall wait another ten hours.  However, we have plenty of food and are quite cheerful.  It is very warm over here at present.
I shall not be able to get this off at present as our letters may not go through a private post. 
This station is most amusing.  There are British, French, Portuguese, sort of Chinese devils and every other nationality all mixed up talking their own funny lingoes.  This is a most entertaining Country.
Well I’ll leave this open in case there is anything to add later.
Much love to the Family, and my very kind regards to Mrs Broome.

3rd March 1917
11th Royal Scots.  B.E.F.
After some difficulty have found my Battn.  Most excellent reception, writing later.

5th March 1917
This is really the first time I’ve had the chance of writing a decent letter.
It is a little difficult to give you much news because the nature of one’s work is secret – one’s place is secret and everything else is secret.
However, I can tell you that at the present moment and for the next few days I am as safe as you are and I don’t think I’m telling any secrets when I say that they usually keep new fellows in the quiet for a month or so – I leave it at that.
Secondly I am extremely comfortable and happy here.  We are fed sumptuously.  We have Company messes – 5 or 6 elaborate courses at dinner – all sorts of dates, raisins, etc.  There are nine of us in the Coy. all good fellows.  The Coy. O.C. called Brown is an excellent fellow – very efficient and very decent.
I haven’t got a Platoon at present, I’m a sort of understudy to a fellow called Thomas, a Winchester man who knows the Youngers well – was at school with Jock, Benjy’s brother.  His Father runs a preparatory school near Edinburgh.  Thomas is an excellent person.  Lunn is also in the Coy. Wnd in Comm.  I knew him well at Glencorse, he is also a topping fellow.  The Col. – Croft by name, is a Regular with a D.S.O with a bar.  He was very nice to Paton and me when we arrived.  Loftus, the Adjutant was once Serg. Maj.  He seems an excellent fellow.  The 2nd in C. is Errington, whose wife I know.  She is Mrs Sandford’s daughter.
The 11th Battn. is the senior Battn. in the “1st Hundred Thousand” and a splendid Battn. – probably the best in the Reg.
Before I go on any further, don’t expect letters coming regularly.  It takes some days for them to come as you can seem from the date of this.  Also you can’t very well write when you are in the Trenches.
The drawback to the place is the weather.  It’s extraordinary cold during the night.  Can you send a good muffler?  It was beastly having the other stolen but I couldn’t help it.  Also some very warm mittens preferably with gauntlets.  I don’t think there’s time to make them.  I should like them as soon as possible.  For the rest, socks are wanted all the time – also some Horlick Milk Tablets – excellent things.  I get my chocolate here; it is very good in France – also cigarettes, so don’t worry about them.  But cakes and things are most welcome – but not essential as we are fed very well.  By the way, if you ever do send cigarettes, I like Players, or any cheap American ones.  The others are too strong for the amount we smoke.  But, as I say, Cigs are cheaper out here and so don’t send any.
How are all the Family, give my love to them all.  I haven’t got much news.  Life is great out here.  The chances of getting Blighty one are far greater than anything worse, and besides, as I am always saying, I am just as safe in the Trenches as you are in Huddlesford.  When our time comes, it comes.  So cheer Oh, Pip-pip, and Yo-ho for the Bosche with a hole in the back.
Well, I’ll write again before very long, but don’t expect regular letters.

7th March 1917
11th Royal Scots, B.E.F.
Two letters dated the 2nd and 3rd respectively arrived today; also the one from Edith.  I am glad you read it.  Never scruple to read any of my letters if you would like to. 
First of all, for business.

  1. I have found my muffler, so don’t send another.  If you have done so it will be quite useful.
  2. The mittens wanted rather badly: please may they be warm and woolly.  They need not be waterproof.  I shall wear them underneath my rubber gloves which are rather cold.
  3. All such food as nice cakes, jam and things for mess very useful.  Everything is common property in the Coy mess and so I should naturally like to contribute my share.  Chocolate of course is most useful but apt to be selfish.  Don’t spend much; I have plenty of money.  Our mess is sumptuous, 5 course dinners – most elaborate and every luxury like Camambun etc. (how do you spell it?).

To answer your letters, yes I should much appreciate Punch and Public Opinion.
I always like to hear about the garden.  I think you scheme for the Village excellent both in theory and practice.
No my letters are not delayed by censor, I do it all myself.
You speak of discomforts, so far they are only one in number.  It’s beastly cold, but I keep myself quite warm.  I have such topping garments and lots of blankets.  Fellows were most kind in lending me things before my kit came out.  Selfishness is entirely eliminated in France.  This is one of the great lessons we learn out here – selfishness and snobbery are absolutely cut out.
It is very kind of you to send the (censored).
It hasn’t arrived yet, but things nearly always come sooner or later. 
Yes, I remember about Mrs Ditmus, I am so glad. 
I am quite happy out here.  The fellows are a splendid crowd.  Of course I haven’t had the experience of the Front yet.  Again let me remind you, there will often be a break in my letters for a week or so.  You will know the reason.  If anything happens to me, you will know soon enough.
I am rather sorry I missed the Opera season in Edinburgh.  I was rather looking forward to it.  Otherwise I think I am much better out here.  The only trouble is I feel sure you will be worrying about me.  Please try not to worry too much.  Trench life is a hundred times preferable to that of a year or so ago.  Moreover, I shan’t do much the first month or so probably.
One gets to know the men much better out here.  Some of their letters are rather pathetic.  They have to rough it rather badly in the ranks.
Excuse this very scrappy letter.  It is so difficult to write an interesting letter when one can’t tell any news.
Write as often as possible.  One depends on letters out here to a greater extent than people realise at home.
Much love to Douglas and Kim.

11th The Royal Scots.  B.E.F.
I am sending a line tonight as I shall be very busy tomorrow.  Awfully sorry but post is just going out.  Had a very successful day, all sorts of sports and things.
Thanks for your card today, so glad you saw Kim.
(Posted 11th March 1917).

9th March 1917 
11th The Royal Scots.  B.E.F. France.
I sit down to answer five letters from you Mother and one from you Daddy.  They have all arrived within 24 hours.  I hope they will come more regularly now I have a proper address.
First of all as far as possible do write a short note every day.  There is only one post a day and that comes after tea when letters are most welcome.
The parcel has not arrived to date.  Could you send something rather special in parcels now and then.  You see fellows get things like homemade oatcake – anything you can’t get here and it becomes the common property of the Coy mess – 9 of us, and I should naturally like to supply me share.  A little oatmeal for porridge is a terrific blessing if it can be got – but anything will do.
For goodness sake don’t worry about me.  They keep us fairly safe at first – moreover about 80% of the casualties are only wounded.
I should very much like to have Punch; also Public Opinion or any other paper for that matter.
As for books, one or two would be very nice to have.  I can get novels here, but could you send me something of Thackery or Anthony Troloppe – something quiet and amusing.
Thank you very much for attending to my landlady’s letter.  I don’t think I have any of her towels, in fact I am almost certain I haven’t, but of course I can’t swear.
It might amuse me to see Raffy’s letter.  I am glad it was settled about Edith Stisted.  I haven’t heard from her family yet.  I have heard from Benjy and Miss Wyer, I think that is all since I have been out.
Rather amusing about Captain Capper, I hardly know him.  Margarine dupes nearly everyone nowadays.
A stylo pen would be invaluable, I should be infinitely obliged for one.
How nice for you being able to meet Kim.  I must write to him soon.
Yes, it is rather cold here.  Socks will be most useful, also woolly gloves or mittens.
No, Blackwood went back, but he’ll be out again very soon to stay.
There is a signalling officer here already, I may perhaps succeed him some day.
Please send the Forsyth account to me, I shall have loads of money to pay it by the end of the month. 
That finishes your letters.
Now here is a little secret.  I don’t think I need scruple in letting you know.  As far as I can see, I shall not be in the trenches more than about 4 days in the next 3 or 4 weeks….
I am enjoying life here very much.  It is very cold but my clothes are excellent in every respect bar gloves.  The rubber gloves have not proved much of a success; too cold.
One rather misses ones Sundays here.  One works just the same.  Last Sunday I thought it was Saturday and never realised my mistake until the morning after.  I never know what day of the week it is now.
But we are a very cheerful crowd – officers and men.  We play all sorts of children’s games with the men.  There is something wonderfully pathetic about the private soldier in France.  He is just a child, sometimes querulous but always trustful.  Their letters are always full of kisses x x x – and odd expressions of endearment.  Of course I read a great many of them, censoring.
People have been awfully kind.  I can count on letters from a great many people, mostly girls so that always keeps me cheery.  Moreover, my life has been so happy that I sometimes spend hours on the march, etc, dreaming about people and incidents; it is an extraordinary help being able to live on one’s past.  Of course there is usually “lots of the present” to live in.
Much love to all.

11th March 1917
11th The R.S.  B.E.F.
We expected to march today but have been given a day of rest instead.  I was rather relieved as we have been working rather hard last week.  For the next ten days or so, I shall have my own Platoon, the leading one in the Battn at the moment.
We have been having too much ceremonial lately we have been inspected by Haig and some of the Brgde have been decorated by the Corps Comm.  The weather is not suitable for ceremonial.  It is much warmer this morning and afternoon.  I am rather glad, as I shall have a short spell in the trenches in a day or two.
Miss Gribbell has sent me a very nice little flask which may prove very useful and Raffy asks what kind of food I like, so no doubt I shall be well fed.
Your parcel has not arrived to date, I mean the one containing the “Sanctuary” you said you were sending…
About my letters, please….
Don’t worry about my going into the trenches.  We are on an extremely quiet part of the line, moreover everything is going swimmingly over here and we are very cheerful.
We had some rather amusing sports yesterday, including an inter-Battn football competition for which two pigs large and small respectively were given as prizes; the latter were drawn up in a cart in the midst of the massed pipe band of the Bgde and the two winning teams, 1st and 2nd had to remove their own prizes.  This caused much amusement to all concerned with the solitary exception of the pigs themselves, who, not being Scottish, could hardly be expected to have so keen a sense of humour as ourselves.
B Coy consumed a whole case of whiskey in the Officers’ mess last night to celebrate their impending departure.  Considering all things, I think it was as well that the departure was put off a day.  Messing here is wonderfully good and quite moderate, I ought to be saving a little more soon………………
We are a very jolly little crowd here, Brown the O.C. Coy is an Oxford man, and Lunn 2nd in comm, a Cambridge man.
All the other fellows are very nice indeed without exception.
Very much love to all.
P.S. Letters often get delayed a week or more so don’t worry if there are gaps.

12th March 1917
11th The Royal Scots.  B.E.F.
Received your letter of the 7th today.  I can’t tell you how much I enjoy getting your letters so often.  It is such a help.  The parcel containing the “Sanctuary” etc also arrived.  I must have a look at the book tonight.  The chocolate was delicious and disappeared within two minutes after it arrived.  You see there were seven of us.  You must not be appalled at this.  All parcels coming in here are the common property of the Coy mess.  Selfishness seems to be practically unknown.  Ever since I have been out here I have been devouring other people’s parcels.  I am sorry the postage is so high.  It is rather a shame.
We eat a great deal of choc here but it is easy to get.  Perhaps you could send some of those Horlick milk tablets they are excellent.  The cocoa will be exceedingly useful as well.
You will remember the woolly gloves or mittens won’t you.  Another thing I rather want is a light waterproof for marching etc.  Only rather less than half our time is spent in the trenches and when we are training, my trench coat is rather too heavy to carry.  Something really very light and inexpensive.  Please send the bill to me.  Also please send all socks you can.  We use an extraordinary number of pairs and I could do with more.
I have had an excellent day.  We started marching at 7.30 am and went on for 15 miles, with only three five minute halts, arriving here at 12.30.  Since we all wore very heavy packs, equipment and gas respirators not to speak of steel helmets, I think we did rather well.  Thanks to excellent boots and my present splendid health, I feel as fresh as a lily after it.  My feet were not in the slightest sore and I am not very tired.  Tomorrow I shall be in the rear part of the trenches.  It is very quiet part of the line, and we shall not be in the front part of the line at present.  I am very much looking forward to it – an interesting experience.  Don’t worry, the Hun is awfully nervous at present and there are hardly any casualties in the part of the line at present.  This is a fact.
I have obtained my signalling certificate, it arrived today.  This means that I ought to be signalling officer sometime in the future.  We have got one here at present.
You would very much like to meet some of the fellows here – a most topping crowd of officers, the “C” Coy. officers (there are 8 of us) make one happy family with Brown as a sort of Father and head – he is quite delightful, Ainsley, one of the whiskey people, is a charming man, he has travelled a great deal.  Winchester, a lawyer, is quite delightful, Thomas, a Winchester man, (don’t confuse the man’s name with the school) is an excellent fellow.  Lynn is also a topping old thing.  Edwards, our mess president, feeds us like kings.  Smith is a very amusing Scot, and there you have the happy family.

Just received six letters including:

  1. Yours.
  2. Two from Lady Clerke, she has taken to calling me Bobby and seems rather fond of me.
  3. A very nice one from Mrs Stisted.
  4. A jolly one from Edith Stisted, who signs herself Edith, after the manner of the Bell family.
  5. A long one from Mrs MacPherson, another Edinburgh friend of mine.

Mrs Stisted is sending cakes.  Raffy asks what I want, so I ought to get some food.  It is such a help having so many friends who think a little of me when I am not there.
I enjoy the 3rd line very much indeed.  I suppose it will become boring in time but at present it is most interesting.  I stood in the open today, directing my section in their places in a redoubt.  The Hun was straffing with shrapnel.  None burst within about 500 yards of me, but the noise was considerable and the stuff burst in the air like a huge rocket – quite thrilling it was.
When our own guns fire, they knock the dug-outs like a stone.
There is a bit of a straffe on now, right away in the distance.  I have just been out to look at it.  It is just like a great firework display.
I hear from your letter that you are sending another muffler to me; I have found my old one, but another will be very useful.  Choc., Cigarettes and biscuits I can easily get here.  But everything is very welcome.  The daily letter is an enormous help.
Letter must go.

13th March 1917
11th The Royal Scots. B.E.F.
I am in a dug out shared by three others, Lunn Edwards and a third in another Coy.  I am about 600 yards behind the front line – well out of range of most of the trench mortars.
It is quite fascinating.  The shells come whistling over us and you can see them burst.  Fortunately, they are practically all ours, the Hun seems very dispirited.  I am told that the casualties for the whole division are often nil for a whole tour in the trenches.
I have just had a glorious meal in the Coy. H.Q. dug out.  It started with slices of sausage (German) with ham, fat slices wrapped round.  This was followed by delicious soup and then tinned salmon, bread, jam and cheese, and tea.  It was rather good for a scratch luncheon I think.  We always get five course dinners. 
Just before luncheon, a large rat had squint at us through a little window in the dug-out.  We removed him with stones.
It is quite safe here.  I spend a part of my time in the open.  The trenches are very muddy in places and it is better to get out on top.
I honestly mean it when I say that these 3rd lines are very nearly as safe as Huddlesford – and the front line isn’t much more dangerous.
There is a Town just behind the lines.  It was one of those wrecked in 1915.  All is ruin.  The Cathedral, huge but desolate, various factories, through which the lines actually pass.  You can see great engines and dynamos all rusty and still with no roof over them.  It is all rather weird, but awfully interesting.

14th March 1917
11th The Royal Scots, B.E.F.
I have no parade until after tea today so I will start a letter now.  I am taking a working party out tonight – it ought to be rather sport.  I expect we shall be in by about 10.
I spent a good night wrapped up in a coat and many sand bags – tons of them; they are such warm things.  This morning, after a breakfast of porridge, cream, bacon, egg, bread and marmalade, I had a good wash in warm water, shaved and strolled here to write letters.
I am now in Coy Hdrs.
It is great fun in the 3rd line, as long as you are: 1) in good health, 2) have lots of food, 3) ditto clothing – trench life several hundred yards from the Hun is anything but unpleasant.  Thanks to a persevering mess president, and the many parcels we get – you see there are about seven of us (six at the moment, one is on special duty) we feed like Kings.  My clothes are all I could want save that I could do with more socks.  Luckily it is very warm at present.
It also makes such a difference having such a topping Coy Cr.  He does everything in his power for us.  Lunn, the 2nd in Command is an old friend of mine, while all the others are excellent med.  In my platoon I have a very excellent Serg., reduced to ranks for drunkenness, risen again by pure capability, his worth his weight in gold; and also one of my Corporals is a gem. 
Feary, my Plat. Serg. is also invaluable – he used to have terrible “blinds” too.  These fellows who get drunk are always excellent N.C.O.s.  It is the same with some officers.  I rather think this applies especially to the Scottish.
There is a bit of straffing going on but really nothing much.  I have been watching some of our shells bursting in the Bosch lines.  First you hear the bang of the gun behind our lines, then the whistle of the shell going over, then you see a flash and a great cloud of smoke.  Several seconds afterwards, a crash like a house falling down, immediately followed by a weird humming sound; this last are the fragments which travel a great distance.  It is quite fascinating.  At night time, the sky is lit up like lightening.  But I was not in the least disturbed in my sleep.
In a day or two we shall go up into the front line.  It will only be for about five days and then we get over a fortnight rest right behind the lines.  Very likely we shall have scarcely a single casualty.
I will leave this open and perhaps finish it this afternoon.
4.10.  Nothing else been happening this day, except some big bangs at a comparative distance.
Love to all.

11th The Royal Scots.  B.E.F.
I am in a dug out right up in the thick of it.  Nothing very terrible doing.  By the time you get this, we shall be resting.
Thank you very much for the delightful parcel.  I think perhaps the cocoa, tea and oxo are not quite so necessary as we get fed her with loads of all these things.  The cakes were delicious and much appreciated, chocolate most useful, we eat a great deal out here.  Muffler just what I wanted.  Peppermint particularly useful; could do with more when next you send.  But on the whole, I think a few cakes and things are more useful than the tin food.  It was an excellent parcel.
How would you like to see a straffe between 36 aeroplanes at once – some sight I can tell you. 
This dug-out if very dark and I am using an electric torch.
Don’t worry about me.  The shells and things don’t seem to frighten me somehow, I am quite happy.  It is great sport.  Much love.

15th March 1917
11th Btn The Royal Scots.
My working party last night proved a wash-out.  We went to the rendez-vous but the R.E. we were to meet, never turned up.  So I took my sheep back again to their no little pleasure.
There is an 18 pounder battery just behind my dug-out, it seems to have lost its head altogether this afternoon, bang, bang all the time, and I hear the shells leaving the air over my head.  The Boche hardly sends over a single shell.  One landed about two hundred yards away just now.  But I have never seen one nearer.
We had great excitement with a rat last night at dinner in Coy H.Q. dug-out; it was one of these lonely little souls that seek protection, it scrambled up several peoples’ legs, up Winchester’s back, and finally nearly on Ainslie’s lap; this made us thoroughly nervy; so we place a candle on the floor beneath the table and for the rest of the meal kept one furtive eye on our boots.
The mud is not quite so bad today and it keeps as warm as toast, it is such a help.
When you get this, I shall probably be in the front line.  However, I only stay there four days and then I shall not be in it again for many weeks in all probability.  Don’t worry, this is quite a quiet bit of line, I don’t think anybody will be touched at all.
I have now found the mitten I had lost, however if you have already sent some gloves, they will be most useful.
As I was writing this, a Bosch aeroplane was sailing high up above my head, I went out and watched it against the blue sky, we suddenly saw little puffs of white smoke all around it, this was our anti-aircraft guns, we got pretty near once or twice, but it got away.  The Bosch is getting a little bored and has sent over a few indiscriminate wizz bangs – quite futile.
Just been out again – there are two batches of our buzz planes four in a squad.  The Bosches are firing at them with so far, no result.
It is a glorious afternoon, sunny and still.  It is quite fascinating watching the straffing, it is wonderful how little damage seems to be done. 
There is a Town here and sometimes you have a house tumbling down.  The Bosch likes knocking houses down.  It is all very fascinating but I suppose it will begin to pall in time.
I am perfectly comfortable, well and happy.

11th Royal Scots B.E.F.
I got two letters by last night’s post one dated 9th and the other 11th.  Thanks very much for both. 
It was very kind of Mrs Broome to make me a shirt.  The things have not yet arrived, but I expect they will turn up soon.
I’m glad you heard from Mrs Stisted.  She had always been most extraordinarily kind to me.
I’m glad to hear about the photograph being a success, I could do with six to send to Scotland if you could let me have them.  It makes something to write about.  It is very difficult to know what to say in some of my letters as my news is so restricted.
We are having lovely weather, warm and fine.  It is great weather for aeroplanes.  I have seen them fighting together up in the air, sometimes twenty together. 
I’m not sure if pork pie will keep.  If you send things out of tins, don’t send more than enough for about seven people for about one meal, as the rats are rather a nuisance.
You ask me what I like, first and foremost socks, then bull’s eyes would be rather nice I think; something to suck.  Horlick milk tablets are excellent.  Compressed soups in little cardboard boxes are very useful for the soup course at dinner.  Biscuits and choc. we can get here.  A tin of Bovril tablets might prove a great boon, tinned cream is very useful, also quaker outs or better still, oatmeal for porridge.  But don’t buy a lot of things.  We do very well out here.  Of course cakes, homemade are a treat.
I should be most grateful for a stylo pen and a bottle of ink in a wooden protecting case.
Don’t expect much in the way of letters for the next day or so because I shall be very busy indeed.  I don’t propose to tell you much of what I am doing in the trenches.  It isn’t very interesting and it might be censorable.  Suffice it to say that I have met with several of the Bosche’s instruments of war and am nevertheless enjoying myself.
Sometimes one feels frightened – all of us do.  But it is only just when the danger is present.  One never thinks of things before they come and I always forget them more or less directly they are over.  They immediately become jokes and we tell them as good stories.  I can’t say I am very keen on machine guns.  They make an unpleasant noise.
I am glad to hear that Mrs Broome has finished with Walsall, it sounds a beastly place.
Yes, I would much rather have a short note every day than two long ones a week.
Have had a very long letter from Auntie Kit, which I will send on ……
Also a lengthy and quite delightful letter from Marjorie Sidgwick.  She speaks in terms of affection ……  But if only she could realise that France is not the embodiment of Milton’s Hell and Greek Gehenna, what a lot of pain she would save herself. 
I make no pretence that I enjoy being potted at by Bosche machine guns – in fact I thoroughly object – but they don’t worry me one quarter as much as they do Marjorie Sidgwick who is 80 miles out of their range, or more.
Her eldest brother got a D.S.O., so that’s a good thing ……
I went round a big ruined city last night.  It presents a sight I shall never forget.  You cannot imagine the devastation that the great guns work.  The streets might well supply a practical example of the “Valley of the Shadow”.  Some of the buildings were once very fine.
But all these sad things tone down into harmless phantoms when we gather round the brazier in the Coy H.Q. dug out.  I wish you could see us.  Some on beds, some on boxes, some on chairs, dressed in weird ways and spattered with mud.  Under the table lies a big dog whom we picked up masterless that afternoon.  You cannot see across the dug-out for the smoke of the wood fire, but at the far end a rat is chirruping like birds in nesting time.  He is fairly tame, is the rat.  I think one could soon teach him to eat out of the hand.
Love to all.

18th March 1917
11th The Royal Scots B.E.F.
Sorry yesterday’s letter did not get off, but there will be two today instead.
Yours of the 12th just arrived.  Grieves ear stoppers sound entertaining.  Can’t say the noise worries me much at present; but it may get worse.  No we are not supplied with them.  For papers I should much appreciate Punch and anything else you can send.  Also if you could sometimes send one or two copies of “John Bull”, Answers and any magazines, the men will be most grateful to you and to me.  They get rather a thin time of it, poor fellows.
Yes, I like Errington.  He is away for a month for so at present, but I daresay, he will be nice when he comes back.  He is 2nd in command here and may soon be C.O.  He is an excellent fellow.
No, the mud is not very bad.  The trenches really are not so bad.  Not half so bad as you imagine.  There are no unpleasant things lying about as one sometimes imagines there are.
Yes, I know Ella Errington.  She is a jolly little thing.  Miss Sandford was very kind to me at Glen corse.  I wrote to her the other day.
You say “Tell me everything”.  Do you want me shot?  But there is not really much to tell.  Your own papers tell you how well everything is going.  The officers have quite a good time of it.  It is the man that suffer.
I don’t know that I mind shells very much.  They are clean sort of things.
By the time you get this, we shall probably be in a rest camp.
By the way remember to send me that bill from Forsyth.
Do you think you could get me a sort of summer unlined waterproof of the Burberry type, perhaps something lighter than a Burberry?  It is for marching with.  You see we are only in the trenches for a small part of our time.
My love to the Family and Mrs Broom.

22nd March 1917
11th R.S.  B.E.F.
Just a line to say I’m quite safe, although I’ve been through rather a trying experience.  Several of my friends have been killed in the business, which is sad.
I feel so tired today that I can’t write any more.  Please send socks as soon as possible.
Much love.

24th March 1917
11th R.S.  B.E.F.
I’m out of the trenches for a little while now so that is all right.  Don’t think I haven’t been thinking of you all this time, but I’ve been having all sorts of adventures.  I’ve patrolled in No Man’s Land three nights.  This is more or less safe – sounds much worse that it is and doesn’t worry me much.
Had a fairly hot time the other day.  Brown, Lunn and Paton were most unfortunately killed and Winchester is wounded.  I had a fairly easy time until the evacuation, when I had to wait for the last.  After that, Thomas, a few others and I took in wounded.  They sniped at us for a bit and we got shelled a lot.  Thomas took them in – one man – right out of No Man’s Land and he ought to get the M.C.  I only helped with them in a crater and in our saps – but it was pretty beastly.  We are recommending the two men who helped us, for the Military Medal.  The M.O. was very grateful I think as the stretcher bearers were very busy.  One heavy shell fell within a few feet of us and each thought the other killed.  We were smothered in soil and stuff and that was all.
I am telling you this because I think it may comfort you to know that I had a chance of helping to do something.  As a matter of fact, it wasn’t half so bad as it sounds but I think the C.O. and M.O. were pleased and I know you will be to hear that.
Your splendid cake arrived last night; what a lovely cake.  The hankies and socks were simply invaluable.  I had no hankies at the time and my socks were rather wet.
Mrs Stisted has sent me an enormous Selkirk Bannock and a charming long letter.  It is nice to have friends like that.  Also long letters from Mrs Pitman, Olivia who is sending me a parcel, Edith Sidgwick also sending parcel and Raffy, who sent oat cake.
Thank you very much for all you long letters.  Sometimes I felt rather bored in the front line.  I don’t feel frightened for myself, but it is sad to lose one’s friends.  Besides everything is wet in bad weather and that is depressing.  You can’t imagine how I love to get the letters.
I do hope Daddy won’t have to go away.
Please thank Douglas very much for his splendid letter.  I will answer it soon.
Much love.
P.S. Except for a bit of a cold I am quite well and very happy.  The officers and men are so splendid.
After writing this, it struck me it appeared too war-like altogether.  But I believe you like to know what I really do, and it’s no good pretending we do nothing in the front line.  All the Generals and the rest of the Bde. are bucked with us and sympathise in our losses which were due to certain unfortunate circumstances.
I am perfectly happy and the only trouble is a touch of cold and cough, the latter doesn’t hurt a bit.
It may also comfort you to know that I have practically no fear out here.  It is not bravery, it is simply an unexplainable fact.  I have been half buried by shells bursting within a few yards but I am probably very busy at the time and so don’t notice it.  Perhaps this will comfort you to know, but it really isn’t bravery, it is simply the help we get to do the needful.  My only trouble of any importance is wet feet.  We sometimes paddle in six inches of wet mud and no boots will keep that out.  This it is “socks and socks” every time.  They are the supreme thing.  Socks and cakes.  The cake was perfectly delicious.  It is lasting about 48 hours.  Everybody thinks it top hole.
Much love.

26th March 1917
11th The Royal Scots.  B.E.F.
I am afraid you must think I have been neglecting you rather badly, but I’ve been so busy.  Thank you very much for all the letters and parcels.  The pen is proving most useful as you can see.
I’ve been very lucky lately.  Olivia Pitman sent me a large box of oatcake, some perfect guava jelly and some lovely dairy butter.  The Youngers sent shortbread, Raffy oatcakes, Mrs Stisted that lovely cake and then above all your parcel.  Your cake has been appreciated more than anything else we have had sent out yet.  I think seed is really the best.  It vanished in no time.
I am behind the lines now.  I find they usually keep Sundays as a day of rest when possible.  I got to Communion yesterday which was an excellent thing.
The Col. is most awfully pleased with us.  He said the circumstances of our affair were the most trying he had ever seen in his life, and he an old regular.  I don’t suppose I shall ever see such a business in my life again.  But it is great to have been through it.  Everybody is making quite a lot of us over it.
You will be glad to hear that although my feet were wet for ten days off and on, I never had a touch of rheumatism.  Of course I was very weary towards the end.  But on my honour, although I went through a very fair proportion of the Hun’s pranks, I don’t think this life is as bad as it is painted.  I was only in the thick of things for three days, barring two night patrols and working parties, which are comparatively safe.  If one keeps one’s wits about one, No Man’s Land is as healthy a place as anywhere during the night time.
It looks as though I should be safe for a good while now.  I am afraid I gave the wrong impression to you at first; it was not intentional, I had no idea I was in for a scrap.
Thanks awfully for getting the coat, I expect it will arrive in a day or so.
I do hope you won’t have to leave Daddy.  No I’m afraid lines of c. might lead to rheumatic fever.  You can’t stand this business after about 40.  It is the boys of 19 and 20 who stand it best.
I am awfully interested about your farming stunt Mother.  Do tell me all about it.
I’ve had a letter from Mrs Pitman and Olivia and also a very nice long one from Mrs Younger.  It is nice having so many friends.  Besides, their parcels are most useful.  We get loads of oatcake, short bread, haggis and the like.
My only sorrow here is the loss of my friends.  Little Paton died a hero, leading a handful of men against a Bosche bombing post.  He was killed without pain, I believe.  Nearly every officer and man deserved an award.  It was simply magnificent and we gave old Fritz something to think about.
Very much love.  I am going out to hear the Div’l Band.

27th March 1917
11th R.S.  B.E.F.
My letters seem very skimpy just now, I am afraid.  But I am so busy and I have so little news.
It has come as rather a shock, the possibility of your going abroad, Daddy.  I do hope you will be able to stay at home.  Lines of Communication mean R.T.O. jobs and M.L.O. jobs chiefly I think; that is to do with the trains and the landing of Troops.
I am afraid you would find it awfully tiring and not a very congenial job.  On the other hand, it would be a great nuisance if you have to go to India.
I don’t think the war is going on for so very much longer and it would be a disadvantage having to go so far.  I do hope something satisfactory will happen.
I am quite well again now.  My cough has practically gone altogether and I am feeling as fit as a fiddle. 
I wonder if I frightened you much in my last two or three letters.  I was rather overwrought by the want of sleep and probably exaggerated things a lot.  Nothing much happened really.
I am having an excellent time here.  We have a certain amount of work but nice long undisturbed nights which are such a blessing.  We have quite amusing messes together at night.
The colonel and M.O have both become much more friendly since the straffe as I managed to help the latter a little.  The M.O. and I are becoming great friends.  Thomas is also a topping man.  He was at Winchester with Jock Younger.  All the rest are rippers.
I had rather a funny experience the other night.  I was passing about twenty feet behind one of our heavies, a 6” or 9.2”, when it went off.  The blow back hit me smack in the face.  For a moment I almost thought the shell had gone out the wrong way.
People are being very kind sending letters and parcels.  Raffy’s letter was a scream.  I’ve never seen such glorious rot in all my life.  But it shows good feeling.
Mrs Stisted sends charming letters.  Isn’t she perfectly delightful.  She treats me just like a son.  It was also rather jolly of Olivia to send such a topping parcel – Olivia Pitman that is.
Our Second in Command is Sir George Campbell.  He is and adventurer by profession, a gentleman by instincts and a remarkably good fellow.  He jokes and asses about with the subalterns and is immensely popular.  Errington is away at present.  I believe he has gone sick, poor man.  He is so nice.
Love to all.

29th March 1917
11th The Royal Scots.  B.E.F.
I got your letter dated the 22nd yesterday evening I will answer it in detail first of all. 
Don’t worry about when I am in the trenches and when I’m out because it really makes very little difference.  I am out for some days now.
One pair of socks at the time will do splendidly.  Don’t buy socks, it isn’t worth the expense.  I’ve got enough to go on with but could do with more.  You say you’ve sent more on.  I’ve received one pair so far.  But Mrs Pitman and Edith Sidgwick are also so sending socks so don’t buy socks.
The oatmeal arrived today.  The waterproof has not arrived yet.  But please don’t spend too much on me.  Remember I’ve got plenty of money and can buy things.  But I think the cake is as important as anything.  Another seed like the last would give immense pleasure.  Thank you very much for ordering the papers.
The letter from Cox will be a receipt for a South African cheque I cashed for a soldier out here.
Thank you very much for sending on the note and extract from Mrs Stisted’s letter.  I hope you may meet her some day.  You would like her so much.
Don’t do yourself in by doing too much work in the fields.  It is terribly tiring on the back, planting for any length of time.
Everybody says how cold it is at home.  I never noticed it too cold out here.  The mud is our chief enemy.  Today it is raining hard, but the parade is cancelled.
Some day soon I hope to be back with you having one of those lunches at Seagraves.  What fun it will be.
The meeting in Lichfield sounds rather painful.  War saving certificates are hardly appetising even when served up by an ex butler.
As usual I have very little news.  We had rather a good concert her last night in which a R.A.M.C. Corporal made quite a captivating girl.
By the way I sent some things back wrapped up in a canvas bath.  My kit was too heavy.  But I ought not to have sent that towel.  Could you send me another rough towel as soon as possible?
I am afraid I haven’t thanked you properly for your parcels.  The one with tooth brush etc. came when I was rather busy.  The things were most useful.
Later.  Your letter of the 21st just arrived.  Also parcel containing coat and socks and Miss Smith’s mittens.  Everything was most useful.  The coat was just what I wanted.  I shall probably be sending my trench coat back soon.  I have borrowed an ink bill for this pen.  It seems rather efficacious; the socks too are delightful to have.  No it is not cold here.
Yes, I got the muffler, that is the camel’s hair one, I believe one of Daddy’s.  I am so sorry, I thought I had acknowledged it.
Thank you for Mrs Gordon Watson’s letter (not Lennex).  As I have already said, you may open any letter of mine you like and read it.
May I have six of the photographs or rather seven. 
My love to Douglas and the rest of the Family.
I wrote to the former yesterday.

31st March 1917
11th The Royal Scots.  B.E.F.
Thank you very much indeed for the letters and also the parcel containing soup, bull’s eyes, socks and gloves etc. which has just arrived.  It was most welcome.
I think perhaps I shall not want any more cocoa or Horlick’s milk stuff.  The Mess president looks after that sort of thing.  However, they will be made excellent use of.
I am not filling my pen with ink tablet for your letter because: 1) I am in a great hurry; 2) I rather think pen is leaking.
I have been helping to look after working parties building a railway the last day or two.  I’m with Winchester, a topping man.  Today a R.G.A. Corporal thought we were spies on his guns and brought up one of the R.G.A. officers.  The fact is, while the men are working, we have hardly anything to do, they being under the R.E. men, so we stroll about looking at the guns firing.  However, it ended with whiskey all round in the R.G.A. mess, so it didn’t’ prove such a bad business after all.
I have been trying to get a bath today.  I’ve only had two since I’ve been in France.  I couldn’t manage it, but hope for better luck tomorrow.
I have really very little news.  I got a topping parcel from Edin. yesterday, containing short-bread, soups and sausages.  Have not the faintest idea who sent it.  I get a lot of parcels form Edin and some are difficult to trace.  I believe Mrs Stisted is sending things again.  She is wonderfully kind.
The coat is excellent.  I think I shall be sending my trench coat soon.  It has as terrible tear in it.  Besides it is getting warm now.
I do hope you are all well and happy at home.  Don’t worry about me, because I am quite all right.  I can’t tell you for certain, but I don’t think I shall be in the front line for several weeks.
Another parcel of chocs. just arrived from Gramma!
I’ve heard from Nina and Auntie Kit.  I’m afraid Nina is feeling a bit fed with things.  She doesn’t actually say so, but I can read between the lines.  I do admire her for it.
Much love.

11th April 1917
11th R.S.  B.E.F.
Very many happy returns of the day Mother dear.  I’ve not been on action so far, but I’m with the Battn now.  The most terrific affair in the World in progress.  I am at the moment staying in a Hun dug-out.  Food splendid and all going strong.
Thank you so much for the parcels.  Excuse these short and few letters but the World is upside down. 
Don’t be alarmed about pauses of several days without letters.  If anything happens to me you will know soon enough from W.O.
Am getting lots of letters and parcels.
Much love.

15th April 1917
War Office.  London.  Handed in 1.35pm.  Received 2.52 pm.

Captain Hall.  The Barracks.  Lichfield.
Regret to inform you 2nd Liet L.R. Hall 1st attached Royal Scots admitted 14 General Hospital Boulogne April thirteenth with gunshot wound left thigh and left knee severe will send any further news.
Secretary War Office.

14 General Hospital, Boulogne.
I’ve managed it just nicely this time.  I’ve got one through the upper thigh and a small smack below the left knee.
Don’t be alarmed.  I’m not bad.  No bones touched and apparently everything quite clean.  Apart from some stiffness I’ve suffered very little pain.  I’m on ordinary diet and have lost very little blood.
I think I ought to get over to England tomorrow.  But there are such crowds of us and one can’t be certain to a day or so.  Meanwhile I am looked after like a prince in a jolly little room with one other fellow.  The other fellow is rather a depressing case.  I’m fed sumptuously.  The Nurses and Doctors are all bricks.  Fortunately, the wounds hardly hurt at all when dressed.  The thigh one was very lucky.  A machine gun bullet entered within an inch of my hip, went through about six inches of soft flesh and came out again.  It looks as clean as anything could be.  The other was a spent bit of shrapnel and is apparently only superficial.
Just think of it, several months of Blighty, in a day or so.  Probably I shall never see this War again.
I am in a bit Hotel on the top of a hill overlooking the sea, a lovely place.
Excuse beastly writing.  I’m lying on my back as my left leg (both wounds there) is as stiff as a poker.
Much love to all.
Thank God for my escape.

17th April 1917
Lichfield.  5.45 am.
Paddington.  Handed in 9.50.  Received 1.50.
Hall.  Huddlesford House, Lichfield.
Arrived safe, comfortable and happy at American Hospital, 98 Lancaster Gate.  Please send little money immediately writing.  Bobbie.




Went the Day Well?

by James Jackson

(For more information about this article go to the 9th November 2014 Blog)

Professor David Allison

I gave this citation for Professor David Allison on 20th May 2011 when he was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal College of Radiologists.

I consider it an enormous privilege to have been asked to give this citation for Professor David Allison.  There is no person, in my opinion, past or present, who is more deserving of the honour of being awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal College of Radiologists.

David Allison received his pre-medical education in Yorkshire, Kenya, Germany and finally at Wimbledon College, London.  It was at this last school that he started winning awards – something that he was to continue doing throughout his subsequent medical career – becoming State Scholar, Wimbledon College University Scholar and Wimbledon College Victor Ludorum.  He studied Medicine at King’s College, London, obtaining his BSc in 1962 and qualifying, with honours, in 1965 having picked up the Inchley Prize in Pharmacology and the Hughes Prize along the way.

House jobs at King’s College and Woolwich Memorial Hospitals were followed by two and a half years as a Physiology Research Lecturer at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital where he worked on mammalian diving reflexes and cot death and then, in 1970, he was appointed as a trainee in Radiology at Hammersmith Hospital.  He obtained his FRCR in 1974 and, in the same year, successfully submitted his MD thesis to the University of London on ‘Respiratory and Cardiovascular Reflexes arising from receptors in the nasal mucosa’.  His remarkable talent in Radiology did not go unrecognised and in 1975, less than five years after starting in Radiology, he was appointed as a consultant and senior lecturer at Hammersmith Hospital and the Royal Postgraduate Medical School. 

He continued his physiological research into the pulmonary circulation whilst at Hammersmith Hospital and combined it with microangiography of the pulmonary vessels.  This work provided insights into hypoxic vasoconstriction, which have significantly improved our understanding of how the body minimizes the adverse effects of poorly ventilated lung segments.  With this work he won the first George Simon memorial prize of the Fleischner Society in 1979 and upon presenting it to the Society he became the first, and only person ever, to be elected to this prestigious number-limited Society by acclamation rather than through its electoral voting system. 
At the extraordinarily young age of 42 he received his chair and was made head of Department of Imaging at Hammersmith Hospital and the Royal Postgraduate Medical School.

David is the author of at least 120 papers in peer reviewed journals, over 50 letters, 26 reviews and editorials and 84 book chapters and has edited 16 textbooks.  One of these books deserves special mention:
Diagnostic Radiology: an Anglo-American Textbook of Imaging in three volumes was first published in 1985 and is known the world over simply as Grainger and Allison.  Now in its 5th Edition it was, from the outset, recognised as not only a truly remarkable achievement but a truly great book and it rapidly became, and still is, the most important Radiology textbook on all Radiologist’s bookshelves, in all Radiology departments and in all hospital libraries.

David’s monumental achievements in Radiology have been many but I would like to dwell for a moment on the two that I personally feel are his greatest and for which he is, and quite rightly should be, remembered. 

First, Interventional Radiology: When David first started in Radiology the equipment was extremely basic, especially when you compare it with that which we now consider standard.  Despite this, David started performing embolizations, angioplasties and gallstone removals as a senior registrar with Maurice Raphael, who was then head of angiography training.  The results that he obtained, particularly in the embolization of neuroendocrine liver metastases, gastrointestinal haemorrhage and arteriovenous malformations, were a revelation to the clinicians from a wide range of specialties and in a very short space of time he was receiving referrals from hospitals throughout the United Kingdom and abroad, some arriving by helicopter and landing on the adjacent Wormwood Scrubs.  You may not be surprised to hear that, even then, a shortage of hospital beds was a common problem (some things never change) but David had his own way of dealing with that: he took one of his AVM patients referred from Germany home with him to stay overnight at his house!

David had many ‘firsts’.  He was almost certainly the first Radiologist to start using the Sidewinder catheter in the mesenteric vessels.  As a registrar it dawned on him that the femoro-cerebral, or Sidewinder, catheter would be less likely to recoil from the vessel during a pump injection of contrast medium; this catheter allowed high-volume selective injections with a corresponding increase in diagnostic quality.  This, together with his meticulous application to detail and excellent technique allowed him to produce the most wonderful angiographic images for which he became renowned.

He was the first radiologist in the UK to embolise pulmonary arteriovenous malformations and, with Mike Hughes, a colleague in Respiratory Medicine, he set up a national service for the treatment of patients with these anomalies, a service which has continued to thrive ever since at Hammersmith Hospital. 
The radiological investigation of endocrine disease became one of David’s particular interests and, together with Welbourn, Joplin and Bloom, he developed and refined many angiographic and venous sampling techniques.

The second major achievement of David’s that I would like to mention, which is even greater, if that is possible, than his contribution to Interventional Radiology, was the introduction of PACS. 

David was appointed head of the Imaging department in 1982 and shortly after this there were plans to rebuild the hospital. As soon as he saw the plans he realized that radiology needed at least twice the space that had been allowed and he immediately started negotiating for much more room. He then had the extraordinary foresight to realize that this was an ideal opportunity to build the first fully digital hospital in the world and in February 1985 he wrote to Geoffrey Rivett at the Department of Health asking for the funding to do this.  The meeting he arranged was booked for 30 min but lasted all day.  David describes himself as having been ‘somewhat astonished’ that following this meeting Geoffrey Rivett became an enthusiastic and powerful advocate of the cause.  Those of us who know David are less surprised; once he is set on a project, he is able to put his ideas across so powerfully and with such considerable enthusiasm that all wish to be involved.  And so things got moving on what would prove to be the largest single capital investment project in the history of the NHS.  Even David had moments of doubt.  One has to remember that at that time the current technology was not good enough in terms of either image quality or storage to run a hospital.  David had to rely on the fact that advances would continue to be made at the same rate that they had been in order to meet the necessary requirements when the system was implemented. This must have taken an extraordinary amount of nerve and, I am sure, cost David many sleepless nights.  He, of course, never admitted this to the Department of Health.  He once told me that he wondered if he might be sent to jail if the project did fail!

To add to his concerns he outlined his plans in a presentation at the Fleischner society (comprising the world’s leading chest radiologists, physicians and surgeons). The society unanimously pontificated that ‘digitally acquired radiographs would never be satisfactory for chest imaging’. This was devastating advice from such an esteemed body, which David fortunately chose to ignore.

Time does not allow me to discuss David’s numerous other major achievements in the detail that they deserve.  He was instrumental in persuading the European College of Angiography and the European Society of Vascular Radiology to combine to form CIRSE, the Cardiovascular and Interventional Radiological Society of Europe.  For three years he was ‘acting president’ of the nascent society as it was being structured and he later became the actual president.  He is currently Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the research and teaching foundation of the society.

There are many radiologists the world over, including me, who owe David an enormous debt of gratitude for the teaching and support that we have received from him.  He is rightly proud of the fact that almost 30 of his registrars have been appointed to professorships.

It would be reasonable to assume with David’s extraordinary academic and clinical output that he had no time for his wife Deirdre and his three children.  I know from personal experience, however, that David is the most remarkable parent and, now, grandparent (six times over!).  His family is extremely important to him and he would be the first to admit that without the wonderful love and support of Deirdre he would not have been able to realise many of the extraordinary achievements I have described today. 

On a personal note I would like to thank David for being a wonderful boss, colleague and friend. 

Professor David Allison has been awarded Gold medals by CIRSE in 1998, ECR in 2000 and the British Society of Interventional Radiology in 2003.  I am absolutely delighted that he has now been awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal College of Radiologists.

Dr James E. Jackson
20th May 2011




Went the Day Well?

by James Jackson

(For more information about this article go to the 27th October 2014 Blog)


It should have been obvious to me from the very fact that Mary asked to be taken to the hospital that evening, that she did not really believe her own repeated assurance that the pain was really not too bad and she was sure that it was ‘just wind’; but she almost managed to convince me.  I apologised, therefore, as I introduced myself to the obstetrics senior registrar for wasting her time and refused to recognise the silent messages of fear, understanding and sadness that passed between her and my wife standing at my side.  ‘You are here now, so let us just take a quick look’, she said and led Mary into one of the delivery rooms.

What do I really remember after that?  When I was called into the room Mary looked somehow diminished; she was sitting up in bed with tears running down her face, an intravenous drip running into her arm and a fearful, runaway, take-me-away, look in her eyes; her 24-week ‘bump’ – our first son – that we had joked was looking so huge just that morning, now looked much, much too small and awfully fragile. 

I was told by our obstetrician that Mary was in preterm labour and that they had started her on a ‘tocolytic’ agent – a beta-mimetic drug that might stop labour progressing, at least for a short time, to give a chance for intravenous steroids to mature our unborn son’s lungs – but it was clear that no-one held out much hope that it would do so.  Look up beta-mimetic drugs and you will see that they ‘may cause unpleasant, sometimes severe maternal side-effects including tachycardia, hypotension, tremor, anxiety and a range of biochemical disturbances’.  Mary, and I in sympathy, suffered them all as we prayed that by some miracle the contractions would cease.  They were relentless, however, as was the steady dilatation of the cervix, and within a few hours – literally a life-time – the infusion was discontinued. 

Can there be anything more dreadful?  Your body has this irresistible urge to push whilst your mind is screaming that you stop because you know that your son cannot possibly survive being born.  I sat there holding Mary’s hand feeling completely useless and utterly bereft; there was no shout of delight when John’s head crowned, or the euphoric relief as he was born – before being whisked away to be resuscitated.  Just pain in body and mind, and overwhelming sadness.

John survived a few hours; enough time to be baptised and for us to say goodbye.


A letter written a week later by Mary to her father:

30th April 1991

Dear Daddy,
I thought you might like a picture of John – James was holding him.  This was taken before he died and as you can see he was very peaceful.  He really was a beautiful baby and although I know I will begin to feel better eventually, I find it difficult to believe that now.  I've never felt such painful grief.  Although I remember feeling terrible when Mummy died, what I feel now seems so much worse - I think because there is so much guilt tied up in it.  Mostly, I can’t stand the idea that this beautiful, perfectly formed baby was pushed out of my body so small that he had no chance of survival.  James is devastated and is being so kind to me but I feel that I caused this terrible thing to happen somehow.  Finally this was the last thing that Buss needed right now.  Oliphant's death is just beginning to sink in and she is adjusting to life on her own - our baby's death distressed her very much. 

People have been very kind and assure us that we will have lots of babies later.  The problem is that I don’t want a baby - I want my poor dead baby to be alive again and every day I wake up realizing that he is dead and that it hasn't been a dreadful nightmare.

It is comforting to be able to talk about everything with James.  John’s death has brought us closer together – I suppose something good has to come out of all this awfulness.  I hate staying at home and yet I dread going back to work. Having initially felt that I would be able to deal with this event it seems to be taking over and I feel I'm losing control slightly.  I spend such a lot of the day crying – it is difficult to try to put a brave face on for James in the evening.

Catherine came to see us on Sunday - it was lovely to see her.  Hearing about poor Mrs Balfour was terrible.  Compared with her problems, ours ought to appear trivial (they don't).  The funeral is tomorrow.  Just James and I will be there.  I hope that I will feel better somehow afterwards.  I look forward to seeing you in May.  I'm sorry this letter is so miserable but that's how I feel.


Mary's father's reply:

7th May 1991

Dear Mary,

Thank you for sending me the photograph of John.  He was a lovely little boy and it breaks my heart to think of your deep sense of loss.  I completely understand your lack of comfort in the thought that this loss can be make good by future events.  Each child is wonderful and unique and there is no way of replacing one.  The best that can be achieved is acceptance of what has happened, the tragic loss of a dearly loved son.  These things happen, they are part of the human condition and one cannot avoid them and be human.  But being human has also got something to do with picking yourself up bravely after the most devastating personal disasters, brushing yourself down, swallowing your hurt and pressing on into the future.  The pain gradually lessens but the loss and the sense of loss remains, you carry it quietly at the back of your heart as long as you live.

I am sure that you and James will come out of this stronger people with a deeper understanding and sympathy of each other and life in general.  We all know that babies are precious but events like this one remind us of what a fantastic privilege it is to be a parent, never to be taken for granted.  Your future children will be the beneficiaries of your tragic bereavement.

In my talk at your wedding, I mentioned, when referring to your future children, how I looked forward with great pleasure and anticipation to meeting them when they arrived and getting to know them.  It makes me weep to realize that I cannot develop this to its full potential with John.  Nevertheless I was very pleased and touched to have the photograph and since it arrived I feel I have built up some rapport with the handsome and dignified little fellow resting peacefully in James’ arms.  There is no doubt Mary, I share in your sense of loss.  As your mother put it much better

Take care child.
I love you too much to see
The disappointments and the hurt
That you must meet.

With my love




Went the Day Well?

by Canon Frank Hurst

(For more information about this article go to the 16th September 2014 Blog)


In 1955 Wilson Roddie, Ian Roddie’s eldest brother, was appointed as Senior Lecturer at the University of Malaya and on 1st April that year he and his wife Alix, together with their two daughters Anne and Alexandra, set sail from Southampton on the P&O Liner “Carthage” bound for Singapore.  The letter below was written by Alix’s father, Canon Frank Hurst, to Wilson’s mother, Granny Roddie, a day or two after he had said goodbye to them and the day before their actual departure from England.

The explanatory comments in italics in the letter have been added by Wilson’s daughter Anne. The photograph is of Wilson and Alix on board SS Carthage.

The Rector
Kirby Underdale

Wednesday March 30th, 1955

My dear Granny Roddie,

They have just gone and I find my first thoughts after their departure flying across to Osborne Park.  It is no use pretending: I feel absolutely desolate at the moment. I think little Anne’s words, a moment or two before they climbed into the taxi, almost shook me: “Gran’pa, I shall be EIGHT when I come home again.”  I couldn’t help wondering whether or not this would still be one of the homes she will come back to!  However, I must ganger up my faith and pray the prayer with myself that I have so often prayed with others: “They who are present together in Jesus are not absent from one another.”  Alix and I knelt together earlier this morning near the spot in the bedroom where her Mummy died {1st January 1953} and said together a short prayer that I hope I shall often recall.  She is a marvellous daughter.

They themselves went off extremely cheerfully, without a tear, and all smiles.  It is perhaps the brightest morning we have had this year – a clear blue sky without a cloud and a sun that has warmth in it.  I take that as a great and happy augury.  I had meant to go to York Station with them, but when they had packed themselves into the taxi together with 8 pieces of luggage, plus odd handbags and teddies, there was no room for Gran’pa, save only on the taxi roof!

I gave them some LSD with which to make their next few train journeys by First Class, which should add to their comfort and to mine.

They ought to be at Uncle Johnnie’s in Hampshire by late tea-time; and there will be all Thursday for them to rest before the final Friday departure.

It has been a wonderful week.  Uncle Porge {Frank’s brother George, nicknamed Porge} and Auntie Cammie came over from Hull on Thursday; Saturday we had an invasion from Newcastle and Aunt Elsie turned up for tea on Monday.  In between, Wilson and Alix have been into York several times for last minute shopping in my car.  So we haven’t been dull!  Yesterday I went with Wilson and got in some hospital visiting whilst he shopped and he bought Alix a very lovely sort of corduroy wind jammer jacket, in a fascinating blue, to keep her warm the first few days of the voyage; then we lunched together.  I shall most certainly miss him every bit as much as I shall Alix.  He is more like a younger brother than a son-in-law.  John {Hurst, brother of Alix} came over on Sunday for twenty four hours and was brighter and fitter than I have seen him for a long while past.

The baby {Alexandra} very soon got over her puzzlement at a fresh house, and was running about all over the place, and in a day or two got over her curious phobia of being carried about by anybody but Wilson and Alix and let me and Mrs Salter {Gran’pa’s housekeeper} handle her without a tear, which pleased Old Gran’pa mightily!  She is a lovely child and as good as gold, with a surprising store of contentment.  Anne was full of fun, and I think I could get First Class Honours in an exam on Noddy.  He has been read out, every morning in my bed between 7 and 8am!  “Wake up, Gran’pa, and let me climb into your bed!”  She has had a great time with all her mother’s old toys and books and I have worked very hard sharpening pencils and finding paper!  My parish work is in hopeless confusion!

Wilson, rummaging in the attic, found a trunk containing John’s Hornby trains, which I hadn’t seen for twenty years.  He pushed the big dining table to one side and laid out a most marvelous railway track, oiled the engines (three beauties) and got them going, and we had a wonderful time – especially with the Kellie cousins on Saturday.  More wonderfully, he has dismantled everything and has re-taken it all up to the attic again!  Mrs Salter rose to the occasion in a great way and somehow kept me going well stuffed with food.  She is really most kind and I wish Uncle Hugh can find somebody as good, when Auntie Florrie goes to Dublin.  Luckily Mrs Salter and Alix get on really well together.  We have had to work hard keeping the house warm for the babies (old and young!).  On Saturday we had five fires going, but usually four each and every day.  Luckily, although my coal heap looks anxiously small, I had ample coke and wood.

So that’s that and I must get down to planning this next new chapter that is beginning.  I shall do my best to write a page or two of it to Ireland from time to time.

I was so glad to hear the news of Auntie Florrie {Granny Roddie’s youngest sister who married Uncle Geoffrey after his wife, another sister called Tory, died} and Uncle Geoffrey.  They are both such dears that one cannot be anything but glad over a step which will give them both such happiness, as I am sure it will.

Now I must end and have a look at the Lantern Slides (on “David” tonight) which I always show to the children on Lent Wednesdays.  They are always good fun and a lantern is nowadays so old fashioned as to turn itself into a novelty, which can compete with TV!

All my love.  I know what you’re probably feeling about the emigration, but I think we have both been schooled to grin and bear things. Love to the boys {Kenneth, Ian and Alastair} too.

Yours affectionately,

Frank Hurst

P.S.  Wilson heard yesterday that they had been definitely allotted a university house – I’ll send you its queer address, and a copy of the plans of it, later.  I have forgotten where I put them for the moment!




Sailing for Singapore in the liner Carthage today are Dr and Mrs T. Wilson Roddie and their two small girls.  Dr Roddie, who was for some time on the staff of the Princess Mary Maternity Hospital in Newcastle, has been appointed Senior Lecturer in the University of Malaya and Consultant to the University Hospital.

His wife Alix is the daughter of Canon Frank Hurst, who was well known as Rector of Wallsend from 1936 to 1943, when he moved to Yorkshire, and also as Vicar of Chollerton.

Mrs. Roddie, who is herself a doctor and hopes to practise in Singapore, met her husband during the time she was a medical student in Newcastle.  For some years the Roddies have been living in Northern Ireland, where Dr Roddie was born.




Went the Day Well?

by Ian Roddie

(For more information about this story go to the 26th August 2014 Blog)

Contrasts for expatriates

Friday is family day in Jeddah.  The more energetic families drive up the escarpment past Ta’if in their four-wheel drive vehicles to ‘bushwhack’ and picnic in the desert.  Others go to the Red Sea beaches to dive in the exquisite coral reefs.  The indolent settle for a leisurely brunch in the five-star hotel by the lagoon in the city centre near the old souk.  As the children prattle, they drive along the Corniche past the harbour, the red mosque, the fish market, the house where Lawrence of Arabia lived and the new triangular skyscraper for the national bank.

In the hotel car-park, families pour out of their station wagons, the men in white thobes and head drapes, their wives swathed from head to toe in black.  The children in multi-colour dress, rush past the fountain where the marble family of giant snails – a mother and her six babies – each spouts water high in the air.  Across the lagoon, the white mosque shimmers, its minarets and domed cupolae reflected in the blue water.  The mosque and its forecourt seem exceptionally crowded today.  Boys climb the perimeter walls to get a better view.  What’s happening?  Should we go to see or eat first?  “Eat first”, says everyone.

So we squeeze past the parked cars into the coolness of the hotel lobby merging with the other bronzed expatriates in their casual designer gear and sunglasses.  In the restaurant, the senses delight in the familiar sights, sounds and smells of the famous buffet brunch.  We must speak loud to be heard over the din of laughter and the clack of plates.  Children shriek as their helium-filled balloons escape to lodge on the ceiling.

The smiling head-waiter, who looks like a benevolent Mohammed Ali, seems delighted to see us again.  He shows us to our table where we sit waving to friends.  Now comes the difficult part – the choices.  Should we start with breakfast?  What about the baked salmon and prawns arranged so artistically round a swan sculpted in ice?  Perhaps we should try the side of roast beef or that lamb over there cooked in a bed of rice?  Soup anyone?  Will there be room for those puddings?  We must pace ourselves.

Soon the children lose interest in food and wander off to have flowers and whiskers painted on their faces by the blue haired clown.  They look so happy.  What a privileged life we lead.  Over coffee, we stare across at the mosque where the crowds continue to grow.  What are those roars from the crowd that carry across the water so clearly?  Perhaps they are cheering prize-winners.  After the call to prayer sounds, the cars begin to disperse so perhaps we will never know.  Looking on the bright side, we won’t have to face that traffic on the way home.

In the evening, looking back on a lovely day, we ponder again on the enigma of the crowds at the mosque and their roars of excitement – it’s not usually like that. The answer comes in a short announcement at the end of the evening news.  “Four Pakistanis were beheaded today outside the mosque following conviction for drug smuggling.”  We should have remembered.  Friday is not only for families – it’s also for executions.  The roars were for losers, not winners. Next week we’ll go to the beach.




Went the Day Well?

by Paul Wigmore

(For more information about this story go to the 19th October 2013 Blog)


Professional photography can get you into trouble. It can put you in places you would ordinarily never think of entering.  It does things to you that have nothing at all to do with the camera.  It can make you look an idiot.  It can make you feel good.  Consider the day that found me in near darkness inside a tiny Greek hillside church.  There are many churches in Greece but this one had a particular appeal for Adam Woolfitt, the photographer I had commissioned.  If ever you've opened The National Geographic you have seen his work.  And I had learned long ago that whenever the photographer wanted to shoot something it was always wise to agree.  It produces better results.  We knocked on the low, double doors.

A small, smiling and very bent old woman with a beautiful deeply-creased face let us into the darkness.  She stood for a moment and then disappeared into some back room.  It was very dark.  The sunlight struggled in through the open doors, but it was sucked up and swallowed by the darkness until it barely existed.  We waited for our eyes to become dark-adapted, but even then we could see only the dim glimmerings of ancient gold leaf and shadowy suggestions of colour.

Adam rubbed his hands together. ‘This I must do,’ he said, in the way that you are suddenly possessed when something suggests itself and you see a way of actually achieving it.  He opened the bigger of the two aluminium cases which came with us wherever we went, and pulled out a silver-coated roll of fabric sheeting, about five feet wide.  He laid it on the ground outside the doors in the dazzling sunlight, silver side up, then unrolled it backwards into the church, half of it outside, half inside.

It was the standard reflector that every photographer carries on this kind of job.  But what it does is like magic.  The Aegean sun bounced from it and flooded up into the dark church and it was as if a thousand spirits with candles had flown round the walls, lighting up every sparkling decoration, every silver, gold, red, blue, green glowing icon.  Every last piece of carved and polished wood shone as though with its own self-generated light.

Adam had just finished straightening it out to get full value of the sunlight when the back room door opened and the bent old lady re-appeared.  She took one step in, then stopped. 

We watched her.  Surprise is too mild a word to describe her reaction.  Her jaw fell. She looked slowly up round the glowing ceiling, down the bright walls and icons and eventually at us.  We gathered later that she had spent nearly all her seventy-five years in caring for that church, cleaning, polishing, letting people in, locking up at night.  Now, she stood still, caught in the middle of taking another step towards us. Then her face broke into a smile, crumpled into tears and she came to us, arms outstretched.

It was the first time she had seen her church.




Went the Day Well?

by Harry Jackson

(See blog of 31st July 2013)


At the podium

One of the duties as Head Chorister at St Paul's Cathedral that I had not been looking forward to all year was the speech that I was expected to give at Prizegiving day. I wrote my speech a week or so before the big day (with a little help from my Dad) to allow time to run through it a few times in front of my parents. It was a very good thing that I did because they gave me some important tips about which words to emphasise, to make sure that I spoke my 'punch lines' clearly and loudly so that they were heard and when to pause for laughter (if there was any!).

On the day itself I listened to William Allen and Anton Blaubach, the Head and Deputy Head boys respectively, give their own excellent speeches and grew increasingly apprehensive........ and then it was my turn. Last minute advice from my Dad: 'Take your time'; 'Don't rush'; 'Adjust your microphone'; 'Don't drop your speech'; 'Enjoy yourself'; ran through my mind as I walked to the podium and looked up at a great number of very scary-looking parents. After adjusting my microphone – you see Dad, I do sometimes listen to what you say – I started speaking and, nerves now gone, I found myself thoroughly enjoying the occasion.

My parents recorded the speech (as parents do!), and I have included the recording here (to show that my jokes did not fall completely flat) together with the full text.

Mr Dean, Honoured guests, Headmaster, staff, parents and pupils,

When I arrived at St Paul’s Cathedral School four years ago to start boarding, I did not know what to expect.  My only exposure to boarding school was from reading the Harry Potter books and I was not too surprised to find on my arrival that there were very few obvious similarities; no headless Nick; no moving stairways; no secret passageways.  Over the years, however, I have come to realize that St Paul’s does have certain things in common with Hogwarts: Mr Chippington has the wisdom and authority of Professor Dumbledore (although he perhaps looks a little younger ……… and lacks a beard); and who else could Mr Marriott be but the gentle and caring Hagrid? ………. ; we even have our own truly magical Professor McGonagall in the form of Mrs Lovell.  Our nurses, Ms McManus and Ms Melville, may lack the magical powers of the Matron Poppy Pomfrey, but still perform miracles in the boarding house keeping lice and other parasites at bay.  And what about the gap students?  I think of them collectively as Dobby, the house elf; appearing out of nowhere when you least expect them, although we do sometimes get some warning from the “Don’t speak after lights out Dobby siren”; always eager to please ……. perhaps sometimes a little bit moody…. but fun to be around.  (I have a feeling that I might regret having said that, but at least I have only one more night in the boarding house!)

We even have our own school motto:   ‘Fide et literis’: By faith and by learning – although it is perhaps not quite as exciting as the Hogwart’s motto, ‘draco dormiens nunquam titillandus’; which all of you Latin scholars out there will know means: ‘Never tickle a sleeping dragon’.

Joking aside, we are all immensely grateful to all the staff members at the boarding house who look after us so well.  Not that we need a great deal of looking after of course as we are perfectly behaved at all times.

This has been a wonderful and exciting year for the choristers.  It was always going to be a special year of course because it is the first year in which every one of the choristers has been selected by Mr Carwood.  Whether this has had any direct effect on our singing I do not know but the choir has been in particularly fine voice from the very start.  Last year we celebrated the Queen’s Jubilee and the installation of the new Dean, the Very Reverend Dr David Ison.  This year we have sung at Lady Margaret Thatcher’s funeral; and our performances have included the Messiah, the St John Passion, Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem and, most recently, a recital at the Friend’s service in the presence of Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Gloucester, to name just a few.  In addition, the CD of Mozart’s Missa Solemnis, which we recorded two years ago with St Paul’s Mozart Orchestra and Simon Johnson on organ, came out this year to wonderful reviews – and we have recently completed recording a number of canticles in the Cathedral which will be out on CD soon. 

The Choristers have been a particularly tight-knit and mature group this year and it is the sound of us all singing together that will remain one of the  most cherished memories of my time at St Paul’s Cathedral.  There are, however, particular solo performances from this year that I will also remember, notably Kevin John’s singing of Allegri’s Miserere and Theo Nisbett’s ‘Zerflieβe, mein Herze’ – ‘Melt, my heart’ – in the Passion.

None of this comes without a lot of hard work, however and, on behalf of all the choristers I would like to thank Mrs Campbell, our singing coach, for her advice, humour and support……..  not to mention her patience; ……… and, of course, Mr Carwood, without whom none of our performances would have been possible.  He expects perfection, and we try hard to give it. 

My own parents have noted during evensong when they are sitting in the quire that Mr Carwood will occasionally fix his eyes on one of the choristers because he is not paying attention.  They have come to call this ‘Beware of the Stare’ and I can assure you that you do not want to be on the receiving end of one – it bores all the way through you.  Mr Carwood does have his soft side as well though:  the half smiles when we have sung particularly well; the acknowledgement of a good solo by a small nod of the head; and let us not forget the fortnightly hot chocolate outings to Café Nero for senior choristers; and the annual trips to Thorpe Park.  

We were reminded once again this year that Mr Carwood is a wonderful singer himself and we were thrilled to sing next to him in the Passion.  Many of you will know that Mr Carwood is also a great raconteur and one of my personal highlights was when he turned round to the audience to give a little speech towards the end of a performance and recounted one of my own jokes – I remember that he received a bigger laugh following that than after any of his own jokes that I have heard him tell before or since!

On a personal note, it has been a very great privilege to be a chorister at St Paul’s Cathedral and I have no doubt that my friends Will Bailey, Richard Feust, Kevin John, Finn Reece and Charlie Sellers, the other five choristers that are leaving this year, feel the same.  I am extremely grateful to have been a part of this wonderful school over the past several years.  What makes a school great is its staff and St Paul’s Cathedral School is blessed with truly outstanding individuals and I count myself lucky to have been here with them. 

It is not usually considered correct to single out one individual for particular praise but I have an excuse as this person is also leaving the school this year.  Mr Marriott, I know that I speak on behalf of the whole school, not just the choristers, when I say that you have been an inspiration to us all.  We cannot thank you enough for your humour, your fairness, your friendship and, above all, your belief in us.  The pupils and staff at Salisbury Cathedral School do not know how very fortunate they are to have you as their new Headmaster.

Thank you.




Went the Day Well?

by Paul Wigmore

(For information about this article go to the blog of 14th November 2012)


A small wonder

One November morning in 1983 the young composer, Paul Edwards, gathered up his week’s bundle of laundry and was about to leave for the local launderette when he remembered the envelope.  It had come in the post that morning.  He quickly opened it and scanned the letter. It was from me.

The letter ended with a new work - a carol for Advent and Christmas, just three short verses.  Paul Edwards had already set a number of my lyrics for choir and this was a new one.  He slipped it into his pocket.  It would be something to read while he waited for the machine to do the washing, he thought.  Then, as an afterthought, he picked up a sheet of music manuscript as well.  He just might get an idea while he waited for his laundry.

In the launderette he loaded the machine and sat down.  He took out the envelope and read the poem.  He grabbed the scrap of manuscript paper and began writing.

Trying to imagine how any composer could write this profound music while surrounded by the noise of washing machines is practically impossible.

The words had a similarly unlikely beginning.  Earlier that same November I must have heard someone use the phrase, ‘Small wonder’.  Those two words stuck in my head for the rest of the day and they were the first thing I thought of when I woke the next morning. All through that day they went round and round in my head. I tried writing it down to see if that would stop it - and then I had an idea.  I was in the middle of writing lyrics for a new collection of Christmas carols for the RSCM and I wondered if I might write a carol based on the words.  And so the carol emerged, eventually finding its way into the heart of the Choir of King's College, Cambridge, and being sung by them during the BBC Christmas broadcast from King's in the year 2000.

That November day in 1983 when I put my dodgy three-verse poem in the post box is, for me, a day that went very well.

Click here to listen to the carol


No Small Wonder

Small wonder the star,
small wonder the light,
the angels in chorus,
the shepherds in fright;
but stable and manger for God -
no small wonder!

Small wonder the kings,
small wonder they bore
the gold and the incense,
the myrrh to adore;
but God gives his life on a cross -
no small wonder!

Small wonder the love,
small wonder the grace,
the power, the glory,
the light of his face;
but all to redeem my poor heart -
no small wonder!

©Paul Wigmore



Went the Day Well?

by Garvey Humphrey

(For information about this article go to the blog of 14th July 2012)

The young Princess Elizabeth

In 1935, when I was ten years old, I saw a rare newsreel picture of the Duke and Duchess of York with their two children, Elizabeth and Margaret Rose. Elizabeth was so pretty that I decided that when I grew up, I would marry her. The next year, her uncle abdicated, she became Princess Elizabeth – heir to the throne and, eventually, I forgot my dream.

In March 1945 I was training to become an officer at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst (now the Royal Military Academy but then it was simply 161 Officer Cadet Training Unit). The winter had been rather nasty but, apart from our final battle camp in Bangor, the only strenuous event we had left was a four-day exercise which was to take place in a training area in Surrey. The programme was a four-hour march out in the afternoon, a short exercise in the woods, bivouac overnight, an all-day attack/defence exercise next day, a similar exercise on the third day and march back on the fourth day.

On the first day, it rained all morning and, as we started out, it turned to sleet and then to snow. By the time we reached the training area, we had about six inches of snow and the temperature was close to zero. Apart from two training sergeants who had been in France in the winter of 1939/1940, no-one in the company had experience of soldiering in these conditions and word was sent out from Sandhurst that the exercise was cancelled and we were to return the next day. We were soaking wet, tired out and couldn’t find a dry spot to sleep.

We started back, after breakfast, at 0800hrs and the return journey took seven hours. It was slow, hard work and, in truth, we bore more resemblance to Napoleon’s army retreating from Moscow than to young soldiers about to become officers and to receive His Majesty’s Commission. It was more stagger, stagger than Left, Right. We were about a mile from the College when we were told that there had been a Passing Out ceremony that morning and we could either stay out for a further hour or continue into the grounds and line the exit route for the Guest of Honour who had taken the salute. Our Company Commander gave us a choice and we unanimously decided that it was better to collapse inside the grounds than outside, so we formed up on the outside curve of the exit road, ready for the last few minutes of what had been a disastrous twenty four hours.

Then came the commands: “Company…. Company Fall in.” “Company…. Company ‘Shun”. “Company…. Company. Three Cheers for Her Royal Highness, the Princess Elizabeth. Hip, hip hurray. Hip, hip, hurray. Hip, hip, hurray.”
As she was slowly driven past in her official car, I am prepared to swear that when she smiled, it was definitely to me!
The seven hours of misery, up to then, were completely forgotten.

Went the day well? You bet it did.



Went the Day Well?

by Buss Jackson

(For information about this article go to the March 14th 2012 blog)


In the sheep fraternity there is a breed of folk known as 'hobby farmers'. Frequently female, of indeterminate age, they are not necessarily amateurs or less skilled than their commercial brethren, it is just that they seldom expect, and rarely do, make money from their venture.  One such was Miss Harriet Haynes, known in the sheep world as Miss H. and to the less tolerant as Miss 'Ha-ha'!  She had been a receptionist cum kennel maid with the local Vet, and happily the advent of Hospital status, smart waiting rooms and pretty uniformed nurses had coincided with the death of an uncle who had left her a small farm.  'Happily' because Miss H. was of the old school and felt that an operation on a well-scrubbed kitchen table was as good as one on the new thousand pound operating table - at a fraction of the cost.

Miss Haynes had sold off most of the land to neighboring farmers keeping a little over five acres on which she ran a small flock of pedigree Texel sheep, big white-faced sheep known for their docility and huge rear ends, and bred for their ability to transfer both to their crossbred progeny.  In other words superb terminal sires.

At the time of this tale Miss H. was in her early fifties and fairly new to the show circuit.  She had already made friends with a few of the big breeders, but to many she was a bit of a joke in her tweed culottes and hat.  It was one of the first shows of the season in early May, when Texels are shown in full wool, and unfortunately it was hot.... very hot.  One of those mini heat-waves which make everyone believe that summer has come, only to be followed a few days later by a frost.  Miss H. was lucky in that her sheep were penned in the outer bay of the big shed where there was a bit of a draught, but in the central bay the sheep were much hotter and by mid-day were breathing heavily.  “You did well yesterday, David,” she said as she went round to the next bay.
“Yes, it was my show as you might say Miss H.” replied a young man in jeans.  “I'm pleased the old ram won the Championship.  He didn't do too well as a shearling, but I always said you were a good 'un, didn't I Uther?” and he rubbed the huge head.  “How did you get on Miss H.?  I haven't had a good look round yet.”
“Oh I got a fifth and a seventh” said Miss H.  “So long as I'm not pushed out with the rubbish I'm quite happy.  But I do like your ram.  He is a big fellow but still straight on his legs.”
The two stood chatting for a few minutes and then wandered further up the lines discussing various sheep, and it was some half hour later when David was comparing lambing percentages with another breeder and Miss H. was trying to relate the results to her own small flock, that a Steward approached looking worried. “Mr. Smart?  I think you're David Smart aren't you?  I don't like the look of the Champion.”
The three hurried to the pen and, sure enough, Uther was standing with his head down, his sides heaving and a look of fear in his eyes.
“It’s the heat,” said the Steward.  “We had better hose him down”, and with a great deal of effort several people helped to drag a hose pipe from one end of the shed and soak the sheep from head to tail, but although he brightened momentarily, a few minutes later Uther lay down and refused to move.
“I think we had better get the Vet,” said David.  “Could you call him on your portable please Mr. Hockey,” but the Steward reported that he had already tried and that the Vet was busy with a horse but would come as soon as he could.
“He'll be a gonner by the time he arrives,” said David as he fondled the panting distressed sheep now propped up on his sternum.
“Ice!” said Miss H.  “Ice is what we want.  Peter, try the Stockman's bar.  Hurry!”
“I've got some ice in my caravan said the Steward, “Shall I fetch that?”
“Oh! Please do,” said Miss H. “But hurry, please hurry, or he will die!” and she rather hopelessly splashed more cold water onto Uther's head.
Almost immediately Peter returned with a barrel of ice.  “I grabbed it off the bar. I don't think the barman was very pleased but he was in the middle of serving someone coffee”.
“Hurrah!” cried Miss H as she took the barrel, but her face fell as she saw it was full of large square lumps of ice.
“Oh dear! These are too big and the sharp edges are dangerous.  Wait ! I know, suck them smooth!”
She put a large lump into her mouth.
“Sug !” she said as she passed the barrel to Peter, “Suck?” queried Peter.
“Sug!” said Miss H or he'll die.”
“Sug!” said Peter as he passed the barrel to Mr. Chapman from Yorkshire.
“Sug!” said Mr. Chapman as he passed the barrel to his wife.  And so it went on.  Old Mr. Porter who bred Suffolks tried to put a lump in with his pipe, and had for once to take it out; young Jeff said he would have a go and tried unsuccessfully to put two lumps in at once and even the rather posh Charles Lyle of Lyle and Lyle took one.
“Oh my teeth,” said Miss Green.  “I never could eat ice creams”.
“Oi've got none of me own, so here give me one,” said a total stranger, for by this time quite a crowd had gathered.
“What are they doing dear?” asked Mrs. Porter the local butcher's wife.
“I don't know me dear, and I can't very well ask them, can I?  All I do know is that sheep is not long for this world.”  And indeed Uther looked as though he was dying.  He now lay on his side having fallen out of his propped up position and his sides were heaving rapidly.  His head was straight out and his eyes were red and unblinking.
Suddenly the steward was back, clutching a small thermos,
“Here Miss Haynes” he said “Are these what you want?” and he showed her the contents – small round balls of ice.
“Bless you! Mr Hockey,” she said, spitting out her own lump.  “We might win yet,” and she took a handful.
David leapt up and tried to force open Uther's clamped jaws.
“No! man,” said Miss H. and she lifted the tail, “This is the end I want,” and she began carefully to push the ice balls up the rectum.
“They will have to go at least ten inches in this big fellow,” she said.”  Has anyone got a wooden spoon…. or even a smooth stick?”
“What about a biro?” said one of the crowd and a pen was passed over.
“This will help,” she said, “But I really want something bigger”.
There was a yell of indignation from a child at the back of the crowd.  “That's my drumstick!” as a big man leaned over with the child's toy.
“Fine!” said Miss H.  “I'll need everyone's lumps soon,” and she continued to try to push the cubes up the back passage.
“I think this might help,” said a quiet voice from behind her, and Miss H. looked round to see her former boss handing her a bottle of liquid paraffin.
“Sorry I couldn't get here before but I was stitching a horse.  No, you carry on Harriet, you're doing fine.”
“The idea, Ladies and Gentlemen,” he said, turning to the crowd of onlookers, “Is to cool the blood by placing the ice beneath the aorta, the large blood vessel just below the spine. I don't know whether we are in time but I would be most grateful if you would leave him to us now, and I will give him an injection for shock” – and at that moment Uther blinked!
“Good” said the Vet.”  Once you've finished with the ice Harriet we will get him outside into the cool.”

And Uther lived.... and no man called Miss H. Miss ‘Ha Ha’ ever again.



Went the Day Well?

by James Jackson

(For further Tarifa related entries go to the November 2011 blog)



For the past 15 years or so Andy Platts has organised a medical conference in Tarifa, Spain. It has to rate as one of the most enjoyable annual meetings as it combines excellent lectures, given by each of the delegates, with wind-surfing and good food. The days 'all go well' and this year was no exception. I wrote a couple of short blogs for this website in November during the meeting itself and have now produced a short presentation of photos and videos put to music. It will undoubtedly be of most interest to those who attended the meeting this year and those who have attended in the past, but others (including family and acquaintances of the subjects of the video!) will hopefully also find it enjoyable.



Went the Day Well?

by Joe Boultbee

Joe Boultbee is a painter and photographer (and retired doctor) and has kindly sent me a photograph of one of his recent oil paintings with a short description of where he gets his inspiration.


Tarifa Sunset

“.....I know very well what I am about, and that my skies have not been neglected, though they have often failed in execution, no doubt from over anxiety about them, which will alone destroy that easy appearance which nature always has in all her movements.”

These were wise words from John Constable written in October 1821 and how well they apply. Much of my inspiration comes from looking at prints or in galleries of paintings by Constable and Turner. Constables studies at Hampstead Heath, Brighton and Salisbury demonstrate so well the changing weather we have in England. In the last few years there have been a number of exhibitions of Turner’s works apart from the permanent collection in the Clore Gallery at Tate Britain.

The study shown here is based on a view of the straits of Gibraltar at Tarifa looking toward Morocco which is only nine miles distant. In early November the sea state is changeable and the cloudscape moves dramatically with it. In this oil sketch the sun is low and fading, giving the clouds a backlit appearance.



Went the Day Well?

by Lynda Beaven

Lynda has set up a not-for-profit project called 'Teardrop time' to allow the public to show their appreciation to Wootton Bassett for the 345 service personnel repatriations that have taken place there over the past four years. She has come up with the lovely idea of a 'Crystal Teardrop' that can be attached to a Remembrance Day Poppy, which is for sale at a number of outlets or by post through her website. She has also written the following poem, which she has kindly sent to us.


Teardrop Time

Tears of sadness, tears of grief
Tears for a life cut short
Tears from a town transformed for the day
They came, they saw, they wept

Too many times the coffins pass by
Too many times the families have stood
Too many times a town transformed for the day
They came, they saw, they wept

We may not have known the fallen
We may not have seen their face
But with pride our poppies will be transformed for the day
For those who came and saw and wept.



Went the Day Well?

by Rosemary Wintle



My mother lived alone in a very rural setting and, as she grew older, she had one major concern; not about herself, but about what would happen to her beloved elderly dog, Poppy, if she were to die suddenly from a stroke or heart attack.  How long would it be until her dog was found?  Would she ever settle with another owner?  Indeed, would it be possible to find a suitable person to look after Poppy?

As it turned out, she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukaemia and was told that she only had three months to live.  To keep herself occupied during her final weeks, Mum decided to organise her affairs and her own funeral.  Her most difficult decision was what arrangements she should make for her beloved Poppy.  She briefly considered asking her eldest son who lives in London to look after her, but she felt it very unlikely that Poppy, as a country dog, would ever settle in the city.  My other brother lives in Australia, and as Poppy is not a young dog, that option was not even considered.  I live in the country, but I am currently living in a mobile home whilst building a house.   Mum knew that I would find it very difficult to look after Poppy properly in such circumstances so she discounted that idea.  One of her dearest friends has many animals including two dogs and three cats, but Poppy and cats do not get on (usually to the serious detriment of the cat!) so that was not considered a reasonable option.  Another close friend has two dogs, but often goes away and leaves her dogs in kennels and Mum was not keen on that idea either. 

Mum was a retired vet and knew that Poppy had an enlarging tumour of her gums that was likely to interfere with her eating in the near future.  She decided, therefore, that the best option was to have Poppy put to sleep.  She informed her three children that this was her wish and we were unable to change her mind.   She checked her vet’s charges and put the money aside. 

Mum’s health fairly rapidly deteriorated and she decided it was time for Poppy to be put down.  Her decision coincided, however, with my own to stop work and go and live with her and keep her company during her final days.  Poppy’s appointment with the vet was postponed.  Over the next few weeks we agreed that it would be best to wait until after Mum had died particularly as she was finding Poppy such a comfort as she became weaker.  Furthermore, I personally felt that I would be better able to cope with the lonely days after Mum’s death with Poppy by my side.  Less than 24hrs before Mum died, she again checked with me that I would carry out her wish to have Poppy put to sleep and I promised her that I would.

Mum died the following morning and it was lovely to have Poppy there but several days later, immediately after the funeral, I knew that it was time to respect Mum’s wish.  Poppy was given a special meal that evening and plenty of fuss and a lot of cuddles.  Next morning, after more cuddles, I drove her to the vet.

Went the day well?  The vet refused to put her down, saying that she was healthy and in good shape despite the tumour in her mouth which could be dealt with surgically at some point if it became a particular nuisance.  This put me in a spin.  What should I do?  Should I try another vet?  I had promised my mum that I would arrange to have Poppy put to sleep, and the last thing I wanted to do was deny one of her last wishes.  I decided I needed some time to think this through and so took Poppy home with me to the building site!

Poppy settled in immediately and she loves it here.  She is one of the family and I now realise that we would be lost without her.



Went the Day Well?

by Thomas Jackson


The Film Makers

The new Wallace and Gromit film had just come out and my brother Jono, my dad and I decided it was time to see just how difficult it was to make a short film using homemade models. The kitchen table was cleared and out came the plasticine. It was clear that Jono was the only member of the team with enough creative talent to produce anything that looked vaguely reasonable so I was put in charge of rolling different coloured plasticine into thin strips to make lips and eyebrows; not as easy as it sounds I can assure you, or at least not for me. Our initial plan was to make several characters in full but in a very short space of time it became obvious that this was way too ambitious and we settled on the heads and upper torsos of two men and a cow hiding behind a wall.

Now came the debate about what we should make them do. Should we write a script before we started filming, in which case we would really have to think about appropriate mouth positions and timing, or should be just set everything up in front of the video camera and start filming and add whatever voice overs that seemed appropriate when we had produced something? The former seemed much more difficult so we launched straight into the filming.

For those of you who have done this before you will know what to do. For those who do not, I will let you know that any half decent video camera will have a setting which allows you to take just a few frames of film each time the exposure button is pressed. You then change the position of your model a fraction and take another few frames. It is very tempting to change just one aspect of your model but you have to remember that there are many different parts which are likely to move at any one time including lips, hands, eyebrows and head position. Once you have done this about 100 times you have about ten seconds of film!

Things seemed to be going very well and after a couple of hours of meticulous work - during which my model's lips disintegrated several times and the eyebrows kept falling off - we had about a minute's worth of film and we decided it was time to see what we could do with it. With great excitement we took the camera off its tripod and connected it to the computer and were dismayed to see that there were great yellow flashes dancing across the film because we had failed to take into account the bursts of sunlight coming through the window throughout the filming. We were just about to bin the entire lot when we realised that it made it look as if the scene had been shot in a street close to a raging fire and it was then a simple matter of coming up with a storyline in which to incorporate this.

With our spirits lifted we returned to the filming of our 'country scene' using artificial light which we could control; let nobody say that we do not learn from our mistakes!

Did the day go well? I think so, in the end, although it was a close run thing. We were pleased at the time with the final result but I took some convincing to post the video on this site when I came to look at it again recently. Jono and Dad feel that you all deserve a laugh, so here it is. We called it 'Bloody this, Bloody that' for reasons which will be obvious when you have looked at it. Enjoy!




Went the Day Well?

by Mary Roddie


My Dad and me

How should we celebrate Grandpa’s 80th birthday?  After much discussion amongst the family it was decided that a surprise party would be just the thing.

Grandpa is my father, and grandfather to my four sons and having lived abroad for many years had returned to the UK and settled into a beautiful little house, a 10 minute walk from our own home in Putney.  As a result he became an even closer member of our family, with the boys able to visit him as often as they liked for treats they were not allowed at home and he soon adopted as his own the seat at the top of the table for supper every Sunday. Maybe because he had missed some of their early years he took his grandfatherly responsibilities very seriously, attending every school play, concert or open day, dutifully catching the bus to the King’s House School grandparent’s day each year to be guided solicitously round the school by a small grandson or one of their little friends.  He loved listening to his grandsons’ news and always guaranteed to provide a sympathetic ear and wise advice when they felt life (or one of their parents) was treating them unfairly. When the school told my oldest son, Jonathan, that he couldn’t change from physics to biology A level, Grandpa spent the whole summer going through the AS level biology curriculum with him so that in September when the school tested him they couldn’t believe how well he had done and immediately let him join the A2 biology set.

So you can understand why we wanted to make his 80th birthday special.  The guest list was crucial. Grandpa is part of a large, close-knit family and had spent much of his retirement publishing a detailed family history so we knew he would want as many of his family to be present as possible. Family members were invited and sworn to secrecy and, to our delight, most said that they would be able to come.  Two of his children live abroad; my brother Patrick works in San Francisco as a photographer and my sister Catherine is sailing round the world with her husband Neville and was at that time, as far as I knew, somewhere in the Caribbean.  Early on Patrick told me the good news that he would be able to travel to London for the party, and what’s more, would photograph the event for posterity.  Later Catherine told me she was likely to come but, just to be on the safe side, she prepared and sent us a birthday video that could be played in her absence.

This got my husband, James, thinking and before I knew what was happening he had raided the boxes of photographs in the attic to collect as many pictures of Grandpa that he could find and a new birthday video was prepared, incorporating Catherine’s Caribbean footage as well as video clips from other family members.  Night after night he worked at his computer into the small hours and strange items began to appear on our credit card statements.  What, I wondered, was ‘morphing’ software? Still, I was too busy arranging caterers, birthday cake and checking on travel and accommodation requirements for our guests to remember to ask him about these items. I had my own project underway; I had received numerous kind messages from Grandpa’s friends and colleagues who had heard of his forthcoming significant birthday. He had been a distinguished Professor of Physiology before he retired and birthday greetings and messages were arriving from all over the world from the many students he had taught and mentored.  I decided that I should make a birthday scrapbook and spent many happy hours cutting and pasting messages into a special 80th birthday book.

The day arrived.  The guests safely assembled in the living room, I drove the well worn route to Grandpa’s house to pick him up for a ‘birthday lunch’ and wished him happy birthday.  He was wearing his light blue cashmere jumper and told me how he had had difficulty sleeping and that his back was being troublesome but that he was looking forward to seeing the boys.
We walked into the dining room, the doors to the living room opened and there before him were all his dear family and friends.  I noticed that a tear came to his eye as he started hugging all his dear, cousins, nephews, nieces, great nieces and great nephews as well as his own beloved grandsons.  He spotted Patrick, and did a double take, as if his eyes were deceiving him.  I saw him scanning the room, realising that Catherine had not made it.  “Don’t worry Daddy” I said as I led him to a seat in front of the television, “Catherine has sent you a special message”.

During the next ten minutes we all watched the video that James had spent so many hour preparing.  With the wonders of video technology we saw my father ‘morph’ from a tiny boy into an old man.  We heard a poem delivered by a very dear cousin and then there was Catherine with her husband both wearing hats covered in birthday balloons sending greetings from the deck of their boat ‘Dreamtime’ somewhere off the coast of Nicaragua and wishing she could be with him that day.  This was followed by his dear niece and her husband and their three wonderful (but embarrassed) teenaged children singing, ‘Happy birthday to you’ from a college in Cambridge and finally we all watched with pleasure and remembrance as a slide show of photographs of Grandpa and his family over the years was played. There was applause, noses were blown and tears were wiped away.  Grandpa was quite overcome and tearful that Catherine had been able to send him that special message from so far away. 

That might have been the end of this story and had you asked Grandpa at this point, he would have told you that this had been his best birthday ever.  But what I didn’t tell you was that Catherine had arrived, and that she had hidden in another room while the video was played.  I probably don’t need to tell you about his reaction when she walked up to him and gave him the biggest hug ever but I don’t think I have ever seen him look so happy.

Went the day well?  I remember it as a perfect day. Two years on I think how lucky it was that we had this most special party on his eightieth birthday as a few days later the cause of his back pain was discovered to be widespread bone cancer and he was destined to celebrate only two more birthdays before he died. 




Went the Day Well?

by Ant Jackson


That day the sun broke as never before; spectacularly fresh with cool clarity after three nights and two days of suffocating humidity and torrential tropical rain; rain that brought neither comfort nor relief but, rather, a feeling of awe at its quantity.  Not angry windswept rain, just buckets of falling water.  So dense that there were no discernible raindrops, just a waterfall, warm even from mile upon mile high.  Seemingly within the minutes of false dawn - from first light to sunrise – the weather front had swept east over the horizon and my destination; the rains were past. All was still.  Forward, the glorious sun beckoned me.

This was the final test-phase in a jungle-warfare instruction course.  I, having the first lead command task, was to coordinate the placement of a sixty strong border ambush party, of a week’s duration, deep inland. This was Brunei; the border with Sarawak.  The previous hour would have found me in the lead vehicle of a convoy of seven Land Rovers and three four-tonne lorries, trundling northeast on the sole tar macadam road. The floodplain landscape had not changed; only the ability for it to be appreciated. The South China Sea to the northwest, for some time only one to two hundred metres away, could still be smelled but remained unseen as impenetrable mangrove swamp protected the coastal highway.  Only some fifteen minutes before, this highway had traversed a hundred metre plus bridge of ancient wood construction with patchy repair work and patchwork reinforcement to the railings on the driver’s side. The bridge rumbled “uncomfortably” and appeared to be swaying from side to side as I looked back in my side mirror. There were no railings on my side. I was grateful that it was pitch-black night; and felt slightly shamefaced that I was in the lead vehicle.  Daybreak heralded the turning due east, off highway onto dirt road.

After roughly one kilometre, coming over the crest of a minor hillock, my chosen single track road led perpendicularly into an enormous inland lake. The entire panorama, as far as one could see, to left, right and ahead until the mountain lowlands on the horizon, was water. There was no discernible flow around the multiple islands of partly submerged vegetation. The early rising sun glinted off the absolute calm, as a mirror. It was a moment of both awe and comedy.

We drove into the waters, slowly. It was not done blindly. I had noticed some two metre long narrow poles that had been fixed at roughly one hundred metre intervals close to the right road edge. Many were missing, but there were enough to follow, at least initially.  We wound our way bit by bit past ten posts, a kilometre at least; no dry land. Steadily the marker poles became shorter as the waters became deeper and deeper. Certainly the deepest water lay to our left.

The beauty of the moment was surreal. I was sitting in the front of a Land Rover with warm floodwater filling the cabin above my lap but, watching the driver submerge his hand in order to locate the gear stick, my nerve cracked. I halted the convoy.  From the cabin roof of a four-tonner with binoculars I could see many posts. I could also now make out some flow.

The air-intake of the Land Rover is roughly nipple height on me; a lorry’s is out of my depth. At this point I stood in water to my belly-button.  With the lorries moving in front of the Land Rovers, I walked ten metres ahead at point. It was slower, but I could feel the changing surface underfoot and judge the distance from marker posts to my right. The next kilometre passed with the depth remaining constant between belly-button and nipple.  I could now feel flow from right to left.

Some fifteen metres to my front I noticed the gentlest eddying swirl of water passing, what I thought to be, fully submerged undergrowth. The silent surface ripple was, with 20:20 hindsight, from an unnaturally straight obstacle; my immediate thought was that it was due to a tree trunk.  Aiming for the next marker post to be to my right, I suddenly noticed a change in surface underfoot. Looking ahead it became immediately obvious that if this “tree” was lying in a ditch on the right-hand side of the track then the marker posts had been changed to the left hand side of the track. Wading parallel to the tree was intuitively the correct path, and in the next forty to fifty metres the depth of water decreased to waist height.  I turned as the first four tonne lorry began to close up on me.

When something or someone does not make complete sense, I have come to realise that the likeliest cause is because “a piece of the puzzle is missing”. Not always a crucial piece but nevertheless one that once “in place” makes everything else become clear; or clearer.  Watching that lorry came up that slight incline it was obvious to me, on seeing the position of the other vehicles behind, that I had just led it across a submerged bridge, the “unnaturally straight obstacle” being the single upstream railing.  Without too much thought about the “what ifs”, the structural integrity of the bridge having just been tested, I led the remaining convoy across the bridge, albeit with a few added precautions; and with my heart raging in my chest.  Two further kilometres with the marker poles to my left and we emerged onto dry ground. The “dry” ground was no less enthralling.  I could see where the stormwater had eroded gullies three to five metres deep. At times the track was near impassable. The realisation that the submerged and unseen track could well have been in a similar state was... well, was!  A further four kilometres and we arrived at the drop-off point.

I was on a high, but I had lost time. It was now 1100 and I was three hours behind schedule. Before nightfall, in seven hours, I had to move sixty men through a mere five kilometres of jungle and set my ambush. There were several obstacles, the first being that in the first 700 metres we had to climb 1000.

Jungle flora grows continuously without season.  Primary jungle consists of a canopy of leaf growth some fifty to a hundred metres above the ground. The canopy is so thick that there is sparse undergrowth, constant twilight and absolute humidity. It is relatively easy walking, but a maximum line-of-sight is ten to fifteen metres. The giant trees, having raced up and up to the light, stand supported by their neighbours, even when long dead. When these monsters finally succumb to gravity the “dead-fall” are earthshaking and widow-makers.  Secondary jungle occurs where the canopy curtain has been breached or never fully established. The undergrowth immediately fights to achieve, and maintain, more than its share of the light.  Five metres into it, close your eyes, turn around and, without reference, you are lost. Furthermore, at ground level, if the vegetation is not pointed or blade-edged, it will have poisonous sap or an aggressive insect on it.

Despite this I remained on a high. I moved around the group like a cattle-dog; constantly herding, nipping at the odd heel, encouraging, ensuring all remained watered, salted and fed; and loving it.  By five o’clock I had personally placed the cut-off parties to the left and right and had the base camp prepared with a rear party waiting to occupy this. I was moving the “kill group” into its position in the natural amphitheatre that overlay and the curve of river that lay behind the targeted path.

Thirty years on, I still love the memory of that extraordinary day.

Horseguards Parade Memorial

Went the Day Well?

by Alastair Jackson


War may have
Ended but
No one can forget

The men, the
Heroes that fought for
England and their King but

Yet, never knew

Which side won.
England? Did they
Lose? We know, but for them, we would have



Went the Day Well? Poems from pupils of St. Paul's Cathedral School


by Juno

The sky was as blue as forget-me-nots,
The sun was a golden as gold,
What a lovely day it was,
For us to see and behold.

The daffodils, as yellow as butter,
The ice creams, refreshing and still,
Such words for us to utter,
On lime green, tall hills.

I really love climbing trees,
My dad spots birds he often sees,
I can’t really look at the sun,
But it shone brightly and I was having fun!

I really saw a parakeet!
I wonder what they often eat!
They must be from Australia somewhere,
It’s wonderful how they swoop in the air!

As we went home I was sad,
While we were in Kenwood I was glad,
If we ever go again,

I hope there won’t be a downpour of rain!



by Ellie Hotoph

Sunny, happy, hot and bright,
People stop to look at the light,
Skipping happily along,
Jumping, hopping, singing songs.

Talking, chatting, having fun,
Brightly shines the blazing sun,
Amazing summery happy days,
Lots of people make up plays.

Everyone screams and runs,
No one’s having any fun,
Rumble rumble the earth shakes,
Here comes the earth quake!

Run and run, some are safe.
Some are at their end’s fate.
Little children shout for Mummy
This is not very funny.

Homes collapse
People die
Wave comes
Debris flies

No homes, people gone.
No one’s happy any more

No one’s happy like before.



by Aleksa Žižič

Went the day well!
Let all the valiant dwell
Fill the world with joy and peace!

Go out and have no trouble,
Even crossing the rough rubble.
Our soldiers can all retreat
Heroically they march through the street
Fill the world with joy and peace!

Today all wars have ended,
Nobody needs to be defended
We thank all who protected their country
They protected us at their own will.
Fill the world with joy and peace!

The night bell has cast a spell,

The day went well.



by Joseph Short

Woke up and got fed,
“You’re late!” Mum said,
Quickly got dressed,
I had to confess.

Waiting for the school bus,
I had made a giant fuss,
Waiting, waiting, waiting,
In the end I started shaking.

I started walking to school,
I was being such a fool,
I don’t know what to do today,
Maybe I’ll just hit the hay.

Arrived at school,
Acting cool,
Hey! I forgot it’s INSET day,

No wonder there’s no one to stay.




Went the Day Well?

by J. Portelly


Cup Winners!

The ultimate accolade for the school hockey Ist X1 is winning the National Tournament. I have been so fortunate to have played with the same talented squad of girls since we won the U14 National Title for 2 successive years, and we have worked very hard for four years to maintain our fitness and momentum to give our best shot to winning the U18 finals in 2011.

Winning the U18 National Tournament in Cannock this year however, was an altogether more formidable challenge, with the favourites Repton, having lifted the title a record six successive years. Last year they narrowly beat us 1-0 in a tense and thrilling final. Could we now step up our game to wrest the trophy from this dominant force?

Our progress through the pool matches was swift and sure. Not so for Repton we noticed; their tough semi-final win against the amazing Millfield girls was settled by a contentious goal in the dying seconds. Was this uncharacteristically nervous display due to fatigue or flagging spirits? Our team talk centred on how we could capitalise on this apparent chink in their armour.

The Final. 16.40:  That fifty minutes of fast, furious, speed and passion on the ball was the most important of our hockey careers. Our two early goals, scored from stunning short corner strikes, threw Repton into disarray for the first half, when they could find no reply. Coming back strongly and scoring twice  in the second half, Repton were really on the move, but our deed was done with a third goal. The final whistle!  A triumph for total team commitment.

Our winning day went very well.




Went the Day Well?

by Major (Retd) Bob Etherton


Ten Tors Medals

9th May 2010 The tenth checkpoint, Stourton, was to our backs and with little under four miles to go our packs seemed that much lighter. The trees and blossom on the last leg provided colourful, pleasant surroundings after the bleakness of the moor. Since the previous morning, Dartmoor had presented its usual daunting, barren landscape and rough, boggy terrain. We had marched for some 35 miles and despite our weariness; spirits were high, as we knew it was all over bar the shouting.

Our memories of the moor went back some five decades and for three of the team, to 1960, the fateful year which gave birth to the Ten Tors Challenge over Dartmoor. We could never have imagined that what was a military exercise for The Royal Corps of Signals Junior Soldiers, would survive and, fifty years on, be an annual event undertaken by 2400 youngsters (14 – 20 years) in teams of 6 walking 35, 45, or 55 miles across Dartmoor. We ‘old soldiers’ – dubbed The Originals (The Denbury Boys) – were there to help celebrate. Wonderful!
The rough terrain, physical endurance, personal ‘admin’, navigation and teamwork, is the challenge. All that, plus the weather of course, which can be a deciding factor. For the 50th anniversary, the weather was cool and overcast, and welcome so, as we pulled up the last steep climb to ‘spot height 376’. A pause at the top to catch our breath, test and adjust our packs and put on ‘official team hats’ sporting our Regimental badge. With some new-found vigour in our step, we marched towards the finish line.

None of us was quite prepared for such an enthusiastic welcome. It seemed as if a crowd of thousands was cheering us as we approached the line. Of course, most were there for the 400 other teams but we were certainly showered with their generous, wholehearted applause and it was quite ‘lump in the throat stuff’. Even the sun came out!

Maj Gen David McDowall, our team patron, joined us with bagpipes and dressed in his Highland attire, piped the team into the presentation arena where we were presented with our Ten Tors 50th Anniversary Medals.

Yes, the day went extremely well and we raised over £7000 for Help for Heroes and the Royal Signals Benevolent Fund. Super!




Went the Day Well?

by Anne Nicholls


Market Day

Once upon a time, a world ago, I lived in Rome. One of my favourite weekend habits on a Saturday was to head into Old Rome to The Campo dei Fiori, especially early on a spring morning.
It is then that the heart of Rome is alive with the sounds of people shouting, boxes banging, dogs barking, chickens clucking.... The occasional motorino revs up and speeds away across the cobbles, scattering market stall holders and the first early shoppers as it weaves its way out on to the main thoroughfare, to be swallowed up in the frenetic traffic that is the trademark of modern Rome.
Meanwhile the houses around the Campo are waking gradually to a new day. Shutters are opened, washing is hung out on pulleys suspended across tiny wrought iron balconies. Old ladies in black, with gnarled faces and few teeth, call down to familiar figures in the market. Their voices are strident and sharp. You could be forgiven for thinking that they were in the middle of a full-blown argument with the man below, while in fact this is just a normal conversation, loaded with the passion and fervour bred into the Italians as a race. There is much gesticulating, much shouting. But look at their eyes. There is laughter there. They know better than anyone that this is just friendly banter.
A sensuous array of colour erupts on the stalls. Precariously balanced fruit and vegetables are vibrant in their different varieties. Alongside them the flowers - this is the "Field of Flowers" after all - offer a delicate fragrance and a delight to the eye as they sit freshly picked that morning in their buckets of water awaiting their sale. In typical Italian style the young man at one stall picks a single rose and offers it to me as I pass, "per la bella signorina". How wonderful Italians are for the morale!
Gradually the Campo fills with people as the temperature of the day begins to rise. Local signore, who visit daily, know exactly to which stall they will give their custom. They have been doing it for years. They know who has the ripest tomatoes, the best oranges, the freshest fish, the most tender meat, the plumpest chickens. The tourists mingling with them watch in fascination. They feel the excitement of the place but see it at a completely different level to the old lady in black with the craggy, toothless face, as she buys her one stick of celery and two carrots for the "brodo" she will make this lunchtime. For the tourists it is a place to snap the artistic shot, to buy the welcome slab of "porchetta" from the stall on the corner by way of a mid-morning snack, and to savour the sights, sounds and smells of old Rome. For the old lady in black it is just part of her daily ritual, unchanged over the decades. This is her life.
I clutch my red rose to me and leave the Campo to its devices.

Went the day well? Ah, si, senza dubbio.....




Went the Day Well?

by Ian Roddie


Betty and her family

On Midsummer Day 1974, my wife, Betty Roddie, died aged 39 after a long fight against breast cancer.  Her poems gave a unique insight into how she came to terms with personal disaster and illustrated with poignancy the journey she travelled from initial defiance through acquiescence to final acceptance.
Her final poem, “The Meeting”, was written in hospital some days before she died.  It tells of the calm and gentle way she came to terms with her death; I found it in her belongings a few days later and it broke my heart.



We meet at last then. I never thought to
See you, or even to know you, that was for others.
Nothing dramatic or sudden to warn me
Of your presence. You'd been there all along.
Waiting, expecting me not to be so stupid
When you gave me so many hints that you were there.
Now we can be easy with each other.
Let us both be patient for the right time.
Your name is Death, I know, stay if you wish
Be patient with me, and one day we
Might be friends.




Went the Day Well?

by John Miles

Perfect Summer Day

Went the day well?

Most Certainly.  We woke to the sun shining in a cloudless blue sky at our archetypal English country hotel.  On the edge of Exmoor, always a joy to be there.  A good breakfast and then a drive onto the moor, where my wife and two daughters enjoyed a wonderful ride through the changing scenery of coomb and moorland, while I walked our golden retriever, breathing the pure air. 

A satisfying lunch near the ageless Tarr Steps, and back to our hotel to meet an old and dear fishing friend.  An afternoon on the beautiful river Barle which flows through the grounds of our hotel. Being rewarded with a few Exmoor trout.

A lazy bath, a drink in the pretty bar and dinner, a gastronomic delight, my wife saying it was the best duck a l'orange she had ever eaten.

A postprandial imbibement or two in convivial company, and off to bed in blissful contentment.

Yes, the day went well.





Went the Day Well?

by Buss Jackson


I go back a long way and this is a tale from the war years, 1944 to be exact.  I was a 19 year old working in one of the many hush hush jobs which I am sure were not hush hush to the enemy, in an office in Mayfair.  I and another girl were balletomanes, which meant that not only did we take ballet lessons ourselves but also spent at least two nights a week at the ballet.  Up in the Gods (tickets 2/6d), with our sandwiches, usually the Sadler's Wells Company in various theatres, sitting on hard benches, peering down at tiny forms on the stage far below, happily enjoying and criticising the performances.
Looking back I think it must have been a form of escapism, for this was, of course, the time of the doodlebugs.  But there again doodlebugs were not so bad in London. In the country, in the open, one felt that they were chasing you, whereas in London, well if they went on droning over you, you were OK; and if the droning stopped, well it was very bad luck if they came down alongside you in the street in which you happened to be walking.
The night in question was that of the First Night of the Miracle in the Gorbals (I am reminded by Wikipedia that this was October 26th, 1944).  A strange ballet, more of a morality play really, choreographed by Robert Helpmann, who played the lead roll of the stranger who brought a suicidal girl back to life and then, unresisting, was murdered himself by a Gorbals gang. A cheerful subject? No!  Horrific and danced with conviction, but that first night the girl, danced by Pauline Clayden, achieved  perfection in an adage, a wonderful combination of technique, timing and inspiration, an ecstasy, which has remained with me to  this day.  
After the grim end, possibly as a relief from tension, the 'gods' went wild! And I went wild with them! We clapped, we shouted, we shrieked, we threw anything we had onto the stage below, and we wouldn't, couldn't, stop, however many curtain calls the cast took. I presume that it was one of those theatres where the entrance to the Gods was up some stairs on the side of the building or I am sure we would have found our way to the stage.  It was crowd hysteria, and I remember even now, the frightening feeling of being something bigger than myself, my mind outside my control, controlled by some outer force.  Lemmings!  And then, someone had the sense to turn the house lights on and life returned to normal.

Went the Day well?

It obviously did for the dancers. 
And for me?  Well I was left with a life-long deep fear of becoming involved in crowds…….

And yet, and yet as I lie in my bed, 85 and not far to go,  my muscles tense up and in my mind I can still see and feel that moment, when I was privileged to see a tiny part of absolute perfection.





Went the Day Well?

by David Alric


Best friend

I sat in the intensive care unit of a famous children’s hospital in the midlands and looked around. There was silence apart from a low, calm discussion between a doctor and nurse at a nearby cot, the continuous gentle hum of equipment and the never-ending rhythmic hiss of life-support machines. The room was full of small figures festooned with tubes and monitoring devices. Beside every cot was one or more drip stands laden with plastic bags of blood, plasma, and other liquids, conveying vital fluids, nutrition and medicines into the tiny recumbent forms. And there by my side lay my very own granddaughter, her face peaceful at last.
As I gazed at her through misty eyes, my mind ran back over the last few dreadful months.

Just over a year earlier my daughter, the eldest of my three children, had announced the joyful news that she was expecting a baby, our first grandchild. As she sailed through a textbook pregnancy excitement mounted in the family as her due date grew ever nearer. The EDD was mid-December and as mother and baby were both doing well the foremost question in most people’s minds was whether the infant might be late and end up as a Christmas baby like one of my nieces. Most people’s minds – but not mine. I had two cousins, brothers but not twins, with severe learning difficulties, the cause of which had never been satisfactorily established. The lurking dread that they might suffer from a familial genetic problem had been at the back of my mind throughout the pregnancies and births of my own three children (all normal, thank God), and that same fear had now returned to haunt me with my first grandchild. How often in life it transpires that the thing that we most dread never materializes, while the catastrophe we never contemplated descends like a bolt from the blue! And so it was to be.

At 1.25 a.m. on her due date the baby was born in a London hospital after a normal labour. She was a beautiful baby, and as we toasted her arrival in plastic cups of champagne and I held her in my arms for the first time, all my fears dissolved. It is a truism that becoming a grandparent is a wonderful experience but the platitude does not alter the fact that it is just that; the feelings of love and joy that one experiences at the birth of one’s own child are intensified in the case of a grandchild by the additional pleasures of sharing in the happiness of the new parents, and an overwhelming sense of family continuity.

Preliminary tests on the baby were all normal and on Thursday morning, her third day of life, all that remained was for her to be checked out by a paediatrician before she could go home. The paediatric houseman came, examined the baby and then said that he wanted a more senior colleague to come and check his findings. My daughter was slightly unsettled by this, but remembered that it was a teaching hospital. The registrar came, and after his examination called a more senior registrar. Now my daughter was really worried. The doctor listened carefully to my granddaughter’s heart and that was the moment all our lives changed. Like his juniors before him he could hear a heart murmur – a loud one. A heart murmur is a squirting noise caused by turbulent blood flow. It is not in itself sinister; even quite a prominent murmur may prove to be functionally insignificant, but my granddaughter’s murmur sounded very significant.

I should say at this point that I am a doctor; a professor at a London teaching hospital and I specialized in procedures involving the insertion of tubes(catheters) into arteries and veins to create, with special media, diagnostic images of the circulation, and to treat various conditions using micro-tools passed through the catheters. My granddaughter had been born in the obstetric unit of my own hospital so, as soon as the paediatrician had conveyed his grim news, I rang our professor of cardiology, a close friend. To my relief she was in the department and the family then sat in an agony of uncertainty as she examined the baby and reviewed the results of an ultrasound scan. Seeing the professor’s face as she came out to see me was simply the worst experience of my life.

‘I’m terribly sorry, David (my heart sank even further). She has an ostium primum defect – a big one, and severe mitral incompetence.’ My knees turned to jelly and I felt completely numb. This couldn’t be happening to me!
What the professor was telling me was that my granddaughter had a devastating problem. She had a leaking heart valve and a large hole in the middle of her heart. Despite all this she wasn’t blue and, at the risk of sounding somewhat technical, it may be worth a brief digression to explain this in a little more detail. We can think of the heart simplistically as being in two separate halves separated by an interior wall (septum). On the right side is ‘blue’ venous blood that has returned, depleted of oxygen from most of the body. This blood is pumped through the lungs where it becomes red and oxygenated, and returns to the left side of the heart from where it is pumped around the body. There are many different kinds of holes in the heart but they usually result in one of two main problems: either blue blood goes through a hole in the septum from right to left, bypasses the lungs and gets pumped straight back into the body (a ‘blue baby’) or, as in my granddaughter’s case, it goes from left to right and passes through the lungs twice. Why, one might ask, should this be a problem? Let us use a canteen as an explanatory model. Under normal circumstances customers (blood cells) arrive at the food counter (the heart and lungs) with blue trays. They receive food (oxygen) which makes the trays turn red and then go and sit down. Now imagine two very inefficient canteens: In one, analogous to a ‘blue baby,’ a queue of customers is directed to their seats before they have actually received any food. Their trays are still blue and they soon get very hungry. The problem is obvious. In the other canteen, the one analogous to my granddaughter, all the customers pick up their food (and their trays turn red) but half the customers leaving the checkout are re-directed to the back of the queue and go through the system again. They can’t fit any more food onto their trays but they cause enormous delays in the queue and, unless the checkout person works faster, fewer people get to the tables in a given time. In my granddaughter’s case this translated into her heart having to do twice as much work as normal to keep her circulation going.

My mind was in a complete turmoil at the professor’s words. Either our baby would die as her heart failed to cope, or she would require a massive operation – possibly several – with no certainty of a successful outcome. Then, the first glimmer of hope. The professor saw my distraught expression and read my mind.
‘You’re not into paediatric cardiology,’ she said, ‘and you’d be astonished at what’s happened in the field in the last decade. Things may not be as gloomy as you think.’ She had a reputation for straight talking and I knew she would not offer me any false reassurance.
‘What next?’ I asked.
‘We find the best person to fix it,’ was the simple reply. She then made several phone calls and finally referred my granddaughter to a specialist surgeon working in the midlands. When he saw the baby he thought it was possible to operate but said that we should wait until she was two. The chances of successfully repairing the hole in the heart and re-fashioning the leaking and deformed valve, only millimetres in size, would be enormously increased if my granddaughter were bigger.

This was encouraging news, but the start of a difficult period, particularly for my daughter and her husband for whom all the normal pleasures of having a new baby were overshadowed by the prospect of a massive operation in two years’ time. But things were rapidly to get worse. My granddaughter needed much more energy than a normal baby because her heart was working overtime. This meant more food, but feeding was a terrible problem. It usually comes as a surprise to those who don’t know, to learn that feeding is a labour-intensive activity for a baby. The very act of suckling would make my poor granddaughter break out in a sweat and she needed frequent rests to recover from exhaustion. This made feeding a seemingly interminable activity. My daughter coped patiently and heroically with this intractable problem for several months, but eventually it became clear that the infant had entered a downward spiral into cardiac cachexia: a state where most of the energy derived from her food was consumed by her frantically beating heart. In the last terrible weeks of this period she lost weight and began to acquire the gaunt features so dreadfully familiar to us from photographs of famine victims. Surgery was now inevitable, despite its undesirability in so small a child.

I described earlier how grandparents’ loving feelings for a grandchild are intensified by their simultaneous joy in the happiness of their own child at becoming a parent. The reverse is also sadly true: the grief engendered by a grandchild’s misfortune is poignantly magnified by the grandparents’ sorrow at witnessing the pain their own child is having to endure.

My wife and I accompanied my daughter, her husband and my granddaughter to the midlands where we stayed with one of my old students, now a consultant in the main city hospital. The baby was admitted to be fed by tube for ten days in a final attempt to boost her weight and strength for surgery. I used up my nervous energy during this time by digging my host’s garden – a wonderful therapy – while the others helped to look after the infant; sometimes in the ward and sometimes by walking her out, complete with naso-gastric tube, in an old hospital pram that the ward sister kept on hand for just this situation. When the fateful day arrived for the operation we were all in a state of high tension, only to learn that an emergency in another baby had to take priority and my granddaughter’s operation had to be postponed. Fortunately the delay was only for one day, and then she went off to theatre. She was cooled down, then her heart was stopped and she was kept alive by an artificial circulation. Her heart was opened, the large hole in the septum repaired and the defective mitral valve was meticulously reconstructed – a fantastic technical achievement.

And so, to return to the beginning of this story, I now found myself looking at my granddaughter in the intensive care unit, her heart beating normally for the first time and her life-giving blood circulating round her body with every beat, instead of uselessly regurgitating. I couldn’t believe the miraculous change that had been wrought by those few hours of surgery.

Went the day well? Yes, yes, yes!

Within twenty-four hours my granddaughter left the intensive care unit and was back on the ward. During the next three days she gained thirteen ounces in weight. She continued to gain rapidly until she reached exactly the correct weight for her age, then her rate of gain dropped back to normal. Her little body knew exactly how much she should have weighed all along, and got back there as soon as it was able.

In under a week after the operation we all returned home to London with our precious bundle; a living tribute to her parents’ unremitting and devoted care, the incredible diagnostic accuracy of ultrasound; the National Health Service at its best, and the almost magical capabilities of modern anaesthesia and surgery.

By the greatest good fortune my granddaughter’s reconstructed valve has grown, undistorted, in parallel with the rest of her heart and is now functioning so normally that no further follow-up is considered necessary. She is now fifteen years old, is doing very well at school, is normal in height and weight, is a keen ballet dancer and plays the clarinet and the saxophone. She is the eldest of our six grandchildren and is my closest adviser about the series of children’s adventure books I am now writing in my retirement.

She is, of course, one of the principal heroines in my stories!





Went the Day Well?

by Bill Sharrock


If I live for a hundred years, and forget all else, perhaps my abiding memory of King’s House School, where I have worked for so many years, will be of a solitary lad on a freezing rugby pitch in the heart of a miserable day, some fifteen years ago.
His name was Dominic, and he didn’t want to be where he now stood: shivering in his King’s House ‘blues’, head bent under a shock of blond hair, his boots looking impossibly big for his thin legs and flapping shorts. He was winger for the 2nd fifteen, left winger and hurriedly drafted in from the thirds because of the usual plague of flu and colds that swept the school at that time of year.
Dominic did not want to play, but knew he had to, and was too polite to argue. All he wanted was for the whistle to blow, so that he could run up and down the pitch anonymously for a wretched hour, and then head for the showers. The trouble was, his mother had come to watch. Of all the parents on all the rugby pitches in all the world, his mum had come to watch. She was of course, the only parent. No one else would have turned out to watch such a junior scrap in such frozen mud, and heavily misted conditions. It was a grey world of grey shapes and the cold crept in across the fields from the edges of the Thames like a living thing. If you stood at halfway you could hardly see the posts at either end, and only the yellow flags hanging limply at the corners of the pitch told you where the limits of Dominic’s world lay.
As I gave the usual droning team talk that coaches always give when they fear the worst and hope for little more, I noticed that Dominic had huddled in close among his team mates, head still down, as though to avoid his mother’s gaze. She stood afar off, an anxious silhouette of coat, scarf and crumpled hat.
The whistle blew, the game began, and so did Dominic’s miseries. It did not take the opposition long to find that our left winger was also our weak link. They came at him. Every ball, every kick, every pass seemed to send the game his way. And every time he met the game, it passed him by. I soon lost count of the number of tackles he missed, and the number of muttered comments that hung about his head as once again the opposition rushed by him towards our line.
   ‘Oh, come on, Dom!’
   ‘Oh, Dom!’
   ‘At least try will you!’
And there were other sharper knives, that were only half held back because ‘sir’ was on the touch line and ‘sir’ would not approve.
They scored, and scored again. Both times down the left wing. Both times at a canter, with Dominc sprawling in their wake.
Just before half time, they notched up the third try, their winger risking a laugh as he swerved past Dominic and left him standing. As we gathered under the posts for the deathly ritual of the inevitable conversion, Dominic had put himself to one side. No one looked at him. Not even a glance. I saw him brush a tear, bite his lip hard and clench his fists hard against his side.
Half time. And time for a merciful release.
   ‘Get him off, sir’, whispered the captain, usually a mild mannered lad, but his voice now heavy with resentment. ‘He’s killing us.’
I went through the half time chat, while they sucked bits of orange and stared at their boots. ‘We can win this game,’ I said, and I heard someone hold back a snort of disbelief. ‘Just make the tackles.’
   ‘I’ll go off, sir,’ said Dominic. ‘It was the first time he had spoken all day. ‘Take me off.’
I shook my head. ‘You’re staying on.’ Ignoring the looks of dismay from his team mates, I went on: ‘You stay on the wing. You listen to me. And where you are, I will be. Understood?’
He nodded, in sea of despair. As the whistle blew and we all trooped back towards half way, I noticed Dominic’s mother had moved closer. She had come out from the shelter of the pavilion porch, and was standing near the touch line. She caught her son’s eye, and waved. It was a little wave, but he ducked his head and turned away as though it were a shot from a gun.
   ‘You’ll be all right, Dom,’ I said, and my voice sounded as meaningless as the rooks in the trees down by the river.
As the game re-started we were joined by the Headmaster from the opposition school. He had heard about the rout, and had come to see the fun. I stood next to him, smiling at his jovial sympathy, and nodding at his Olympian advice.
Of course, they came at Dominic again. They even shouted, ‘Left wing, left wing!’ and their coach roared them on.
Dominic hung back. Their centre pounded towards him, and he crouched, stepping away and looking at the sideline.
   ‘No, Dom! Come up now, spread your arms. Wide, now wide. Make him come. Let him come! Now, Dom, now!’
It was not the best of tackles. It looked a little like a hat stand falling over. But it was enough. It took the centre by surprise. He stumbled, half free, missed his footing, and collapsed across the touch line.
Dominic got to his feet with a look of amazement. Someone on our team shouted: ‘Good tackle, Dom!’ and the line out came and went.
Again they came at Dominic. ‘Now, Dom, now!’ This time he took his man cleanly through the midriff and knocked him sideways, holding him until the cover came across and finished the job.
   ‘Lucky, that’s all,’ said the opposition player, and spat at his feet to punctuate the message.
When he tried to get past Dominic again, the force of the tackle knocked him him back. He fell winded onto the freezing mud, and the ref called time for the usual repairs.
And then we scored. Somewhere out there in the mist, we scored. And scored again. The Headmaster fell silent. When we scored again with five minutes left on the clock, he began to bellow.
But fairy tale endings are not so easily made. With the scores locked even, we knocked the ball on just outside our 22, and a scrum was called.
I knew the ball would come Dominic’s way. I just knew it. I knew that their scrum half would run wide, miss his fly half and pass to the centres. He did it well. Their inside centre, bigger than most, took the ball cleanly, wrong-footed our centre and headed unerringly for Dominic.
   ‘Your man, Dom,’ I said.  That’s all I had time for, and I suspect he didn’t even hear me, or even care. As the centre arrived, mouthguard bared and knees nearly bouncing off his chest, Dominic hurled himself forward.
There was a collision. You couldn’t call it a tackle, even though it was perfectly legal. It was a meeting of David and Goliath, and David used himself as the stone.
The centre fell at his Headmaster’s feet, and spilled the ball. Someone swore. It wasn’t a player, and it wasn’t me. One of our lads scooped up the ball and ran it joyfully up the pitch. Dominic trotted along behind, and didn’t seem to notice his captain who slapped him on the back as he sprinted by.
I shook my head, scarcely believing what I had just seen, and said a prayer of thanks for prayers already answered.
And yes, guess what? Somewhere in the midst of the mad scramble we call injury time, one of the King’s House lads went over for a very ugly but a very wonderful try. It wasn’t Dominic of course, but it may as well have been.
When the referee blew full time, his team mates hoisted Dominic off the field with cries of ‘Well done,Dom!’ and ‘Player of the Day!’

But he turned, and as he turned he smiled, sweeping back the shock of blond hair and looking towards where his mother stood, almost lost now in the gloom. He gave her a little wave, and she waved back. Nothing else mattered. A lad had found himself, and a mother had got back her son.



Holding hands

Went the Day Well?

by James Jackson

(See blog of February 2011)


I cannot ever remember holding my mother’s hand. There is an old photograph of me doing so, probably to stop me moving as the photograph was taken, when I was about three years old; one of those old, square, Kodak prints with asymmetric white borders tucked behind other images of gradually increasing colour and resolution in a frame at my mother’s house. Holding hands is not something that we do.
‘Would you prefer me to leave the room as they do the biopsy, Mum?’
‘Don’t be silly, dear. Of course not’. Typical Mum; this is necessary; don’t make a fuss; get on with it.
I watch my mother’s hands lying on the pillow by her head, rather than the needle. They are strong, useful, used hands with the deformed right thumbnail caught some years ago in the teeth of a saw, which have developed a slight tremor of late, but they are perfectly still now.  They remain motionless, whilst my own clench in unison with those clasping the biopsy needle, as its point touches skin and then probes to find the underlying bone.  There is an almost audible tightening of muscles and a silent expulsion of air from three sets of lips as the marrow is aspirated.
The tremor has returned as my mother’s hands cup the mug of tea in the hospital cafeteria. There is a relief of tension; if the bone marrow can give itself up with so little fuss then it cannot be hiding anything too sinister. The doctor is there again; ‘Come on in. The results are through’.

We stand up hand in hand.

  © Copyright Thomas Jackson 2010