Like a lot of people who went through the Second World War, my Dad didn’t speak about it, or if he did, certainly not to me. But when he well into his seventies, he recounted a few of his adventures and with my encouragement, started to write them down. Sadly he didn’t live long enough to finish them properly, but what he did is worth reading:
Everyone in the lifeboat held their breath as we listened to the muted growl of the submarine exhaust slowly recede into the night. It was dark, but I could just recognise the outline of the stricken ship to which we were returning.
Our lifeboat, containing myself and fifteen other seafarers, gently nudged the hull and I quickly scrambled aboard with the third mate to look for our two missing comrades. I was tense with a mixture of excitement and fear. The mate had made it very clear that the Japanese sub would probably return so I needed to hurry. Certainly I had no time to reflect on what had brought me to this situation …
I was born in 1923 in Newton Heath, Manchester, half an hour after my brother Eric, who was, of course, my twin. Four years later the family took up residence in Limerick. My father had already been living there for several years where he managed the town gas works and even though he came back to Manchester to visit us two or three times a year, the better solution was to move the family to Ireland. From that day on my twin brother, my sister and I lived a privileged and happy existence.
For two growing lads it was a Huckleberry Finn way of life. We were always out riding horses, or hunting rabbits in the Clare hills or venturing out on the mighty River Shannon in anything we could beg or borrow, or indeed cobble up ourselves, as long as it floated. To this day, I still wonder that we didn’t drown ourselves.
But all that ended when our parents decided that we needed “further education” and sent us to a boarding school in Wexford.
It was horrendous; terrible food, a bullying prefect and a peculiar headmaster. We stuck it out for three weeks and decided that enough was enough and we had to get away from the place. We made a decision to abscond, and that we did by simply jumping over the wall and hotfooting it. At first we did not know what our intention was, but once we had made the break the obvious aim was to get home. The first night we slept in a haystack and the next morning we were ravenous but we came up with a brilliant idea; steal a chicken from the neighbouring farm and cook it over a fire. Lack of matches were a problem but the plan was thwarted by the barking of (what we imagined to be) a huge ferocious dog.
We hurriedly changed our plan and set off on the long trek home, some seventy miles.
Outside New Ross we scrounged a sandwich from a kindly lady, but by now it was evident that if we were to make it home, we needed some kind of transport and the solution presented itself in the form a bicycle propped up against a wall on the outskirts of New Ross.
We took it in turns on the crossbar until we managed to “borrow” another bike in Waterford. The evening descended but we decided to pedal all night and as it turned out, it was a wise decision.
Just after dark a motor car passed us, and shortly afterwards we heard my elder sister calling our names. She, her boyfriend and my father had set out to look for us. We did return to the school, but only to collect our belongings, having convinced our parents that under no circumstances would we stay there. On the way back, we called in on the woman who had given us the food and my father gave her the princely sum of five shillings (25p), a fair amount in those days. Thanks to the Chief of Police, the bicycles were returned to the owners and the whole affair was forgotten. We later took up residence in Middleton College, in Co. Cork, a school which we attended as boarders for almost two years. But then came 1939 and with it, the declaration of war. My father in his wisdom, or maybe out of patriotism, decided to move us all back to England.