I was born in the small market town of Halesworth in Suffolk on 22 December 1918, shortly after the end of the First World War. I never knew my father as he was lost during the war and I was raised in fairly poor circumstances by my loving mother with support from the extended family. I had a very happy childhood and remember playing games with friends in the nearby meadows and there was a bowling green behind the Angel Hotel where we would earn sixpence by picking up and polishing the woods for the people playing. I attended Sunday school every week at the local Salvation Army hall which was housed in a tin hut close to where we lived in Chediston Street.
I left school at the age of 14yrs and began working as a bell boy in the Angel Hotel. After that I had a variety of jobs including one in the local cinema where I acted as usher and projectionist, showing people to their seats, before operating the projector, which in those days still used a carbon arc lamp. In summer I drove a horse and cart around the local farms collecting blackberries and mushrooms that were sent off to Covent Garden Market. The old horse was so familiar with the route that if I stopped somewhere for food or a drink, it would take itself on to the next farm. Later on I worked for Walls as a 'stop me and buy one' ice cream salesman, on a bicycle with a box on the front. My round included the seaside resort of Southwold which was an 8 mile ride away but well worth the effort as I usually did quite well there.
After I turned 18yrs in 1936 I joined the local Territorial Army unit and attended training each week and went away to training camps once or twice a year.
When war broke out in September 1939 the Territorials were the first to be called up and about a week before war was declared I received my call up notice, with instructions to go immediately to the Suffolk Regiment base at the nearby town of Leisten. From there we were transferred to Bury St. Edmunds where we assembled for training with other TA units before being sent to Belgium as part of the British Expeditionary Force early in 1940, just prior to the retreat to Dunkirk. I was lucky enough to be repatriated a few days before the mass evacuation took place.
On my return I became ill and was hospitalised for several months during which time the Suffolk Regiment was posted to Singapore. It was a fortunate turn of events for me as many of the Suffolk Regiment troops suffered terribly in POW camps after the surrender to the Japanese and were forced to participate in construction of the Burma Railway. On my discharge from hospital I was assigned to the Bedfordshire & Hertfordshire Regiment and eventually posted to Langley in Buckinghamshire (now in Berkshire) to perform guard duties at the Hawker aircraft factory. In the nearby village of Iver there was a canteen for the use of servicemen stationed in the area, run by members of the Girls Junior Air Corps, and it was here that I met and courted a lovely girl called Ivy who was to become my wife.
Early in 1943 we were told that we were being posted abroad and travelled to Greenock in Scotland where convoy WS29, one of a series of troopship convoys known as 'Winston Specials', was being assembled on the Clyde, ready to carry troops to Algiers to fight alongside the Desert Rats against Rommel's North Africa Corp. It was comprised of 24 ships under the protection of a dozen accompanying destroyers and minesweepers. We were assigned to MS lndrapoera, a Dutch cruise liner that had been converted to carry several thousand troops, and sailed on 14th April 1943, arriving in Algiers 9 days later, having been under aerial attack for much of the way.
On arrival in Algiers we were transferred about 300 miles to a transit camp in a coastal town called Bone (now Annabal) where facilities were fairly primitive. We slept in the open under mosquito nets and there were communal latrines comprising a plank with 4 holes in it laid across a trench.
There was plenty of action in the desert and some pretty tough days in harsh conditions, often under attack from the air. One of our duties was to track down and apprehend deserters who would disappear into the desert and live with nomadic tribes. On one occasion we found five deserters and had to arrest them and send them for Court Marshall. We were also deployed as guards on convoys of lorries taking German POWs to prison camps in the desert. On one occasion the lorry that I was guarding included Max Schmeling, the world heavyweight boxing champion. He was a lovely man and would even hold my rifle and help me climb up if I was struggling to get onto the lorry! One of our highlights was a visit by Winston Churchill who, as Prime Minister, was visiting the troops and addressed our platoon. We also saw Vera Lynn sing when she came with ENSA to perform in the desert.
After seeing action in North Africa we were shipped to Italy and followed the allied advance as it moved Northwards, first to Naples and then on to Rome after it had been liberated, where we were blessed by the Pope.
We were there on the day war ended and some weeks later were sent home by train, a journey which took three days to complete.
I kept in touch with Ivy throughout my time away via censored letters and postcards and we became engaged whilst I was in Italy. I returned to Halesworth to find that my Mother was very unwell and Ivy came to stay with us to help care for her until she passed away early in 1946. We then began to plan for our wedding which took place in Iver Parish Church on 21st December that year, at the start of the harshest winter in more than 300 years. It was so cold that the wedding photos had to be re-posed in a studio some weeks later and we had to walk the last few miles to our wedding night destination because the trains had stopped running. We set up home in Iver and lived there for the whole of our married life. Ivy bore us a son who we named Michael and I have two grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
Most of my working life was spent as a Progress Chaser in a number of different companies including Langley Alloys, EMI Records and Drayton Controls who manufacture central heating equipment. Before that I worked as a shunter engine driver at Iver station for several years and ran the railway man’s bar on Paddington station for a while, returning to Iver on the milk train in the early hours of the morning. As well as my day job, I worked as an evening barman for many years in local pubs. They were in close proximity to Pinewood Studios which meant that I often served celebrities such as John Mills and the cricketer Denis Compton.
Sadly, my dear wife Ivy passed away on 13th September 2016, just three months short of our 70th wedding anniversary. I now live with my son and his wife in Woodley and it is nice to be with my family. Since coming to Woodley I have had the privilege of meeting Theresa May twice at tea parties and she has spoken to me and shaken my hand. I don't know of many people who have been lucky enough to meet two Prime Ministers.