My Early Years

This year, Doris and I will celebrate our 64th anniversary of our wedding in London on July 28, 1951. I thought it was about time I should record some of our history for our children, grandchildren and others who may be interested.

I was born on January 15, 1927 in Ailsworth, a small village about five miles west of Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, U.K. (At that time, Peterborough was in Northamptonshire and the village was spelled Ailesworth.) I was born, like most babies at that time, in our house which was number 7 of a row of 10 county council houses. These were “modern” additions to the village that was mostly small cottages and farms.

To tell you how modern they were, we had no electricity or piped-in water and our toilet was attached to the house but you had to go out the back door to get access to it. (It was a one-holer bucket type that was emptied weekly by a horse driven tank cart called the Honey Wagon.) We had a well-water pump in the kitchen for drinking water and a large rainwater cistern that supplied most of our water needs. England has plenty of rain so systems like this were quite common.About 1930, electricity became available in the village but was relatively expensive so we only had power downstairs. We continued to use paraffin oil lamps for illumination, so at bedtime we would take our lamp upstairs with us.

When World War II broke out in 1939, my father was the Chief Air Raid Warden for the village, and we were given a telephone and had electricity wired to the upstairs bedrooms. This was so we could have an air raid siren fitted to the roof of our house. My father, Albert Reginald was the seventh of nine sons and one daughter of David and Harriet Glover who lived at Sutton, a small village two miles west of Ailsworth. He married my mother, Jessica Wadd in September 1921 in Sutton Church. My mother was born in Kettering Northamptonshire, and lived and worked in the water grist mill in Kingscliffe, Northants. and moved with her father, Tom Wadd to Ailesworth about 1920.

At the time of my birth, my father worked in Peterborough as a boiler maker at Baker Perkins, a manufacturer of automated cooking machinery (and, during the war, gun barrels). He commuted on a motorbike. I digress to tell you a funny story. In those days, the circus used to come to town about once a year and they traveled in caravan by road from town to town. This included the elephants that walked in procession. After a circus passed through our village, my father was driving home on his motor bike and he ran into a pile of elephant poop and crashed, getting his arm broken.

Ailsworth had two public houses (pubs), no church and no school. The village was joined to the east by a slightly larger village called Castor. This was an old Roman town and has a fascinating history. Google “Castor and Ailsworth” for lots of amazing history. Also Google “St Kyneburgah’s Church” for some amazing details. There has been a church of some kind in Castor since 650 AD. It is an imposing church on a slight hill and the main tower was built by the Normans in 1120. The spire was added in 1350 and bells were installed in 1552.

I was christened in the font in that church. I used to go to Sunday school and church with my granddad, Tom Wadd, my mother’s father. He, his wife Clara, and my mother are all buried in the same grave in that churchyard. I went to kindergarten and elementary schools in Castor, walking each way from Ailsworth.

My early life in Ailsworth was fairly ordinary. I got in a lot of trouble mostly with Alan Francia, who was born next door to me and who later became my best man on my wedding day. One particular escapade was brought about by us trying to smoke the dead pith wood from an old dying tree in clay pipes. Somehow, we left a spark and the tree caught fire in the wartime blackout. This was about 1942, the third year of our WWII, and the blackout rules were very strict. We got a lecture from the village policeman and even from a police sergeant in Peterborough.

During the war, my father was at first in the LDV, the Local Defense Volunteers. This later became the Home Guard. England was totally unprepared for war and the Home Guard did their drills with broomsticks. Some of the farmers had shotguns but they never got rifles until about 1942. We only learned years later how pitifully we were prepared for war. We expected the Germans to bomb us and drop by parachute any day.

Dad was also Chief Air Raid Warden for the village. Our house was sandbagged to protect such a valuable headquarters. A phone was installed and the village policeman in Castor (we did not have our own policeman) would call with “air raid message red” which meant bombers were in our area and with “air raid message white” when it was all clear. The village got the warning by me riding my bike up the main street and down the back lane blowing short blasts on a whistle. The “all clear” message was the same thing with long blasts on the whistle.

I very well remember the night that the city of Coventry, about 50 miles to the west of us, was bombed. Coventry was the home of Rolls Royce that at that time was making Spitfire engines. We had 19 warnings and all clears during the night. You can imagine how my long blasts on the whistle got shorter and shorter. I was very pleased when we later got electricity in the rest of our house and the county installed an air raid siren on our roof. The only snag was that it was on my bedroom wall and still had to be operated manually.

My mother was one of the air raid wardens and went out every night on duty looking for incendiary bombs and fires. The wardens were each in charge of a bucket of sand and a “stirrup” pump. This was another bucket with a hand pump attached to it and was for putting out fires from incendiary bombs. The sand was to throw onto a burning bomb. (You could not use water on the bomb because it would react with the magnesium, creating hydrogen which would then explode.)

I mentioned the school in Castor. It was also the school for our village and for the villages of Sutton and Upton. I went to that school from about age six till I was ten in 1937. A boy from Sutton, John Gathercole, and I were singled out by our school teacher as possible candidates for applying for a scholarship to a secondary school in Peterborough, five miles away. I have tried, over the years to identify that lady unsuccessfully. She took the two of us for private lessons after school every day for quite a while and she was determined that we were going to get scholarships. I continue to realize that she changed my life and was the single reason I was able to escape my environment and be something other than a boiler-maker like my father. To this day, I owe so much to that dedicated teacher, because I got a scholarship to go to the Deacons School, a secondary all-boys school in Peterborough.

I started there at age 10 in 1937 and remained there until I was 17 ½ in 1944. I originally went by double-decker bus from our village but when I was about 12, I started cycling the five miles each way. I played cricket in summer and rugby in winter but did not participate in many after-school activities because of the commute. The goal was to get the Cambridge School Certificate at about age 15 and most students left school at that point. My scholarship allowed me to continue another two years and get the Cambridge Higher School Certificate. This also allowed me to apply for University scholarships.

Again, I had good teachers and I got a scholarship to go to Edinburgh to study law or to go to London University to study engineering. I finally chose to go to the Imperial College of London University and study chemical engineering. This was in September 1944 at the height of the V-1 and V-2 bombings, so it says a lot about my judgment skills. The Germans were still bombing at night but had been slowed down significantly by the Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain. They were however sending jet propelled planes which were really bombs with wings. When they ran out of fuel, they crashed into the ground and exploded wherever they were. These were the V-1s. Soon after that, they were sending V-2s which were nothing but a large rocket with an explosive warhead. These went faster than sound so you never heard them coming, unlike the V-1s which had a terrible jet engine noise.

I started at Imperial College in September 1944. The chemical engineering classes were mostly in the engineering school, the City and Guilds of London College, but some classes were in the Chem. Eng. Building across the road from the Albert Hall. City and Guilds, together with the Royal School of Mines and the Royal College of Science, formed the Imperial College of Science and Technology. Today, the college has been merged with St. Mary’s Hospital and recently they dropped out from the University of London and became an independent university. The college is world renowned and has many Nobel laureates.

To follow further, continue reading my Memories series.

6 thoughts on “My Early Years

  1. I was a young whippersnapper of 9 years old at your wedding 1951 and still remember it. I can’t recall all of it, but there was something about an Aunt Alice and Dubonnet! Wish I could remember the story… it was probably family gossip!


  2. I meant “good”! No place to edit…..I use a soft-touch Apple keyboard at home and a hard-touch Dell when I work so sometimes I don’t hit the letters hard enough on the Apple keyboard!


  3. I too was at your wedding. We had been in the army together. You were the only person I knew who owned a car, and we had a good day out in Clacton with our wives Doris and Mary. Many years later when you were in America we had half a dozen excellent holidays with you in different places all over America, and in Canada. In return we hosted you for some good times here in the U.K.
    I will follow your blog with


  4. Fantastic Ken! Your blog interesting and fun to read. Can’t wait for more including your upcoming book. Keep up the good work.


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