Memory Three

In September 1946, I returned to London to start my second year of Chemical Engineering at Imperial College. Back to my landlady, Mrs. Webb and my new girlfriend, Doris who I just met on V-E Day, May 8th, 1945.

Doris was a secretary to a lady executive at the Overseas Department of the BBC. This department had, throughout the war, been broadcasting to the occupied countries of Europe. We could hear these on the BBC channel in England. They started with the first four notes of Bethoven’s 5th Symphony, the dot-dot-dot-dash of the Morse code for “V” for victory. Then we would hear, “Ici Londres” followed by the usual message, “First, please listen to these personal messages.”

These were for the underground forces in France, Belgium, and Holland. They were always out of context and often quite funny; e.g. “Our aunt has a new mustache.” The now-famous message telling the underground that D-Day would be in 24 hours came from a French poem, “The Song of Autumn” and translated as “the sobs of the violins of autumn wound my heart with monotonous languor.” Many of the messages were totally meaningless and were sent to confuse the Nazis and waste their time trying to decode them.

College in peacetime London was much more interesting and fun. Doris and I went to movies and the theater quite a lot. We got hooked on ballet and went often to Sadlers Wells and Covent Garden. Students could queue up for cheap tickets in “the gods” up near the ceiling and the spotlights. When the war ended, many foreign companies came to London and one such was the Ballet Russe that revived Petrouscha with Danilova and other famous dancers.

Doris and I were together almost every weekend for close to a year. I started feeling I would like to meet more people and be freer at weekends. I also thought Doris was starting to get the same feeling, so we broke up on a friendly basis and, as it was time for our summer break, I went home to Ailsworth near Peterborough where I was born. I was able to re-meet girls I had known at junior school, and I went to the village dances with some of them.

From the age of fourteen, I had been cycling to the Peterborough-Milton Golf Club, four miles from my home, to earn money caddying. I became the favorite caddy for Dr. Hunt, a prominent Peterborough lawyer. He played at weekends but also practiced a lot on weekdays. He would hit balls for me to shag and sometimes when he was resting, he would let me hit some. He started coaching me and I soon became quite proficient, even though I had never played a golf hole.

Dr. Hunt was a good golfer and had played in the British Amateur. He was also a member of Luffenham Heath, another club in the county of Rutland. He could only play there when he had a court case nearby because we had petrol restrictions. You could get fined if you were at a club more than ten miles from your home. We also had two kinds of petrol. Farmers and emergency vehicles used red petrol and were free to travel further and non-eligible vehicles were in serious trouble if found with red gas.

In August, Dr. Hunt was planning to join two other families on a golf trip to Pitlochry in Scotland and he wanted me to go as his caddy. I had made this trip with him previously in August 1945 and I was happy to go again. We went by train because of the gas rationing. They played every day but we also did a lot of sightseeing. I stayed with them in the hotel, but in the dining room I sat at a table in the corner with two valets and a gillie which I learned is a caddy for the grouse and deer hunters.

One of the families had a son my age and we became good friends. We decided to cycle twenty miles and climb Mount Schiehallion, a 3,457 foot mountain geographically at the exact center of Scotland. It is separate from other peaks and is almost perfectly conical. Because of this, the Astronomer Royal in 1774 performed gravitational experiments there and used it to calculate the weight of the Earth. We took so long climbing it, we came down in the dark, cycled back to the hotel with no lights, and arrived at ten p.m. We found the hotel in an uproar and the police were organizing a search party. We were not popular and quickly went to bed.

On my previous trip to Pitlochry in1945 we were at the same hotel, and on the night of August 14th there was a racket at night and we all woke up to find a fat gentleman in his pajamas marching up and down the lawn playing bagpipes. He had heard that Victory in Japan had occurred and had decided it should be celebrated. We had dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima on August 6th and on Nagasaki on the 9th. The Japanese offered surrender terms on the 14th and they formally signed on September 2nd, which is when V-J Day is celebrated in the USA.

I have forgotten to mention that when I went home at the end of June 1946, I soon received my exam results together with a dire warning that if you were not in the top ten percent of your class you would lose your scholarship and your draft deferment. Unfortunately, I was in this category and it was confirmed in a few days by a formal letter saying I could not return to college. This was because all the men and women who had been fighting the war were being demobilized with a Further Education Training Award for a four year degree, equivalent to the GI Bill, and there was no room for them at the colleges unless they got rid of some of us schoolboy students.

In September, my draft papers came ordering me to go to a primary training camp in Tidworth, Wiltshire by October 1st ,1946. To get to Tidworth I had to go through London, so I stopped off to give Mrs.Webb the news, and I called Doris to see if she would have dinner with me. Her first comment was, “We are not starting that again.” I managed to persuade her and she agreed to write to me if I wrote first. This turned out to be a long and happy relationship, but that’s another memory for another day.

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