And then there was Arthur William Dewing.
On the last day of Europe’s six year war, or Victory in Europe Day, VE-Day, May 8th 1945, I met a 17 year old girl from the BBC at a VE-Day dance. I was 18 and in my fresh-man year studying Chemical Engineering at London’s Imperial College. Her name was Doris Dewing and we went together for about a year and broke up about February 1946. During this time, Doris invited me to her home and I met Mr. and Mrs. Dewing for the first time. Mrs. Dewing cooked meals for me and when I first met Mr. Dewing, he was hunched up in the corner of the room, right next to the radio listening to the race-track results. He alternated between a happy “Yeah” and some long “Sh” word that he never finished. Later, I began to learn all about him. He was a Master-Baker for the giant food and restaurant company, Lyons. He supervised long multi-product moving ovens built by Baker Perkins of Peterborough. Baker Perkins was a large company about five miles from our village. My mother worked there in WWI and my father worked there for a short time in WWII. I did Summer work there in 1946. It interested me that I had made components for bakery lines when I did a stint in the foundry and I visualized some of the parts I made being in Mr. Dewing’s ovens.
I learned that Mr. Dewing had been drafted early when WWI started in 1914 when he was aged 32. He very soon shipped off to Egypt with the Egypt Expeditionary Force where that was guarding the Suez Canal against attacks by the Germans, Italians, Turks and Senussii Arabs. His regiment eventually fought its way north as far as Palestine through some very fierce battles. They had started building a canal-side rail-road that was finished much later. As far as I can tell, Arthur was in the army for the full four years, leaving in 1918, having learned a bit about the army mobile ovens and kitchens. This is what led him to Lyons when he came home. Mr. Dewing was an iconic example of the British working man, satisfied with a pipe now and again and a pint at the local pub when he felt like it. We have a great picture of he and his wife, Ellen, fully clothed, walking on a cold Brighton Beach, he with his ever-present bowler hat. He knew his daughter was dating “some college kid” so when we broke up it was of little interest.
In June I found that I was not in the top 10% of my class and that meant that I lost my deferment from the military draft. I went home to my village of Ailsworth in Cambridgeshire and started a nervous vacation, waiting for draft papers to be delivered. They arrived about the end of July, instructing me to present myself at Tidworth Barracks in Wiltshire on September 1st. This meant taking trains to London and from London to Tidworth so I planned to stay for two days in London, staying with my old land-lady, Mrs. Webb and her husband Archie. As soon as I got there, I called Doris to invite her to dinner. Her first comment was, “we’re not starting that again.” I persevered and we had a cordial dinner. I pointed out that it was her duty to write to and date a poor soldier going off to serve the King. I did well in the army, getting chosen for officer cadet status and a few months later, being promoted to second Lieutenant. I was proud of my dress uniform and enjoyed taking Doris on dates with me in full regalia. I was ordered to the Garrison of Gibraltar and Doris and I agreed to write. This phase lasted almost a year and I finally came home for my demobilization. Unknown to me, Doris had also been writing to another boy-friend in the army and as a real tester, we were both coming back to London on the same week-end. (I only have Doris’ version of how she handled it.) Doris’ father died in 1948 while I was away and I felt bad that he was hardly mentioned when I returned and life continued as though nothing had changed. This appeared to me analogous to what happened in 1918 when he came back to England after serving his King and country for four hard years. It made me think of Doris’ father, fighting for his life as a private in the trenches, donating four years of his life and, on his return to England, getting no reward, praise or recognition other than two medals that few people have seen. It made me feel sorry for him but it increased my respect for the life and service of Arthur William Dewing.