Ivor's Insights Part 24


Part Twenty Four

   The year of 1951 also saw the Peak District being designated as Britain ’s first National Park. This was followed in the same year by the Lake District and Snowdon receiving National Park status. The man who bought Radar – Radio, Detection and Ranging - to the world, Sir Robert Watson-Watt was, quite rightly, awarded fifty thousand pounds in 1951 by a grateful Government. The whole world owes a massive debt to this Scotsman born 1892 in Brechin and died 1973 in Inverness .

   This was also the year when the Government abolished Identity Cards which for security reason had been introduced at the outbreak of the war in 1939. Cheese rationing was cut to one ounce per person per week but Tea rationing ended much to the delight of the whole nation. On July 5th Central London ’s last tram made its final journey from Woolwich to New Cross. I remember when as a small boy, being taken by my parents, on the trams when visiting my Mothers sister and family in Peckham.  Tram riding was a big novelty for me and my brothers on this noisy but reliable mode of transport.

    A shock came when the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Hugh Gaitskill, announced there would be a Prescription charge for Dentures and Spectacles. This charge, which was in contradiction of the National Health pledge of free medical treatment, was said to be due to the financial demands relevant at the time. This surprise act upset Aneurin Bevan, the man who introduced the National Health Service in 1948, so much that he resigned his post as Minister of Labour in protest.

   Meanwhile in London’s West End Agatha Christie’s play ‘The Mousetrap’ starring  husband and wife team Richard Attenborough (later Lord Attenborough – 1923-2014) and Sheila Sim (1922-2016) opened at the Ambassadors theatre on November 25th1951  It switched to St. Martin’s theatre in 1974. Now, in 2017 over 66 years later, it is still running at St. Martins London, obviously not with the same actors and certainly not with the same cheese!

   The next year, 1952 started with a shock when on February 6th King George VI died peacefully in his sleep. Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip quickly returned from their holiday in Kenya . The much loved King, who reluctantly became King when his brother King Edward VIII abdicated in 1936, was King throughout the Second World War, died from lung cancer aged 56 lay in state in Westminster Hall where thousands of the general public paid their respects. He was buried on February 15th in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle .

   On March 28th 1952 the RAF decided the country could manage without me and I was duly released from my two years National Service and returned to Civvy Street . 

My parents were delighted and somewhat proud of the fact that all of their five children had served the country in the armed forces. My father had of course served in the Army throughout the First World War and somehow survived the horrors of the Western front.  My eldest brother Bert was next,  serving with the Eighth Army at El Alamein in the Middle East in World War Two, my Sister Lily joined the ATS and helped defend London by assisting on the Ack Ack guns, also throughout WW2, my next brother Bernard, who as a member of the Parachute Regiment was sent to Palestine during the troubles there in 1947, my brother David, who despite hating most of his time in the Army, at least did his National Service duty and lastly it was my turn to leave mother and home to complete the circle. Lily, David and I were lucky in so much as at least we didn’t get sent overseas to a war zone although I was extremely lucky not to be sent to Korea .  I remember my Dad saying no one could say our family hadn’t done their bit.

It was a bitter sweet moment when I was demobbed and had to leave all my friends at Northwood. You meet so many different characters and personalities, men and women from all sorts of backgrounds, with different standards and opinions, some not compatible with yours but others completely in harmony with your views. Of course this then makes it all the harder to say goodbye but there are many who you never really forget.  

    After a brief time at home I returned to my old job, shoe repairing at the Express Shoe Repairs shop in Greenford.  I found it difficult to settle back to this life again. My experience was nothing compared to thousands, even millions of those who had been away fighting overseas, many coming home traumatized with injuries, physical and mental, from their experiences whether on battlefields or as prisoners of war. The hardships and agonies they and their families endured trying to readjust to their earlier lifestyle, had become something foreign and never to be quite the same again. It certainly made me realise how lucky I was.  After a few weeks at the shop I spoke to my boss and told him how I felt. He said he fully understood my feelings and wouldn’t try to dissuade me if I wanted to leave. He wished me luck for the future and I left the world of cobbling behind, although I must say my ability to repair shoes was useful in my early days of marriage when money was a bit tight.

   The latter part of 1952 bought a series of disasters in Britain .  In August the people of Devon suffered when heavy rain broke the banks of East and West Lyn rivers. The flood water hit the resort of Lynmouth killing 36 people and forcing many others to leave their homes. The next month another tragedy struck when 28 spectators died when a prototype jet plane crashed at the Farnborough Air Show. As if that wasn’t enough the agony continued in October when 102 people died as a Perth to London express and a northbound train from Euston crashed into a stationary commuter train at Harrow and Wealdstone station. Finally in December we were subjected to dense fog which enveloped London . This ‘smog’ as it was called only lasted a few days but it was estimated that its noxious poisonous fumes indirectly killed around 4000 people, particularly the elderly.


---End of Part Twenty Four —

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