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My final trip was on an ex German prize of a warship delivering Ford vans from Dagenham to Copenhagen. At the end of this trip when the time came for me to ‘sign off’ I did so without any regrets as I hadn’t formed any real attachment to the ship. Now officially ‘paid off’ I decided that the old adage usually applied to Merchant Seamen of ‘having no friends, no family, no money and being wanted by the police’ no longer applied to me, so I left the Merchant Navy and went home.
Needing time to adjust to civilian life I got myself a mundane job as a machine setter in a box factory, but now my old nemesis stepped in. My eldest sister, Mabel, a girl of 21 years, had died of consumption in 1935 and just a few months before her death I was found to have a cavity on one of my lungs caused by this deadly disease. I’d been admitted into the local hospital for consumptives (on Groby Road) and ordered ‘absolute bed.’ for three months. I was one of the few lucky ones to get over the ‘the scourge of the white death’. It was while I was in the hospital King George V and Queen Mary celebrated their Silver Jubilee and I, along with my cubicle mate, Frankie Jordan, being children, were awarded the Silver Jubilee medal. I lost mine but years later managed to replace it through a coin and medal dealer. It was because this nemesis cast a shadow over my life I made the decision that until a cure was found for this killer disease, I would not form any close relationship with any female. No way would I marry, fall ill and pass this disease onto my partner or children. It was a promise I kept.
Suddenly, for me as well as for thousands of other boys and girls in 1938, scholarship time arrived. For weeks we’d gone around with the shadow of the ‘Scholarship’ hanging over us, although we continued to do our schoolwork as usual. No extra work was given out and neither did we have hints dropped that we were expected to do better than other schools!
The very high scoring children were scored as 1st class scholarship. These children went to the Grammar Schools.
2ndclass went to the Intermediate Schools which were below Grammar Schools in what was expected from the children performance wise.
Other children who sat and didn’t pass 1st or 2nd, went to the standard Senior Schools BUT LET’S BE CLEAR ABOUT ONE THING, these children were NOT classed as failures, and continued movement between schools was normal for it was realised some children never showed academic aptitude during formal testing.
Merchant Navy First Trip aged 16 years (circa 1943/44)44)
My mind was anywhere but in that pool office when I pushed my discharge book, still with virginal clean pages, through the grill and waited for the usual ‘nothing today, come back tomorrow.’ Instead I got,
‘I’ve a ‘deep sea’ signing on this afternoon. Do you want it Galley Boy?’
Did I want it? Too bloody right I wanted it! Deep Sea? Yes, definitely! No pissing around on crappy little coasters for me, sailing up and down the east coast, take your own victuals! I wanted ‘foreign!’ The North Atlantic, the convoys, and by golly if they signed me on then that’s what I’d get! That afternoon, for the first time, I went upstairs in the direction as pointed by that ‘Engine’ sign and into a large room with a lot of people lined up. Among them were several very Arab looking men, some of whom had cloths around their neck with one end in the corner of their mouths, but more about them later. Words were spoken by a very Naval looking uniformed man.
I was regularly being called out to firms and factories all over the East Midlands. Some I enjoyed going out to but others I dreaded. First among the latter was a Mental Hospital in Northampton.
The building was a late Victorian place set in its own grounds. My visits went like this: The call would come into the office and what was usually said was,
‘The printing machine is only inking down one side!’
Until I cracked the problem I’d be frankly puzzled, for this type of breakdown was being reported even though I’d reset the inking rollers just a few days before.
Every door and gate had to be unlocked and locked in this place. I’d walk down the lane to the prefabricated reception block and knock on the door then out would pop one of the supervising male nurses who would smile and say something like,