My brother is ten years my senior so he was more like an uncle, in my school years than a brother, he had completed an apprentice, done his National Service, and married, whilst I was still wet behind the ears. In our latter years, that time difference shrunk, and I found my brother. And since both of us are retired and have no encumbrances we meet up more and more for a drink and a blether. I love it when my brother can fill in the holes in our family’s history, with his anecdotes, and my visit down to Formby to see him last week was no exception.
Our dad was very much in the Victorian mould, he lived in a much more disciplined age, even compared with my mother, 10 years his junior. Dad joined the Royal Navy as a lad of 16, towards the end of the First World War, then after three in the colours (and three in reserve), he enlisted in the Merchant Navy. They say you can take a man out of the services but not the services out of the man and this was true of dad. Dad always found life at home with a growing family alien; he was never comfortable in that scenario, he was much like the cow in a field that sees the green grass on the other side of the fence, filled with frustration that he can not go there.
So to our tale
We are now in the Second World War, and dads ship is in dry-dock for repair, he has been given eight weeks’ leave of absence. Home he went to his wife and three bairns. However dad could not settle even for eight weeks and one day he came in and announced he had joined the Home Guard, mother was not amused.
One dark night he was on sentry duties down at Methil Dock, there was dad in tunic, kilt and a gun marching back and forth, up and down the dock.
Click, click, click – a woman coming towards him.
“Halt, who goes there?” he called out
Click, click, click – a woman, still coming on
“Halt, who goes there?” dad calls out, this time even louder
Click, click, click – almost upon him now
“Halt or I will fire!” he threatens in his best authoritarian voice
“Jimmy its me you daft old fool, you don’t even have bullets in the gun” it was mum, she had walked all the way from East Wemyss to Methil Dock to tell him to give up his silliness and come back to the house and his own bed.
The next day the CO called dad into his office telling him that it had come to his attention that he was on leave from the Merchant Navy. Although he appreciated his enthusiasm and dedication, maybe it would be best if he were to return to his wife and family.
What, the CO omitted to tell dad was that the information received had come from his wife and she had made it very clear to him that if her husband was not home and out of uniform by tea time, this would not be the last he would hear of this.
Having spent many a camping holiday with dad in the early 1950s I did know that he had joined the Home Guard – but since I also knew he was in the Merchant Navy at the time was never sure how it all fitted together.
Sitting around the campfire dad would spin a yarn about his life, I was all ears. He told me about an incident when he was in the Home Guard.
“A group of us lads had gone out to the local pub, and on our way back to barracks, just outside Anstruther, they came across the camp’s CO, he was rather inebriated and had apparently fallen from his bicycle and was now asleep in the ditch. Not wishing to disturb him from his rest, we gathered handfuls of mud, lifted his kilt and slapped it on his arse.”
Amusement spread across dads face as he re-lived that time and the telling of the story.