A search for family photos turned up a little scrapbook of pictures of my dad’s family in the twenties and thirties. My dad featured heavily, being the youngest child with three sisters and an older brother.
I’ve seen the full size picture on display in both my auntie Margaret’s and Auntie Olwen’s house.
My dad had a life of promising full starts. He passed to go to the Grammar School in Rhyl, only for the Great Depression to intervene and prevent his dad, who was a parquet floor layer, being able to afford to buy the books and uniform. My dad had to get working and was at the start of a promising career as a store manager at George Masons, the International Grocer’s, when weeks before he was due to start the management course, a certain unpleasantness in Europe called for his attention and he was away to a Welsh Regiment of the Royal Artillery.
The family had originally lived in the courtyard in Greenfield Place, roughly where the Marks and Spencer store was built on the High Street. Ironically, my Auntie Margaret, mentioned elsewhere on the blog spent all her working life of forty years working in the Rhyl Store of Marks and Spencer!
The family had moved to the last house on the left hand side of King’s Avenue, no 24 and the picture shows my dad home on leave, pictured with his mum outside the house. Until he joined the army, my dad used to climb the wall from the entry behind Kinmel Street to get in the house, later a gate was installed in the adjoining street which allowed easier access through Oxford Grove.
His mum was already quite frail in this picture taken in 1940. As she got more frail, the doctor suggested that the family club together to buy her bread and milk, as they could not afford the required palliative medicine. It was experiences like this that made my dad a great supporter of the NHS system. He thought that if him and the lads from Rhyl were good enough to be fighting and dying for their country, it shouldn’t be down to wealth as to whether you got medical treatment.
My dad served in a Heavy Anti Aircraft Artillery Regiment, manning the 3.7in anti aircraft guns. His role was as the predictor. This involved doing calculations with rudimentary computing instrument to determine the height and direction of the enemy aircraft and then setting the fuses of the shells to the correct setting. He always was good with maths, and he was promoted to lance and then full bombardier.
During the war he saw service defending Liverpool from the Luftwaffe. He told me of the night when a Junkers 88 was shot down in the marshes of the Dee and having been involved in the barrage they were detailed to go and collect any downed airmen. They arrived at the aircraft just before a crowd of locals who were intent on lynching any surviving members of the crew. He said one was an officer and full of himself, another was a flight sergeant, who was terrified and crying and the rest of the crew were dead. Apparently they had to fix bayonets, more to protect the prisoners than to escort them as tempers were running so high!
He went over to the continent a week after D-day and headed north through Belgium and then to shell the Germans defending Walcheren Island, which were preventing the Allies sending supplies up to the port of Antwerp. They kept up random shelling every 24 hours to ensure that the Germans on the island were worn down without sleep and with diminishing supplies. He ended the war guarding what remained of the German High Seas fleet at Wilhelmshaven. He was billeted at one pint on the Prinz Eugen, which he remembered as a rat infested hulk. Prinz Eugen was later given to the Americans and was expended in the nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific.
In the sixties there were a couple of years when our family seemingly ‘ never had it so good’ and we holidayed in 1967 in Ostend in Belgium. We took coach tours most days, including ones to Ghent, Bruges and Brussels. My dad was obsessed with finding a town square where he had been billeted… a faint hope in towns marked by myriad town squares, all of which looked like the next, still I enjoyed hunting with him as he was more forthcoming about his wartime exploits.
Looking at the photograph, I think there was a competition in the services to see which regiment could wear their forage cap as the jauntiest angle!
I would have recognised my dad, as he did not change in facial features in all the time I knew him!