Looking back over my boyhood into puberty and beyond I am surprised how mixed up it was. I was a virgin until I was back from France in 1940 living in a private billet in Leeds.
My first love was a girl who lived not far away in Byron Street. Joan Beech. She was soon replaced by Hilda Fearn the young girl who the “Post Office Fearns” adopted. I got to know her through my sister who was about her age. My sister and I were asked to go for Sunday tea at the Fearns who lived at the back of the post office.
I never got much chance to be near Hilda because she and my sister were playing together whilst I seemed to spend more interest in the huge three manual Manchester University reed organ that took up much their middle living room, Sydney playing it from sheet music with me perched gingerly on the seat bench over the splendid foot pedals not daring to let my feet touch any of them. I had to turn the page when he nodded, for I didn’t read music at the age of ten and never did.
Joan Beech and I had played together in the uncut grass and weeds on our back garden screened by a large shed from the prying eyes of a knowing neighbour who reported on every one in Blenheim Villas where we lived. Joan gave up on me, as I must have pressed her too far. Hilda did not wish to take her place in the weeds and the grass perhaps it was too near her home and Mrs nosy neighbour. We did meet in the Hippodrome cinema for by this time Sydney Fearn who had lost his garage had a fixed contract to move and play nightly the electrically amplified University Organ at great cost removing and re-fixing doors at the post office to the orchestra pit of the draughty Hippodrome cinema.
Being friendly with Barbara Vaughan who was able to get into the cinema with complimentary tickets from her dad who had the big pub “The Lounge” nearby. I used to sit between Hilda and Barbara with our coats over our knees to keep out the draughty wind. Barbara was more playful than Hilda and I made my way with her sufficient to be asked to tea in the large living room at the pub.
To get away, for we were strictly forbidden to go into the bars or the public rooms, we crept upstairs and got out on to the extensive run of roofs for the pub fronted on to the main Nottingham Road and extended down at the back to Dame Flogan Street, which to us was acres of space to hide ourselves away and play in secret. Barbara taught me to kiss yet knew enough about looking after herself where boys were concerned not to let me go too far.
When my elder sister was married her husband was able to buy a large double fronted bay window house with money left by his mother who had passed away two years previously. I often used to go there on a Friday night and stay over in a spare bedroom, I could then go to the council golf course with my brother -in-law and enjoy learning on a three quarter sized course. The house next door became empty and a lady doctor moved in. She had a twelve-year-old daughter. Diana. She was the loveliest girl I had ever seen.
I fell in love, real love, deep down love with Diana at first sight. I went to sleep that night in ecstasy and next day hung around the gravel area in front of the double garage of John’s house and Dr. Ogilvie’s house waiting for Diana to appear. I even passed up going for a round at the local golf course. A week went by until I had the chance of seeing Diana again. I was strangely disappointed she was not the same. She had changed into a boy who greeted me with a “Hi”. She was exactly the same person but had had her beautiful hair of dark black curls cut like a boy’s haircut. She had not previously spoken to me nor I to her; we had just smiled and grinned at each other. But I was in love with her still. Even as a boy she was wonderful. I was too stunned to reply at which time she had skipped away up to the shops. I was too stunned to reply to the “Hi”.
Going in to my sister’ kitchen I complained about the girl next door – changing sex. At which my sister put me straight. “Oh so you have met the twins – have you?” I said nothing I was too put down at not having guessed. Twins. They were identical except one had a boy’s haircut. Gosh I was in love with both of them. I was a very mixed up kid for a couple of days. Several weeks later on the Saturday morning I was staying at the Southwell Road house David Ogilvie came round to play and we went to the golf course for a game. We became fast friends and I think I was in love with him when I looked at him as his sister. I never did get sorted out between Diana and David. I loved both of them but I saw more of David. Winter came and they left the area; new people moved in next door. It solved my problem, I think.
By the time I was thirteen I had moved on from holding hands and at my brothers wedding to a farmers’ daughter at Wellow near Ollerton in Sherwood. I made off in the later afternoon with a young bridesmaid a buxom maid of my own age – a friend of my younger sister who was the other bridesmaid. Both tipsy on wine we made a kind of love in the orchard grass, she fearful of her taffeta dress; me mindful of being discovered made fumbling advances rolling over each other not really knowing how to approach the act, until I exhausted and spent called it a day, kissing, and strolling away toward the farm house.
Another of my sweetheart crushes was with Joan Marshall, another Joan, daughter of the local manager of the bus and ‘tram’ company. They lived in a distinguished house on the brow of West Hill Drive opposite the General Hospital. We went steady for a few weeks and I thought I had made a conquest; at least we were in the close petting stage. Then I had a cyst near my eye and was referred to the hospital to have it lanced and removed. With a letter from the family doctor I rode up to the hospital on my bike and bravely presented my self.
A nursing sister took charge of me and after half an hour showed me to a small operating theatre telling me to lie on an operating table covered in a rubber sheet. Someone put me out for the count so the surgeon/doctor could cut away. I awoke feeling sticky and wet.
My trousers were wet through with the urine I had lost. No one had told me what would happen. I was mortified. A smiling nurse told me: “that’s all right son it nearly always happens”. The cut was patched up and I was sent home wheeling my bicycle in sopping wet trousers, head down almost in tears of anguish. Who should yell a greeting to me but Joan Marshall. I leapt on my bike and pedalled away never to speak to her again.
Mary Bull’s father owned the large bicycle and musical instrument shop in the West Gate. She went to the same school as I did but she was a year or so older than I and of course in the girls section of the school a million miles away. She sported a really super Raleigh ladies cycle. I had a sturdy three-speed Hercules boy’s bike. We often cycled together up the Nottingham Road – I think she had a big sisterly “thing” for me. One day in my fourteenth year she suggested we play hooky and ride past the school and on to Newstead Abbey. To me it was a great challenge. It had never entered my head to skip school. Coming from a girl I dare not say “no”.
One escapade which I almost forgot, as it was a lost cause and a perhaps a lost opportunity to show what I could do. Cyril Columbine and I were good in the Art Class. We were favourites with Edgar Shaw the art master. I was very conservative in my approach to drawing and colouring. Cyril had a much more radical approach. He drew “stick” men after the fashion of Lowry which perhaps he had seen a copy or an original of Lowry. I had not, but Shaw thought Columbine was going places and I was mildly jealous of his apparent success.We pedalled sedately past the two entrances and up the hill away to the gates of Newstead Abbey. I had a sixpence and two pennies in my pocket. She must have had more. For she bought a bar of chocolate and two buns at the abbey kiosk and I bought a small bottle of lemonade for there was a deposit of two pence on the bottle return. We cycled away to the back of the lake and ate the buns and swigged the lemonade. Mary was a well-built girl and I was a little in awe of her. When she unbuttoned my flies I didn’t resist but rose to the occasion. She then started to make love to my willy, caressing it and even kissing it. In time I exploded not being able to hold myself in any longer. Her remark “That was quick,” sounded like a mark of disapproval and regret that the show was over too quickly. I started to ride to school by a different route joining Nottingham road at the last stage I could. When we met in later years she was always pleasant but very proper with me.
Cyril was a sexy devil always ready with lewd jokes and his hands in his trouser pockets. One day he said to three of us he had a treat in store for us but it would cost. We must be able to cough up at least five bob each. We would meet at the junction of Skerry Hill and Newgate Lane and he would take over from there, but we had to bring the money with us.
The girl was a tart. A mill girl who put it about and liked young virgins so made only a five bob charge for the privilege. We duly assembled and trouped up a side road to a terrace house. Cyril knocked at the door of the house went in and came out smiling and sent in big Joe Starkey a fifteen year old. Bill Grant, Cyril and myself stood outside excited at the prospect of a real “go” whilst Cyril explained that it was possible because the mother was away and the dad was awol – gone walk about. The door opened and out came Starkey talking loudly happy as a sand boy.
As Bill Grant started to enter the door the door of the next house opened and a six-foot miner yelled: “What do you young buggers think you’re up to? I’m not having a knocking shop next to me! Clear off or I’ll have the law on you!” Cyril retorted, “We are here to see my cousin Connie.” “Cousin my arse”, said the fiery sixteen stone miner. “Why are you going in one by one? Eh? I told you to bugger off or I have your hides. And I’ll have the law on her the bloody little tart. Now are you going or not?”
Around this time Sydney Fearn married Hetty Davis the lady who was in charge of the pay box at the Hippodrome Cinema. She was in fact a year or two older than him. I had met her when I went to Sunday tea at the post office. She knew me from my regular weekly visits to the cinema over the years. I liked her she was nice. She was also Mrs Fearn’s choice for her son. They were married for only a year or so when they separated. It was rumoured the marriage was not fully consummated or so I heard my Mother telling my elder sister.
By this time I was running around with the crowd from the Art Centre though from time to time I saw Sydney for he had left the Hippodrome and been given the post of house manager at the new magnificent 1,600 seater Plaza Cinema in the middle of West Gate, owned by Bert Oaksford.
I also grew jealous – a condition I thought I should be unworthy of. Sydney had for a long time had contact with the Boneham family. The Bonehams were partners in the Whiteley Boneham factory that had taken over a cotton mill converted to manufacture “WB” speakers. Sydney had used such speakers in the amplification of the University Organ and helped them with some of their research. This I knew but I was not prepared to see young Peter Boneham riding around in the passenger seat of the Morris ISIS sports car – the only one in town. That was my seat. And I now understood why I had not been invited to tea for several weeks, or so I thought. The next Friday night walking back home when Sydney had finally seen the cinema locked up, I must have made myself plain for he was offering me the home cinema which he/we had constructed in the attic above the post office and with which we had in the past we spent many happy and innocent hours.
I must have stammered that I must ask my parents before accepting, but I knew in my heart they would allow me to have it. It did not work out like that. We had no room at home; our attic was still one quarter full of advertising junk left over from an exhibition in Birmingham for the original “Hillco Car Polish”. That went defunct when Father refused the £600 for the formula by the Reckitts company who then manufactured their own and better product.
So the miniature cinema was erected in my brother-in-law’s spare front room. Because of snide remarks from Sydney’s Mother, my brother-in-law and I decided to build a better and more modern proscenium and altogether make it “posh”. This took up much of a year and by this time Sydney was courting a very pretty usherette also named Hetty but much younger – exactly my age.
Whenever we met which by now was seldom I liked her and even fancied her. After the home cinema phase which took in several months running a “kids kinema” in an unused music room at the back of the Black Horse pub in a village nearby. This was closed down on the friendly advice of the Police because we had no licence, because fire regulations were non-existent and many other causes, we closed down after twelve weeks. We had some fun and a lot of experience.
I was about seventeen when Bert Oaksford was sent to jail for six months for wrongly showing the main feature film at each of his cinemas without the agreement of the rental agent. Granada chief Sydney Bernstein bought him out. Bert’s brother in law, Walter Rowland who did all the publicity for cinemas around the county and for who I was now working as a poster artist had a row with the young brash Max Bernstein. I was there when he told him in no uncertain terms where he could stick his posters and decided to pull out and buy a small boarding house in Teignmouth, Devon. He continued a small business there.
All this kept me very busy and I had little time for romance. I did meet up with Lilly Noble the daughter of the guardian of the local Barclays Bank. They lived above it in a rather large but dilapidated flat I used to take her on the pillion of my motorbike to various dances at the local village halls. This carried on for some time and I often ended up in the flat on a Saturday night with her father saying at eleven o’clock “Hold on I fancy a bit o’ fish.” He would pop downstairs to one of the several fish stalls late in closing down and buy or I suspect was given some cod or such fish as the market man had been about to throw away. His wife would then cook it, sometimes under protest, for at those times it was more than a bit “off”. Packed with fish and hot tea I would then make my farewell. Lilly’s father would say to Lilly “see him off downstairs and remember to lock the door”.
We would stay in the dark making love in our own restricted pre- war fashion until we had satisfied both our needs or so I liked to think. She would see me out lock and bolt the door and I would wend my way home ten minutes away usually passing a “Goo-night” with the local bobby.
I spent a couple of months down in Teignmouth staying with the Rowlands in their rather posh house where they took in paying guests – it was not a boarding house as such it was named Cumberland House, Cumberland Place. Walter Rowland acted like a second father to me and wished me to stay on but I missed my friends in Mansfield. He was so kind to me he gave me the name of Illustra Signs and any business I could muster from the wreck of the old firm.
I had no place to work from his old premises being beyond my purse. So I teamed up with a printer in Mansfield Woodhouse keeping the Illustra name but working for a wage for work done on posters. At that time work was scarce and ill paid yet I managed to build up a business which could afford to pay me a wage of three pounds a week at 17/18 years old with a tiny profit for Thomas and Sons the printers. It was my intention to get my own place – branch out making “Illustra signs”. But the war came before I could get that far.
I did employ an apprentice – Laurence Brindley and through his family and brother, who married my little sister later in the war years, I met many young fillies in Edwinstowe at the village hall dances. The necking and petting that went on seemed to fulfil my immediate desires and I was in a happy state until I signed up for the Royal Engineers in the second week of October 1939.
Over in France in mid February 1940 I found my self billeted in a small estaminet, the local pub in a tiny village called Anglure in the Haut-Marne. I soon moved out of there as the Staff Sergeant with whom I shared a room had strange night time ideas that I did not like. The D. C. R. E Captain for whom I directly worked found me lodgings in the main street a few door away from the large house where he was billeted.
The Rousoux were a delightful family they had a small two bed roomed villa. The young son of fifteen or so years moved out of his room and slept on a wide landing behind a screen.
He doted on me, having an English soldier in the house was a huge boast for him. My A. J. S. motorbike used to be parked outside only three doors away from the Captain’s Austin car. There were no arrangements for bathing. Jean-Paul suggested we go on the motorbike to the next town where there was a public bathhouse. He was aching to get a ride on the bike and this was legitimate as far as I was concerned. We duly arrived at the bathhouse, Jean-Paul taking the lead and arranging with the old dame who was in charge of the place for us to share a bath cubicle. He said it would be cheaper. She was having none of it and showed us into two separate bath cubicles. He seemed most disappointed.
Not to be outdone, a few nights later after I came in slightly happy having had a few beers with the other corporal I put myself to bed. About one o’clock he climbed into my bed/his bed and put a finger on my lips and whispered “Mama- Papa”. I froze. Jean-Paul was not a pretty child and the finger he placed on my lips stank of tobacco. I just kept quiet as he requested. Thoughts of courts marshal – glasshouses – losing rank swam through my mind. What to do? Then I realised he was in a state of tumescence and I held tight his wandering hands; he was trying to get me in the same state. I had to pacify him and get him quietly back to his make shift bed without offending him. I grabbed him tight and whispered “Mon cheri la, excuse, j’ai fatigue, la nuit ne pas possible. Peut-être demain soir.” I kissed him on the forehead and hoped he would go. My holding him in a tight grip and bussing him on the head must have given him some hope. He made one more attempt but I whispered, “La, demain soir”. We lay together for about two minutes when he muttered, “OK, demain soir” and he crept away in the dark.
The result of this encounter was that he really wished to redeem himself and made great efforts to fix me up with a local girl. I did not demur. I met several lasses he dreamed up but nothing transpired. They were kissable but there was no place to practice in such a small village.
I had a pleasant and interesting time from February until 16th June more than a month after Dunkirk. We got out through Nantes and left on the ill fated Lancastria with a loss of more than 3,300 lives all drowned.