Monday 21 December 2020

Coronavirus diary, Monday 21 December

Today is the shortest day of the year, the darkest of the winter. December 21, 1942 was one of the darkest, saddest days of my life.

It was wartime and we were facing a stark Christmas. The war news was grim, there was rationing and shortages. 

It was the day my father, Frank died.

Bob with his father Frank, Margate, around 1938

At sixteen I had just started work as the Penarth Times reporter and was in Penarth police court when called home. My father was seriously ill. I knew before I got there that he had died. It was from a heart attack. He was 52.

Like this year, it was an unusual Christmas with families separated, celebrations muted. I remember very little of those few days, and have no recollection of Dad’s funeral. 

I did go out one evening, to join our church’s young people’s group carol singing. Mum thought it would do me good to get out of the house for an hour.

Looking back, the saddest part was that I had so little time to get to know Dad. 

Bob with his father, mother and older brother, August 1939

Two days before war was declared our family separated, never to be all together again. I went to Cardiff to live with an aunt, Dorothy moved with her school out of London and Bert left for the RAF.

I have too few memories of Dad. He was away from home long hours, working as a crane driver at a Thames side wharf in Wandsworth - a dangerous place - not arriving home until the evening.

One of my happiest memories is of sitting on his lap for a cuddle, and saying ‘Don’t whisker me, Dad!’ when he gave me a kiss. 

The signed bat

He was a quiet, gentle man. We never heard him shout. And he found time to be interested in me, watching me play football and cricket - he bought me a bat autographed by the England and New Zealand test teams in 1937 or 1938, seen above.

Frank in the Great War

He served in the first world war in the Dardanelles, but never mentioned it. His death changed our family life. Mum became seriously ill and Dorothy gave up her first job to look after her, later with her husband George, for over fifty years.

So I feel sad today, but proud of Dad.

I remember him every morning as I brush what little hair I have with his one hundred year old hairbrush with the F monogram.

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