Wright Family Album

Basil's memories - Wokingham 1935-1941

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My time at Wokingham was a period of adventure and adjustment to adolescent years.

The Wokingham house and garden provided the right environment for the large family.

Basil and Hugh in the garden
As with our life at Shudy Camps and Bourton, Father was abroad for much of the time.   Gordon, Hugh and I helped with digging up a laurel hedge in the front; so the Mother could plant roses.  Then he went abroad, leaving the 5 younger children.  Mother again was our wise adviser and counsellor.  I recall Father's cure for the common cold was cod liver oil and orange juice.

In the pre-war years Mother worked on a very tight budget.  She did share with us that she was short of cash and was hard-put to find enough for the family needs. She had domestic help from different ladies. The later one, Mrs Butler, was very reliable. It was a happy family circle, amongst us in the middle age group. We worked hard and enjoyed the holidays in those pre-war days.

As the experience of middle class families, we had common aspirations - prospects of meaningful jobs later on, and were united in our outlook and general interests.

Doris was more aware of the grave threat, at the outbreak of war, to our nation, of the German offensive in Czechoslovakia and Poland. I recall how pleased she was when Winston Churchill became Prime-Minister.  Our minds were kept active, but our emotional lives were bridled.  Hugh and I shared a bedroom and we accepted this.  When we played a game of squash once, the atmosphere became tense, and we just stopped the game. With hindsight, I was losing, and therefore became jealous.

Heartiness in teenagers was not encouraged.

The Christmas parties were low key events: we played Murder! A game when one of the party was segregated, while the others went to different 'hide-outs' as the lights were turned out. One un-named person had been given the 'ticket' to do a murder. When he (or she) performed this (in a frivolous way) the victim screamed, the assailant ran off; and the lights were turned on. The member who took no part originally then came along and tried to find the culprit by amateur detective skills.

So in these ways our social stance was expressed, though restrained.

The dominant outcome was that the emotional side was sublimated by occupying our energies in other ways - sport, creative activities, the studies and general hobbies.  This was a safeguard of the post Victorian culture; which had a sobering and morally upright influence among young people.
Since the war and in subsequent years this has all changed.

In Church matters, we were regular attenders at All Saints Church.  The Vicar, Mr Kenworthy, was a pleasant man and respected by all. The curate during that time was Rev Gilbert Thurlow, who we invited to tea a few times. He later was promoted to a senior position in the Church; was Sub-Dean of Norwich, then Dean of Gloucester, and was an authority on Cathedral architecture.

At St Andrews (CMS) hostel, where I had lodgings, there was constant change of the guests, except for 2 or 3, who were also students.  Many missionary recruits who attended Language or other Educational Courses in London, stayed at St Andrews. This gave me a constant change of acquaintances which enlarged my outlook.

For spiritual sustenance I went to Christ Church, Crouch End, where Brian Green was Vicar. He later became a well known Evangelist and Pastor: a friend of Canon Max Warren.

At that time I became friendly with Isobel, a missionary student at Kennaway. She was some years older than me and was a true soul friend.  I found emotional stability and a widening of my personal outlook.  In the summer, 1936/37 Raymond Scantlebury arranged Youth Camps, first in Dorset, then in central Wales.  Isobel acted as Quarter Master.  Dick and I went to the one in Wales. The majority of those who went were from keen Youth groups in Southern England. They were times of real spiritual help and encouragement, and vital landmarks, as we prepared for our life work.

Isobel was an admirer of Miss Allshorn, the Principal of Kennaway. Later she joined the Community which Miss Allshorn started at Barnes Green. This grew into the Community Centre at St Julian’s near Horsham, where women missionaries were trained before and after overseas service. About the time Doris left St Michaels, to enter Kings College, London, I started my pre-medical training at St Thomas' Hospital.  In 1936 the family moved to a large house - 8, Crescent Rd. Wokingham.  The main reason was to be near Elizabeth, who sadly had contracted  Pulmonary Tuberculosis while nursing at Camberwell Hospital; and was a patient at Pinewood Sanatorium near Crowthorne. Mother visited her there and used to hear from a caring resident doctor about the illness. In 1936 Mother agreed for Elizabeth to be nursed at home but unfortunately the disease had not responded to the surgical treatment, and she died at home in that year, aged 23.

Gordon had joined up and was in the llth Hussars regiment, of which he was justly proud. After a year or so he went to Egypt and used to write home and tell of his adventures.

Philip had left Weymouth College in 1923. After a year's training, when he was 20, he went to India to join the Indian Police. In 1939 he married Yolande, whose home was in the Nilgiri Hills. He had a long leave in South Africa, because of the Second World War.  They came home for good with their family of 2 boys; Trevor and Nick, in 1946.

After Hugh left Weymouth in 1936, he went to teach at Dean Close School ,Cheltenham for about a year.  He then entered St Peters, College, Oxford to read History, but was there only for a short time when war broke out.  In late 1939 he joined the Army as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Green Howards - (a Yorkshire Regiment).

He was well aware of the perilous lot for young Army Officers, because they had to lead the troops into battle.  He went to Belgium with the BEF, who at that time were defending the Maginot Line.

When the German tanks and infantry rolled through the Allied defences in May 1940 the troops were forced to retreat.  Hugh, sadly, was on a forced march near Ypres, when he was killed by a German mortar shell.  When Mother, who was on her own at 8, Crescent Road, heard of his death, she was saddened and sent for Doris and myself.

In his last letter home, Hugh said that his Regiment had moved, and the future was "in the lap of the gods".

From 1937 to 1940 Doris and I were students in London.  I was at the C.M.S. Men’s Guest house, St Andrews. After I had become settled in a personal situation I used to go to Wokingham for week-ends, which I enjoyed: here was the stability of a secure and peaceful family life.

Sometimes at Christmas, we overflowed and Hugh and I billeted at a neighbour's house.  Nearly opposite lived a wonderful widow, with her son and daughter. Mrs Canning was crippled with rheumatoid arthritis and spent all her time in bed, and was looked after by her daughter. Whenever I went to call, she was always smiling and composed and greeted me cheerfully, although she was in pain. Her son Dick was in training to be a priest in a High Anglican Order.

In late 1939, early 1940, in the war, travelling from London by bus/train became uncertain because of air raid warnings. All the houses were forced to have black-out, and the Wardens were very strict. One evening there was a knock on the door which Father answered. The warden informed us that there was a crack of light at the front window please do something about it.  Soon afterwards all eligible men were asked to do fire warden duties.

The St Thomas' students had been evacuated to the Region (Sector8) - the district centred round Guildford. Some nights another student and I climbed to the top storey of the local cinema, to watch out for incendiary bombs.

At weekends I used to cycle to and from Farnham, where I was billeted with 3 other students. Cycling back in the thick darkness was hazardous; I may have had a cycle-lamp and was guided by the central white line on the road.

One fellow student and good friend was Jim Richardson. He came from a keen Missionary family but his father had died some years ago. His saintly mother was rather unhappy because Jim was a bit unmanageable, and full of gaiety. He had a fast car, a Riley, which was a delight. He took me home one weekend and proved a loyal friend. 1940/41. He had distinguished service in the 44 Marine Commandos and, after the war was over, he took a Higher degree in Obstetrics.  On my furlough in 1947 I met him when he was Registrar at the Waterloo Maternity Hospital.  Regrettably, in 1952, when working in Birmingham, he died from a rapidly developing cancer.  Some months before his death he was counselled by a Pastor from an Evangelical Church and made a deep commitment to the Lord.  This made a big impression on many friends and colleagues.

My other memory of James (the name I used to know him) was as 2 students in London; we visited the consultant Pathologist at Westminster Hospital Medical School. James put on an American accent and told him that we were students from USA. He took us round the department - I never said a word the whole time! The doctor was completely taken in.

Dick Shepherd I became friendly with cousin Dick Shepherd about then. He was doing a Degree course at Reading in Horticulture. The practical side was done at Arborfield, nearer to us than Reading, and Dick came over to stay with us several times on his motor bike. He was a cheerful person and had a positive attitude to life. He would have been a good comedian. He was interested in wireless sets. One week-end he got up to a practical joke. He set up a microphone and radio set in another room. The Vicar, Mr Kenworthy, was coming to tea that afternoon and Dick got Mother, Doris and me to turn on the radio in the sitting room when he was there. Then the radio programme was interrupted by a voice, "Would Mr Kenworthy, vicar of Wokingham, please pay attention, as I have a special message for him....". Mr Kenworthy jumped out of his chair with a very concerned look; then, of course, we all burst out laughing. He took it all in very good part when we explained and Dick came into the room.

At the outbreak of war Dick joined the RNVR and became a Navigator.

In May 1942 I experienced an amazing coincidence. I had spent the last night at home before going out to Kenya, in North London. Those travelling weren't aware of our port of embarkation, nor the ship we were to travel on, for security reasons. We had only the time and the platform of departure. I unexpectedly met Dick on the station concourse, in naval uniform. He was travelling to an unnamed port as well. We had a few words - and that was the last time I saw him. That truly was a 'God-incidence'. Later I heard that he had gone by sea, round the south coast of Africa; on by air to Egypt (as thousands of our military and naval personnel did before the main offensive battles later in 1942). Sadly, Dick was lost in a reconnaissance aircraft in the Mediterranean, later that year.

When I was in the middle of my Surgical Clerking, in 1939, at the outbreak of the war, we were all evacuated to Sector 8. Four of us (including James R) were billeted at Farnham. We spent 7 weeks there and became impatient to proceed with our serious clinical studies. At Farnham we would witness a local GP doing minor Surgery and an occasional emergency operation. It was there that I saw the use of live leeches in chronic heart failure (they were put on the upper abdomen, at the site of the congested and swollen liver, to suck out blood).

After we spoke to the Thomas's students Secretary, we were moved to lodgings in Godalming. As well as a temporary Teaching Centre, we had to visit other small hospitals. James and I were fortunate to get lifts with ‘Tiger’ Tucker, in his Austin 7 car. We went to Pyrford Orthopaedic Hospital and stood round in the Surgical Theatre while the consultant, Mr Rowley Bristow was operating. I saw a fly on the shoulder of his assistant and hit him gently with the flat of my hand. I was duly reprimanded for such an unwise act.

In 1940/41 I took my final exams and in April was so relieved that I passed the conjoint diploma. When I had got the result, I walked by myself, along the Embankment to Charing Cross, and felt a great weight had gone from my mind. Being in the war years we didn't have a celebration.

Doris' memories    Doris' reflections on school and college   Doris' reflections on her war years

David's memories

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