Wright Family Album

David's memories - Wokingham 1935-1941

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Suspenders! taken at Glendower by DEWright   Suspenders! taken at Glendower by DEWright

Our time at Wokingham was like a fly-wheel slowly breaking apart: Gordon was already in the Army in Egypt, having by all accounts a dreadful time. He was promoted corporal a couple of times and demoted; he suffered terrible acne of his face and back and was in hospital. Yet he sent me regularly a magazine "Railway Wonders of the World" which I've since had bound as my memorial to him. His five years were up in 1939 and he took me on a cycling camping trip along the Kennet Canal. He was totally free and a young boy again, once deliberately falling backwards into the canal to cheer me up, like he did one time into Major Maggs's pond to get the family laughing.

He must have known he could be called back and the telegram was waiting in a village post office he checked one soft summer morning by the river. We rode back in gloom as dark as the day had dawned bright.

Phil was in India. He had spent hours swatting in the attic at Bourton for the Police exam. I slept up there near the cold water cystern that hissed and clanked every time anyone opened a tap downstairs. The mass of books and papers which went with 'swatting' impressed me. About that time I went daily by bus into Mere to learn some basic schooling with Rowland, only son of Dr Whitby. We counted with large cardboard coins and his dispenser let us sip the sweetener she used to disguise her bitter medicines.

Elizabeth died after a few years at Wokingham. While she was in the sanatorium at Pinewood, along Nine Mile Drive, I went on my bike with Mother who often visited her while I stayed outside in the beautiful woods. I suppose, when there was no hope, they sent her home to die and Dr Rose next door looked after her. I was sleeping when Mother and Father came in, clinging to each other, and said, "Elizabeth is with the angels now." The curtains stayed drawn and there was an enormous black hearse and incredible banks of flowers at her funeral. Dr Rose had a beautiful wife and an only son, Malcolm, who was younger than me, and a red setter who knocked things off their coffee table with his tail. Malcolm was killed on a motorcycle they gave him on his 17th birthday down among those same pine trees.

Doris and Basil were students in London and Hugh and Barbara were just about to leave school so I saw a lot of them during the holidays in the late '30s. Doris brought a small black and tan puppy back from Reading: we called him Gritz, from the grocer in a card game - Happy Families. Not long after we moved to Wokingham Mother wanted me to meet another boy my own age and I went round to the Sawford's for supper. They lived on London Road opposite the churchyard where Elizabeth was buried. Raymond's father had died after many years working in Devonport dockyard. His mother chain smoked and tilted her head to one side when she stood at the stove, cooking.

Raymond and I went out biking or 'messing about' almost every day of the holidays, often with Gritz. When I walk or ski through the snowy woods now I think of the times we stalked rabbits and followed their tracks in the snow. And when he was brave enough to pick up a grass snake and got drenched with foul-smelling fluid. Ray's passion was mechanical things and radios.  We spent long hours in the local cinemas; if we got our timing right we could see the news and main feature twice, and the supporting picture once. Early on there was only the Savoy on Broad St, but soon they started building the Ritz, about half way between our two houses. We were passing one day when a worker fell off a high girder and died. We used to have lunch at his house, then hurry over to ours and have another one. I was all for self-preservation: if Ray fell of his bike he usually got scrapes, when I fell my bike suffered more than me.  Basil, Barbara and I  took Gritz to a meet near Arborfield. We rode our bikes, about 14 miles, and he trotted behind, and covered a lot more ground sniffing out rabbits while we 'followed' the hunt. He was an amazing dog.

No. 8 Crescent Road was elastic. Often friends of Doris or Basil stayed a weekend and I had a couple of friends from school for part of the holidays. One was Harold Creighton, the son of the vicar of Iver, near Windsor. I stayed a week with him and his father helped us blow the bird's eggs we found. While he was with us Ray and I rather ignored him and we made his stay unhappy. He later became editor of the Economist. Another visitor was Barry Penn who lived a few minutes from St Michael's and had a beautiful sister. One of Basil's medical student friends, James Richardson, was a great favorite as he was always cracking jokes. He was doing the toast one Sunday morning; the first pieces burnt and while he was looking for the dustbin the next pieces burnt, and on till he had the kitchen full of smoke and the dustbin half full of black toast.

We had a lady come in most weekdays to help in the house. She was always short with me and I didn't like her. One day I got very angry and went upstairs and got Hugh's 4-10 rook gun, which he'd had for potting off starlings at Bourton. I knew where there were some shells and put one in the breech and levelled it at the lady. My heart pounds even now when I think how close I was to shooting her. I don't think she knew how narrow a shave it was because, after an apology and the gun being turned in to the Police Station, we got on quite well.

Our neighbours on Crescent Road were a mixed lot. Opposite was a retired Marine Brigadier - Molloy - whose pretty daughter ran off with the milkman. On our side was a retired Group Captain who was convinced I should join the Air Force. As war was getting closer he lent me a book called "War Flying in Macedonia", where he was fighting in 1917. The other way, towards Murdoch Road, were the Perkins; Sheila was Barbara's good friend. Near them was an earnest young man who looked after his mother, Mrs Canning, who had bad arthritis. He had a minute Austin 7 car which Raymond and I one day hoisted with its front wheels up a telephone pole. We made hideous skid marks on the gravel and then hid in the pollarded trees by our front gate to see his face.

It was at Wokingham that someone lent Father a saloon car. Almost at once he had to buy four new tyres and we almost had to give it back. Gordon drove it quite often, coming to pick me up before the term at St Michael's ended  because I'd broken a wrist bone. Another time he was driving round Reading and hit a bus. Father at this time was Bishop in North Africa and Hugh designed an episcopal ring which Mother gave me and I still wear. There was talk of incorporating the family crest: an arm aiming a bow and arrow skyward, with the motto "Aim High".

Sunday afternoon, after church and a roast lunch, was a quiet time. If I wasn't out with Raymond I sat in the lounge with the others listening to the BBC concert, or to records. Mother, Doris and Basil were the classical music lovers. Doris and Barbara both had good voices, and the latter sang solos at school. I was supposed to sing the Boar's Head Carol as they marched in with the Christmas puddings near the end of term, but was too shy so Eileen had another boy sing with me.  Basil, I think, was in his atheistic student days then, and I envied him when he declared, "I'll be worshipping in Nature's cathedral today" and marched off with Gritz for a country walk while the rest of us trooped round to Church.

I hated the regimentation of St Michael's and church-going. I was ashamed when a visitor had to join family morning prayers at home: I thought we were the only family that knelt around the breakfast table like that. Being perverse, the more religion and discipline I endured the sooner I ached to be free of both. Dean Close to some extent, and Sherborne more so, dealt with their boys so lightly in these respects that moving on was a breath of fresh air.

By then the family was being torn apart. War was declared. Hugh was killed. Gordon was unhappily moving from base to base in the Army as they tried to fit him into a fighting mould. Phil was married and trying to police an India struggling to be free of British rule. Doris was sent with the VAD to South Africa. Basil went as a medical missionary to Kenya and Barbara went to college in Wales before joining the Land Army. Father had returned from a hostile French North Africa and was travelling round on the increasingly dislocated, bombed and crowded railways doing 'deputation work'. He and Mother spent their whole lives sacrificing their comforts and their meagre resources for us their children, and for the C.M.S. through which their lives were fulfilled.

Now, in the holidays, I actually looked forward to the excitement of school; family life and joy had died with Hugh. The smells were the smudge pots that made a paraffiny-fog to hide Gloucester airfield from German bombers, or our adolescent body sweat as we 'dug for victory' in the school garden. We walked in line abreast back and forth across the rugger field to pick every last bit of jagged shrapnel before someone's knee got cut. I was still strong on self-preservation - some call it 'funk'. I never got hurt playing rugger like some of my tougher friends, which I'm thankful for now after hearing of some of their bad hips and knees. When the sirens went and we were on fire duty we went to sleep in the big hall, under the balcony, where 'The Priest' - Rev Tanner who was now my house-master and had been to all the boys at Weymouth - slept on a sagging Army cot with us. Basil spent nights on the roof of St Thomas's Hospital during the Blitz, and I'm sure we were both scared.

1. At Dean Close School - GWW AMW David The Priest   2. Hugh's cartoon of The Priest
1.   2.

Later that summer I was confirmed and, plump and beaming in her ATS uniform, cousin Kathleen was surprisingly there to witness my vows. After that I felt I was on my own. The masochistic fatalism which many English school-boys adopted, particularly during the War, made a believer of me:
"Without sorrow where is joy? Without suffering what's to heal?"

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

Basil's memories

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