As age creeps up on me, I seem to become more and more sentimental and also think so much more about my parents and their earlier lives. It’s probably a mortality thing but there you go.
My grandfather was born in about 1895 and served in the First World War as a Royal Engineer in the trenches in France. He kept a diary and wrote a set of poems during the war and they are all kept in a locked book that I’ll get only when my father dies. Grandfather was shot towards the end of the war and his leg was only saved by a tin cigarette box that he had in his pocket. He was invalided back to the UK and sent to a temporary hospital in a great old stately home in a village called Bridge in Kent. His nurse, one Elsie Ovenden, was one of the 12 children of the gardener at the great house and she soon afterwards became his wife. My father spent his summer holidays in the inter-war years in the village. Orchards, long sunny days, meadows and all the best fruit and veg. It was all very HE Bates.
There were two great houses in the village, Bridge Place where my great grandparents were in service, and Higham House. The latter belonged to a wealthy Polish count called Zborowski who was a famous amateur motor racing driver. He made his own cars and my Dad remembers one of these racing down Bridge High Street. Dad aged about four was convinced the car could fly. A frequent guest at the house also thought the car could fly. He was Ian Fleming and the car of course became Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Funny how Dad saw the real car that both my kids and I enjoyed on paper and film. Zborowski was killed soon afterwards in a Grand Prix but he lives on as the founder of the miniature railway that runs across nearby Romney Marsh.
My Grandfather’s wartime experiences and then marrying into a family who were all in service made him a communist who spent much of his life trying to change what he called ‘the system’. He was also a passionate anti racism campaigner long before it was acceptable to be so in working class English society. However after the Prague spring was crushed he went very quiet about the USSR. It really hit him hard. Oddly he was also a fierce monarchist and used to stand for the national anthem at the end of the day’s TV. He wrote a letter once to the BBC complaining about their referring to Elvis as ‘The King.’
He died at the age of 96 and his beloved nurse and wife followed him a few years later.