My particular memory goes back some 90 years to when I was living with my rather troubled family in Tunbridge Wells, Kent. I was born six years after the end of the First World War. One chilly morning in December, when I was four years old, my mother decided to take me shopping to get some more goodies for Christmas and we headed for the large grocery store in the middle of town. We were just about to go into the shop when I noticed a raggedly dressed man, looking very unwashed, sitting propped up against the wall. Passers by were throwing coins into a cap beside him. His trouser legs looked empty, but I didn’t know why. I tugged on my mother’s arm and said, “Look, Mummy, what’s that funny man doing without any legs, and why doesn’t he go home and have a bath?” I felt her grip tighten on my arm and she sort of groaned and I looked up to see she was crying. I felt something was terribly wrong but had no idea what had upset her. How could I possibly have known the horror of the trenches or the aftermath when soldiers returned from that war to end all wars? Many of these veterans were still suffering from physical or mental scars, yet were being inadequately catered for by the Government. “Come on,” said my mother brushing her tears, “Let’s do the shopping and get on home.”
My Mother, Irene Molesworth (1897-1949) In 1916
Back home, our faithful Nanny met us at the doorway and my mother, crying again, disappeared into her bedroom. Nanny quickly followed her and closed the door and I could hear her soft voice comforting my mother. When Nanny came out of the room she just told me that Mummy was having another of her bad turns. One day, she said, I would be able to understand what made my mother so sad.
Me at age 6
As I grew older I found out that her distressing moments were caused by ever recurring thoughts of those wartime trenches of hell, and her memories of the soldier she so deeply loved and was engaged to marry when the war was over. Then, in 1917 he was killed in action. A year later, after being pressured by the family, she agreed to marry a man they had picked out for her and who was keen to marry her. It was hoped he might bring her some comfort and purpose in life. But it was inevitably a rather loveless marriage on her part although producing children she cherished.
My father, Charles Rowley (1896-1934) In 1930
Those memories of what I saw when I was four years old, and all that they encapsulated, will always remain with me.
Judy Opitz lives in Cambourne