I’m thrilled to welcome author Geoff Le Pard for a guest post on HistorianRuby!
Geoff has written a captivating memoir, Apprenticed to my Mother, which focuses on his relationship with his mother after his father’s death. Within this remit, however, he frequently reminisces about both his parents. His father Desmond, illustrated through many of his poems in the volume, was frustrated by his failure to see active combat during WWII, instead, he was training as a paratrooper when the war was declared over.
Desmond wrote poetry; some romantic verses were written for his wife’s eyes only on the occasion of her birthday each year, filled with the love that a marriage of 53 years fosters.
Geoff blogs at TanGental, which you can find here.
A Wartime Romance, Jumping Feet First into Love
My mother was very proud of my father. She spent a lot of time building him up, infusing him with the confidence he often seemed to lack. As a child I wasn’t aware of this dynamic but in my teenage years, this became manifest in a number of ways. It seemed odd at the time – he had a decent job, friends, a loving wife and family. He was rated by others, but never himself, for his poetry. He was also one of those hail and well met fellows who seemed to be able to get on with anyone. The pub with its emphasis on good company and conversation was his natural home but not so much as to ignore us.
So why did Mum need to intervene at those times when gloom and disappointment seemed to settle over him like a cloud?
Mum met Dad in those febrile days in 1944 when they worked at County Hall in London pending their call up. Mum was a year older and more senior – at 18 to his 17. They dated briefly before she set off for the ATS (Auxiliary Transport Service) driving trucks and armoured vehicles around the country. He was desperate to fly – the RAF was the glamour posting and with a good education from a private school (his background was poor but he received a scholarship) he hoped he would get in. This necessitated a number of ‘camps’ where possible candidates were selected. But competition was fierce and he kept missing out, much to his frustration.
I knew nothing of this, growing up into adulthood. When Dad died I was given his collection of poems by Mum, a lot of which he had made her promise never to show my brother and me while he was alive (they were love poems to her). What I didn’t know was Mum had another collection – in a shoebox at the back of her wardrobe – which only came to light after she died. Every week, sometimes more often, from when Mum joined the ATS in 1944 until Dad’s demob in 1948 he wrote to her and she kept the letters.
Reading them I began to understand his desperation. This extract is from 20th November 1944
Well, Scarborough may be an absolutely wizard place in the summer, but in winter I think it stinks! Cold as hell, wet as water and about as amusing as a piece of cod, boiled cod. However, I enjoyed myself, although I don’t think I have any chance for the RAF. We were billeted in the “The Manor Hotel” and had our meals etc. at the “Grand”. Sounds good, doesn’t it? – and actually the food and accommodation were good. I shared a room with four other chaps, and we had a sink with hot & cold in the room, and an adjoining bathroom (with a bath and necessities) which we could use any time we pleased. The virtue of this room was further enhanced by the pictures stuck on the walls by previous ATC cadets, who, I should imagine, took a distinct pleasure in studying the bare essentials of life! See what I mean?
When we first arrived (about 400-500 of us) we were kindly and cheerfully informed that about 6 of us would be retained in aircrew, and we were then given a chance to back out and volunteer for the army, which some blokes did. However, the majority, including yours truly, decided that they would see it through. We arrived there about 4.30pm, by the way. The next day the “fun” started. First came a medical in which they tested, examined and re-examined everything (with the accent on “every”!) We were X-rayed for TB, tapped all over and told to cough (I know I’m crude – it’s just that I haven’t got Scarborough out of my mind yet!) Then we had aural tests and last and worst the eyesight tests. These latter were in two parts day-vision and night-vision. The day-vision was the usual stunt:- reading cards etc, but the night vision, well – my God! It is too complicated to explain in a letter, but to tell you how difficult it was, out of 32 objects you only had to get 8 to pass. I got 28 so I was OK on that. We were told that this new aircrew medical is probably the stiffest in the world, and since I passed A1 you have probably got a potential Tarzan writing to you!
After the medical came the pencil and paper tests. These were easy but very searching, and, in lots of cases, very catchy. The main trouble was, though, that they didn’t give you enough time to hardly start a paper, let alone finish the bloody thing. After these tests came the aptitude tests which consisted of sitting in various seats and twiddling various knobs. That’s a bit vague, I know, but it is very difficult to explain them. Anyway, I think they were the best part of the whole time.
Last, but by no means least, we each had a personal interview with an Advisory Officer. Mine was a Group Captain and a jolly decent bloke, actually. He told me what I already know – in other words, that I should probably have to go into the army, and asked what I would like to be in the army. I said paratroops or airborne and he said in that case I should be called up about Xmas (or very soon after, have my training over by about next September, and by this time next year be well on my way to Burma to knock off a few Japs who, apparently, are still to be found meandering around the place in considerable numbers! Thus, sweetheart, unless a miracle takes place and I go into the RAF, it looks as though I shall never fly a fighter or bomber. It’s no good my saying I’m not disappointed, because when a fellow has worked and trained towards a certain objective and then finds that ambition, through no fault of his own, completely crushed, he is bound to feel a bit of a knock. I don’t mind admitting to you, Barbs, although I wouldn’t to anyone else, that when I came away from Scarborough, realising what a tiny, meagre chance I had of RAF, I came nearer to tears than I have been for a good many years! That may sound soft to you, but I was not the only one. I think most of the other boys felt the same, and although I know they are only little ATC cadets, it takes a hell of a lot to bring them to that state of girlishness. However, after I’d thought it over for a bit I realised that it had got to be done, and anyway, to tell you the truth, I’m bloody sick of hanging around being a civilian, while most of my pals are fighting. Anyway, I always wanted to see a jungle, and I’ll bring you home a couple of Jap skins which you can use as bath-rugs or something!
Dad never made it into the RAF. He flirted with the Fleet Air Arm (the Navy’s flyers) and becoming a glider pilot (never happened) so in a fit of bloody-mindedness he volunteered for the Paratroop Regiment, as he indicated above. This is the elite fighting force, and was formed in WW2. The training to get in was brutal. He (and Mum) were proud he made it, but still that disappointment irked. It didn’t help that the training meant he never saw conflict before both the surrender of Germany in June 1945, nor in the Far East before August 1945, though he writes of his posting to Florida to join the American 8th Airborne to prepare for the assault on mainland Japan. Pretty much a suicide mission for the advance forces of which the Paras would have been one, which might explain my ambivalence to Truman’s decision to drop the A bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
His time as an active soldier, therefore, was as part of the peace keeping troops in what was then Palestine, before Partition in 1947. That wasn’t what he wanted. He’d lost school friends during the War and others who came back with stories to tell. He never had that on his resumé. Yet another frustration. Thwarted ambition can be debilitating.
If you are interested in more about my father’s time in training and then in Palestine, then you will find his letters here.
If you are interested in my father’s poems then you will find them in my latest book, Apprenticed To My Mother. To entice you, here is one he wrote when just 18 and waiting to undertake his first parachute jump.
A Paratrooper’s Prayer
When I’m flying at seven hundred
And the red-light flickers on
I know I’ll tremble and start to sweat
But, God, let me be strong.
When I look down through the hole, God
It’s like standing by a grave
And my knees go weak and I can’t speak
Then, God, please make me brave.
And if it be Thy Will, God
Part of Thine Own Great Plan
That my life should stop, then on that last long drop
Oh God, let me die a man!
While I’m waiting to emplane, God
And I’m checking my jumping kit
Though I laugh and jeer I’m full of fear
But, God don’t let me quit.
When the kite begins to move, God
And take off time is near
Then my heart grows cold – God, make me bold
And drive away my fear.
Geoff Le Pard started writing to entertain in 2006. He hasn’t left his keyboard since. When he’s not churning out novels he writes some maudlin self-indulgent poetry, short fiction and blogs at geofflepard.com. He walks the dog for mutual inspiration and most of his best ideas come out of these strolls. He also cooks with passion if not precision.
My Father and Other Liars is a thriller set in the near future and takes its heroes, Maurice and Lori-Ann on a helter-skelter chase across continents.
Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle is a coming of age story. Set in 1976 the hero Harry Spittle is home from university for the holidays. He has three goals: to keep away from his family, earn money and hopefully have sex. Inevitably his summer turns out to be very different to that anticipated.
Life in a Grain of Sand is a 30 story anthology covering many genres: fantasy, romance, humour, thriller, espionage, conspiracy theories, MG and indeed something for everyone. All the stories were written during Nano 2015
Salisbury Square is a dark thriller set in present day London where a homeless woman and a Polish man, escaping the police at home, form an unlikely alliance to save themselves.
This is available here
Buster & Moo is about about two couples and the dog whose ownership passes from one to the other. When the couples meet, via the dog, the previously hidden cracks in their relationships surface and events begin to spiral out of control. If the relationships are to survive there is room for only one hero but who will that be?
Life in a Flash is a set of super short fiction, flash and micro fiction that should keep you engaged and amused for ages
Apprenticed To My Mother describes the period after my father died when I thought I was to play the role of dutiful son, while Mum wanted a new, improved version of her husband – a sort of Desmond 2.0. We both had a lot to learn in those five years, with a lot of laughs and a few tears as we went.