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My Autobiography

Tony Galcius



THE START

I instinctively clenched my fist and lashed out.

“This one’s going to be a fighter”, my father said as he held me in his arms and my brothers and sister looked on.

At least that’s what they told me some years later, because at the time I was too small to be aware of what was happening. I had only just left my mother’s womb an hour or so before. The shadows were lengthening as the sun began to set on that Saturday evening. It was August 22nd., 1931. I always knew the precise moment of arrival. For every birthday I spent with my mother in later years she would only acknowledge the fact and greet me at precisely 6.30pm!

The house in which I was born that day was a two-up, two-down terraced house typical of the ones to be found in the sprawling housing estates of some of the eastern London Boroughs of Whitechapel, Bethnal Green and Stepney. They were built of the familiar London yellow brick, although much of the yellowness had now given way to coats of grime. The people who lived in them were poor manual workers, often sneeringly referred to as the “working classes”. And in 1931, the year of my birth, these were the ones who were hardest hit by the economic depression which then gripped most of the world, but the Western World in particular. Unemployment figures reached one and a half million in Britain and businesses were closing down at the rate of knots. On August 24th, two days after my birth, the Labour party sacked its leader, Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, and a National Coalition was formed which was to win the October General Election by a mile! Workers clashed with the Police in the East End, and British sailors went on strike over the pay cuts imposed as part of the attempt to redress the economic balance. Beyond these shores, China was fighting Japan; Spain had become a Republic; the infamous killer Al Capone was finally jailed, not for the murders perpetrated but for tax evasion.

On a lighter note, in the same year, the American inventor, Edison died. Amongst other things he was famous for the electric light bulb, which was to come into all homes some years later amid great excitement and wonder. The Empire State Building, the highest in the world was opened in New York. In the field of entertainment, the films of the year were Dracula and Frankenstein, and Sally, the song made so popular by Gracie Fields was composed.

But my story began many miles away in the coniferous and mixed forests of oak, birch, aspen and other trees of Eastern Europe.


PARENTAL ANTECEDENTS

My father, Peter was born in 1883 in the village of Pugaciu, near Merkine, a town on the river Nemunas. It lies about 40 miles due south of Kaunas, which during the Polish occupation of Vilnius was Lithuania’s capital in between the two World Wars. I understand he was one of five children, mostly boys. I am uncertain as to whether he had sisters or not. How he came to emigrate to England and the mode of travel I do not know.

Even the year of arrival is uncertain, but it was either 1907 or 1908. One of his brothers was called Carolus, the Lithuanian for Charles. Seemingly, he also wanted to emigrate to England but was not allowed to do so. I believe he ended up in the Russian Army.

I had always celebrated my mother Agnes’ birthday on October 23rd. I was therefore somewhat mystified when I recently discovered her birth certificate which is an item of interest in itself. The paper has yellowed with age and the information is in Russian. Fortunately for me, because I do not have Russian, there is a small notelet pinned to the paper which gives a Lithuanian translation. (The pin itself must be over a hundred years old!) Thereon it is clearly stated that she was in fact born on October 21st, 1891 in a hamlet called Girninkas. This is a small cluster of tiny wooden houses and small plots of land which lie near Mariampole, south of the city of Kaunas. She was the eldest of eight children. She and her sister Agatha were the only two who left the country, Agatha travelling on to the States. She was to marry a Borus and their two sons were in the US Army and stationed in Europe. They were the only relatives I was to meet until my first visit to Lithuania in 1998.

At the time of my parents’ birth Lithuania was a nation suppressed by its neighbour the mighty Russia. Its ruler was a tyrant Tzar by the name of Alexander III, whose son was to be the last of the Romanov line, being assassinated by the Communists in 1917. Lithuanians were not allowed to speak their language, nor practise their Catholic faith. It was a country with a very proud history, having converted to Christianity in the thirteenth Century. In its days as a Grand Duchy, Lithuania stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea, and from Prussia in the East to the vicinity of Moscow in the west. On at least three previous occasions it had risen up against its Russian oppressor, but only succeeded in gaining independence at the end of the First World War. In 1940, it was overrun in turn by Russians and Germans and only regained its nationhood in 1989. Love of their language had given rise to courageous people called “book carriers” (knygnestis) who travelled the land secretely handing out books in Lithuanian, thus keeping the language alive.

My mother came from peasant stock. I recall my sister Anne describing this fact in rather a quaint way: “As a young girl, Mum wore clogs and no pants”. By ‘pants’ I presume she meant knickers. I always found this quite hilarious. But it was an indicator, I suppose, of the simplicity and poverty of life in rural Lithuania.

Her parents had a tiny piece of land with perhaps a pig and a hen or two, with a few vegetables like potatoes, cabbages and carrots growing. Her father seems to have been a very religious man, placing a great deal of importance on discipline – bent on instilling the fear, rather than the love of God. He worked hard. Her mother also was very religious and hard working having to feed a very large family. But there was no future for them, particularly if you were a girl. The family was a large one and so many mouths to feed. I shall never know how the decision was reached for her to leave home and loved ones at the tender age of 17 or 18, unworldly wise and innocent. I think with utter admiration of her courage as she must have set off on foot, or cart to Kaunas to get a train to Klaipeda the one and only Lithuanian port. Then on a ship, certainly not a luxury liner, to sail across the Baltic, the North Sea, finally disembarking at Tilbury. She stepped onto English soil with a small bag of belongings and the bit of money given her by her parents but without a word of the language. She eventually arrived in the East End of London to stay with an Aunt, called Agatha Sinskiene, probably her mother’s sister.

In September, 2003, my wife Marie and I went on a Baltic cruise, and particularly on the return journey from Tallinn I would lean on the ship’s rails and think of my mother looking out across those dark waters. I wondered what went on in her young head, as she gazed into the unknown!


“ACROSS A CROWDED ROOM”

Portrait photographs of my mother as an eighteen year old show her to be quite an attractive lady, so suitors were not lacking in the close knit community of Lithuanian immigrants. Her first boy friend offered her a bag of gold if she would marry him. She refused probably because her Aunt, who kept such a close watch on her, spurned the proposal on her behalf.

She then met three or four others. In those days the place to meet fellow immigrants would be the Church which would have established a Parish club next door or nearby where people could socialise. A licensed bar provided the alcoholic beverage, mostly consumed by the men, and the women could listen to music from home, dance, and spend nostalgic moments talking about the relatives they had left in faraway Lithuania. The Lithuanian Church, from 1902 to 1911 was housed in a building on the corner of Cable Street and Christian Street near the Docks. It was commonplace at the time for the various groups of early Twentieth Century asylum seekers to build churches where they could worship in their native tongue. So, the Italians had their church in Clerkenwell, the Polish in Islington and the Germans in Whitechapel, not to mention countless churches built and administered by Irish immigrants.

I can only presume that my mother met her future husband, or at least was first seen by him, in the Parish social club. This was where the serious drinking was done by the men, who thus filled with Dutch courage and Russian vodka would approach the girls, as ever, of course under the watchful eye of the Aunts and such like. My mother promised herself that she would never marry a man with a long nose. Peter Galcius, eight years her senior was eventually to win her hand. He had a long nose!

Their courting was always and only done in the front room or parlour as it was also called. Agnes sat in one corner, whilst Peter sat in the opposite. Relatives, friends, and most definitely the Aunt, occupied the chairs in between. My sister told me our parents argued a lot. I wonder if the courtship conducted as it were in a boxing ring might have been a symbol of future reality.

On August 6th., 1911 Peter and Agnes were married at the Lithuanian Church. I have no detail of how many or who were at the wedding, what my mother wore or where the reception was held. Among my family’s photographs is a portrait photo of my parents, Dad standing in smart suit and shirt with the detachable collar, and mother sitting, her hair swept back in a roll circling her head, white blouse with a ruffled high neck and three quarter length puff sleeve, elasticated at the cuff. Both unsmiling! Mind you, all other similar photos, taken in studios, showed the same serious faces. Could such a portrait have been taken on or near their wedding day? On second thoughts, it could not have been her wedding photo since she was wearing a dark skirt. Again, I can only guess that the reception would have been at the Lithuanian club, if, indeed, it existed. I doubt if they could afford to go away on honeymoon.

One thing that I do know they did that wedding day was to sign their marriage certificate which has been safely preserved in the archives. Because they were illiterate, they placed a + in lieu of a signature. For the same reason, the surname was misspelt – Goilczus, which was but one variety of spelling in those early years. I have seen it spelt Galchase, Galchus. Neither could speak English properly, nor could their Aunt Agatha, who was the witness. Another inaccuracy was the age given for my mother. It had 22 years, whereas according to her birth certificate she must have been nineteen, just two and a half months short of her twentieth. In the rank or profession column, my father was a slipper maker. Underneath, however, the word ‘journeyman’ in brackets had been added. The oldest dictionary I could lay my hands on was the Universal Dictionary of the English Language, which must have been published after 1930 (if its bibliography is anything to go by!). According to that ‘journeyman’ is defined as ‘ a) formerly, one hired to work by the day; b) now, man who has learnt his craft, contrasted with an apprentice.’ I know that my father was later to become a ‘flesher’, defined in the same dictionary as “to scrape off particles of flesh adhering to newly stripped hide”. It was considered to be a skilled job at the time, and thus highly paid. I, therefore, presume that at his wedding, he was a man “who had learnt his craft”.

From March,1912 onwards, they would have attended the new Lithuanian Church. From the outside, it does not look like one at all. Built with London yellow bricks, there is no bell tower, no imposing door to the entrance, no cemetery or land surrounding it. It lies tucked away unobtrusively in a corner down a small side street called The Oval, off the Hackney Road. You could quite easily walk past without noticing. Inside, however, it has a beauty of its own, and what stands out so impressively is the huge backdrop to the altar. Two enormous columns support an arch. Framed within these columns is a magnificent and colourful wooden carving of the Trinity looking down upon the Virgin Mary, crowned in glory. Two angels with side splitting dresses look up and at the central figure. The Trinity is depicted in the traditional anthropomorphic manner. To the right is God the Father, an elderly bearded man, holding a stone of the Ten Commandments in his left hand, whilst he stretches out his right in blessing. To his right Christ in the form of a young man holds up the Cross and hovering just above the two of them is the dove irradiating golden rays, symbol of the Holy Spirit. Floating around the entire piece are tiny cherubic heads, supported by wings. Below the Virgin a crucifix stands above the tabernacle, flanked on both sides by six large candlesticks. This masterpiece was originally made for the Great Exhibition in 1851 and bought by the Lithuanian community for £1500.

And this was what seven of their eight children would eventually gaze upon when christened and at worship.


LIFE IN ONE ROOM

The newly weds began their married life in one small room in a house occupied by another Lithuanian family, called Sinskas, which was the same name as my mother’s aunt. In all probability they were related, the two husbands being brothers? This one room was, of course, their living room, as well as their bedroom. The young Mrs. Galcius would have shared a communal kitchen in which to start her culinary efforts.

How they coped, I can only guess, especially when just nine and a bit months later, their first baby, my sister Anne, was born on May 3rd.

As yet I have no evidence when the first son, Peter, was born, but it was probably nearly two years later. It proved to be a terribly sad occasion, because three days after his birth, Peter died. He was a so-called ‘blue baby’. Babies who suffered from a lack of oxygen in the blood as a result of a congenital defect of the heart or of the large blood vessels had blue complexions, hence the name. Both my mother and sister often spoke about the miracle attending that premature death. In the middle of the night, my mother had a dream in which she saw an angel calling to her “Get up! Your baby is dying”. She woke up and immediately tried to wake Dad who lay asleep on the sofa. He only awoke on the third call and at his wife’s command took the dying baby to the Polish Church around the corner in Mercer Street. The priest baptised him much to my mother’s great relief. She was too simple to know that she or anyone could have baptised that child in the case of emergency. But what a trauma that must have been.

Nor did the early heartache stop there. Little two year old Annie was taken to Queen Elizabeth’s Children’s hospital suffering from stomach pains. It has never been clear what happened exactly whilst she was in there. Anne spoke of a “nerve being cut in the arm and the leg”. But the result was horrendous. She lost the partial use of her whole left side. Her hand curled inwards and her leg weakened so that she began to walk with a limp. All the symptoms, in other words, of a stroke! Obviously, my mother was at a disadvantage, not being able to speak or understand English very well. Much later enquiries of the hospital revealed very little. They claimed she was born like it. Others said it was the result of polio. But it was to influence her attitude and mental outlook and undoubtedly set the course of her life.

However, round about this time, some fortune did befall this young couple. They were able to have the use of two rooms in Mercer Street. Not long afterwards they moved to similar accommodation in St. George’s Street off the Highway. They stayed for eleven years and five more children.


THE BOYS

Among the five children to arrive whilst my parents lived in what must have been quite appalling overcrowded conditions were my four brothers. The three eldest were always referred to as “the boys”. So “Are the boys home yet? Or put this in the boys’ room” were common parlance in my childhood. Even as grown men (none of them married) and still living at home, my mother and sister, Anne, called them “the Boys”. The fourth brother, John, was closer to me in age although nine years older. He was my favourite.

The closeness that characterised The Boys meant they had very much in common. Such were the similarities of work, life style, attitudes, habits that what was said of one, could be repeated of the others.

Joe was born on November 7th, 1914, possibly in the two roomed accommodation to which the family had just moved in St. George’s St.

Two years later on the first of June 1916, Cazimir was born. So now my young parents have three children in the middle of a world wide conflagration and are “living” in two rooms upstairs on the first floor!

Vince was born on either November 10th or 11th 1919. His birth certificate quite clearly states the tenth. Anne, however, corrected it to the 11th, no doubt at Mum’s behest. I can only imagine that he must have been born on or around midnight. Whoever went to register his birth thought it was late on the tenth, whereas Mum was more specific. She was involved after all!! My mother was quite pedantic about this sort of data.

My brothers all went to the same school, St. Boniface’s in Adler Street in Aldgate East. This was attached to the German Catholic Church of the same name. It was built long before the outbreak of the First World War by the Germans who had immigrated to this country at the turn of the twentieth century. It was destroyed by bombs in the Great War, rebuilt with the aid of the Berlin Government, and destroyed again during the Second World War, and once again the Church has risen from the ashes.

The sort of education received would have been quite basic, with the main and only emphasis on the three ‘R’s. They all left at the age of fourteen, as most children in the East End did in those days, to begin work, if they could find it. After all, the early Thirties were hit by world wide recession. Parents would have been happy for their children to leave at 14, because they could be assured of that little extra income. I doubt whether ‘the Boys’ would have welcomed an opportunity for further education, anyway. The System was not a great incentive either. The aim amongst the poor then was to get a job and thus survive. Later on in life, they always used to admire my intelligence and academic achievement. My reaction was always to tell them they could have done just as well – given the chance!

I often heard them talk about their teachers – a Sister Hilda and Mr. Long in particular. The latter they liked but Sister Hilda seemed to have been a bit of a dragon. Despite her reputation as a strict disciplinarian, she had not managed to cut out the bullying that went on when my sister Anne was there. She described her time at St. Boniface’s as a “life of hell”.

Despite a tiny playground, Joe and Cazimir learnt how to play soccer, although Joe lost interest soon after leaving school. However, Cazimir was to play it with both skill and enthusiasm for many years, particularly with the Lithuanian Club and at one stage was picked to play for a North London representative side. Vince had little or no interest in soccer. His forte was to be a ‘strong man’ and prided himself on his physique and ability to stand up for himself in any combatant event. When he left school, he used to go to the pictures three or four times a week. On a Saturday, he could sit in the cinema all day. It was the time when the main film and supporting films or trailers were repeated non – stop, without interval!

On leaving school, Joe became a ‘flesher’ like his father. Cazimir and Vince both became pressers. Tailors abounded in the East End, especially around the Bethnal Green area. All of them worked from home and usually had their work rooms up in the loft of three storey tenement houses. In that confined space you had the cutters, the sewing machines, and the men who pressed the trousers and jackets. Working conditions for these workers were either stiflingly hot in the summer or freezing cold in the winter. The ‘finishers’ (who sewed the buttons on or stitched the turn ups, etc) very often were outsiders. My mother was one. She would fetch a sackfull home, ‘finish’ them and return the goods to the tailor. Most tailors were Jewish, but there was also a small number of Lithuanian ones.


JOHN

John was nine years old when I was born. His early life seems to have been characterised by ill health. My sister described him as a sickly child. She also mentioned he had trouble with his navel, the exact nature of which I do not know. He was a very quiet child and in my sisters’s words “very moody”. He was an altar server at both the Lithuanian and German churches. Mum was very concerned about his weak constitution and because she herself never went away on holidays, but Anne did, she would ask Anne on a regular basis to take John with her, together with Anne’s friend. It was well known in those days that sea air would do you the world of good. A number of photographs record these events. However whilst John might enjoy a week with two grown ups he soon hankered for home around the eighth day. And who could blame him? He was very sports minded, loving both football and cricket especially.

He also went to St. Boniface’s school where he stayed till the age of 15. He seemed quite academically bright and of a pious disposition which took the eye of the teachers and priests connected with the school. I know that Fr. Matulaitis, who was the Parish priest at St. Cazimir’s and who belonged to a Lithuanian Religious Order known as the ‘Marijonai’ (equivalent to the Marists ), was anxious that John should join them. There was talk of his going to their seminary in the States. John, however, had become attracted to the Salesians, another Religious Order founded by Don Bosco, a modern Italian saint. My mother was devoted to this Saint, had read his life and often told us about his work for poor and destitute youth. A large framed picture of him hung on one of the walls in the house and I remember it clearly to this day. My brother was therefore torn between the two Orders, but eventually chose the latter. Off he went in the late summer of 1937 to a junior seminary in Cheshire, known as Shrigley. My mother was delighted. Her dream that one of her children should end up on the Altar was beginning to become true.

I was heartbroken. He was my playmate, my idol. I had always wanted to be with him, to the point of being a right pest! During my childhood, there was no one else that I looked up to as much as I did my brother John.


A BLIGHTED LIFE

By the time Anne started school at St. Boniface’s she had a two year old brother and the newly born Cazimir. When she left at 14, two more brothers and a sister had joined her. A ‘life of hell’ was the phrase Anne used to describe her school experience. A paralysed left hand and a corresponding leg which she dragged behind her precluded her from the very basic childlike skill of running around. Being different from her peers invited jibes and insults – the usual fare of any children and ‘children can be so cruel’. So Anne’s recollection of those days was one of being bullied incessantly. She always remembered one exception – an Alice Matejunas who she said was the only friend she had!

Alice was one of a large Lithuanian family, which was quite close to ours. Her brothers hung about with Joe and Cazimir. One of Alice’s nieces-to-be appears later in this story!

Anne always considered herself to be quite dim, and yet she had the three R’s in abundance. She was to be the main letter writer and became her mother’s amanuensis par excellence. Important letters to Councils, churchmen, authorities – Ann wrote them all. She never stopped until her dying day. They were usually written in a peculiar quaint style of hers. At times she paid little heed to the formalities of grammar, syntax and punctuation. As for reading, her interests were mainly magazines and religious ones at that. There was no doubt about her high standards of the fourth ‘R’ – religion.

Despite her handicap or “affliction”, as she used to call it, Anne helped her mother with the care of her little brothers. She must have been taking two of them to school – Joe seven years old, Cazimir starting at five. At home there was washing up to do, making beds, cleaning the two rooms they were living in. Much of the time was spent outside playing as best she could. Life in their living quarters was spatially restricted! It was to get more and more cramped as two more brothers came along, Vincent in 1919, and then John three years later, when Anne was only ten. In her last year of school, her mother gave birth to a sister, Maria, in February 1926.

Then the miracle happened! A house became available which had potential to increase their living space at least three fold. There was, however, one snag and that was the landlord needed a down payment of £15. A nothing nowadays at the turn of the third millenium, but in 1926, that was a lot of money! In their regular visits to the Lithuanian Church, the Parish priest Fr. Matulaitis would have asked my mother how she was getting on. He knew that her seventh child had just been born. He had often said to her that she must find a bigger place. Thus, when she told him of her opportunity, he unhesitatingly gave her the money and demanded that she move into the new premises. The first rent was paid on May 31st.


11, ARTILLERY STREET, BETHNAL GREEN, E.1.

It was a typical slum house - two rooms upstairs, two downstairs, plus a kitchen, an outside loo, a backyard, a shed and a garden!

There was only one source of water supply - a tap on the outside wall in the backyard. It was fixed two feet high, so that you had to bend low to wash yourself. Obviously to have a shave, wash your hair and so on, this was done from a bowl of hot water, boiled up in a large black saucepan. Once a week, a tin bath was introduced to the downstairs back room, so that further areas of the body could be watered. A fire burning cosily in the open grate provided the warmth and stopped the water in the tin bath from getting cold too quickly.

Also outside in the backyard was the toilet. A draughty, cold place with distempered walls and a shed like door. Distemper was a type of chalky white paint which, when fairly fresh and although dry, came off on your clothes, should you have the misfortune to lean or fall against it. The wooden toilet seat stretched from wall to wall. A seat cover did not exist. Economy demanded that toilet paper was the Daily Mirror cut neatly into squares or oblongs roughly six inches by six or five (12 to 15 cm) impaled on a meat hook in the shape of an ‘S’. From the back door, leading out of the kitchen to the toilet and the coal shed, there was no overhead cover. Responding to the calls of Nature in the winter and the rain was done with some reluctance.

However, over the wall tap there was a makeshift roof which provided some shelter for odds and ends and in particular the mangle, a very handy accessory in the days before tumble dryers and washing machines. Also under this covered section was a clothes line used on rainy days, otherwise the line stretched across from the coal shed to the tap wall just in front of the garden which was my mother’s pride and joy. It was a small wild garden which must have brought back memories of her motherland – the grass, the smells, the flowers and the birds. Since she did not have a great deal of time to tend it, it was wild and overgrown, very much in the style that is encouraged nowadays for country churchyards. A natural habitat to attract wildlife. Perhaps a modern day Estate agent would specify it as a cottage garden. It had a gate and a path running along the left hand side to the back of the garden, abutting on to a neighbour’s in the next street. Probably the whole garden was some three square yards . It was just big enough for an Anderson shelter which was obligatory to have at the outbreak of the Second World War, September 1939.


The most frequented and used room was the kitchen, a single storey extension and an original construct of the house. A small window looked out onto the yard, which was reached through the backdoor. You could see the tap on the opposite wall. Beneath the window was a wooden table enough for three people to sit around. I remember sitting as a child on the chair next to the back door watching my mother bake ausukiu (the Lithuanian for “small ears”), delightful pieces of pastry about three square inches big, which were fashioned by slitting the pastry and pulling the rest through the hole, thus giving an ear like effect. Opposite the table was a low lying open grate fire with a small warming oven next to it. Fires were started with fire wood and the game my brothers enjoyed playing was building the wooden pieces in the form of a bridge. Then as the middle sections began to burn we would sing the nursery rhyme “London Bridge is burning/falling down”

In the corner was a cooker fuelled by gas. So also was the lighting in the rest of the house. Outside in the street the lamps were gaslights. I used to watch in awe as the lamplighters came along every evening to perform their tasks. Wood and coal were the source of heat and cooking.

The internal kitchen door opened onto the passage way, which lead to the back room. This was the most used room after the kitchen. It was the sitting cum dining room, although mostly a Sunday dining room. There was a large sofa which doubled up as a bed for my sister Anne. Another chest of drawers. The only other piece of furniture which could fit in was an armchair used by my dad when he returned home in the evenings after work. When he came home after a drinking session in club or pub, he retired to bed immediately. In the winter, the fire was always lit and I have very cosy, warm memories of that room. In it I played, I sat on my father’s knee, we all listened to the battery operated wireless, ate generous Sunday roasts, and had our weekly baths. My mother sat in the armchair whenever it was vacant, sewing or “finishing” trousers, darning or knitting and often regaling us with stories of her life in Lithuania which she left when she was eighteen.

She spoke of walks in the forests that abound in Lithuania; there were the religious festivals of Christmas and Easter. She told us about the various customs that sometimes accompanied such feasts. One example was “kuciu” which took place on Christmas Eve. She introduced these into our family tradition. Although I cannot remember much detail, I certainly remember how fascinated I was to hear her stories and, like all young children, I used to love hearing them over and over again.

The passageway from the front door ran alongside the front room to a cupboard under the stairs. This was used for the usual cleaning paraphernalia and the cupboard door acted occasionally, when it was raining, as a goal. I learnt my first soccer skills dribbling along that passage and scoring the ‘goals of the month.’ My trainer was my favourite brother John.

The front room was the least used room in the house. It was the place for the “best” furniture, the best table with its lace cover, the best cutlery and crockery used when important people visited (which was rarely). Rather incongruously, but necessitated by lack of space, this room was the location of a huge wardrobe, which stood in the corner on the right as you entered the room. In that, Mum kept her clothes, especially her best ones. Among the important visitors using the room were the priests from the local Parish Church of St. Anne’s, Underwood Road, the Lithuanian Church and the German Church. A non-clerical personage allowed into that room was the man who emptied the collection box, marked APF, Association for the Propagation of the Faith. In the far corner to the left of the chimney breast was a shrine to Our Lady. The statue seemed to be manufactured from a delicate china-like material and was thus protected by a glass bell cover. A crucifix stood nearby on the same small chest of drawers forming the pedestal or “altar”. Candles and brass candlesticks. The altar cloth was usually a very nice lace table cloth, itself under another plain smaller one to catch the molten wax as it dropped during Mum’s or the family’s devotions. She used it mostly for her private prayer, but quite frequently too my sister, one or two of my brothers and I joined in to form the “congregation”.

The two upstairs rooms were also referred to simply as front and back. The larger front room was the bedroom shared by my four brothers until John left to go to the Seminary in 1936. My parents slept in the backroom in twin beds, their baby Maria with them. On either side of the chimney breast, were built-in cupboards. A small wicker table separated the beds. It also was a small shrine with a crucifix and a couple of statues. An abiding memory of mine, and probably my oldest, was sharing my Mum’s bed. I can still smell her closeness, and feel the utter cosiness of it all. The huge duvets (patalu in Lithuanian), the warmth, and total security.

As you passed out into the outside world, you stepped over a stone doorstep which was regularly washed and whitewashed. Everybody in the street did the same thing to their step and took great pride in it. Had it been nowadays there would have been competitions to see who could show off the whitest doorstep in the street. When I was born the street was named Artillery St. It could possibly have had some connection with an arsenal, now extant, near Liverpool Street station . In 1938, after Chamberlain returned from Munich, waving a piece of paper and announcing “Peace in our time”, our street was re-named Peace Street. In September 1939, war broke out between Germany and Britain.

Immediately opposite our front door was a ten foot high brick wall which divided us from the property of the LNER – London North Eastern Railway. The wall was an excellent sporting opportunity. Against it the kids in the street played football, handball, and cricket.

Three stumps were painted or chalked onto the wall and we bowled from outside my front door to the batsman standing at his crease near the wall. Soccer and cricket were to become my favourite pastimes, and they were games in which I was to possess substantial ability. Various coaches were to comment that I could have easily made a living at either of these two sports! I was always indebted to my brother John, who shared my love for these games and who had inspired me to take such an interest in them. He was no mean sportsman himself.


THE LAP OF LUXURY

For my family and especially my parents, 11, Artillery St must have been the essence of luxury – a mansion, indeed. Everyone in the family was to benefit from the location of this new house. It was nearer for my father to go to work in Homerton, to and whence he walked everyday. He started at 7am and returned at 8pm. I have retraced this journey, obviously following the shortest route, and it took me a good 45 minutes, each way. The house was half way between the Lithuanian Church off the Hackney Rd., and St. Anne’s in Underwood Rd., which was the local parish. All the children were now nearer to St. Boniface’s school. Thriving markets were to be had both in Bethnal Green Road and Whitechapel Road. And not that far away was Victoria Park!

In the next turning, Clarence Street, another Lithuanian family moved in by the name of Sirvidas. Our two families were to become quite friendly, especially the two mothers. Their back yard diagonally abutted onto ours. Mr. Sirvid was a keen gardener , like my mother and they were often known to chat away over the garden fence about things horticultural. My sister, Ann, told me that Mr. Zalauskas, who had moved in with his family into the Sirvidas’ house reported to my father that he reckoned Mrs. G. was flirting with Mr. S!!!

The Sirvidas had three daughters Helen, Julie and Marie and a son, Tony. Julie and Mary Zalauskas became Anne’s best and most loyal friends. Helen and Julie used to often tell me that they wheeled me around in my pram when I was a baby.

And yet, despite the joy and happiness the new house and its location had brought, tragedy was once again to strike our family before two years passed. Maria became ill, was taken to Queen Elizabeth’s children’s hospital and died in January 1928. How traumatic that must have been to her brothers and sister. What tears for my mother who was only 36. How must my father have felt? I wonder if my brothers were allowed to go to the funeral and watch the little white coffin lowered into the ground. I probably learnt later what the cause of death was, but cannot remember.

The year Maria died, Joe began work with his father as a flesher. Even whilst at school, he would collect and sell wood – a necessary commodity in those days of the open fireplace! He had a certain interest in playing football but he preferred to watch and became an ardent Millwall fan. He would hand over a part of his weekly wage to Mum, who then put aside something as a savings, from which slush fund she would buy his suits, clothes and shoes – a custom she repeated with her other sons. Joe was a smart dresser and only wore suits made by bespoke tailors. He was nicknamed eventually “Piccadilly John”. He had an handsomeness to go with it as well. Unlike the rest of us, he did not inherit our father’s long nose!

Anne had now left school but was afraid to go to work. Once again the ‘affliction’ was rearing its ugly head. Dad gave her half-a-crown to start up her savings bank. He also suggested to Mum that Anne help her around the house and presumably he would pay her. Anne did find work outside, going through a whole variety of jobs including nannying, cleaning, house keeping. She tried factory work, but working on conveyor belts with one hand only proved too difficult. She left them if she didn’t like them. Just before she died at the age of 86, she told me she had had 32 jobs!


TROUBLE AND STRIFE

I was told by my sister that my parents quarelled a lot. I can only suppose that living in the cramped quarters provided by the two rooms would not have been conducive to marital harmony. Furthermore his work kept him away from home for most of the day. Whenever did he see or spend time with his children? He couldn’t have done. And yet his homecoming was always an occasion for the children to fight over the Daily Mirror which he had brought home. They all wanted to sit on his lap.

“Let him have his meal” Mum would plead in vain.

A source of argument could well have been his drinking habits. The least worrying aspect of this was when he would get Anne to go and buy a jug of ale which he would consume at home. He loved rolling his cigarettes, but never smoked in the house. Out in the yard/garden. Artillery Street must have been a boon for him in this respect at least. Pay day would have been an occasion for imbibing as was the rest of the weekend when he met up with his mates in the Lithuanian Club. Some heavy drinking went on there, I can assure you.

A further bone of contention was his card playing and not just for fun, I might add! He was a gambler through and through and frequented a house owned by a woman my mother was to call a whore. It was in the Golden Terrace in Hassle Street.

“She keeps all these men away from home and their wives” she would complain.

I can’t imagine my mum even using such a word but perhaps this is how she was affected by the gambling. When Dad’s friends remonstrated with him about such comments:

“Why do you let her speak like that to you?”

He would reply: “Because she’s my wife”.

At times, as they argued, Anne would interfere. Dad’s reaction was to become even angrier and did not hesitate to throw his shoes at her. Whether it was in this connection or on the occasions when Anne could also let fly with uncontrollable rage, that dad would “whip her”. In this I quote Anne. It was more probable that he used his strap on her backside as he did with his recalcitrant sons and as my mother did with me.


MY MUM, AGNES

What I have just said obviously puts my mother in a very bad light. In her defence and in the interest of truth I must quickly add that she meted out this sort of punishment on rare occasions. I would need to have committed some heinous crime, like swearing, for example. I can remember using the four letter word once, probably when only five or six years old, and this merited four lashings of my father’s belt. I never swore again as a child! Answering back, or showing gross disobedience was another punishable category. Secondly, she chose to be the ‘executioner’ in my case because she considered that Dad was somewhat too zealous if and when aroused. My father never laid a hand on me for the eight years I lived with him.

By the time the family moved to Artillery Street, my mother was looking after six children. Anne remembered how Mum “slaved away” caring for her husband and children, keeping the house clean and helping to make ends meet by at first working with slippers. This was evidently through my father who at the time was a slipper maker. As mentioned above, she later also ‘finished’ trousers.

There was no time to go out, either with her husband or with friends. Whatever social life she had, revolved entirely around the Church. But even parish “socials” she viewed with some hesitancy or suspicion, because they were ‘worldly’ – alcohol, dancing, smoking! All no go areas for Mum. Pubs and cinemas were “dens of iniquity” not because they gave pleasure but because they were occasions of sin.

Her spirituality centred on the Mass and prayer. Needless to say she was a daily communicant and Sunday was indeed the Lord’s Day. She usually attended the eleven o’clock Solemn Mass at St. Cazimir’s , then home to prepare the Sunday roast. At 5pm she was back for Benediction and Sermon. She preceded these services by at least a quarter of an hour and much to my annoyance, whenever I accompanied her, stayed on afterwards for about half an hour!

She nurtured her faith with spiritual reading. I still have her ‘holy books’ – most of which are quite well worn and dog eared. So she must have read them. There was inevitably the Bible, a huge Life of the Saints in two volumes, dating back to 1859, a missal and various prayer books. Every one of them was in Lithuanian and published mainly between 1914 and 1937. There was only one novel, entitled “Gudruna” translated from the German. Her favourite prayer book, which I remember her always taking to Church, was called Saltinis, meaning spring, source or fountain. It seemed to be a popular word for devotional prayer books and magazines. My mother had made a cover for it from a material they used to use for covering tables. It kept its pristine quality, despite heavy use. Hidden in these books were hundreds of holy pictures, collected as souvenirs of special religious events like retreats or missions, festivals, First Holy Communion, and priestly ordinations.

In keeping with catholic tradition at the time, pictures of the Sacred Heart, Our Lady and the Saints, especially St. Joseph and Saint Therese of Lisieux adorned the walls of the house. In every room hung a crucifix. God was her constant companion. Little wonder then that two of her sons were to become priests.


FIRST EXPERIENCES – EARLY LEARNING

I can still hear the screams now! It was my first visit to the barbers. I presume up to that point my mother had kept my hair in check, like most Mums do with their two to four year olds. I still have a number of photographs which show me at my most hirsute. There I stand, usually in the front of a queue of family or friends, looking absolutely miserable and unsmiling, sporting an upside down “bowl” of hair – at least that’s what it looks like. I think it’s called the page boy style? John had taken me for a haircut and after I had been placed in the special child stool in the barber’s chair, he had asked John to go and buy him some cigarettes. That was it! I couldn’t bear him being out of my sight. I must have been about four at the time. He had hardly gone through the door, when I started to shriek out of sheer terror. The barber quickly summoned him to return. I stopped screaming and had my hair cut.

As a child I was lucky to be exposed to the distinctly cosmopolitan nature of the East End, a conglomerate of differing cultures and languages. The barber to whom I regularly went was a Jew and there were many of them in Whitechapel in the thirties.

Our milkman was a Welshman, a happy, lively soul, who gave me many a lift on his float. Sometimes he even let me collect the empties. He always had a cheery word for everyone, and often spoke about the ‘valleys’.

Following in the footsteps of my brothers and sister, I went to St. Boniface’s in Adler Street, off the Whitechapel Road - a Church serving the German community. I received my first punishment, a slap on the palm of the hand with a ruler. Feeling rather aggrieved, I told my Mum when I got home. But the only sympathy I got was a couple of slaps on my bottom, with the warning: “You must have been quite naughty to be slapped by Miss. Make sure you behave yourself in future!” I never said a word after that!

I eventually served on the altar there and listened to many sermons in a language I could not understand. The Parish priest was Fr. Schnitzler, who was a bit like he sounded, severe and unfriendly. Making up for him, though, was his curate, a Fr. Simml, who befriended our family and came to see us regularly. My brother John became his right hand man and I was very privileged to be allowed to help the Clergy in sending out their Christmas appeal. We were always rewarded by a slap up meal in the presbytery. I attended school there for one year and was then transferred to St. Anne’s, Underwood Road. Probably because it was very much nearer and John, who used to take me to and from school left to go to the Junior seminary.

We came under the canonical jurisdiction of St. Anne’s as our Parish. It was run by a religious order of priests, known as the Society of Mary. They were engaged in schools and missionary work as well as the pastoral. There must have been at least six or seven of them in the community and lived in a big house next to the Church. Both house and church were stone built in the gothic style. A huge lawn at the back of the house and to the side of the church was surrounded by high walls. This provided privacy and quiet. It was opened to parishioners a couple of times a year for the garden party and May processions. The school was round the back, and separated from the Church by the playground. The vast majority of the congregation was Irish or Irish descent. I was thus brought into first contacts with Irish dancing, ceilidhs, and the brogue. I made my first confession at the age of six (sic!) to Fr. McKenna, who heard them in the confessional at the back of the Church on the right. He was the most popular among parishioners because it was always a quick in and out.“Say three Hail Mary’s for your penance”, a Latin absolution said at breakneck speed and you were out. Other priests heard confessions in the confessionals that lined the walls either side of the church, six in total, but they had less customers! There were always queues outside Fr. McKenna’s.

I made my first Holy Communion on June 12th., 1938 and have a certificate to prove it. I remember it as a great day. We were feted and dined, well, breakfasted is more correct. In those days you fasted from midnight and that meant not only from food but even water! It was therefore a long stretch from getting up in the morning to the 9 or 10 o’clock Mass. But it was a wonderful day. You were made to feel very special and you were in the limelight everywhere, in Church and at home, and all day.

Being involved with three Churches, as a five year old altar server, I had become absolutely fascinated by the whole church thing. Little surprise then that upstairs in my parents’ bedroom, where there was a small table with a crucifix and statue of Our Lady, I used to pretend to say Mass. For host I used a wafer, and for wine Tizer. I even used to preach a short homily. I was all alone – no congregation! What a harbinger of things to come that was!

At St. Anne’s a boy in my class was called - Pellicci. I was to learn this was an Italian name. His parents owned a cafe in Bethnal Green Road, which was later frequently used by the infamous Kray Twins for their afternoon meetings. It was still there in 2002! Every year without fail my Mother used to take me to watch the Italian procession, which started from and finished at the Italian Church in Clerkenwell. Nearly every Catholic Church in those days processed around its own locality, witnessing to their devotion to Our Lady in May and to their belief in the Real Presence in June, close to the feast of Corpus Christi. One of the unforgettable features were the window displays of the houses that lined the route of the procession. A statue or a picture would be surrounded by flowers and simple decorations. Particularly in the Limehouse and Poplar areas, these processions were watched with equal interest by ordinary non-Catholics as well. Probably the menfolk worked side by side on the docks anyway. But none could compare with the one organised by the Italian Church for the size, length, splendour, music, singing, and floral displays. People of all religious faiths and none came to watch from all over London. It was for me a day out.

Among the many thrilling first experiences of my early childhood, such as the installation of electricity, switching lights on and off, a ride on a tram or a bus, watching a horseshoe nailed on, the most exciting must have been the arrival of a motor car down our street. It belonged to Mr. Norris who lived next door but one. I was quite friendly with his son Harry, their only child. His mother was a bit of a snob but welcomed our friendship. You couldn’t say that about our neighbours on the other side, the Simpers! The Norris’ didn’t approve of their drunken brawls; they were too common. Actually I thought they were alright, especially Johnny, who was about my age. In that set up I also had my first lessons in conflict. Harry, Johnny and I often played together, but if Mrs. N fell out with the Simpers, then Harry wouldn’t play with me if I played with Johnny!! And vice- versa. But that day, everyone was out on the street. I can’t remember make or model (possibly an Austin Morris?) but we kids buzzed around it like bees. Harry proudly showed us the inside, pretending to drive it. There were not many privately owned motor cars in those days.

Talking of cars, it must have been about this time that gender differences made an impact and it’s amazing how those first sexual stirrings begin in one so young! These were due to the Daily Mirror or rather to one of its cartoon characters – Jane! Nearly everyday she appeared in states of undress, getting into or out of a bath, going to bed or rising therefrom or whatever situation gave the cartoonist an excuse to expose her. The fact that these cartoons were called comic strips had nothing to do with the daily stripping carried out by the lovely Jane. When the lady who modelled Jane for the artist Norman Pett died in December 2000, The Times referred to her as “the woman who stripped for Britain”. The report went on to say “Jane became Tommy’s icon and trademark. She rode into battle painted on the turrets of tanks and on Lancaster bombers”. Some veterans claimed it was she who won the War! Jane in real life was Chrystabel Leighton-Porter who died from cancer.

I, as a six or seven year old was attracted to the curves and shapeliness of Jane’s nude body. The “Boys” ranged from 18 to 22 at this time and one of them always brought The Mirror home. Dad usually read it as well. But before I could look at it, my mother had censored it, inking out her breasts and bottom. Of course for me this only enhanced the curiosity.


CHURCH

Why did my mother cover Jane’s immodesty? The answer lies in her deep faith and spirituality, her fear and love of God and her total obedience to the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, the one true Church. The human body was the temple of the Holy Spirit and as such was sacred. Beyond the innocence of babyhood, it should not be unnecessarily exposed, particularly those parts of the body which are intimate and private, and essential to the evacuation of waste, as well as the procreation of the human race. The virtue of purity was constantly extolled, with the Virgin Mary as its chief proponent, and its opposite vice condemned with equal vigour. Nudity led to sins of impurity. And in the inking out of Jane’s exposed privates, Mum was safeguarding all her children, adults included. I wonder now how she would have reconciled the many artistic treasures of the Vatican in the form of naked statues and paintings with her ideas of modesty.

I have already written earlier about her abundant devotional life and how her life revolved around the Church, when it wasn’t around her family. I soon learnt that our Roman Catholic religion was the one true one. Anything else I might encounter were but pale shadows of the real thing.

As far as the Jews were concerned they had a special place because they were the chosen people of God in the Old Testament. But because they rejected Christ and crucified Him, they were to be pitied and wary of. We knew where they lived because invariably on the street door jamb was a sign about three inches long, with the width of a pencil, containing a tiny scroll on which the Ten Commandments were printed. The occupier of the house would touch this and kiss the touching finger on entering and leaving.

It was customary for a Jew on a Saturday to invite a non-Jew in to light the fire. It was understood that the Sabbath precluded any activity – it was a total day of rest. My brothers mischievously used to warn me never to go inside a Jew’s house, because as a young Christian boy I could be kidnapped and offered for human sacrifice. In fact, this was one of the earliest games we played at home. My brother John would be the Jew, I the little boy.

“Vill you come in to light my fire?” he would say as I passed by our street door. He would then follow me to the bottom of the stairs which acted as the fire, and as I pretended to light it, he would throw a jacket over my head, and whisk me off upstairs! I would then call out for help. Then we would swap roles. I was the Jew and John was the young christian. But despite this terribly bigoted rubbish, I rarely heard either of my parents speak ill of the Jews. In fact my mother was always taken for a Jew herself because of her limited English. This paid dividends during the War whenever she went to her regular Jewish grocer and it came to getting a bit extra from under the counter. We never seemed to be short of eggs, sugar and yes! bacon. I can remember the shop quite well. It had a large tin sign affixed to the wall above the window advertising Colman’s Mustard. I always thought that that was the name of the grocer.

On our wanderings around the East End, whether this was with my brother, sister or Mother, we passed many non-catholic Churches.

“That’s not one of ours” or “That used to be Catholic, until they stole it from us” were my first lessons about the Reformation. I was given a potted version about the wicked Henry VIII and even wickeder Elizabeth 1st, who put catholic priests, monks, men and women to death for not renouncing their allegiance to the Pope. The Pope was Christ’s vicar on earth, therefore they were swearing their allegiance to Christ, for whom they died; hence they were martyrs. In 1935, Thomas More and John Fisher, the Bishop of Rochester were canonised and became household names. Both had been imprisoned in the Tower and then beheaded on Tower Hill. I always remember being taken to see that very spot and the feelings of pride which it stirred in my soul. The same sort of emotion and feeling at the back of the neck when we sang “Faith of our fathers, living still..” I have been a Thomas More fan ever since.

In Lithuanian the nuance of a word can be changed by its ending. So the softer ‘baznyciele’ was used by my mother for a Catholic church, whilst the rougher ‘baznytuze’ – with a derogatory ending, described the non-catholic one! Of course in those days you never dared to cross the threshold of a protestant church, and if you wanted to attend a wedding in one, permission had to be sought from the Parish Priest. Neither could you join in any of their liturgy and even silent prayer in your own mind was not encouraged. Although prayer is speaking to God, to do so on forbidden territory, such as a Protestant Church, your prayer was somehow polluted. Ecumenism was not heard of in the Thirties!

My father went to Church every Sunday. Usually it was St. Anne’s, the nearest one to our home. My three brothers (The Boys) also went, but under duress. I have been told that dad was known to put some pressure on them. This was in the form of physical force, a broom handle, the better to reach them with if they hid under the bed. Sometimes they would get ready and leave the house, but they never attended Mass. When my father died, they stopped going altogether with perhaps the odd exception on the occasion of a big festival, they would loiter around the back of the church. I heard my mother pleading with them many times but to no avail. Then she would berate them mercilessly, as if they were the worst heathens on earth. My sister Anne went frequently to church services over and above her obligatory Sunday attendance.

John served on the altar in all three Churches and very often during the week as well as two or three times on a Sunday. I cannot recall what arrangements were made as to where he served. I usually went wherever he did and customs differed in each church. I know, for example, how embarrassed I was when the sacristan at the Lithuanian Church insisted I accompany John on the altar but did not have a cassock/soutane to fit me. So I had to wear a cotta/surplice which only came down to my knees, thus giving the impression I was wearing a white dress. In the local parish church (St. Anne’s) a rigorous training period was imposed, and I wasn’t allowed onto the altar until I had learnt all the responses in Latin off by heart. A strange expression “serving on the altar”. Actually you don’t go on the altar at all but kneel or stand near and at the altar.

But other portentous world events would soon distract me from my pining!


RUMOURS OF WAR

From 1937 onwards, radio news bulletins were full of war stories and the build up of military power. The Civil War in Spain was in full flow. The town of Guernica had been bombed in broad daylight by German aircraft at Franco’s invitation. Hitler was making warlike noises against Poland and Czechoslovakia. He had his minions in Austria which he would annexe in 1938. Churchill opposed Prime Minister Chamberlain’s peace policy of appeasement with Germany. And as a six year old I was frightened of what might happen.

Obviously life went on. I was going to school but soon moved around the corner to the Boys’ only section. A vivid and unpleasant memory remains of a weekly lesson in which one of the class would be picked to stand in front of his classmates and describe a film he had recently seen. I just dreaded the day the lot would fall upon me, simply because I was not allowed to go to the Pictures. This caused me quite a dilemma at the time. I dare not question my Mum’s judgement about the cinema. To her it was one of the “Hells” together with pubs and clubs. On the other hand, here was a teacher, a Marist brother to boot, who was indirectly encouraging you to see films, so that you could learn to express yourself orally! But I hated to be different from the rest of the class even more than I hated having to stand up and speak to it. I didn’t want anyone to know that my mother wouldn’t let me watch films. So I asked my sister Anne who was a film goer to tell me the story of one. I found it a tough assignment to repeat what I hadn’t really understood or enjoyed in the first place.

John was away at boarding school for a whole year before coming home. That was the nature of seminary life and expectations. There were no home holidays at Christmas or Easter. This was all part of the training. You had to become detached from family and friends, so as to give yourself entirely to God and the work of the Missions. I couldn’t wait for the summer holidays of 1938 to start. When he wrote to tell us the day he would be coming home, I kept going to the front door and looking up the street to see if he were there! I wouldn’t leave his side and hung on to every word he uttered, telling us in detail about life at Shrigley. The more I heard the more I wanted to follow in his footsteps. It sounded such an exciting place where the boys played football and cricket on grass fields, and you could learn a musical instrument. My brother had begun to play the double bass and saxophone. One year he actually brought it home and I am proudly photographed with it around my neck against the background of our wild back garden. He often used to speak about one of the boys in the orchestra, an oboist, by the name of O.B. Kelly. He seemed to have been quite a character, good fun to be with and a young man with leadership qualities. I eventually met Ollie in real life in 1968. He was the parish Priest at Limehouse, later to become the administrator of Westminster Cathedral. Mgr. Kelly died in the mid-nineties after being the priest in charge at my own parish of Warley.

At the end of that summer, John went back to school for another year. Little did we know then that he would be back seven months later to bury my father.

All I knew in the March of 1939 was that my Dad wasn’t very well. He used to wheeze quite a lot but then I thought that was due to his smoking. He was taken into a local hospital, literally around the corner in Vallance Road. It was aptly named St. Peter’s. On the afternoon of the 27th, a very dear family friend Mary Zelauskas, one of my sister Anne’s favourites had popped in intending to accompany Anne to visit Dad. I was very fond of Mary, so I was in the back room with Mum and Anne, listening to the chat as they sipped their cups of tea. There was a loud knock on the door. I may have been the first one to open it but I can still remember the face of the bearer of grim news. He wore heavy brown glasses, dark hair. His look was as sombre as the clothes he stood in. I am not sure who was standing behind me as he announced: “I’m afraid I have some sad news. Mr. Galcius died today”.

The rest of the afternoon I could only look on as the three women cried and cried. My mother seemed inconsolable. It was obviously a sudden death and totally unexpected. He was only 55 years old. For me it was all a bit bewildering. I did not fully understand what death was. Of course I had heard of people dying. I had been to requiem masses in church. But this was close to home. I don’t think I cried. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do. The finality and loss only dawned on me when Dad’s body was brought in the next day and laid out in the front room. I was allowed to look at him as he lay asleep, hands joined and entwined with rosary beads. Lots of rosaries were said and recited by Mum, sister and brothers as we knelt around the coffin. Friends came in to offer condolences and inevitably said the rosary. Cups of tea and biscuits followed the same repetitive pattern in the room next door.

I was well informed of the meaning of death, that it was the soul departing from the body. Prayers were important because the quick could intercede on their behalf before the justice of God, who in His infinite mercy would forgive the soul. I knew about purgatory as well, which I imagined was a very hot place in which souls now known as Holy Souls were prepared for the ultimate glory. But the big mystery for me – to this very day – about my father’s death was why I was not permitted to attend his funeral. Instead I had to spend the time everyone else was in Church praying for my father’s soul, in a neighbour’s house playing with toys I was not interested in. On reflection, I suppose I was being protected from the sadness and sorrow of such a sombre occasion.

And afterwards, no Dad coming home, no dad’s lap to sit on, no Daily Mirror, no dad to go to church with and no threepenny bit, that shiny octagonal coin he always gave me provided I went with him to Church. His distinctive smell of pipe smoke and skinned animal furs no longer lingered around the house. Later that year, another horrible thing happened. On September the third, 1939, Britain and France declared war on Germany!


CALM BEFORE THE STORM

In the same way that everyone knows where they were on the day J F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas or on September 11th, 2001 the day terrorists flew planes into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre, so I too remembered where I was when the second World War broke out. I was serving mass in the Lithuanian Church. The suddenness and the wailing of the air raid sirens took everyone in the church by surprise. Some began to make a move, others looked round, worried, whispered conversations were exchanged. I think someone started to cry. I looked over at my Mum in the front bench near the confessional. Panic stirred among the pews because sirens meant an air raid was beginning. The priest appealed for calm. He told the startled congregation that War had been declared at 11 am. Given the events of the previous months, this news was not unexpected.

In fact, even before that Sunday, gas masks had been issued to all the population of the UK. Many London children had been evacuated to safer places. My mother would not let me out of her sight, so I did not join those thousands of children duly labelled with their names and destination, and herded along the platforms of Waterloo, Paddington, King’s Cross and Liverpool Street stations. With the knowledge I have now of how some were treated I am grateful to my mother for hanging on to me! And earlier in 1939, all 20 and 21 year olds were called up. My twenty year old brother Vince was thus eligible and eventually he was conscripted into the Royal Army Medical Corps. My brother Joe who was 24 passed his medical and joined the Royal Artillery. Cazimir, 22, was deemed unfit and never called up. Strange, when of the three he probably was the fittest, playing football every Sunday on Hackney marshes! Later in the year, Anderson shelters were also provided for planting in the back yard. Constructed of six foot long corrugated steel sheets, which arched at the top, it was half in the earth and half above it, covered by the soil which had been displaced in the process. You climbed down into it via a small ladder, which was included in the package.

The first year of the war was often referred to as the ‘phoney’ war. Sirens went off, everyone rushed to a shelter but then nothing happened. I knew quite a few friends who didn’t even do that. They all just carried on as usual. We’d heard the grown ups talk about fighting in France, bombing, buildings being blown up, ships sinking and so on. I knew we were fighting the Germans, who were bad, really bad. This did not, of course apply to the German Church in Adler St and Fr. Simml. Somehow they were different.

Then one Saturday afternoon, September 8th.,1940, I was walking down Buxton Street, on my own, on the way back from St. Anne’s Church where I had been to confession. Every Saturday between 4 and 5pm was confession time for children! 1 was possibly thinking about my eighth birthday, two and a half weeks previously, when my reverie was rudely interrupted by the warning siren wailing across the sunny blue skies. Another one of those false alarms, I thought. But then my mother’s words came to mind: ‘Whenever you’re out and the siren goes, come home straightaway’. It took me three minutes to reach home, through the short cuts, past the back to back housing and cobbled streets, so characteristic of that area on the border of Bethnal Green and Whitechapel.

As I puffed through the front door, my sister Anne hurried me on.

“Mum’s in the Anderson shelter already”

“Where’s John?” I asked.

“Up the ladder leaning on the shed. He wants to see what’s happening.”

“Aren’t you coming?”

“No, can’t be bothered”.

I did not fully appreciate that my sister could not have managed, anyway, to climb down into the shelter, because of her partially paralysed arm and leg.

As I went though the back door into the yard, I heard the drone of aircraft. I felt quite excited. Perhaps at last something was going to happen.

“Tony, hurry up and get down here”, my mother shouted, relieved that her youngest had

arrived home safely. John, standing from his vantage point on the ladder started to give us a running commentary. He pointed out the bombers flying in formation, like minute silver crosses.

Boom! Boom!

“That’s the anti-aircraft guns”, John said excitedly. “Tony, can you see tiny white puffs

around the planes? They’re the shells exploding”. I climbed down and stood in between the

bunks. My mum was lying on one of them.

Suddenly, John clattered off the ladder and dived into the shelter, as the first bombs began to fall. The guns intensified, the drone grew louder and the bombs dropped nearer. Explosion after deafening explosion.

Mum began sobbing.

“I want to die. I want to die”, she repeated

She was to tell us later that the dreadful experiences of the First World war came rushing back at that precise moment. She had been so frightened, even though the few small bombs that fell on London between 1914 and 1918 were actually thrown out of the cockpit by the pilot of the bi-plane! She already had two babies to protect at that time but at least her husband was alive to help. How was she going to cope now, a widow with a disabled daughter and an eight year old son. And all the worry about her four grown up sons.

“I want to die” Mum sobbed again.

All this was too much for me. With Dad gone, what would I do if my mum died as well – as she seemed to wish?

“Don’t die, Mum, don’t die”, I blurted out, crying like a baby, and clutching my mother’s arms. We held each other, closed our eyes and prayed. Bombs exploded all over the docks, which were only about a mile away.

When we eventually emerged, after the All Clear had sounded, we could see huge fires in the direction of the Docks. The pungent acrid stink of smoke filled our nostrils.

Neighbours gathered out in the street and discussed the awful experience of that afternoon. “Will they be back, tonight?” was the question on everyone’s lips. None of us had any idea where Cazimir was or had spent the afternoon, but eventually he turned up safe and sound. I can’t remember what he said.

Later that evening, the crimson red skies of the setting sun were mirrored to the east by the red glow of the still burning docks. Street and railway lights came on. So did the air raid warning! The Luftwaffe were on their way back.

“We’ll have to go to Bethnal Green Underground Station tonight” My mother announced. “At least down there we shall have a bit of peace”.

I was somewhat puzzled.

“Won’t we have the noise of the trains if we go down the Tube, and where are we going to sleep?” I asked.

“No, Tony,” Mum answered, “there are no trains at the moment. They built the tunnels but hadn’t had time to put the lines down when the war broke out. They’ve been made into shelters. So you won’t hear any bombs, shells or guns”. Now sixty years later whenever I travel that section of the underground from Mile End to Bethnal Green, I think of the trains running over where once my Mum and I slept in bunks.

“When will we go, then, Mum?”

“When the lights on the big lift go out, dear. It’ll be your job to tell Mummy when they do, OK?”

The lift my mother was alluding to was part of a railway yard positioned right opposite our house. It was big enough to lift the goods trucks from ground level to the railduct above adjoining the mainline. It was therefore a fair military target, despite being in the middle of a residential area. As enemy planes flew over the cliffs of Dover, warnings were telephoned to the lift operators long before the official siren sounded. All the lights were then turned off and the whole area plunged into darkness. If we left immediately we could get to the Tube shelter in five minutes.


THE BLITZ

The months that followed were to be the worst in my life as a child. They were probably also for the East End and the City of London. Day and night German bombers carried out intensive and extensive raids. Such was the regularity of day attacks that school was practically suspended. Classes were reduced to two hours a day from 10am to Noon, which seemed to be the period least likely to have a raid!

Life took on a routine of its own. Every evening I would begin my vigil. My look out posts varied from the upstairs front window to downstairs, or even just outside the front door. I would shout out “Mum, they’re off”, referring to the lights on the railway lift, and she would gather her already prepared bundle of blankets and a bag containing essentials such as a flask of tea, toilet paper, sweets and gas masks. Off we hurried to the tube station. Deep in the bowels of Bethnal Green, amidst the stench of human sweat, the mustiness of exhaled carbon dioxide and the odour of chemical latrines, I would sleep soundly on the bunk above my mother’s. Looking back, I wonder what sort of a night she would have. Could it have been a fitful one? She must have realised the fear which had not only gripped her but her little boy. How could she protect me both physically and emotionally? What effects can war have on a child, she must have wondered?

The next day she would wake me as early as possible and tell me to go and wait for her in the park above, whilst she folded the blankets and tidied up the bunks. We would then go home. The time 5.30 am!! Everyday I used to run on ahead to the end of our street and see if our house was still standing. Of course, it wasn’t just the house we worried about but about my sister and brother who slept in it during the raids. Once the parcel had been deposited, we would both then go to St. Anne’s where I often served the 6am Mass. Back home I’d be given breakfast and sent to bed for a couple of hours before going to school.

In the afternoon, free of all scholastic obligations, I would meet up with about five other kids on the street. If we weren’t playing soccer or cricket, we would roam around assessing enemy damage. Fearlessly we would climb the rubble and search among the debris for the spoils of war! These consisted of shrapnel, bits of bombs, parts of planes or its engines. Collections were begun and we were intensely proud of them. They were jealously guarded and only parted with after a fair deal of bartering.

“Do you want to swap my piece of shell made in Sheffield for an exhaust part off a Junkers 88” was a typical exchange. I remember finding in a burnt out shop an entire incendiary bomb. Unfortunately my Mum would not allow me to keep it at home! Some months later, much to my huge disappointment she threw out the whole collection that I had so carefully kept in a strawberry basket. It was a gesture of her wholehearted hatred of war.

Two streets away, some of the houses had taken direct hits and were no longer habitable. Windows would be boarded up, planks of wood nailed across the front door. But if the house was still standing, no matter how damaged, people would continue doggedly to stay in it. We could tell whether they were still lived in or not. One afternoon during our roamings we noticed that one of the damaged houses still had a few windows intact. Someone shouted out: “Look at those windows. Let’s smash ‘em!” Responding to primal instincts, enhanced perhaps by the destruction that surrounded us, we entered into the task with enthusiasm, taking up half bricks or chunks of mortar, and throwing them with uncanny accuracy.


Smash – smash – smash. One after another the glass shattered. As we shrieked with laughter, the front door opened. A man, filled with justifiable rage, shook his fists and shouted after us as we fled: “ Hasn’t Hitler done enough damage, you little bastards?”

These afternoons of discovery and destruction (well at least sometimes!) were brought to an end by the call to come home. In the best traditions of the East End, Mum would stand at the front door or in the back yard and shout “Tonyyyyyyyy”. Instinctively, I recognised the maternal origin of the call and ran home.

After tea and a thorough wash, as it got dark, I took up my vigil again, waiting for the lights to go off!

Normally we heeded this “secret” signal of ours immediately, but one evening we dithered. So we were still in the house when the warning sounded. We had not reached the top of our turning before we heard the sound of aircraft, like a giant’s stentorian breathing in the sky. Bombs whistled down. As part of the psychological warfare, the Hun had fixed a contraption to the fin of the bomb which would cause a most terrifying screech, that only Hell could have created. I was terrified. My fear was exacerbated by the sight of my mother equally gripped by the same terror. I vividly recall her reaction that night. She screamed a prayer as she grabbed me and we both fell to the ground, her arms protectively around me. All I could do was shut my eyes tight and listen to the explosions as bomb after bomb dropped nearby. And this time they were much nearer. I was sure one had destroyed our house, just a few yards behind us. It had in fact landed two streets away. Still terribly close.


FROM E1 TO E4

My mum thought this was too close for comfort and negotiated with another Lithuanian family to move into their bungalow in Chingford. The owner, Simeon Žalauskas, had known our family for many years from the days when they lodged with the Širvids who had a house in the next street, abutting diagonally onto our back yard. His daughter Mary was my sister Anne’s best friend. Their family story had more than its fair share of tragedy. Mr.Žalauskas was gassed three times during the First World War, having been forcibly conscripted into the British army. He was given an ultimatum to join up or return to Lithuania. Mary’s mother gave birth to three sons and a daughter and then spent 21 years in a ‘home’ suffering with depression. From a very early age Mary had to take on the role of ‘mother’. Her eldest brother John died at the age of 25, and her two other brothers were both born with hearing and sight difficulties.

But in 1940, Mary and her family gave my mother, sister and me a very warm welcome, as we settled into their three bedroomed bungalow. Chingford was only up the road, but at least it was away from the East End which had become such an intense target of German hostility. You could still hear the raids in the distance and people were still frightened enough to want to seek shelter.

And shelter was to be found around the corner in a small park in Drysdale Avenue. A deep trench had been dug running parallel with the road. Its length was as long as a football pitch. The roof was a thick slab of concrete covered by soil. Along each side were twin bunks. Apart from toilets (probably chemical ones) there were no other conveniences or luxuries, and certainly no ash trays. Every morning the floor was covered with dog ends. My friend, a local lad, was newly acquired on my arrival in Chingford. After people had left the shelter, and most did very early in the morning to go to work or go home, he and I collected the cigarette butts. We had enough sense to realise how unhygienic that could be, so we always tore off the part which had been in the mouth and the other end which had been alight. The paper holding the rest of the cigarette was then dispatched and the tobacco deposited into a tin. It became the finest blend of tobaccos you could ever find in Britain – Weights, Woodbines, Players and goodness knows what else. My friend, whose name escapes me, would then do an “errand” for his Dad or Granddad at the Tobacconists and buy ‘fag papers’. And that was my first introduction to real smoking! Prior to that we used to wander along the little stream at the bottom of the park and pretend to smoke the reeds. No inhalation but if you blew hard enough the lit end would go on and on.

For the few months we stayed in Chingford, I went to St. Mary’s school, adjacent to the Catholic Church of Our Lady of Grace and St. Teresa of Avila. This meant a bus journey up King’s Head Hill, quite long and steep, or a walk along the edge of the forest. Most of the time and after the initial two or three trips, when I was accompanied by my Mum, these journeys were done on my own or with other children. Those were the days when danger only came down from the skies and not from rain coated men lurking behind trees!

About a mile away was a huge reservoir supplying water for North East London. It was therefore a military target which was bombed occasionally and which was also defended by AA units of the Artillery. For a nine year old this meant shrapnel. The collection I had started at home continued here. I had my secret hiding place for it which I shared with Mr. Žalauskas. I recall his smiling comments about these items as he puffed away on his pipe, a smell which remains with me to this day.

His daughter Mary was the ‘gaspadine’ – the one in charge. But for all that I think we all got on remarkably well. Mum must have done her fair bit of shopping and cooking whilst Mary was out at work. Anne would have made our beds and helped to clean the house. I liked Mary very much. In my own little mind coming to terms with watching adults taking girl friends out and getting married, I thought ‘one day I shall marry Mary’.

As the Blitz on London began to diminish in the Spring of 41, Mum decided it was time to return home.


BUSINESS AS USUAL

These three words symbolised the spirit of Londoners during the first years of the War, but especially of Eastenders. Surrounded by devastation and destruction, when bomb sites and sights were becoming commonplace, people carried on, going about their work, their war efforts &ndash.“digging for Victory” – shopping and socialising. Many shops were damaged or even wiped out but their proprietors would immediately set up their stall again among the ruins or nearby with a sign bearing the words ‘Business as usual’.

And for my mother, sister and me on returning from Chingford, our lives became very much ‘ business as usual’. The daily drudge was interrupted sometimes by Vince and Joe coming home on leave. It was patently obvious how much they missed home comforts. I have a sneaking suspicion they were envious of Cazimir, deemed unfit for service. His life revolved around work, pub and home – the same pattern as pre-war. It was very exciting for me to be brother to two soldiers, try their uniform tunic on, lift the rifle, wear the ‘tin’ hat, cap and explore the haversack.

But the most memorable of interruptions to the daily grind was when two American

GI’s knocked on the door and announced they were our first cousins. They were

the first relatives we had met and the only relatives we ever met in England.

Stanislaus and Vince were sons of our Mother’s sister Agatha who had emigrated to the

USA. I wonder what they thought of the two up two down that home was, since we all had this idea that all Yanks were very rich. It didn’t seem to worry them judging from the way they settled in. They took every opportunity to spend their leave with us before being stationed abroad.

I must have been about nine years old when I was mugged just off the Vallance Road in

Bethnal Green. Because of the war it was customary to wear a small round

badge on my lapel. The words “I am a catholic. In case of emergency please call a priest”

were etched round a cross at the centre of the badge. I was on my way to the Lithuanian

church in Hackney Road for the Sunday evening service.

It was a lovely summer’s day, sunny and quite warm. I had just come through the railway Arch, crossed the road, and turned into a side street. There weren’t many people around at the time. This was not unusual in those days. The men stayed in the pubs till closing time at 3pm, the women had by then prepared the Sunday roast. Afterwards, it was time for a kip. Things only livened up about tea-time when the pubs would open for their evening session.

“Oi, you!”

I turned round to see three boys approaching. They were obviously the ones who had

shouted out. Two of them were about my size, the third who seemed to be the leader was

a foot taller. He was carrying a revolver. I cannot recall whether it was a toy or an air

gun.

“What ‘ave yer got in yer pockets?” he asked roughly, pushing me against the wall.

I was very scared.

“Nuffin”, I said quietly, hardly able to get any sound out at all. He put his hands into my jacket pockets and found a tiny rosary which had been one of my first Holy Communion presents. He took it and gave it to one of the others. There was no money or anything else of use to them. So he raised the gun towards my face. I fully expected him to shoot and briefly wondered what it would be like to die.

“OK, then, we’ll have this”, and with that he used the gun to undo the badge on my lapel.

“Gorn, off yer go, then”, he ordered. I did not need a second invitation.

It wasn’t till after the evening Service that I told my Mum. She was none too pleased and presumably felt guilty that she allowed me to go ahead of her on my own. And yet, it was customary for young children to go to the shops, to school, in fact, anywhere on their own. After all, you began work at fourteen.

That experience of daylight robbery was unique. It was never repeated during the remainder of my childhood in London. Looking back on that rather scary encounter with child footpads and with the historical knowledge I now have about the East End the fact that I was mugged does not surprise me. After all, in that area, for the previous hundred years, violent crime, prostitution and theft had gone hand in hand with poverty, overcrowding and deprivation. Jack, the Ripper committed his first murder in Hanley Street, a short five minutes walk from my home. The famous Krays lived around the corner in 178, Vallance Road. Family legend has it that my brother Joe actually took their aunt Rosie out for some time! She had no illusions about her nephews. The twins’ eyebrows met in the middle and for Rosie this meant that they were born to hang. “You’re a born devil, Ronnie”, she used to say.


I was undoubtedly a contemporary of Charlie Kray and his twin brothers. I have often wondered whether they might have been my youthful muggers!

This incident, I suppose, was one of a number of factors at this time which would have focussed my mother’s attention on my future. Others were undoubtedly the lack of proper schooling, my own aptitude to learning, my interest in church things, the roughness of the East End, and the constant fear of more bombing raids over London. She spoke to me about the importance of going to a good school, or “college” and in order to do that, I would need to study hard and pass a scholarship. One such school and the nearest was St. Bernard’s in Mile End Road.

But I never got there. For there was a greater pull for me to follow in the footsteps of my brother John, who was studying at Shrigley. My mother had taken me to the Salesian College at Battersea to see a film about the life of St. John Bosco. I remembered being powerfully moved and wanting to be a priest like him, and even to go on the missions. Obviously, my mother went about applying for entry to Shrigley. But she never once put any pressure on me to take this course of action. Even a week before I was to leave home she sat me down and asked me if I was absolutely sure this is what I wanted.


LEAVING HOME

On October 8th., 1941 my mother entrusted me, her ten year old youngest child, to the guard on a morning train leaving Paddington for Evesham. It was the first time in my life that I had travelled on the Great Western Railway; the first time I had travelled alone; the first time I had left home, knowing that I would not see it or my Mum for that matter, until the following summer! She gave him a tip to keep an eye on me and to make sure I changed at Evesham, to catch a train for Tewkesbury, the nearest town to the village of Beckford.

I can only guess what went on in her mind. I am sure she must have been sad and worried that she was handing me over to a complete stranger. But I am equally sure that she would have dispelled any doubts or fears in the hope that her young lad was starting a long journey to the Priesthood. As for myself it was the start of an adventure into the unknown. The guard was a kindly man who seated me in his guard room at the back of the train. My belongings were packed in a large trunk, and together with my gas mask there would have been a packed lunch. I was excited as the guard carried out his duties of closing all carriage doors, waving the green flag and blowing his whistle. He made sure I waved goodbye to my mother and we were off, as the steam belched up into the iron ceiling of one of London’s most famous termini. I do not remember being sad at leaving, because there was so much to watch, both in the room and through the windows. All this countryside was virgin territory for this erstwhile slum dweller from the East End.

On arrival at Evesham, my minder handed me over to a porter with appropriate instructions and I was soon on the train to Tewkesbury. This time, however, I was not with the guard but in one of the compartments with a couple of elderly gentlemen, or at least they looked elderly to me at the time. They asked the obvious questions – where did I come from, where was I going , what was I going to do. I told them quite innocently that I was going to study for the Priesthood. No shame, no embarrassment! A conversation to be repeated to the porter when arriving at my destination. A phone call was made and a couple of Salesians came to pick me up. It was dark by the time I reached my new home, which was called ‘St. Joseph’s Noviciate’.

I joined some thirty other lads, whose ages ranged from 12 to 14. We were the years I and II, known as Lower and Upper Elements, who should have been at Shrigley, another Salesian house in Cheshire. We were at Beckford to make up the numbers. Beckford Hall was one of the many semi-stately homes built by retired Army officers during the glorious years of the Empire. The previous owner I understand was a Captain in the Army. It was a large house. In fact for someone like me coming from a pokey two up two down it was enormous. It was splendid in its grandeur, although I did not appreciate that then. All the main room floors were examples of fine parquetry. Only the dormitories, kitchens and scullery had floorboards; the dormitory with a strip of linoleum running down the centre with steel edges.

Because of its size Beckford Hall had to be full, otherwise all or part of it could have been requisitioned by the Ministry of Defence for military purposes. The original purpose of the Hall was to provide a chance for young men to try out the Religious life. Hence they were called novices, and hence the name of the house as St. Joseph’s noviciate. This consisted of a highly intensive spiritual programme to test the novice’s vocation and to instil the basics of ascetics. One could well imagine the incongruity of holy young men being juxtaposed to rookie soldiers. So, other areas in the house were used by Salesian brothers who were called ‘theologians’ because they were beginning four years of theological study before ordination. Three separate groups, each at a different stage of spiritual development and each living totally separate from the other two groups. A veritable apartheid indeed! The only days when we were allowed to mix were on special feastdays

The evening of my arrival I was shown into the boys’ refectory, a small room in the basement, given something to eat – the others had already eaten and were out in the recreation ground or yard. I was shown the bed I was to sleep in, one of thirty others in a dormitory which extended along the top of the house. A small cabinet separated one bed from the next and in that you kept your personal toiletries, pyjamas, and a minimum of clothing. Any suits, raincoats or coats were kept in a huge wardrobe which everyone else used.

Then to the chapel for night prayers, at the end of which one of the priests gave the “good-night”. This was a characteristically Salesian custom, started by Don Bosco himself. A few words with spiritual content, sometimes humorous, sometimes serious, on occasion a gripping little story with a moral. Immediately afterwards, to the dormitory in silence, known as the ‘Magnum Silentium’, not to be broken till breakfast time. A good wash, face and neck especially, legs, knees and feet and especially behind the knees. As you were doing all this one of the boys read out aloud from the lives of the saints. Once everyone was in bed the Brother in charge said ‘goodnight’ and switched off the lights. Thus was my first night away from home!

Was I homesick? Funnily enough, not that evening. I suppose the novelty of everything that happened that day was a powerful distraction. Two days later, however, I was enveloped in grief. As a routine was being established, it dawned on me that I was now truly outside of my family and the security of home. But I was afraid to show it. Peer group pressure was at full throttle! All the other lads had been there since the beginning of September and seemed happy enough. I had to be like them. My trunk had been delayed in arriving and on opening it I was shocked to find that my mother had packed a pair of brand new slippers! As far as I could see, the other boys’ slippers were old and well used. This was because they probably wore them at home, but in our house that had not been the case. So, hiding them under my jacket I took them outside, found a quiet corner and beat them up, squashing the newness and stiffness out of them and ageing them with handfuls of dirt!


A TYPICAL DAY AT BECKFORD

This has no reference to the beautiful little village of Beckford. It has always been customary never to refer to the correct title of the school or college or institute but only to the place in which it was located. The village itself was locked away from our lives completely. The only times we went into it or through it was on the days we went for a walk

We were awakened by the clapping of hands and a loud invitation “Benedicamus Domino” to which we had to respond “Deo Gratias”. Let us bless the Lord and Thanks be to God. It was then a scramble to get to the washroom where there were a number of basins and of course toilets. The water was always cold even in the bleakest of winters. In the morning face and neck were our prime targets, having done the other parts the night before. There were the inevitable ‘races’ between some of the lads as to who could be ready first and in the quickest time. Then the bed had to be made, that is sheets and blankets off, mattress turned, sheets and blankets replaced and tucked in according to instructions given. Once clothed you stayed and read by the bedside. All this was done in silence.

Having been woken up at 7.00 am we were kneeling in the chapel, ready to start our prayers at 7.30 am. Such prayers were encapsulated in a prayer book entitled ‘Companion of Youth’. They were formal prayers, including inter alia a Morning Offering, a prayer for peace in the house and five decades of the Rosary which formed a parenthesis around the central act of the Mass. All this took three quarters of an hour and so at 8.15 we were sitting down for breakfast – porridge, often lumpy, cups of tea and two slices of pan loaf bread with margarine. On feastdays the latter was substituted with butter!! After breakfast each boy had a job to do since refectories, dormitories, the chapel, toilet and classrooms had to be cleaned dusted and made ready for the day’s use. Tasks such as washing plates, pots and pans, clearing the tables, drying cutlery and crockery, re-setting tables had to be done after the four meals of the day. There were no outside cleaners or cooks.

Classes then began at 9.15 am and changed periods every three quarters of an hour with a mid morning break at 10.45. and finishing at 12.30pm. Dinner ensued, consisting of soup, meat, vegetables, potatoes (always called ‘spuds’) followed by a pudding of tapioca or semolina (referred to as frogs’ spawn) and custard. After dinner chores again for half an hour, then a short game of football. If it rained we had table tennis and other indoor games, after which we went to the dormitory for a quick refreshing wash to prepare us for three more periods of class from 2.30pm to 4.15pm. Tea time followed with two slices of bread, margarine and jam. Once various chores had been done we went to the Chapel for Benediction, then homework and study from 5.30pm to 8pm. Supper with the same ingredients as for breakfast and tea (well almost) apart from a cup of tea being replaced by cocoa. Chores and playtime followed and finally night prayers at 9 pm.

This daily regime continued over the next six years. Life at Beckford was merely an exact replica of life at Shrigley. There were variations on Wednesdays and Saturdays when in the afternoons there were extended periods of football, after which came some of the harder types of housework, like scrubbing and polishing floors, gardening or farming, which included picking spuds, bagging them, gathering hay and helping with other crops.

On Sundays, there was a second Mass which was sung, either a Missa Cantata or a Solemn High Mass. After dinner full time football matches between the various Houses named after the martyrs, More, Fisher, Ogilvie and Plunkett. In the late afternoon there would be Vespers and Benediction.

Every event, class, meal and work was encompassed by the sign of the Cross, a Hail Mary and the invocation: ‘Mary, help of Christians, pray for us’.

The day to day grind, however, was punctuated by feast days, the most solemn of which were the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th., Christmas Day, St Francis de Sales - January 28th., St. John Bosco - January 31st., March 6th – Dominic Savio, March 19th – St. Joseph, Holy Week and Easter, Our Lady, Help of Christians - May 24th., Corpus Christi in June, and Rector’s day. These were preceded on the evening before by a sacred concert called an ‘academy’ in which all the items were of a religious nature, obviously relevant to the particular saint. The day itself was much like a Sunday – two Masses, an extra special dinner, ‘the extra’ being chips, and tipsy cake (sherry trifle), a football match which could be a Staff v. Boys encounter, Solemn Vespers and Benediction in the evening before supper, followed by a concert or three act play. Such days were unforgettable and were very much looked forward to.

At the end of every month we had the exercise of a Happy Death! Its purpose was to remind us that death may strike anytime, as the scripture says, “like a thief in the night.” Hence the need to be always prepared. We prepared ourselves with a talk by a visiting priest on some spiritual topic to do with death, or purgatory, hell or heaven. Our places in the refectory, chapel and classroom were changed so that we could mix with everyone not just friends. Our dormitory lockers and classroom desks were tidied, so that all would be left in good order lest we depart this vale of tears. There was also a special treat at supper. No homework was given so that the study period could be used to prepare yourself for confession, and a visiting priest was available to go to. The rest of the time you could read anything of a spiritual nature, for example, the life of a saint.

The following morning, we had something other than the usual porridge – egg on toast, bacon and egg, perhaps, but definitely butter in place of margarine. I cannot now recall what we did in stead of morning classes, but I do know that the normal curriculum always re-commenced in the afternoon of the Happy Death exercise.

Over and above the exercises of piety held in common, suggestions for private prayer were regularly made. Among these was to say ‘My Lord and My God’ immediately after the consecration at Mass to indicate our belief in the Real Presence, and just prior to climbing into bed, three Hail Mary’s and an act of sorrow. These customs I have carried out ever since.

Classes were named rather than numbered. So, instead of ‘first year’ we were in Preparatory, moving on then to Upper Elements, Grammar, Syntax, and Rhetoric (Lower and Upper or I and II).


SCHOOL INFLUENCES

Whilst the ‘stately’ home that was St. Joseph’s Noviciate, and the outstandingly beautiful surroundings of its location in the Cotswold village of Beckford must have played a part in my early educational formation, by far the greater influences were the people I first met.

Even now, sixty three years later, I can still recall to mind my first English teacher. Brother John Collins was his name, a tiny man, beautifully spoken, lovely cricketer, swift of foot in the playground (impossible to catch during a game of ‘tig’ ), with a habit of leaning his head to the right whilst rolling his right shoulder at the same time.

Similarly, my first Latin teacher, a Scot, called Brother Paul McAleer overcame the monotony of learning verbs, nouns, and declensions by telling us how the Romans lived and what they did. He thus instilled in us a love for Latin which remained for the rest of my life. The importance of Latin was taken for granted. It was the language of the Church. All the liturgy was at that time expressed through Latin. Theological texts which one day we would be perusing were all in Latin. It was also very useful in the study of grammar, which again was a must on the curriculum.

The French teacher was a John Burgoyne, who regaled us with blood thirsty horror tales. For a very long time afterwards, I always associated the French with horror and gore.

One of the outstanding personalities among those first teachers was Bro. Tom Carroll, a very talented musician and organist. He was responsible for introducing me to Classical Music, via the unforgettable Beethoven’s Fifth. From time to time he organised concerts in the beautiful Library, the walls of which were lined with shelves and shelves of books. He would put on a record of various pieces from great composers, prefacing the music with anecdotes from their lives, and explaining what they were trying to convey through the music. Other members of staff or students might give a turn or recital.

During one of these ‘concerts’ the wireless was put on and we were told that Lord Haw Haw would be speaking. Everyone knew this gentleman as the traitor Englishman who broadcast daily from Berlin, extolling the virtues of Adolf Hitler and warning areas of Britain to expect a bombing. Imagine our surprise when on this particular occasion, he actually mentioned Beckford. Stunned into silence and not some little fear we listened even more intently until someone told us it was Bro. Tom having us on. His mimicry of Haw Haw was perfect.

The priest responsible for discipline was John Gunning, an Irishman whose title was Prefect of Studies. His task was to ensure we worked hard in class and privately and that we behaved ourselves. He always appeared serious and rarely smiled. I suppose he felt he had to be like this, to show how strict he was. During my second year at Beckford, I was very friendly with a lad by the name of Frank Horan. One day I was called out of the line going into the refectory by Fr. Gunning and told that I was becoming too friendly with Frank, and that ‘Particular friendships were frowned upon’. It was undoubtedly one of the policies of Salesian Education that you mingled and mixed with everyone in the school and not just one or two special friends. Obviously, there was a sexual connotation to such a policy and they were only trying to ensure that relationships never reached any dangerous levels. This restriction has probably put me in good stead, because I find mixing with people very easy and enjoyable, and am keen on ensuring everyone is included. On the other hand, I feel that it is part of our nature to have someone special, with whom we feel more comfortable, and at ease, and with whom there is a willingness to share interests. Certainly, as far as I was concerned, throughout the whole of my school days and life as a Religious, any physical relationships never came into it or even thought of. The only sexual urges I felt were entirely heterosexual.

My mother proudly kept all my school reports. The pass mark was 60% , above which came Good, Very Good and Excellent. I received two E’s at the end of my first year, one in Christian doctrine and the second in Elocution. Elocution!? - not bad for a lad who arrived ten months previously as an out and out cockney! In that first year I failed only Arithmetic. However, the following Summer I managed to change that to a G, and gained a total of six E’s.

With me in Preparatory were eleven other young, zealous boys, all one or two years older than me. Of those original twelve only two of us made it to the Priesthood. The other one was Gerry McGuinness from Glasgow. In the second year, he was joined by his brother Eddie, who also became a Salesian priest. The three of us eventually studied Theology together in Turin. It was during that time that Eddie and I became very close friends.

The summer holiday of ’42 was one I had looked forward to in a very special way. I had been away from home since the previous October, living in a huge mansion, under a strict regime with no female input whatsoever. It was nice to come home, despite its smallness, and be with my Mum and sister again. It was also to be significant for my brother John, who has just completed his five years at Shrigley and would be returning, with me, to Beckford as a novice.

I still vividly recall the day he came home. He asked Mum if he could have a few words in private. This they did in the front room. When they came out, both were in floods of tears. John, then nearly twenty, had been turned down for the Novitiate. He had not been considered good enough even to try his vocation in the Religious life. My sister and I were stunned.

On returning to Beckford for my second year, I felt, in some strange way, that I was sharing John’s failure. So many asked about him, especially a John McCrossan, one of the novices and a former classmate. Although I was able to tell them that John was trying the Zionists, a religious Order, whose aim was the conversion of Jews, I was almost apologising for his absence. I think it made me more determined than ever to succeed. Perhaps that’s why the Rector, Fr. T.W. Hall, was in a position to sum up my end of year report with: “ This is a very good report after a successful year. He is wholehearted in all he does and is inclined to some selfishness in small things”.


SHRIGLEY

From September 1943 to July 1947 I spent four very happy years at the Salesian Missionary College, Shrigley Park, Nr. Macclesfield, Cheshire. Like the house at Beckford, it too was a Hall, built in 1825, on the site of an old medieval one,. It was a building of its time, where very rich industrialist families lived in neo-classical splendour. As befell many of its contemporaries, Shrigley Hall became too expensive to run and upkeep and on the death of its last owner, it was put up for sale. In 1929, the Salesians were looking for a place in England to educate and train young men for the Missions, which were predominantly English-speaking. Fr. Tozzi, the provincial, negotiated the purchase and I remember meeting him on one of his visits to Beckford.

To the right of the House, an Anglican architect by the name of Tilden built a most beautiful octagonal Church, from stone quarried locally, and which must be the precursor of many a so-called modern Church. A great deal of the hard work was carried out by staff and boys who lived there in the late 30’s. My brother John was one of them and from him I had heard so much about Shrigley that I could hardly wait to get there in the first week of September 1943.

No one can but be impressed on arrival. The Hall, built of local grey stone, stands part way up a hill surrounded by mature trees. Looking from the front of the house, you can see the huge green fields undulating across and down to two man-made lakes, and in the distance the Cheshire Plain stretching as far as the eye can see. If any place deserves the title of ‘area of outstanding beauty’ then surely this must be it.

The school was wholly and essentially geared not only to the provision of a sound secondary education, but also to prepare us boys to become members of a Religious Order and its community life, to prepare us for the priestly life and an apostolate on the Missions. Emphasis was therefore placed on learning, manual labour, sport, music, drama, Religion and personal spirituality

These topics will head the following chapters, in which I describe what happened during the next four years of my school life. Where my own memory blurs I am gratefully indebted for greater detail to an excellent ‘memoir’ written by James Murray, who as a lad from Glasgow was at Shrigley from 1935 to 1940. He then made his novitiate at Beckford during ’40 &ndash.’41, after which he returned to Shrigley to study Philosophy when I first arrived at Beckford. Through the years that followed we were never destined to cross paths.


LEARNING

I shall always be grateful for the first class education I received at Shrigley. The standards demanded, as in everything else, were extremely high. In my view it was on a par with any Public School in the country. Furthermore, it was almost free. Fees were based on ability to pay. I know my Mum gave as much as she could, which I think was in the region of £5 per term. Refusal to learn, shoddy homework, or laziness were not tolerated and in fact seen as signs of a lack of vocation to the Religious Life. Such demands were fortunately of no concern to me. I had been gifted with an aptitude for learning, a will to discover and an ability to learn. And I am glad that we were pushed or pressurised to study. It stood me in good stead for the next fifteen years of uninterrupted academic work/study.

The twelve of us that had started at Beckford, on arrival at Shrigley went into Grammar (Year 3). We were joined by a number of boys mostly Scots. Among them were Peter Boyle and Peter Burns. Both persevered to the end, although Peter Boyle died recently. I became very friendly with another Scot, Michael Power, although in a class below me. The only other Londoner was Peter Grace, remembered for an outstanding brain and love of German. He was outwardly very pious and perhaps may have suffered from scruples. Although he started as an aspirant to the priesthood, he opted to remain a lay Brother. Lay brothers in the Salesians were usually artisans, like carpenters, farmers, cooks, tailors, toolmakers, or printers. Peter became a teacher. His brother, Charles was a Salesian priest and member of the staff. He was a brilliant pianist and organist.

Other sets of brothers I can remember were the Norris’ who came from the Salesian College in Farnborough, Hants. There were also the French Paul and Roger D’Arifat, who had been in England when the Germans invaded France so were unable to return to their houses there. They were much older than us, but not yet professed Salesians, so were in betwixt and between. The summer of 43, when it was deemed too risky to return home, I spent most of the holiday at Shrigley and spent a lot of time with Roger and Paul. They were tall with long thin necks and when they laughed you could see the vertical movements of their ‘Adams apples’. The other most memorable set were the three Sutherlands – Frank who was in the form above me, Arthur a form above him and Tony, a contemporary of my brother John was studying philosophy. I was to be a fellow member of staff with Frank in Farnborough and with both Frank and Tony in Daleside, South Africa.

The standard of teaching varied according to subject. Some of the teachers had a great ability to make their subjects interesting and naturally these were the ones we excelled at or at least looked forward to. One of the worst teachers was Bro. Francis Rogers, who has been described as the Yehudi Menuhin of Shrigley. It would probably have been more contemporaneous to have called him the Fritz Kreisler, who at the time was the greatest violinist in the world. No one could deny that Brother Francis was a beautiful violinist and indeed was to teach me how to play, and at this he excelled. But as a Geography teacher, he was the most boring I have ever known. His ‘method’ was to make you learn ten pages of the text book off by heart and then give you a test the following day. And yet, what a potentially exciting subject both to teach and to learn. I taught it in South Africa throughout the school for some six years. I can quite honestly say it became the most popular subject in the curriculum and in which most students had their greatest success.

After my first two years at Shrigley, the war ended in May 1945 and VE day was celebrated on the eighth. We had a bonfire at the side of the house which must have been visible across the valley below. We also could see others burning in the far distance. The following month we were engrossed in ‘O’ levels, of which I eventually obtained ten. For my last and most important two years, I studied French, Latin and Greek. I found the latter difficult, but enjoyable. This was due to our teacher Fr. Pat McQuaid, a lovely, cheerful and kind personality, who was a punster par excellence. He loved talking about ‘Arry Stottel (Aristotle) and Plate o’ porridge (Plato). Despite my best efforts I failed Greek, and according to the system operating in those days, if you took three subjects (the required minimum) you had to pass three subjects. This failure therefore meant that I failed the whole ‘A’ level exam. My first bitter disappointment in the academic field. Mind you, I was only sixteen.


MANUAL LABOUR AND SPORT

One of the mottoes we soon learnt was ‘Mens sana in corpore sano’ , in other words, your brain will function better if your body is in good shape. And the body was developed through hard physical work and games like soccer, cricket, athletics. The competitive element was achieved through the ‘House’ system mentioned in a previous chapter. Each house had senior, middle and junior teams.

In addition to the everyday light housework duties were heavier tasks such as spud picking in early October, haymaking at harvest time, or being involved in construction work like road making and wall building. The lanes around Shrigley Park are lined with dry stone walls, no cement or binding, just slabs of stone chosen for size and compatibility with each other. Even some of the inside jobs could be heavy and demanding, such as scrubbing huge areas of floors or polishing them.

Soccer was my favourite game and to play it on open fields was a long way from playing it on the streets of the East End or the tarmac and concrete of my primary schools. It was also my favourite because I was good at it and constantly emulated my Soccer heroes in the form of Stanley Matthews, Tom Finney and Tom Lawton. I tried to imitate their swerves and sidesteps and the shooting from outside the penalty area and heading became a great skill as well. We were encouraged to learn to use both feet and not just concentrate on the natural right or left foot.

Weather conditions for some of the winter months were atrocious, either very cold, chill winds or rain. Nothing was allowed to be worn beneath the football shirt or shorts. This could be a distinct disadvantage. Because of the numbers of matches going on simultaneously, a lot of pitches were being used. Some of them were on the side of a hill or a ravine so that when the ball was kicked out on the down slope, it took time to fetch it. If you were not the retriever then you huddled together trying to fight off the cold. All this was part of a toughening up process, preparing us for the arduous tasks that lay ahead on the Missions. After muddy and wet matches there were no comforting hot showers. We showered once a week only and then for two minutes. You washed yourself as best you could, legs, arms and head, from the wash basin in the communal area near the dormitory. The Salesian in charge of the dormitory ensured you had done the job properly.

After Easter, cricket was played during the Summer term. We were given very basic equipment, a bat, a ball and one pad for the leading leg, so on your right one if you were left handed and vice versa. There were three stumps and bails at each end. Coaching was also very basic, but it started us out on the right path. Tips like how to bowl a length, a proper grip and so on. House competition was keen, and my Ogilvy were practically impossible to beat when I was in my last two years. I played a significant part in our victories, as both opening bat and opening bowler. My partner was a Maltese called John Briffa who was a big, slightly stooped lad. We opened the batting and although our parnerships, in adult terms, were small, like 20 or 30 runs, in school boy terms these were of some stature. At the time the Edrich’s and Dennis Compton were having an outstanding season with Middlesex and were known as the ‘terrible twins’. Briff and I were rather proud to be nicknamed after them. As I opened the bowling, Briff kept wicket and for a tall man he was very agile, caught and stumped well. Cricket became less and less available in the early years as a Salesian, since I studied abroad where we could only have nets on a ‘bocce’ court in Italy. No matches, no green fields.

Athletics was a sport I simply hated. Cross country races were beyond my capability and comprehension. To make things worse the terrain around Shrigley was extremely hilly. Furthermore there was the inevitable ‘Sports day’ with 100, 220, 440 and 880 yard races. I managed to excel at the shortest. Quick over short distances, no stamina for anything more. I know that when I left the school, I held the 100 yards record. What it was I cannot, conveniently, remember!

Walks or rambles were also a regular feature. The quiet, scenic country lanes, practically traffic free, were ideal either for a short two or three mile walk to the nearby villages of Rainow, Adlington and Bollington, just above which was a favourite climb up to the White Nancy. On special Feast days, longer walks were undertaken and every year the ‘mega’ walk to Buxton in beautiful Derbyshire countryside. It involved a ten mile hike, climbing 1400 feet to the top of the moors, after which it descended quite steeply through the beautiful Goyt valley, very often a destination on its own, down into Buxton.

A large quadrangle at the back of the Hall was the recreation yard for the numerous short breaks during the day. In midwinter, water was poured over the middle, so that one massive diagonal slide resulted. It was quite dangerous to be ‘en cordon’ travelling at speed into an old mattress in the corner. The most popular game was ‘tig’, consisting in chasing after someone to touch. As soon as anyone was touched, he became the chaser.

With the above regime, our health was very good. However, what many boys suffered from were boils and chilblains. I had boils repeatedly on the back of my neck, so I was a fairly frequent visitor to the infirmary where the lay-brother in charge was Brother James Brockbank, an eccentric if ever there was one. He was kind and comforting although he never hesitated to stick a massive needle into your boil if he considered it time for lancing. The momentary pain was outweighed by the relief that followed.

The other common complaint were chilblains which are usually a sign of poor circulation. We were certainly subjected to fierce changes of temperature. A very warm central heating system inside and then the cold winds and snow outside. In addition when we were on washing up chores, the plunging of cold hands into hot water did not help. I would guess however that an incorrect and insufficient diet were probably more at the bottom of these complaints. After I left Shrigley I never had any further problems.

Hunger for adolescent growing boys was also a daily occurrence, so that if the occasion arose, as for example, we were on jobs in the Community refectory or helping out in the kitchen, chips were the items most often stolen. These were hidden in pockets and shared out with your friends at an appropriate time. I have always enjoyed cold chips ever since.


MUSIC AND DRAMA

Don Bosco, the founder of the Salesians, was a great believer in the importance of vocal and instrumental music, which he felt expanded a boy’s education, and also enhanced participation in the liturgy. So we all learnt Gregorian, which I have always loved to hear and to sing. As far as concerts and the stage were concerned, he laid down strict guidelines, which were eventually incorporated into the Salesians’ handbook of Regulations. Producers or directors had to choose suitable plays, which would exclude anything “ violent, immoral, passionate or vulgar, as well as the presentation of cruel or vicious characters.” (Regulations, 1967 no.229) Furthermore, plays with female characters in them had to be adapted. So a ‘waitress’ became a ‘waiter’, a ‘daughter’ changed into a ‘son’ and so on. Some plays were easily adaptable; others that were not, just did not get played. Operettas from Gilbert and Sullivan were very popular, the ‘Mikado’ and ‘Pirates of Penzance’ being the ones most frequently produced. A perfect play for men and boys only was, of course, R.C. Sherriff’s famous ‘Journey’s End’, which I later produced to great acclaim in South Africa with thirteen and fourteen year olds.

The huge disappointment in not going home for the Christmas holidays was more than compensated by the way we spent the time at Shrigley. Classes were substituted by periods of work in the morning, sport in the afternoon, evening study period reading stories and then a different stage production every alternate evening. Each form and group of students (the ‘philosophers’ and ‘theologians referred to above) put on a play or concert. Many of the productions bordered on the professional, and there were some outstanding artistes. Tony Sutherland immediately comes to mind. I must say that over those four years, I used to get very jealous of other boys who been picked for a play in preference to me. I thought I was at least as good as them, if not better!

On first arriving at Shrigley, we all underwent tests for suitability to be members of the choir. I passed and began an association with choirs that lasted throughout later studies right up to ordination. We were also offered options on musical instruments, so I chose the piano. Fr. Charles Grace, who eventually became a colleague of mine in South Africa, failed me because I did ‘not have a good ear’. Brother Frank Rogers then welcomed me to violin classes (an instrument on which you had to make your own notes accurately, as opposed to the piano where they are already in situ) and was surprised at my natural ability for the instrument. He encouraged me endlessly, and I think he was rewarded when I became the leader of the Shrigley orchestra in my last two years. Our repertoire was mostly classical and popular music at the classical end. The first movement from Beethoven’s Fifth, and the second movement from the Seventh are well remembered.“Cavalleria Rusticana” was also a great favourite. We were not good enough to play whole symphonies or concertos. But it all increased my attachment to the Classics.

Anybody reading this would be forgiven if they thought Shrigley boys were swats and boffins. The reality was that we were very ordinary kids full of fun and mischief, although you had to be more wary about the latter. We had nicknames for most of our teachers, some of them being outrageously irreverent. A Brother Michael Doyle was ‘Mick the masher’ because he liked to clip people about the ear. Bro. James Conway, a lovely man with very red cheeks was known as ‘Beetroot Bill’ and was probably the most mimicked of all. He had a slight stutter when beginning a sentence. All of us vied with each other to achieve the most perfect imitation. Bro James Connolly could not pronounce his r’s very well and made them chinese-like into l’s.“Go and brush the Refectory” became “Go and blush the Lefectoly”. A very severe looking Northern Irishman, who rarely smiled or spoke to us, sported a crew cut. He was immediately dubbed ‘the beast of Belsen’. Every little mannerism was spotted and mimicked. Even when Fr. Musgrove was preaching. He had a pronounced lisp and as he lay his hands on the lectern of the pulpit, he lisped the famous quote from Scripture: “Feed my lambs (at this he would lift both his little fingers), feed my sheep”, when he would raise the middle finger on both hands. The Head, Fr. Wrangham, was a snuff taker and I do not think that there was a boy in the school who did not attempt to do exactly as he did, immediately followed by his favourite snort ‘Che, Che’.

Neither did we boys escape the nick name culture. I was called ‘Tubbs’ although I wasn’t very rotund. John Higgins, a Geordie in my class, was ‘wee Bobby’, an attempt to mimic his style of speech. Poor old Jim Colette suffered with bad feet, so he became ‘gassocks’, but what a brilliant clarinet player! Come to think of it, we were only furnished with a clean pair of socks once a week on a Saturday, together with shirt and underpants, as they were commonly referred to in those days.


RELIGION AND PERSONAL SPIRITUALITY

In addition to the daily Mass, prayers and exercises for a Happy Death, described in a previous chapter, Confession was encouraged on a weekly basis. The two main confessors were Frs. Musgrove and John Sexton. Both were very patient and re-assuring, particularly when it came to listening to my worries about ‘sins’ of impurity, which were none other than wet dreams. These were always very embarrassing events for me and I was ashamed to ask any of the teachers or even mention them to any of my friends. I thought this was something which only happened to me! We heard a lot about ‘Purity’ and ‘Chastity’ but they were never defined, except perhaps in relation to dedication to God in the religious life. As for the biological processes of early adolescence, nothing.

Complementary to the confessional, were the regular call ups to see the Rector. He would ask how things were going, did I have any worries, was I happy? Then, the bad news, if any. He told you things that were not satisfactory, like I wasn’t working hard enough, or what needed amending in conduct or attitude. These interviews were quite nerve wracking, because it was at one of these that you could be told you are no longer considered to be priestly material. Parents would be told, and arrangements made for packing your luggage and the purchase of a single ticket. This would be done at a time when the rest of the school were busy. Anyone leaving was never allowed to say goodbye to classmates or friends. You were not allowed either to tell anyone you were being sent home. Strange, but true. I think this was designed not to cause too much upset among the ‘survivors’. I had Fr. T.W. (Tammany) Hall as Rector for my first year (Grammar) at Shrigley. He was a rather awesome figure, who strode around with great energy, and spoke with what was termed in those days as an ‘Oxford’ accent. His successor was the small, rotund and more approachable Fr. McCabe, who made us feel during our last two years as very special young men, about to embark on a wonderful life as Salesians.

The standard expected of personal conduct, in every single aspect of your life, was extremely high. This was exemplified in my Easter report when in Rhetoric I (First year sixth) instead of scoring ten in each of the twelve weeks in the term, I received two nines. The Rector commented at the end: “Anthony is trying hard to improve himself but he should have a higher mark for conduct”. Those were the days!

Some of the months of the year were dedicated to special saints or themes. So, March was St. Joseph’s, May belonged to Mary, under the particular title of ‘Help of Christians’, June was the month of the Sacred Heart, October for the Rosary, and in November we remembered to pray for the dead. Boys in Syntax and Rhetoric 2 had to give a short talk, called sermonettes, to the whole school, on one of the titles from the Litany in May, or a topic of devotion to the Sacred Heart in June. This usually took place after tea, followed by Benediction. I can remember doing one of these. It meant writing it, having it edited, learning it off by heart and then delivery – a very nerve wracking occasion. Nevertheless I think I enjoyed it, and was proud to be chosen (usually out of a hat). Perhaps it was a harbinger of the sermons I was to preach many years later? And if you think I must have been a very pious little goodie two shoes by now, you ‘ain’t seen nothing yet’.


MEANTIME… BACK HOME IN THE EAST END

It was customary, and indeed a requirement, to write home every Sunday. My sister Anne answered on behalf of Mum and the family. In this way, we kept each other informed of what was happening. But I was not told the whole truth, because Mum and Anne did not want me to worry. For instance, I never knew till much later that my Mother very nearly lost her life in 1943. She faithfully took shelter at Bethnal Green Tube Station each night. The sirens had gone off; there was almost total darkness. People were pouring out of the Salmon and Bull Pub, crossing the road to descend into the shelter via some eighteen unfinished steps, rutted in concrete. The procession was orderly and calm until an anti-aircraft gun exploded in the park nearby. There were shouts “It’s a bomb, it’s a bomb”. Panic stricken and terrified, men , women and children pushed forward into the bottle neck of the station entrance. A mother carrying a baby tripped on the third last step. The baby was thrown forward, the mother lay on the last step as those following fell on top of her and each other, suffocating to death. One hundred and seventy three people lost their lives in that tiny area. My mother was stopped just in time by an Air raid warden as they realised what was happening.

There was also sporadic news about my two brothers who were in the Army. Joe, in the Royal Artillery, was for some time a despatch rider, carrying messages between regional units. One night on a slippery road he came off the motor bike, probably taking a corner at speed, and lay unconscious for three days. I doubt whether my Mum or sister knew this until he came home on leave.

Vince served most of his time in the Royal Medical Corps, caring for friend and foe, in the jungles of Burma, being bitten to bits by insects, and enduring the immense heat and humidity. Poorly nourished, and under intense pressure and concentration characteristic of that type of warfare, he became emaciated, drawn, and haggard that a photograph taken of him at the time recalled to mind the inhabitants of Nazi Concentration Camps.

After the War, both of them were duly demobbed and returned to civvy life, picking up where they had left off, Joe back to fleshing animal furs, and Vince to the sweaty atmosphere of the tailor’s pressing rooms. There did not seem to be any resentment on their part towards Cazimir who had stayed at home throughout the War. The pre-war life style for this threesome resumed – hard work, plenty of booze, gambling. Meals were provided by Mum, shirts and clothes washed and ironed mainly by Anne. Anne recalled bitterly: “Mum and me were never once treated”. By this she meant, no birthday or Christmas cards or gifts.

John was studying hard at Oscott, a seminary for the Birmingham archdiocese.

My sister Anne continued her life in much the same vein, doing jobs here and there, but mainly helping out at home. Just before her death she told me a very sad tale about a letter she had received during the latter part of the War.

The contents were wrapped in very thin tissue paper. The first item to be revealed was a pretty card with scalloped edges. Flowers were painted around a central piece. This was made of paper roses set on a blue lace rosette. It was separated from the card but attached to it by a paper hinge. A fine example of wartime handicraft!

On the other side of the card was a message. ‘To Ann, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year . Eddy P.S. Enclose handkerchief silk’. The address was one which did not give away its location: Pte. E. Sakus 13066852, 284, Pioneer Company, Sec., 7, B.F. VC. The date was Dec.12th., 1944.

In a separate piece of tissue was the most beautiful small silk handkerchief she had ever seen. One quarter of it was covered with an embroidered pattern entitled ‘Souvenir de France’. Below this, was a golden bird (a dove, perhaps?) amidst an array of tiny red flowers on green foliage. The whole handkerchief was embroidered all the way round in yellow.

“I’ll send a Christmas card , because by then we will know where we will be stationed” he had said to her just before going back to barracks. She in turn had promised to keep an eye on his mother by visiting her for tea on Sunday from time to time.

Anne was very fond of him, but she hadn’t really expected him to write to her. Any young men who had been kind to her and whom she began to fancy soon lost interest. She was absolutely certain it was because of her ‘affliction’.

“Who wants to take me out”, she used to confide in her three best girlfriends Mary, Millie and Julie. “I can’t dance because of this leg. I can’t hold hands because of this left hand of mine.”

Then along came Eddy. She had known him for years, but from a distance. He was one of the group of girls and boys, all descendants of Lithuanian immigrants, who had all been to the same school, same church and same club. But she had never spoken to him at length until they started to have Sunday evening sing song sessions round at each other’s houses. He was the only man who had paid her any attention. And he had now sent her a gift, and in wartime as well. Silk was unheard of.

The first Sunday she had arranged to visit Eddy’s Mum for tea, Anne was too ill with ‘flu to go anywhere. The following day, Monday, still feeling sick, Anne went to her Doctor in Bethnal Green Road. She was ordered to return to her bed. When she had fully recovered later in the week, she went round to Eddy’s mother to apologise about not turning up for tea.

“You’re a liar, Anne” came the angry response. “Someone told me they had seen you walking down Bethnal Green Road on Monday morning. There was nothing wrong with you. I shall let Eddy know how unreliable and ungrateful you are. Now, clear off.&rdquo.

Anne wrote to Eddy and explained everything. But to no avail. He preferred to believe his Mother’s version. They never saw or spoke to each other from that day on. Anne never went with any other man. She never married. But she kept that little silk handkerchief to the day she died, aged 86. It is now a family heirloom.


HOLY YEAR

Towards the end of August 1947, I returned to Beckford, where six years previously I had started on my journey to the Priesthood. This time, however, it was to take up a challenge, a challenge to holiness. I believe that in Hebrew ‘holy’ means ‘being set apart for God’. This involved cutting yourself off from the outside world, that is, the ordinary life that the vast majority of men and women and children lived. In fact what I had been living as a boy before I started my secondary schooling.

In a previous chapter I touched very slightly upon the sort of house St. Joseph’s Novitiate was. The purchase of the house was preceded by a medal of St. Joseph being thrown over the wall from the street outside. With the medal, of course, went many prayers. The house had been seen by the Novice Master, Fr. Simonetti, who thought it and the surrounding grounds eminently suitable for the training of novices. A novice is a learner, or a starter. We were starting to learn about a very special way of life. The term ‘novitiate’ (the middle ‘t’ can be replaced by a ‘c’), usually lasted a year and was the same word to describe the place as well.

I can do no better than to quote from James Murray’s piece about Beckford. He wrote: “Just inside the main door, where the carriage and horses would stop to allow the gentry to alight, there was a magnificent broad wooden staircase with two landings. The first landing led to the library, with wall to wall bookcases and comfortable chairs surrounding a huge table. Next to the library was the refectory with oriel windows looking onto the rose garden and luscious lawns. To the left of the first landing were two hatches which led down to the kitchen on the ground floor. All the food and crockery were hoisted up manually and taken to the refectory. Immediately to the left of the big hatch was the door leading into the chapel. The second landing led to Don Sim’s room and the Rector’s room. Sweeping and dusting that staircase every morning and polishing it on your knees or with a large polisher on a Wednesday or Saturday afternoon was a job you prayed you wouldn’t get.”

Of the outside, James goes on to write: “ The grounds were truly beautiful. A Cedar of Lebanon tree rose magnificently from the centre of a large well-manicured lawn. Tennis was played on this sometimes by members of Staff. To the other side of the house was the rose-garden walk, where we were allowed to stroll up and down in threes and fours each night after supper. One night a week we had to converse in Italian! That probably was the quietest night of all. The old stables were near the courtyard, now converted into toilets which had the whitest stone walls I have ever seen. I helped to give them their annual coat of distemper. There was also a small farm with a herd of cows and a dairy from which came our butter. Altogether it was idyllic”.

We rose everyday at 5.30am and meditated for half an hour from 6 am. It consisted of reflecting quietly to yourself on some given thoughts. This was a skill which needed learning. The most difficult part about it was trying to keep awake. At 6.30 we had our first talk on topics relating to the spiritual life, and the life of a religious. The rule we would have to live by, the vows we would be taking at the end of the year. A second similar talk would be given later that evening just before supper. This happened from Monday to Friday. At 7.30am we attended Mass, during which we said five decades of the Rosary. At 8.15am we had breakfast. From 9.15am there were classes till dinner time (midday). Subjects taught were restricted to English, Latin, Italian (because the founder of the Salesians, Don Bosco was an Italian), Religion (mostly the catechism), Music with emphasis on Gregorian Plain Chant. Then we played football, more classes till about 4 pm, then 15 minutes listening to a reading from a spiritual book. Tea-time followed, after which we went back into the Chapel for Benediction. The second talk, then Supper, concluding the day with Night Prayers. About once a week we ventured out into ‘The World’ and went for a walk through the village and beyond for about two hours. To say that we struck a rather curious sight to behold would be a vast understatement. Imagine a group of young men attired in black suits, collar and tie (soon to be replaced by a dog collar after November 21st) walking along three abreast. To top it all we had to wear trilbys!

The programme at weekends was different. Saturday was spent on the bigger jobs: farming, cleaning large areas, special projects (like building walls). During the good weather I was assigned to paint all the guttering and down pipes around this vast house, a smaller version of a stately home. The paint we used was ‘battleship grey’, then surplus to wartime requirements and no doubt cheaply purchased in those early days after the War. My fellow worker was Paddy Deane, a lovely Irishman, who eventually went to China as a missionary immediately after ordination. Climbing up ladders at quite some height has served me well ever since.

Sundays was most definitely the day of the Lord. However we did start off with a lie-in. Up at six instead of 5.30am. First mass at 7am, then after breakfast at about 11am, a sung Solemn mass, all in Gregorian chant. After midday dinner, a full game of football followed by Tea. Then an hour of study, concluding with Vespers, a sermon and Benediction before supper.

This daily spiritual intensity was reflected in every aspect of our lives: work, play, relaxation, learning, and eating. Attention had to be paid to every detail and everything done as perfectly as possible. Whether you were dusting a room or a hall, then even the most inaccessible corners had to be reached. You ate to live, and not lived to eat. Food must not be wasted, even if it tasted horrible. At games, then enthusiasm and endeavour were required, no matter your ability. Dissent was never voiced. Sportsmanship ruled above all else.

The whole aim of this holy year was to get us attuned to a life based on the monastic Rule of St. Benedict. In fact all religious orders or congregations are modelled on this fundamental way of life, although each will have its own style, different from the Benedictines. The Salesian style was enshrined in the Constitutions and Regulations originally composed by the founder, Saint John Bosco. One of our tasks as novices was to learn 200 of the former and some 400 of the latter. Not all at once of course, but a few at a time in accordance with one’s ability to memorise them. The Novice Assistant, a very pious Scot called Bro. Edward, would give us all a chance to be tested.

Over and above these official Rules we were encouraged to compose our own Rule of Life. This project was an ongoing effort and for over twenty-five years I added to it. I still have it today in a note book, measuring some four by six inches. It approached each activity under three headings: the aim, motives to go for that aim and methods to reach it. Many of my annual retreat resolutions found a place in it. My doubts, crises of identity, weaknesses and strengths were all there. It was a totally personal record, for my eyes only.

The first highlight of the year was called ‘Clothing day’ which always took place on November 21st, the feast day of the Presentation of Our Lady. This was when we discarded the ‘Old Man’ in order to put on the New. This was symbolised by doffing our jackets and donning a cassock, a Roman collar and to crown it all a Biretta, a square black cap with three flat projections on top. This was always worn by priests about to take services or whilst they preached. The ceremony took place during a Solemn Mass, very often in the presence of important visitors, followed by a sumptuous meal at lunchtime. It was a day of great excitement and we all acted like little boys, wanting to wear the cassock everywhere, and even the biretta. Had we been allowed, I am sure we would have gone to bed that night wearing the lot! There was also a sense of achievement. We had after all reached the first hurdle, three months into the noviciate year.

Life moved on in the relentless quest for perfection and holiness. Self assessment, focussing on personal weaknesses, and attempting their eradication was constant. This was accomplished in various ways, such as the confessional, and choosing a personal monitor to keep an eye on you to point out any faults shown. My monitor was John Briffa, my cricketing ‘twin’ from Shrigley days. But one of the most significant ways was called the ‘Manifestation’ in which once a month you presented yourself to the Novice Master and gave an account of your activities, whether you had kept or broken the rules, queries, worries or doubts about your vocation. In the original Italian the word is ‘Rendiconto’, that is ‘to give an account’ and is badly translated, I think, by the word ‘manifestation’. It was the occasion when you might be told that you are no longer deemed to be suitable material for the Religious Life. If this were the case, your departure was quick, silent and unannounced, as previously noted when any boys left Shrigley.

Major Church festivals, like Christmas and Easter, came and went. To help us during the season of Lent to concentrate on the sufferings of Christ we were given a Passion Clock. At each hour of the day we were reminded of what happened to Our Blessed Lord during Good Friday. So, for example, at twelve noon, He was nailed to the cross; at three o’clock He died. In which case, you had to think twice before answering the question “What’s the time?” Did they mean Passion time or Greenwich mean time?

The Salesians used to say jokingly that a holiday for them was a change of occupation. Anyone expecting a seaside sojourn, strolling along the beach would have been sorely disappointed. The only time we left Beckford during this year of trial was a trip to Cowley, near Oxford, where we had a boarding school. We stayed for two weeks during the Summer holidays and loved it. The mornings were devoted to painting and decorating, whilst the afternoons were spent looking around that city of spires and colleges. Can you imagine the look on people’s faces as they encountered this bunch of young men, dressed in black suits and dog collars? I was only sixteen at the time. Because our tastes were simple, the holiday was thoroughly enjoyed.

On our return, only a few weeks remained of the year as September 8th loomed on the horizon. Our Lady’s birthday. This was the day we were to make our first vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience. It would be initially for three years only, then you could renew them for another three, before making them in perpetuity. The day was always preceded by a ten day retreat, an even further intensive period of spiritual recollection. It was necessary, for we were going to make a huge decision about the immediate and perhaps long term future in our lives.

During that retreat, I went up to make my ‘manifestation’ and had the most unexpected news. I was to go to Turin with three other novices. We had been handpicked for various reasons – potential, academic success, hard work. I do not know. Fr. Simonetti told me something to the effect: “I was not too keen on you going to Turin because of your youth. You have a great capacity to love, and I am not sure whether that it is best served in this way”. It puzzled me then, and it has done so ever since. But I was not going to query the decision of my Superiors, which obviously included the Provincial and other members on his council. All the rest of my companions would be going back to Shrigley to study Philosophy for two years. The Turin course at the Pontificio Ateneo Salesiano (a papal university) would last three years and we would graduate with a licentiate in Philosophy (Ph.L). This meant we would be able to teach it to other newly professed Salesians in the future.

Profession day dawned amidst enormous excitement, expectation, some trepidation, but full of joy. It was a like a wedding day. We were consecrating our lives to Christ, after all. What a challenge! With the vow of Poverty, we were surrendering all attachment to material possessions. We would have everything we needed but at the most basic level. To go out for the day we would have to ask the Bursar for a few bob. By vowing Chastity, we were forsaking all sexual pleasure with others or alone. No wife or children of our own. We were now part of a family of brother Religious. By far this was the most difficult vow to keep. In making a vow of obedience, we placed the control of our lives in the hands of someone else. Any major decision to move elsewhere, to adopt a particular course of study, would need permission. This also applied to going out, sight seeing, visiting home and many other facets of daily living. It also meant being told to do things we did not like.

Parents or family were not present on this day of days. In the normal course of events we would not be seeing them for another two years. This in itself was symbolic of a total detachment. We now belonged to God alone. The happiness experienced was indescribable. The reward of seven long years of preparation. Together with the day I was ordained priest, I can safely say, that September 8th., 1948 was the closest I felt to being really holy.


A CORNER OF A FOREIGN FIELD

Because I would be going to Italy, I was allowed to spend a couple of days at home. This was not available to most of my confreres who were going straight to Shrigley for their Philosophical studies. Of course my family were delighted, particularly my mother who wanted to spoil me rotten. One of the practices of the noviciate was no one ate anything in between meals. My mother kept plying me with sweets and biscuits whenever she brewed up – which was quite often! Walking around, to and from Church, with a dog collar made me feel rather embarrassed since I was only sixteen, so I studiously avoided eye contact or engaging in conversation. On the other hand I did not ignore any of the neighbours I had known for years, if I came face to face. However, my self consciousness was only put to the test for one weekend, because I was off to Victoria Station for the grand adventure to La bella Italia.

By rule, as Salesians, we were not to travel first class on any form of transport. That was fine as long as we were in England and indeed Southern Railway provided comfortable seating even in Third Class carriages. But after the ferry crossing, things got harder since French carriages provided only wooden seats. A change of stations in Paris and soon we were on our way to Italy. No time to see any of the famous sites. A long journey lay ahead of us and would take us through the night. Accompanying me on the adventure were Peter Boyle, someone who was to become a close friend from Shrigley days, Bernard (real name Brian, but there was another ‘Brian’, so he was unofficially ‘baptized’ with a convenience name) Jerstice and finally Rudolph Perla, who despite being a second generation London Italian, could not speak the lingo but spoke English with a cultured voice, having graduated at Oxford University in Chemistry.


INTERLUDE : AFTER A VERY LONG INTERVAL OF NOT WRITING MY AUTOBIOGRAPHY I TOOK UP THE CHALLENGE AGAIN ON FEB.11TH 2018 - SEE THE FIRST THREE PARAGRAPHS OF CHAPTER HEADED - ORDINATION DAY - FEBRUARY 11TH., 1960

THE NEXT BEGINNING OR CONTINUATION WAS SEPTEMBER 17TH 2019 WHICH FOLLOWS THIS BOX


As predicted and expected the train journey was long. Attempts at sleep failed miserably but the sight greeting us on the French-Italian border was unforgettable. We found ourselves high up in the Alps surrounded by spectacular mountains the like of which none of us had experienced before. Informed that there would be significant stop at the station, we looked for the toilets and discovered for the first time in our lives that the then continental seating toilets were non-existent and instead consisted of what we came to nickname “footsteps in the snow” - a large enamel basin, a hole in the centre and on either side of it two tiny platforms on which to crouch. This was something I certainly was not expecting and caused a slight worry as to how to cope with it when we reached our destination. One of the first things I explored on arrival at Rebaudengo, a suburb of Turin where we were to live and study - was an English type toilet!

The welcome was very warm by the Rector and other professors but what was especially welcome was that our primary guide and helper to settle in was Fr. Joseph Sangalli, who spoke English fluently, having studied in England for some years.

The first place to be shown was the dormitory where the only privacy was afforded by a curtain around the bed and a small place in which stood a small cupboard called a locker. On rising in the morning and retiring in the evening curtains were drawn so that one could dress and undress with due modesty.

Washing facilities were basic and only a few showers available so that one was allotted a time once a week for a shower. The dormitory was on the top floor of a double storey very large building known as L’Istituto Rebaudengo and which we shared with a technical boarding school for boys where they had the wonderful opportunity of learning such skills as tailoring, carpentry, printing - a facility started by the founder of our Salesian Congregation - Don Bosco. We lead quite separate lives, having our own refectories, chapels and areas of recreation.

By October 1948, lectures in the various branches of Philosphy had begun - their titles were Logic, Epistemology, Ontology, Cosmology, Rational Psychology and Ethics to be taught and examined on over the next two years. A subsidiary subject was Pedagogy, the art of learning, or the act of teaching - a necessary part of Salesian training, given the fact that we have to spend at least three years teaching between Philosophy and Theology on the road to ordination. The quality of lectures varied according to the personalities of the lecturers, all Salesian priests. The official language used was Latin, in which at the end of term we were examined always orally. Only one written paper was proffered. Lectures were held in the mornings. After lunch, we played Soccer on a large ungrassed field next to the College, had a wash and then repaired to the study until Spiritual reading time. After Supper, recreation and finally Night Prayers. Magnum Silentium until the next morning, after Mass.

Once a week, on a Thursday, the afternoon was ’Walk’ time - una passegiata

when you were free to go into the centre of the city with preferably two others to make up a safe threesome! Our frequent destinations were to catch up with brother Englishmen studying Theology at the Crocetta, and the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians at Valdocco where Don Bosco’s work for youth all began. Some days we headed for the British Consulate to read English papers, always two days late, and thus catch up with what was going on at home. Now and again, during the warm Spring days and hot Summer ones, when the walk time was extended perhaps on a special feastday, we would venture into the Piedmontese countryside. In the absence of Public Toilets we would find quiet spots behind trees or in the field, and attend to Nature’s call. Humourously but perhaps disrespectfully we would come away calling it “a corner of a foreign field which will forever remain England”, the poetic description referring to places of burial of British soldiers in France during the First World War.

Politically, Italy in those years had just come through an election which was very nearly won by the Communist Party. Anti-clericalism was rife and we used to witness this on our walks in town. Bedecked as we were in cassocks and Roman collars, and wearing a clerical hat, in the shape of a soup plate (our favourite term for it), we were often mocked by youths and men making the sound of a crow. The best way to cope with it was by ignoring it or smiling back at the perpetrators.

otherwise life in Italy was quite an adventure. Scenically a beautiful country, where the vines grew and constantly in view were the Alps surrounding the very attractive city of Turin. One of the high spots was a large basilica on top of a hill named Superga and was a popular place to visit. Another huge difference was the food served up. A bowl of coffee in the morning with a pagnotta - a small roll, without butter or marmalade, and eaten after dipping into the coffee, hence I suppose the bowl rather than cup! Plenty of pasta , of course for our main meals, occasionally potatoes, veal, minestrone, always accompanied by a small bottle of wine, which was of a cheap basic vintage but still very acceptable. At the commencement of dinner and lunch we ate in silence, listening to one of the brethren reading a life of a Saint. Then someone would read from the martyrology, in Latin, a list of the early martyrs or saints commemorated on that day. Following this, we were allowed to chat. What we did miss, however, was a cup of tea which could only be organised clandestinely.

Holidays were restricted a few days either side of Christmas and Easter and come the Summer there was no returning to one’s native land. Instead we spent the three months, from July to October up in Alps in a valley, at the head of which was the famous Matterhorn, one of the highest peaks in Italy. However, during my first holiday in 1949, I was allowed three days back in England because of special family circumstance, namely the priestly ordination of my brother John in July 1949. This took place in St. Mary’s Church, Cadogan St., just off Sloane Square. The only other attendees were my mother and sister, Ann, and one of John’s friends. We had lunch in a nearby restaurant a indeed a very low key event. His first Mass, the following day was celebrated I cannot remember where. The day after I was on my return to Turin.

In June 1950, back in England I was told by the Provincial I was not returning to Turin to complete my Licentiate in Philosophy but was to start my teaching at Farnborough, Hampshire.


SALESIAN COLLEGE, FARNBORGH, HAMPSHIRE

Although disappointed in not being permitted to complete a third year in Philosophy and thus graduate with a Licentiate in it, designated by Ph.L., I was to enjoy my time there immensely. Accompanying me was a fellow classmate from Shrigley with whom I made my Noviciate and professed my vows by the name of Brother Peter Burns.

For Salesians, on their journey to priesthood, were expected to do at least three years of teaching, which in other words was learning how to teach whilst on the job. There was no prior studying at a Teacher Training College. Salesian College we found was a hotch potch of buildings, some built of brick, others impromptu temporary structures, often made of wood. It was started in 1901at the urgent request of the Diocese of Portsmouth, and over the years class rooms, dormitories, refectory, kitchens were added to cater for the increased number of boarders. Nearby land was acquired to be used as playing fields.

Being close to Aldershot a famous military centre, and the RAE it comes as no surprise that some 58 pupils fought and died for their country either as members of the Army or the RAF. Many others were decorated.

Quite some way away a Preparatory school was started completely built in wood, which were beautifully situated in a forested area of Hampshire pines. It was in one of them that I taught my first lesson to a classroom of 7 to 8 year olds of whom I was to become their Form Master. When I lef tthe school after 5 and a half years in 1956, the present building was begun and became an independent grammar school in 1979 moving from two form entry to its present four form entry in years 7-11. In 2007, the Sixth Form became co-educational.


ORDINATION DAY - FEBRUARY 11TH., 1960

I began writing this chapter on the 58th anniversary of my ordination to the Priesthood, which took place in Turin cathedral at the hands of Cardinal Maurillio Fossati, Archbishop of the Turin diocese. My memory of the great day has been helped by glancing through a photograph album, of which I have two copies - one for my mother and family and the other for my personal use.

It was a cold day with a light covering of snow. The service was to begin at 7am since there were to be 49 ordinands. It was a Thursday and the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. We arose at 5 am and were on our way in a coach about an hour later. On arrival we filed into the huge sacristy and vested as deacons but without the dalmatic. We were to carry the chasuable on our arms, with the back of it pinned up.

In the congregation which packed the large Cathedral were my sister Anne, the famous footballer John Charles and his wife and relatives of Gerry McGuinness (R.I.P.) who was being ordained with me. My brother John, being a priest, was standing by with many other priests, vested in cassock and cotta, and awaiting that moment in the service when the ordaining bishop and fellow priests lay hands on the ordinands.

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