Another Easter story

| March 30, 2013 | 0 Comments

Eric Firth recalls the Easter of 1947, at the start of one of the best British summers ever.

Easter 1947, a lovely Easter, the start of one of the best British summers ever and one we fully deserved after one of the worst winters ever – maybe the Almighty was rewarding us for saving the continent from fascism a few years earlier, knowing that the same generation would be saving it from communism a few years later whilst doing National Service.

I was down in London with my mam, staying with her sister, my Aunt Liz, and my cousin Shirley. Aunt Liz lived and worked in one of those Upstairs, Downstairs-type houses, moving there a few weeks after the war when jobs were plenty and people to do them scarce. She was of course downstairs, looking after the posh ones upstairs, who, to be fair, were very nice. Her downstairs, though, was a sight better than any upstairs I ever lived in. Shirley not only had her own bedroom but her own nightwear – even sheets on her bed.

I wasn’t to sample such luxuries till I started my National Service four years later – minus the bedroom. Even then the sheets only lasted the six weeks of our basic training. When we joined our regiment in Germany we were back to no sheets, but kept the pyjamas. It took six months to get our first sheet, which we were told to wear on top for a week, then underneath for a week, then we got another clean one whilst the first got laundered. We waited another six months to get the next sheet. Two sheets on our beds, that was really posh.

Uncle SamThe country was broke. Whilst going hungry ourselves, we still had, as one of the victorious nations, to help feed huge numbers of displaced persons all over Europe. Even worse, Uncle Sam proved a more ruthless money-lender than any Dickens character and didn’t believe in any silly sentimental “special relationship” nonsense.

Aunt Liz and Shirley lived in Marylebone Street, Marylebone Mews I think. I’d no idea what a Mews was: a home for cats? I remember Shirley and I going to a museum: it might have been the British as it was only a short walk from the house. We went up the steps into the building, looked at the wall to our right and saw paintings, wonderful, expensive-looking paintings worth millions in today’s money. Just one thing wrong: they were of beautiful women, naked, and we were two young kids, me 14 and Shirley not quite 13. Our heads went down and we moved into the next room.

This was filled with statues, wonderful, expensive statues of men, probably worth millions in today’s money. Just one thing wrong: they were all naked. Heads sank even lower as our faces turned a beetroot colour. All I’d wanted to see were suits of armour. Then, without a word spoken, we both automatically headed for the exit. I doubt we’d been there ten minutes. Back in the house Shirley disappeared, probably to her luxury bed and straight under the blankets, blushing.

Later, I stood outside in the pleasant warm evening leaning against the iron railings: funny that, because only a few years earlier councils took all the poor people’s railings and gates for “the war effort”. I was wondering – well, day dreaming, I was always day dreaming – “AGAIN are we Eric Firth?” as my class teacher Miss Bottomley (we called her MA) said as she whacked me one. I can still feel that. I was day dreaming about how Bradford Northern would do in the Rugby League Challenge Cup. They won it, 8-4 against Leeds. And about how Yorkshire would perform in the county championship, having won it the previous season. They finished seventh, mainly due to losing older players to retirement. Not to mention the Middlesex Twins, Compton and Edrich, who won it, so to speak, off their own bats for Middlesex.

I was brought out of this dreaming by a voice from the other side of the road, much nicer than Miss Bottomley’s whack. Looking across I saw an elderly man, and he was beckoning me over. “Uh-oh,” I thought, “he’s going to ask me directions, I won’t have a clue and he won’t understand my Yorkshire accent. Where’s Shirley when she’s needed? She speaks cockney now.” I dashed across the road. “You seem to have a bit of a cold there, son,” said the man. He was probably in his late 60s, had silver hair and a very kind-looking face. Now at the time I didn’t know it, but I had broken my nose playing football and later had an operation on it. I had learned the hard way that you do not head football boots – ball yes, boots no, they always win. Boot 1, Eric nil. This kindly man had heard me sniffling and wanted to help. But I was to learn that he himself had suffered the most terrible pain and heartache, and yet he worried about me – not him, me. He told me the tale.

He was blind, not fully but near. “Gerry blew our entire street to bits,” he said. “Lost my wife, my sister, sister-in-law and my home, moved in straight after our wedding: funny thing, the only ones in my family who weren’t hurt in the war were my two sons who were with Monty in North Africa.” Then, giving me a smile, he moved away, saying, “You look after yourself now, son.” Come to think of it, at a very healthy 80 I’ve done just that. Maybe he helped. I can still hear the tapping of his stick as he shuffled slowly along the pavement with his memories, all he had left. I wonder how many more there were like him around the land in that post-war year of 1947? But the only pity that man had he gave to a young Yorkshire kid.

It’s 66 years now since that day and that wonderful old gentleman. I think of him when I get the minor problems we all get. Works wonders, and I keep his memories for him. He and others with similar tales to tell deserve at least that. Politicians seem uninterested. I know too that the Bible warns us to be on our guard because “We oft entertain angels unawares”. I must have got near that night. So forget your worries, have a happy Easter instead, and hope that the summer is as glorious as ’47, the Bulls win the challenge cup, and Yorkshire has its best season since ’46.

Apologies to Eric (aka Grandad) that I unfortunately didn’t have room for this in last month’s Easter issue – still just as interesting to read this month! Ed.

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