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Testing Civvy Street After 13 Years Army Service in War and Peace - Chapter 1

by robert beesley

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robert beesley
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27 January 2005

This is a photograph of my parents, Robert and Maud Beesley, together with my sister, Rose and a shipmate of mine that was in the Navy, Walter Brewer. It was taken walking along the front at Weymouth. The date of the photograph is September 1937

I was now on my way home from Bicester in Oxfordshire to Mortlake in Surrey, to have a 6 weeks demob leave. I must admit, that I was not looking forward to this,but I would give it a try. It was now April 1952.

On arriving home, my mother informed me that my father had a blackout and he was now in the local hospital for the night. My mother had been told, by the Doctor, that as he was in hospital that they wanted to have a look at another problem that my father had. This was an open wound, which he had on the left side of his head.

The following morning, my mother and myself went to Richmond Hospital to collect my father. When my mother saw the Doctor, he had told her that the stitches had to be removed in 10 days time. I thought that now, I would have to do the best that I could to remain in civvy street, but it would take time for me to be able to adjust.

The time had gone very quickly, when it was 10 days later and that my father had to return to the hospital, to have his stitches out. The stitches were removed and my mother had been informed that an appointment at Westminster Hospital had been arranged for my father to see Sir Stafford Cave relating to the the other wound on his head.

It was 7 days later, that my father went up to Westminster Hospital and was shown in to see Sir Stafford Cave. he had told my father that he had an open cancer, which they had never seen before, he was told that he would have to have immediate treatment, which would entail for 3 times a week. This had to start on the following week,and he started the treatment on the Tuesday.

My mother went up with my father, when he was having this treatment. It involved having a radium pad, and placing it over the open wound. It took 3 hours of treatment before it was removed. My father told me that he had lunch, after the treatment and then went to see the Lady Almoner. This lady gave him his travelling fare money plus a pound, so he could have a pint of beer! Which was very nice of her, my father liked her! He was quite happy with this arrangement.

I explained to my parents that I had been demobbed but not discharged. So that meant that if I was needed, then I could get called back into the service. All that I had was my Army kit plus my demob suit, so I asked my mother about the suit and my clothes, that had been put into mothballs, while I was away. I was politely told, that my clothes had been given to my brother-in-law,Bob May, because he could not get clothing during the War, without clothing coupons. He always sold his so that he could have the money to gamble. So you can imagine what I felt at being told this, I said that now I would have to try and replace them. My parents said that I did not understand why my brother-in-law had my clothes, but I turned around and told them that I did understand, that while the cats away the mice will play!

I and others had been written off, so our kit was for those sh..bags, that had dodged their call up.

Over the next few weeks and months, I learnt a lot more of what my family had experienced with the War. How the Belgium and Dutch people, also from Malta and other parts of the World, that was fighting here, some was fighting along side of the British service men.

I was also told that in 1940, that they had heard that the War would be over by the Christmas. My mind returned to those long days, that I had been on the road, going from France, when the same remark was made that the War would be over by Christmas, some bright spark, who was a Reservist,I think, then we said which Christmas, certainly not in 1940. Mr Churchill was not that daft. The Germans will find it a hard nut to crack, Mr Churchill is now in the right job, if the Government had taken a little bit more notice of Churchill and Eden, then we would not have been in this SH.. today. Believe me when I say, that if the Germans had ever landed in England, they would have received a rude awakening, Churchill was no fool.

Memories of when I was taken as Prisoner-of-War, my parents had been told that I was missing. My sister, Rose had a baby son born in July 1940, and how he had helped to relieve some of the worry to my parents. He had his grandparents love and this in turn had helped them as well.

The food rationing was not always fair, my parents spoke about people that I knew, that had been returned home, after being evacuated. One man, by the name of Billy Southgate, had said that I was on my way home. I thought, which home, Mortlake or to Germany, because that was the way that we were heading.

I had now been out of the Army for 4 weeks on leave. I had not done anything about trying to find a job, but out of the blue, I received 2 letters. One of the letters was from the local Council, asking me to come for an interview.The other letter was from a Transport Company, I was very puzzled, but then my mother told me that she had written to the local Council. Also my father had spoken to a friend of his, and he too had a job opening for me. I weighed up these 2 jobs, one was local and the other involved travelling. So I first went to the Council. I had to see the Borough Engineer, which was a Mr Shepherd. At the interview, he asked me a lot of questions, which I answered. After the interview, Mr Shepherd informed me that I was to start work on the following Monday morning at 7.00 a.m. at Barnes Depot in Mortlake High Street in Surrey. my wages were to be £6.10shillings a week as a spare driver. This covered the Highways,Parks and cleansing departments. On the Monday morning I reported to the Highway Superintendent, Mr Castleton. he informed me to go to St Leonards Road and to tell the driver to report back to Barnes. I thought, now where in the world is St Leonards Road? Since being out of the Services, I had forgotten streets and roads names but I managed to find St Leonards Road and the driver, Sid Smith and myself both returned back to Barnes Depot. The driver was needed on a road roller, I took his lorry and returned to St Leonards Road. A man by the name of Bill Wright was a mason working on the pavements, so I worked with him, replacing broken paving stones.

My mother spoke to me about an accident that she had in May 1940. She had been involved in a hit and run accident, which involved a motor cyclist. She told me that she had spent a month in Putney Hospital in Surrey recovering from this accident.
My mother told me that since that accident, she had suffered with bad legs, as at that time when she was in hospital, a germ had gotten into her blood stream and she now suffered with fleabitis. She had been awarded £894 in compensation for her injuries, which had been caused, due to this accident, but the Law firm, that was representing her took £810 for their service, so she only had £84. She was off work for nearly a year, and when she returned to work, she could only do light work in the canteen and cleaning duties, which was shift work. That meant that she worked 8 hours on and then had 16 hours off. But when she was on the night shift she was unable to sleep because of my sister, Rose, because she had to get up to help Rose. I thought to myself what an insentitive sister that I had, to treat my mother this way, no consideration at all for how my mother's health was.

There had been men that had been in my unit arriving home. Billy Southgate told my mother, that I was not far behind him, but that was a bit of an understatement, because it ook me 5 years to arrive home!

The bombing of London and how the Air Raid Wardens were always the first to be in the Shelters. On one raid the River Thames had been short of water, the fear that was there, that there would not be enough water to put out the fires out after the bombings.

My father was now attending the hospital twice a week for treatment.

The people that was on War work, such as my brother-in-law, who was missing work shifts of two or three days. When you were on night shift, you did one shift. But it seemed that always, it got back to the Employment Office somehow. The next thing that happened was that my brother-in-law was called up for the Army. He then joined the Rifle Brigade, but he got killed in Italy in 1944.

My mothers younger brother also got killed, he was killed at sea,on a Minesweeper.

The Prisoners-of-War, that was Italian were billeted at the Lloyd Georges Offices at Kew in Surrey, which is now the Records Office.

How some of the young girls and the women had their children was quite strange. One of my friends, who was called Harry Washington arrived home at Chertsey Court in Richmond. When he got home, he had found that his wife had a baby, apparently she had a Italian living in. He threatened to throw the baby out of the twelve storey block of flats, but his own son and daughter pleaded with him not to do it. This he did. Harry had forgotten what antics he had got up to while he had been away in the Services. We were not all angels while we were overseas. If you had twenty cigarettes, it was possible to get you anything that you wanted, I will leave that to your imagination!!!

When the bombing of London Docks was on, my parents stayed at the Badhams house. My sister,Rose stopped in bed until all of the Doodlebugs had gone, but she glanced in the mirror and saw them, so she then rushed over to the Badhams house, where her parents were. Whenever the bombing started. Mrs Badham would say " That bloody old sod, Hitler is here again". You could not leave any washing out on the line to dry, because if you did, then it would be stolen.

I had also been told about the food rationing and how it was one sided, because if you had the money, then you could eat out at the restaurants. My father told me that when there was an Air raid warning, there would be no trains or buses so that meant that he had to walk all the way home from Whitton in Middlesex to Mortlake in Surrey. This was about 10 to 12 miles, and when he did get home all that my mother could give him to eat was a baked potato and dripping, with pepper and salt to taste. Offal was not on rations, but it was not always obtainable.

Jimmy Piper had joined the Parachute Regiment, but he got killed at Arnhem in was a large Para Regiment drop which was to try and shorten the War. Another friend of mine was Harry Bishop but he lost a leg in a bombing raid in London. If that had not happened, he was going to join the Navy the following day. He was very bitter about that as he had made his mind up about the Navy.

One could see all of the Servicemen around, they were in Queen Marys Hospital in Roehampton in Surrey. The American servicemen were arriving at Bushey Park in Hampton in Middlesex. We always called them overpaid and oversexed! How the women used to flock to the Americans as they always had presents to give away to the ladies!.

No one knew about D Day, all that one had noticed was the build up of troops and equipment.

The pig club, those that did feeding and the cleaning would share the head and the Belly of pork, but then one day the workers wanted to know who had the best pieces of meat, such as the loin, legs and shoulders. They were told that the rich people were getting these best joints, the workers were not pleased. They put it to the Boss that either it was shared out equally or the rich could do the dirty jobs. But the rich people said no, so the club closed.

I was not settling down very well, but I knew that I could not leave my parents on their own, they had suffered enough. They had seen Two World Wars and suffered in both of them. So I knew that I had to grin and bear it, for the sake of my parents. As time went by, I learnt more from my parents of how the war had affected them and what they had to go through. One thing that I did learn was the the Welfare State did not help the pensioners in those early days. All that my father had received for a pension was 10 shillings a week, which was from the stamps that he had been paying since the introduction of Unemployment and Sick Benefits. From the day that this was introduced by Lloyd George after the 1914/1918 War, it was of no help to my parents. My father had applied and he was informed that he was not eligible for any help whatsoever.

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