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My father - the ham fisted 'secret agent'!

by cornwallcsv

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Nigel Hannaford; Gordon Richards; Robert Newton; Augustus John; Mr Sillants; Mr Hannaford; Dr. Michael
Location of story: 
Helston, Cornwall
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
23 October 2005

This story has been written onto the BBC People’s War site by Cornwall CSV Storygatherer, Martine Knight, on behalf of Nigel Hannaford. His story was given to the Trebah WW2 Video Archive, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2004. The Trebah Garden Trust understands the terms and conditions of the site.

I was born in Cross Street, Helston in 1940. My father was a waiter at the Angel Hotel, but during the war he worked, during the week, at the Holman-Climax factory on Bren Guns. At weekends he came home and worked in the hotel.
He was known to be very efficient at both jobs, but because he was known, within the family, as being very ham-fisted we thought he must really be a secret agent.

Father was once bet that he couldn’t serve all 14 people in the hotel dining room at once, but he went out of the kitchen with 7 plates on each arm and won the bet.
One night, when he was supposed to be taking Mother to the pictures, he stayed on late to serve some important guests. When he got home he proudly handed Mother the £5 note he been given as a tip and she was so angry that she threw it straight on the fire!

The Angel had many famous clients before, during and after the war, including Gordon Richards the jockey, Robert Newton and Augustus John. Augustus John once asked my father to stand still whilst he sketched him, but Father replied, “I’m sorry sir, but I’m working.”
Robert Newton had a sister at Manaccan and once, when wanting to visit her and finding himself short of petrol, which was of course rationed, asked my father if he could help. Father spoke to a local garage owner who agreed to supply some petrol, without coupons, for which Newton was so grateful that he gave the garage owner a £5 tip. My father also received a generous tip although the petrol itself cost less than a pound.

On another occasion a hotel guest, who was returning to London by train, handed him the car keys and said, “There you are, keep the car.”
Father wasn’t happy to do that and finally persuaded the guest to let him sell the car on his behalf and send the money on.

The girl who looked after me, whilst my mother was at work, formed an association with a coloured American GI, called Charlie. Unfortunately, he was killed in the D-Day landings.
The Americans were very generous to us children — giving us chewing gum etc — and I saw my first ever doughnut when they gave a party for us at Trelawney House — likewise a banana.

There was a family of 4 evacuee children — two boys and two girls — who had a German sounding surname and they were the last to be chosen. Their father sometimes came to visit them and always had to register with the local police — a fact I later learned he resented greatly, as he had lived in Britain for a very long time.

Our neighbour, Mr. Sillants, who was a lay preacher, used to have PoW’s for Sunday lunch. One regular was called Alfred and he, along with another PoW called Johnny, stayed on after the war. Johnny worked in the Angel and Alfred worked for Dr Michael in his garden at Lismore, until Mrs Michael died in recent years. I understand that the new owner, Mr Jay, still uses him occasionally in the garden.
The PoW’s were billeted at Nansloe Manor and went out daily to work on local farms. Near the end of the war I remember watching a football match between men from the town and the PoW’s.

VIDEO DETAILS — HELSTON 07:28:28 — 07:43:56

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