Royal Alexandra and Albert School
May I first start this journey by first thanking Miss Sefora Dias and her colleague in helping me find what I call the ‘golden key’, my registration details into the Royal Alexandra and Albert School. This unlocked a flood of the memories of my childhood days which were becoming very hazy. They were still there but I could not put the sequences into any form which made any sense, date wise.
I have been asked to write my autobiography. A daunting task at the best of times, and add to this that I have always believed that self praise is very smelly. But how does one write their own life story without having to put in the downfalls and achievements, without self-praising? You can’t. So I will give this my best shot, and try to compress a life long book of memories into a couple of pages. Add to this that I have always been a person who was more practical than theoretical. My English teacher did a good job at RAAS, but the complex structures of how to write grammatically correctly is something of my past. Area dialects, social media, the changing times we all live in, family enlargements, and a kaleidoscope of other factors including learning a new language, have dulled the knife’s edge since passing out of RAAS. Enough said of trying to excuse my poor writing prowess, here it goes.
I was born into a family of three children on 15th December 1951 in Bristol and I was the middle child. My brother John, was born in 1948, and my sister Vivienne in 1955. My parents’ marriage went badly wrong and mother divorced my father when I was five. We were made wards of the court and mother took custody of us. She moved on in life and found a new life’s partner and they married on 1st July 1958. We were finally adopted by my stepfather David Renney Stone on 25th September 1960. My sister at her age did not get much of what was going on in the background between mother and biological father. My brother and I however did. And it was very unsettling at those ages.
Life carries on as they say, and we move on to November the same year of our adoption, September 1960. My stepfather, a private in the RAMC, Royal Army Medical Corps, was posted to the British Military Hospital (BMH) on the island of Singapore. So we all packed our cases and hopped aboard the SS Nevasa, also known under HMT Nevasa (HMT, Her Majesties Troopship), built at the Clyde Shipbuilders’ yard in Scotland. At the time, it was the largest troopship in the English fleet. It was a five week voyage stopping at Gibraltar, Malta, through the Suez Canal, onto Bombay India, stopping at all these ports for provisions and fresh water, then down the Malaysian coast and finally reaching our destination port, Singapore. Air travel in the sixties was of course available, but a family of five with full luggage would have cost a lot, so ship was the way. The biggest advantage here was that we had time to acclimatise on the long voyage. Don’t forget we were leaving England in November at almost zero temperatures with the approaching winter and travelling to the equator which was their summer. From 0 to 35 degrees Celsius in the shade! In the shade! If you stood in an open place midday and looked all around the spot you were standing on, you could not see any shadow of yourself. At the sun’s zenith, 12 noon it was directly overhead.
It was here that our lives rebooted and we started to put our previous lives behind us. I am using the wording us and we, meaning by brother and sister. We were all very close (and still are) and did everything together, even with the age difference, this was for us not a barrier. So with all the games and adventures we got into, we were always together. To the most part that is. Boys will be boys and playing with dollies was not a full day’s pastime, it was however included so Vivienne did not have to always play the boys’ games. We like to think we were little angels, but children will be children and we got into some very tight corners on many occasions. A few of the very close calls springs to mind. My brother and I must have been very “Greenpeace” activist minded at the time because we opened the sluices to a salt water crocodile farm. This was built next to the sea front allowing the changing of the water to happen with the tides. Thank goodness a trade that slaughtered animals just for their skins to adorn somebody’s belt, case, shoes or handbag has been legally banned. So after we opened the gates thousands of baby crocs were given their freedom. I like to think that maybe a few are still alive today for the action my brother and I took that day. The workers then locked onto our location and started after us with their spears and machetes. No porkies being spun here. I still have a nice scar on the right side of my right knee, to commemorate our successful escape.
Or being chased by sharks basking 200 yards of shore. I was on a blow up lilo (inflatable mattress) 30 feet from shore and I saw the three dorsal fins slowly gliding through the water. And with the teachings we had been given about how not to react in dangerous situations, I decided to leave their front room and return to mine. The splashing motion of paddling the lilo laying down on it attracted the sharks’ attention and they turned and started after the splashing, me! Sharks travel 8 feet per second in water. Humans, at best 2 feet. My fortune was that, although I was 30 feet from shore, the gradient of the beach took up half of that distance. So the sharks could only come in so far. Too far and they would have beached themselves. And on that occasion none of the sharks showed suicidal tendencies.
Or the time I was playing on the beach alone, this was only a couple of hundred yards from our home, and I noticed a snake moving around the shore’s edge. I suddenly remembered that we all had to bring in some animal, dead or alive, for the next day’s nature study class at school. I then found a suitable stick of reasonable length and attempted to capture this fine example nature had supplied me. And every time I dug the stick into the sand under the snake and lifted it up, it just slithered away. For my age and height at that time it was quite a large specimen at four and a half foot. Time passed and I had to have it. So one quick blow to the head, and the prize was mine.
Dear readers, the happy end is that the snake was preserved and put on show in the school for all the children to see, so they knew when to side step as opposed to play with such a serpent. I took my prize home and my mother fainted, father threw a fit and threw it out the window. Brother John thought it was funny, and dear sister asked if she could play with it with her dolls. I was crying because my nature class animal had been thrown away. Not to be done out of a good mark in class, I went outside and picked up my prize and put it in a large glass jar with water. I did get a good mark, and a stern telling off from the headmaster, but the telling off was more like a stern warning as to a verbal scalding. I had, unbeknownst to me, been literally dicing with certain death. The serpent I caught was known as a salt water yellow bellied rock snake. Undoubtedly it has a proper Latin name I know not. Salt water snakes are known for having very potent neurotoxin venom - it attacks the nervous system. Add to that, the species I had caught was within the top three deadliest to be found in those waters. Deadly to adults without anti-serum being administered within an hour of being bitten, less than fifteen minutes for children under ten.
I also know where my acute arachnophobia came from. On no less than three separate occasions I awoke in the morning to find a fully grown Tarantula slowing crawling across the inside of the window curtains. The windows did not have window panes, only slats. Remember no air conditioning, so slats allowed temperature control to a small extent, cool in the evening but very hot during the day.
Or inadvertently setting fire to a jungle, five hundred yards behind our house. Trying innocently to make a cup of tea as if you were on a survival camping trip, five months into a drought. The sparks from the dry wood were more than I had anticipated.
Even without the help of a little boy trying to make a cuppa using his plastic water bottle, a used tin with some tea leaves in his pocket, and a box of swan vesta matches, jungle fires were common place in the draught season which lasted approximately nine months of the year. A dew drops in the early morning on a leaf or blade of grass, the sun at the right angle, and hey presto, fire! Nature then does her own clean up by removing the old foliage, making room for new growth.
Or giving the whole community peace and quiet for six weeks, after my brother removed six feet of the speaker cables that powered the four massive trumpet speakers that boomed out, five times a day, from the high tower where priests called in the name of Allah Muslims to pray. Cable was hard to get then and it took them six weeks to find a replacement piece. Yes we learnt many new things in life and were perfect little angels. I must add at this point that in all our pranks and antics, not one single person was ever harmed, injured or damage to property took place.
Sorry I digress. There are many, many things we learnt in Singapore, good and bad, and I cannot list them all here. To put it all down into word would cover pages and pages. Suffice to say we re-started our lives and made the best of a very bumpy road, pre-marital break up, direct marital break up, divorce proceedings, divorce itself, wards of court, new love arrives on the scene, marriage, new father figure and then adoption. And then, whirled around to the other side of the world into the tropics. Good stuff.
It was at this stage of our lives that our parents thought it would be better if the children were getting a better education. You see, school started in Singapore at eight in the morning and finished at twelve, midday. By this time temperatures had risen to well over thirty five degrees Celsius. Not only the teachers but the pupils could not work or concentrate in these temperatures, and air conditioning was not available. So with a six months gap we were, one after the other, sent home back to England. My brother returned first after being eighteen months in Singapore. And with case packed, a label around my neck, I stepped on-board a four engine turbo prop plane bound for good old Blighty, approximately six months after my brother. After a three-stop landing for refuelling (one of which incurred having to change one of the tyres of the main undercarriage), I finally arrived at London Gatwick Airport on the 7th January 1963, 30 hours after departing Singapore International Airport. Now I was the best part of twelve thousands miles from my parents.
I was stood there waiting and a large gentleman (very large from my perspective at the time) approached me and took charge of my person after proving his identity to my flight assistant. She was one of the flight stewardesses as they were called then, and had the task of ensuring I was met by this person at the airport. He introduced himself and we made our way to the rail station. Turns out he was the headmaster of RAAS at the time.
We arrived at Redhill train station, got into his parked car and made our way to RAAS via Rocky Lane. All this time I had been in a world of…I think the word to use here would be ‘numbness’. You see I was now completely alone, a long way from home. I had left a temperature of over 35 degrees and had come back to one of the worst severe winters England had had in decades. Snow in the fields was over six foot deep! After two years in the tropics, my skin colour had now turned very dark brown and only a small outline of bathing trunks showed my true skin colour. We’re not talking a nice sun tan after three weeks on the Costa Brava here, but dark brown to black. Gloucester House is where I started life at the RAAS, this being dictated through my age. The first few weeks were very difficult because the other children, cruel as children can be to each other, picked on me extensively because of my colour. Adding to my suffering were many occasions of loneliness and of being homesick. Many a night I lay under the bed covers and cried myself to sleep, wondering what I had done to end up in this situation. Thousands and thousands of miles from my brother and sister and family. Anyone snivelling yet? Why not?
But all clouds have a silver lining. There was a dark-skinned pupil in Gloucester House at the same time as me and we became very close friends. This was not out of sympathy to a person being treated like an underdog but genuine, I like you, relationship. And this friendship lasted throughout my entire stay at the school, even when we were moved to different senior houses again dictated through age. Things started to pick up once the other children had been given a strong reprimand about racist bullying.
I must point out at this point that at this time school rules were very strict and any infringement was dealt with immediately and without remorse. This not only applied to the school rules but each and all of the various House rules. Movement around the school was almost always carried out by Houses in columns of twos. Meal times, church services, going to the sports field by the big lake and similar activities. The punishment scale went roughly as follows:
Having to write hundreds and hundreds of lines, this of course taking up your personal playing time. For more serious infringements, a ruler across the back of the hand or a large leather slipper across garments on the backside. And for the severe breaking of the rules, the cane! In other words, corporal punishment had not yet been banned by the laws of the land. I think one can say the excitement of breaking the rules was doing what was not allowed and knowing what the consequences would be, and notching up a victory if you did not get caught.
There was one housemaster in particular in Albert house. Not the housemaster himself but one of his aids, if my memory serves me well, who went under the name of Mr Rennook. We slept in dormitories of six to eight pupils, depending on the room size. My dormitory was the first on the left at the top of the stairs, on the dining hall entrance side. Mr Rennook stood in the room entrance and having satisfied himself that we had all put ourselves into bed properly, he said good night and no more talking. With that, the light switch was switched off, the lights went out and the door was closed. So thinking we were at last alone with the door shut, many of us had a last few sentences about our day’s adventures, either academic or after schooling hours and play time. This housemaster had in fact pushed the door an inch open again and just waited for a voice or noise. Wallop, the door flew open, lights came back on, and there he stood and asked, “Who was talking?” Everybody knew what it meant if you owned up, so very few did. And this always meant that we all had to get up and file down to the other end of the corridor to his room that was situated over the living quarters of the housemaster and his family. Then one by one we had to walk forward bend over and touch our toes, thus stretching our pyjamas to the contours of our backside like a micro fine skin on top of the real skin and wait. The size 12 leather slipper descended with a sharp crack after it had had made contact with your body. The stinging started almost immediately, if you were lucky to get away with one wallop. You then ran back down the corridor, desperately trying not to cry out aloud with pain, reached your bed, put your head under the pillow and cried out with pain until you eventually fell to sleep.
I hope to get the times right here as to a normal day’s routine during the days of Monday to Friday. Wake up 6 in the morning. Wash up and then beds made by 6:45. File down to the dining hall by 7 o’clock. Breakfast till 7:30. Back to the house and prepare for school classes starting at 8. Playtime from 9:30 till 10:00, resume classes until 12:00. Move down to the dining hall in columns of two. All seated by 12:30. Dinner until 1:00 afternoon. Back in columns of two to our relevant houses. Free time within the house boundaries until 1:45. Back to the school buildings in columns of two for school classes until 4:00 in the afternoon. School finished and back to our houses for half an hour’s prep. Prep in those times is homework today. If you had listened in class you got the work done in the allotted time. If you had not, then you had to sit at your desk until you did finish it, right or wrong. After homework, free time until 5:30. Then walk to the dining hall in columns for tea. Back in your houses by 6:30. Free time until 7:45. Bed from eight onwards depending on your age. Of course these times would change with the seasons. In summer we had more free time outside in the evening. Saturday was not too bad because we only had school classes until 12:00 then dinner and the rest of the day was ours until tea time.
After a certain age we were allowed to go to the nearby town of Redhill. Then a lot smaller than it is today. This we were allowed to do if we were in groups of four or more. We used to cut through the long walk by road, by going down to the sports field by the big lake, walking around part of this lake and then using a proper door set into the boundary fencing and walls of the RAAS estate. The picture I have just portrayed is the truth and not a figment of my imagination.
You must remember that there were several hundred children split up into the eight houses in my day. Alexandra for the youngest of the girls. Elizabeth for the middle aged girls. Gatton Hall for the senior girls. Gloucester house for the youngest of the boys. Then Cornwall, Edinburgh, Kent and finally Albert Houses for the middle age and senior boys. There were set timetables when to eat, sleep, play, work and learn. And this all had to be coordinated to fit as much in, in an eight hour day or so. So this in itself is a compliment to the management for surpassing this mammoth task on a day to day basis. The rules were there to keep things running efficiently and smoothly. And I think I can say they did. Nobody ever told you to break a rules. So if you did not break rules then your life was smooth sailing. But as we all know, children will be children. How many of us can say in all truthfulness that they have never been dared to do something, or double dared? For myself and my brother and sister all I can say is that we grew up in a very strict Victorian atmosphere. The RAAS at that time was an extension of that.
Quite some time later my sister arrived from Singapore and was admitted into Alexandra House. I was now in Albert house and much older and wiser to things, and took her into my shadow and helped her through the transition of leaving home at such and early age. At least she had one of her big brothers’ shoulders to cry on when she needed comforting.
I have been back to the RAAS on four occasions since leaving many, many years ago. And the last one was, I think, the one that had the most changes. At the time I was a pupil there, there were absolutely no barriers or fencing on any of the pathways or walking areas around the school. None of the lakes had barriers or fencing around them. And we had an outside swimming pool. It was located to the right side about thirty yards from Gatton Hall’s side wall if you were looking at it from the dining hall entrance. At the back of the dining hall, where there is now a spiral staircase, the Albert house side entrance viewing point, there used to be a Tuck Shop. This was only open on a Saturday from two til four in the afternoon. So if you had a little pocket money left over you could treat yourself to a sherbert dab or a liquorish curly whirly or an orange ice-lolly. The school playground, unlike the partly covered open sports hall of today, was just a massive slab of tarmac reaching to the road, where all the children came out for the break to play: girls doing their ring a ring of roses, skipping and the like, boys with their conkers (if in season) or marbles, or throwing a penny up against the wall to see who could get closest. And, on the odd occasion, a small stroll up and down the road hand in hand with one’s childhood sweetheart. The latter not so often because the teachers did not like to see that sort of thing taking place.
We still had ink wells and nib pens with blotting paper. An ink biro was still pretty new on the market and not readily available for one and all. So ink bombs flicked with a rubber band was a good pastime in the class room. Just be sure you did not get caught. One hundred lines minimum, or the wooden ruler on the back of the hand. Pull your hand away and you got two strokes.
The tennis courts and other playing fields are now on the opposite side of the road to the playground where open farm fields were ploughed and sown with wheat, barley or oats. Just before the harvest season started, if you were lucky, you could earn a few shillings extra pocket money by helping the farmer reap the wild oats before the harvester came. These plants were very similar to the sown product but grew a few inches higher. So we walked up and down the fields for a few hours pulling them out. The fitness centre with all of the modern appliances was non-existent then, and the medical centre was much bigger, with up to thirty beds for the school children. I myself spent ten days in bed with some infection, I can’t remember anymore what it was. But it was good fun as the hospital, as it was known then, had a different timetable to everything else. It was a great time when you were in there as a patient but hit you when you came out, because there was a lot of schooling to catch up on.
We all had our very own school desk, all the books one needed, and rubbers and pens pencils and crayons never left it. This is because we never left the class room. It was the teachers that moved around from different classroom to classroom, bringing with them the knowledge they passed on to us. I have not met the gentleman since leaving but have been told there is still a member of staff there who was a teacher in my time. His name is Mr Roy or Ray Davies. Sorry if I have got your name wrong. You were my English & Geography teacher. My best regards to you sir. Oh and I still know where Sydney is.
We had inter-house competitions on the sports field, cross country running for the whole school, outings to various places around the area of Reigate. Our main topics at school were Maths, English, History, Biology & Chemistry, Arts & Crafts, Religion, Geography, they did try a pilot class for four times a year in foreign languages, each having two hours allocated for this subject. They were about two months apart so this simply meant what you had learned the last lesson was long gone from memory when the next class took place. I do remember the school having three different French teachers in less than a year. Maybe it was the way they were trying to teach us? Not many of us from the whole school were into learning a different language other than our mother tongue. Arts and crafts were split into two categories: girls did needlework and cookery; boys, metal and woodwork. Sorry girls, I did not make up the rules then. Politics, world study, sex and political correctness were not subjects on the school plan in those days. We all found out about the birds and the bees through the grapevine on the school playground. Our teachers were strict but fair.
I like to think that most of what was taught to me stayed in somewhere. It is just becoming more and more difficult to retrieve that information. There was one thing that probably had a strong pull into my development whilst at the RAAS. In fact there are more, respect for my elders for one, truthfulness and duty to friends, punctuality, and I think the strongest would be, respect for yourself. If you do not have that then you can not have any for others.
The other thing I started mentioning was Albert House’s Dennis Lawnmower! It was a self-propelled lawn mower with a 36 inch rotary blade on the front and had a temperament fit to send the strongest king running for his horse. It became my task and mine alone to mow the grass at the front of the House every ten days or so. I did earn a few pennies extra pocket money doing it, although I did it because it was fun as well. Don’t forget the large annexes now protruding from the front of each of the houses were not there when I was, so the lawn area was larger than it is now. This mower hissed, coughed, spluttered to one and all who tried to operate it, including the housemasters and aids, and had a kick back on the starting handle, fit to break one’s arm. I took a love to it and its quirks. And after many failures in trying to calm it down, I succeeded. From that day forth I was the only one in Albert House who really knew how to start it first time and run it smoothly the whole afternoon until the grass was completely cut. I still carry those secrets with me today. And I should imagine that the Dennis lawnmower of Albert House has been recycled long ago into scrap metal.
I also experienced a long term relationship with a girl I met at the school. Three and a half years. Not long you say? Try it at that age, it seems like an eternity. Her name was Patricia Lambert. She was in Elizabeth House with her sister. She came down from Yorkshire. And we still had contact with one another long after leaving the RAAS. I still have a photograph of her and myself holding hands. My childhood sweetheart.
All in all, the memories are many and I cannot list them all. I will always remember the good times I experienced at the RAAS and if I had had a little more sense (but then who does at that age?) could have avoided a few of the punishments. Having said that, the punishments we received were just and let us know we had crossed the line. Even in the animal kingdom the parents scold their offspring from time to time. It taught us the values I have mentioned before and did not set us on the path of revenge where you thought to yourself, just wait til I am grown up. You will get yours. And with this, my time at the RAAS was drawing to a close ready to move on to the next adventure in my life.
This happened on the 21st March 1967. I left the school to join the Army Apprentice College Carlisle. A couple of weeks later on the 19th April 1967, I first applied to RAF as an engine technician. And for all of you still at school, pay heed, I was let down because of maths. My standard was not high enough to meet the grade of being able to work on jet engines and the like - trigonometry and algebra were never my strongest subjects. So, with the grades I had reached, I was able to join the Army as a boy soldier of fifteen and a half. My academic studies continued until I had acquired the certificates after taking the exams of school leavers at seventeen and a half. Parallel to these normal academic studies I was training to be a soldier and also my chosen trade. The trade I pursued was as a thermo dynamics engineer. That is the conversion of heat to mechanical energy. In my trade, soldier training and sporting events, including alpine ski training for soldiers, B class sailing certificates for inland waters & offshore sailing certificate in the Baltic sea, I went twice to Northern Ireland in the seventies, both times for six months and both times in the city of Belfast. First in the Mill, second at the Belfast airfield where barracks were set up. And both times a run through the gauntlet of a war of nerves. Three to five car bombs a day was a quite day. The seventies was not the best time for tourists, especially if you wore green and marched in a straight line. Three times my cards almost came up. And as a god-fearing Christian I thank the good Lord that he sent his angel down to guard me.
Two weeks before my second tour to Ireland I met my soul mate, Anneliese. We had been together for a mere two weeks and I was then gone for six months to Ireland. We kept in touch with letters every week and she was still there waiting when I returned. We married on the 15th December 1976. My time was rapidly approaching its end with the Army as I had signed up for nine years in the colours. My wife had given birth to a healthy boy and had long finished her training as a state registered nurse. After long discussions as to how our future should unfold the decision to leave the Army was made.
I became a civilian from 15th December 1978 and started working for a firm called Burton. Nothing to do with the clothes firm. This firm was in Germany and produced fire proof stones for building industry sized chimney stacks hundreds of feet high, tunnel ovens or kilns a couple of hundred yards long, right down to the linings of your household wood fires at home. The firm is was a reasonable size with just over three hundred workers all told. When I first started there I was for two years the owner’s chauffer, and for the late seventies a three litre 290 brake horse power BMW 332i was the beast to be tamed. We went all over Europe doing his business things. But then he, through age, started sending his son soon to take the reins on these journeys. The son preferred driving himself or flying. So I moved on to other assignments in the factory. I did a stint for one and a half years as a truck driver on one of the big forty-ton trucks. At about the ten year point I moved on to the export side of the firm and started helping with the commissioning and transportation of thousands and thousands of tons of fire proof stones to all points of the compass and globe, from New Zealand to Iceland, from America to Siberia, from the top of Norway to Cape Town and many of the South American countries. Never to Japan or the Falkland Islands. Japan has too many earthquakes and the Falkland Islands do not need fire proof stones.
Within six months after joining the factory there was a life changing moment for me. It was a weekend and at that time we lived about three miles from my mother-in-law’s house. Her car was leaking oil and was due to go to the garage for repairs on the Monday. It was a Sunday and there was a small birthday party that my wife and I were invited to. I said that I would pick up my mother-in-law so she could travel with us and I would then bring her back home. No need for her car to drip oil all over the place. So I dropped her off back at her house after the party and made my way back to our home. There is a major road to be crossed and I caused a car accident. My car was travelling 6mph and the car that hit me on the side was doing 70mph. This speed, on an open major road outside built up areas, was allowed. I had overlooked an approaching car and proceeded to go straight across the road, thus blocking his path and giving the driver absolutely no chance to swerve out of the way.
I must say that, fortunately, the other driver only received a small scratch on the forehead, and was released from hospital within half an hour. The ironic part was that he was a working friend from the same factory I worked at. The insurance covered all damage so the car repairs were sorted out. However, I did not fare so well from my own stupid mistake. The accident happened in the late afternoon of the Sunday; I awoke at midday on Wednesday. I did my best to look up into the eyes of my wife and ask her where I was. She replied, in hospital, and that I had been in a horrific car accident. Still not sure as to what was going on I asked her if I had locked the car. There was not one single piece of glass in the car in one piece. The car looked like a banana and the back axle had snapped. The passengers’ back rest was a third of its original width. Please do not forget left hand drive here. I was thrown out of the car through the driver’s window and landed some fifteen feet from the car.
On arrival at the hospital I was sent straight into the operating room and then the doctors battled to save my life. Altogether I was on the operating table on two consecutive days, with each operation lasting four hours. During the first one I actually stopped breathing for twenty minutes. The machines took over until the doctors could stabilise me. Had the machines not been available, I would not be writing this now. Thank goodness I was not driving faster than my guardian angel could fly!
And here is the shopping list of my body’s damage: Right hip ball joint dislocated. Right thumb broken. Severe lacerations on the left eye socket and around it. Left eye lid would not close. Severe brain concussion, hence in a coma for three days. Six broken ribs on the right side, one of which speared through my liver causing severe internal bleeding. No less than 14 blood bags were used throughout the initial operation. And the worst of the lot - The third vertebrae of my neck was broken on one side. Both sides is a broken neck and dead! I think I can truly say that I know what pain is.
How many times a day do you inhale and exhale? Remember six broken ribs on one side! In those days they did not support broken ribs and they had to heal themselves naturally. I was in intensive care for two weeks and then transferred to a normal ward. Six weeks after the accident I was released from hospital and went on convalescence leave for a further two months before I was allowed to return to work.
The break in my neck was discovered too late and the bone had already sealed itself. All of the doctors said that surgically re-breaking the bone and setting it did not even come into consideration. Even using micro-surgery, one tiny mistake could have left me paralysed for life from the neck down, so I opted for neck ache. The doctors attributed my young age and the fact that I had only just left the Army and was super fit to me having survived such a bashing. However, I still have a small reminder of this terrible accident - because I had lain in bed in the same position that caused me the least pain, the broken side of my neck had knitted together smaller than it should have. I have now have a small nagging ache from when one opens your eyes in the morning until one falls to sleep at night.
My work friend did not press charges and had his car replaced. Our car was totalled, having had no full comprehensive insurance. No further damage was caused to anybody or property. The police did not press charges for me causing the accident. And said that “I had been punished enough for my mistake”. It was mandatory though that I receive points on my licence. It was for me a wake-up call that life is hanging on a small thin thread. So don’t push your luck too far. I used up all of mine and more on that one silly mistake.
I would just like to finish off this story by saying; since the accident I have had to be very careful with what activities I take part in, so as to not overstretch my neck with fierce movements, which could be caused by sports. Since the crash, I have built up a forty year no claims bonus on my car insurance. I became a blood donor, and reached my badge for fifty donations. I learnt my lesson the hard way. And ask all of you who are reading this: Tomorrow is another day. If there is no time for the journey, MAKE the time. Life is very short as it is, so do not throw it away.
After fifteen and a half years with this firm, the time came to move on. And so I joined a firm closer to home which dealt with wood. But big-time surprises were in store for an unwitting forty plus year old who had known the boss of this new firm for almost all the time that I was working at the previous Burton Factory. I was with this firm the longest in respect of any other worker. My total Army service time was 14 years 240 days. Burton Firm 15 years 6 months 3 days. And finally Wilms, 20 years 3 months 5 days. The total time I have worked in my life without pause is 47 years 6 months 4 days, non-stop. No, your maths is not at fault. My military time is calculated including the years I served in the first line reserves. This time starts after leaving the Colours. You are a civilian but are still on the payroll of the Army, as we had to report one day a year for upgrade training and were paid for that single day. One phone call and four hours later you would or could be stood fully dressed ready for movement to a battle zone. The cold war was still in full swing at the date I left the Army!
I then moved to my new firm and started, like many, at the bottom and worked my way slowly up, getting to know everything there was to do with a mill factory. My boss was a bit of an inventor and still holds no less than thirty patents for the ideas he has contributed to this world we live in. After living this long in Germany my command of the language is not perfect but better than average. Oh! I really do hate self praise. But there is no way to put this down without having to mention one’s achievements. After about a half a year of working at this mill visits stated taking place. Week after week for months I became the factory guide and translator for my firm. I even got my own visiting card. At first this unsettled my fellow workers who thought I was trying to get on the boss’ good side through the back door. This was very quickly brushed aside when it was explained that I was in fact drawing in new far-reaching contracts for non-German speaking firms abroad for the firm, and thus securing their place of work. My duties also included helping our office staff who now had to cope with a mass of contacts coming in from abroad, of course all in English. It was not too long before we got on top of the things. Hail the internet. Our web pages were of coarse all in German and it was time to expand. Guess what? Yes, you have figured it out already. A parallel website was opened a year later and if you go to wilms.com on the main page you will see the Union Jack. You can now browse the site in English.
I went with a work colleague to an Earls Court exhibition three years ago and we were there for three days, I think it was. We had a stand displaying our products. Very pleasant memories meeting so many thousands of people in such a short time. I held many one day lectures for quite a few prominent persons. For example, one was a lecture to the import ministers for the Arabian Emirate State about a couple of products the firm produces.
But I think the apex of my life was a lecture I held at the Biological Institute in Braunschweig, Germany. They were all there; my boss and his wife, and their daughter who is soon going to take over the firm as Mr Wilms is approaching his seventies, two of our export workers who helped in the development of the Wilms hygiene wood products, and no less than fifteen doctors and professors from around Europe, from Iceland to the tip of Italy, from Norway to Portugal. And then there’s me, an ex RAAS pupil lecturing these people. I can tell you my legs were shaking and my throat was dry. But I did have the ace card up my sleeve: I was at that time the one with all the knowledge about the subject to pass on, they had come to learn about it. And because of that I had a very attentive audience for the best part of an hour. Most questions asked I was able to answer; some I had to confer with my boss about, simply because it was coming very close to revealing trade secrets. Which I might add was the centre of all their probing! You could see it written all over their faces. How has Mr Wilms managed to do this after we have all spent so many years without results? It was nerve-racking to put it lightly but I got through it without mishap.
And the sands of time kept running, before I knew it, it was time to start thinking about winding down my life for more pleasant things. Like hanging up my work clothes and becoming my own boss. On the 31st December 2014 I said my farewells to all my work colleagues, my boss and his wife and their daughter, and became my own boss as a pensioner. The good thing about being your own boss as a pensioner is that every day is Sunday!
One small mistake was overlooked. I say mistake which is probably not the right way to express it. It is the fact that my wife is five years younger than myself and therefore has to carry on working for more years until we can enjoy a true freedom of doing what we want, where we want, and for as long as we want. Until then I am still duty bound to her shift work as a nurse. Every second weekend ruined, every second Christmas ruined, every second Easter ruined, and having to take our holidays when she is given the time off work, either before or after the school holidays. Now that our son is grown and we are not tied to the school breaks, that would be either wet and cold in spring, or dry and windy in the autumn’s storms.
I help with the shopping, ironing, cleaning and cooking! Thank goodness for the Arts and Crafts lessons at the RAAS. My son married twelve years ago and has blessed us with two grandchildren, a girl and a boy, so any more would be a replay! The grandchildren often ask me what I have done over the years, and I find it hard as to where to start. Maybe in a few years I might reveal some of my life’s secrets. I am celebrating my fortieth wedding anniversary this year so I think one could say that the right choice was made in finding my soul mate. As a gift to each other on our silver wedding anniversary we decided to spend a three week holiday and went to Hawaii. Five years of hard saving prior to this eased the costs. We left no stone unturned in the activities we undertook whilst there. Submarine trips, Para gliding, Jet Ski rental, and a life long stack of memories we experienced. We took 720 pictures documenting our activities and places visited and experiences we had. One day’s travel to get there. We left home on the 3rd December at four o’clock in the morning and arrived in our hotel room the same day at eight forty in the evening. In pure flight time, seventeen hours to get to Honolulu International Airport. Return flight just under two days. We departed Honolulu on the 18th December and arrived home on the 20th December due to the Earth’s rotation and an eleven hour time difference. And to our horror, none of our four cases were at the final destination airport! One of the carriages carrying our entire luggage had been left at Frankfurt airport where we had to change for Bremen. We did get the luggage back a day later. They put it on the next flight and then it was delivered by airport courier to our door. All’s well that ends well. There is more, much more but I think this will have to suffice for my first attempt in writing a self autobiography.
I do so hope that it has been entertaining, and I have been very surprised and humbled in writing it, in reflecting back on one’s personal achievements. I feel sure that there are some Irish families alive today, through my sheer presence on my two tours in Ireland that stopped a gunman from firing or bombers taking revenge and setting off a bomb again because my squad’s presence changed their plans. And the families flourished and grew. Knowing the longevity of what salt water crocodiles can reach, I am convinced that some of the thousands of baby crocodiles my brother and I gave freedom to are still doing their own hunting today. I am also a blood donor with the accomplishment needle of fifty times. So some people somewhere were helped to stay alive through this act. And maybe a few children’s lives were spared because they saw what serpents to stay clear of.
And that’s it. A fulfilled life with plenty of bumps, ups and downs along the way. Good and dark memories to look back on. But the light, the good ones, are always the strongest and brightest. For anybody who has got this far, you have also earned my thanks and gratitude and a medal. I have also included quite a few photographs of that era, in the documents and picture files included with this text. So the RAAS should have them all on file. I feel sure they would pass on as email attachments to any who ask for some. I was the photographer and have given them permission for them to do so. None are copyright protected. So it is bye from me, it took the best part of a couple of weeks to compile, and I have become quite proficient at the keys now. Moved up from two to three fingers.
Oh and one final golden life’s tip for ALL, irrelevant of what your age is. Laughter IS the best medicine. It takes six muscles to smile and over twenty to frown. When happy your body overflows with all kinds of hormones and stimulants that are good for the rest of our organs. So not just an apple a day keeps the doctor away, this is also true for a smile a day. Forty years being married to a nurse with a bookcase full of medical books and plenty of time to read some have taught me this. It also has been medically proven.
Had I known what life had in store for me, if I was asked including my stay at the RAAS, knowing all this, would you have gone another way? My answer: no. I would do it all over again.
To all the readers of this, you all take care of yourselves and loved ones and may all your dreams come true bar one! That’s the one to look forward to.
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