Like you I went into Barnardo’s at about twelve years old and had vivid memories of friends and relatives
prior to my admission.
I am sure that many Barnardo children were driven to search for these people and no doubt had varying
outcomes as I did. The following is a story of one such search.
FACT OR FICTION
The old woman sat at the table whilst the seven, or was it nine cats roamed around the room. My wife Kim had
placed her handbag on the floor next to her seat and one of the cats started nosing inside it. Kim tried to fend off
the cat and the old woman said “I wouldn’t do that dearie, that’s a nasty one that is and it will scratch you eyes out”.
Slumped in an armchair across the other side of the room was a frail old man. He looked so weak that I wondered
if he had the energy to ever get out of the chair.
The old woman called to the old man, “Would you like a sweetie Jim” she croaked. “Yes please Daphne” he said.
Daphne then produced a little fishing net on the end of a long bamboo cane. She placed the sweet in the net and
without leaving her chair stretched it over to Jim.
My God could this really be my Uncle Jim and Aunty Daphne, the young loving couple I remember from some
fifty years ago. They used to be so much fun, like the time we were watering Grandads prize Dahlias. No hose
pipes then, so we formed a chain and passed buckets of water from the kitchen sink to the flower bed. Everything
was going fine until the chain stopped with Daphne holding a bucket of water and looking at Jim with a wicked
smile on her face. “You dare” said Jim. “Go on Daphne” we all chorused. And Jim got the lot all over him. We
were killing ourselves with laughter but Jim was not amused, in fact he was furious. He soon got over it though
and I was dispatched over Tug-a-Mutton Green to Sweeny Todd’s* to get two large bottles of Tizer and we sat
drinking it in the brilliant sun shine. The sun always shone in those days!
I look again at the old man; surely this can’t be the war hero, my war hero, the one who was a rear gunner in a
Lancaster bomber. And you know what they used to say? If a Lancaster was shot down, the rear gunner never got
out, but my Uncle Jim did. I remember his home coming after being captured by the Germans. The whole of the
road turned out and there were flags and bunting everywhere. My Gran had a big white sheet hanging from the
upstairs windows with the words,” Welcome Home Jim” written in big letters across it. Those were proud days.
And now as I look at these two fragile old people I wonder why I had come to seek them out. What is this
obsession we have for reviving the past and seeking out our long lost relatives? Half the time when you do find
them, they don’t want to know, scared perhaps that you want something. And the other half, like now for instance,
you don’t want to know. I wish we had never come.
I am awakened from my melancholia by Uncle Jim calling my name. It was as if he knew what I was thinking and
he handed me a photograph. “Is this how you remember me?” he said. I stared down at the photograph showing a
handsome young airman. His hat was at a jaunty angle and he looked splendid in his RAF uniform. “Yes that’s
how I remember you” I said, suddenly pleased to have confirmation that this old man really was my Uncle Jim.
“Tell me Uncle Jim; tell me again how you got out of that Lancaster. I have impressed so many of my friends by
telling them that story”. “Lancaster” said Jim. “I was never in Lancasters” Oh no I thought, where on earth did I
get that story. All my life I truly believed every word of it. “No, I was in Stirlings” Jim continued. “We used to
drop supplies to the resistance fighters behind enemy lines. This meant we had to fly in low, and on one mission
having dropped our load, we began to gain height when we came under concentrated rifle fire from German troops.
The plane was so badly damaged that we had to crash land in a corn field. We had crypto material on board which
we destroyed by fire. Unfortunately the fire got out of control and the whole corn field was set ablaze. This of
course alerted every German soldier in the area and resulted in our capture. Sorry to shatter your illusions”. What?
Shatter my illusions? That story was much better than the Lancaster one, and best of all; Uncle Jim was still a war hero.
When we left I was glad that we had taken the trouble to find them. Although time had taken its toll on them
physically, they still remained the same loving couple that I remembered all those years ago.
So what is the point of this story in relation to the Goldings web site and the many stories therein? Well like
me I am sure that the contributors would like their articles to be factually correct. But many of us are relating
childhood memories and there is always the possibility of not getting it quite right. Conversely, in an attempt
to get it absolutely correct, we may omit interesting memories which are a little vague, and perhaps somewhat
unbelievable. I for example never mentioned Joe Patch making us run across the gym to get up the wall bars
before he sent his dog down snapping at our heals. I thought it happened but wasn’t sure. I was so glad to read
another article that related the same story and confirmed it was not a figment of my imagination.
In addition, I hope the thrust of this little piece will prove that any article sent in by me is absolutely one hundred
percent true – well, as I remember it anyway!
*Tug-a-Mutton Green was one of many thought provoking names in the Orpington area. Tug-a-Mutton Green
was a field between Grasmere Gardens where I lived and Locks Bottom, which in turn was not far from Pratts
Bottom and Green Street Green.
Sweeny Todd’s was a little shop that sold everything including pork pies. The story goes that human fingernails
had been found in the pies thus attracting the infamous nickname.
By victor King