Toughened by war and seeking a new life, a young London couple moved to south Buckinghamshire in the spring of 1947. Pat and Ted O’Sullivan were beginning another great adventure.
This is their story.
This is the second and final volume of the memoirs of Edmund (Ted) O’Sullivan.
It follows on from the first volume, All My Brothers: A London Irish Family at War, which detailed Ted’s life until 1946, the history of his family in London and their origins in Ireland. All My Sons & Daughters: a London Irish Family at Peace is based upon the first-hand account Ted rendered following his retirement in 1984 and has been researched and contextualised by his sons Edmund (Gerard) and Richard.
The story this book tells is also a tribute to the many people Ted knew, worked with and loved in his life after the 2nd World War. The first among them are Ted’s parents, Mick and Lizzie, his six brothers and sisters and their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Today, members of Ted’s wider family live across the world: in Vancouver in Canada, in Minneapolis in the US, in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, in every part of the UK and in Brisbane, Newcastle and Sydney in Australia. They have visited every part of the world and, perhaps, brought with them stories of the London Irish family of which Ted was so proud.
In 1966, Ted returned to education aged 47 and emerged three years later as a qualified teacher. He was deeply grateful to St Mary’s University College, Twickenham for giving him the opportunity to begin a rewarding new career so late in his working life. Being a teacher at St Anthony’s Roman Catholic Primary School from 1969 until his retirement was an enjoyable privilege for Ted. Those he taught were a source of great pride.
Ted’s family would like express their gratitude to the management and employees of Oxford House in Slough where Ted lived from 2004. Thanks are again also due to the London Irish veterans who served with him in World War II, in particular James O’Brien, and to the London Irish Rifles Regimental Association (LIRRA).
Acknowledgements are also due to the people of Sinagoga, scene of one of the London Irish’s most famous 2nd World victories, and particularly to Franco and Clara Sinagoga, to Franco’s father Alessandro, a witness to the events in the village at the time the London Irish were there, and to Franco and Clara’s children Antonio and Alessandra.
A huge debt of gratitude is owed to Alessandro Campagna, a leading authority on the role of the Irish Brigade in and around the Cassino battlefields in 1944 who has acted as a Liri valley guide to Richard and Gerard O’Sullivan. As a result of the interest in Sinagoga stimulated by All My Brothers, a lasting bond of friendship has been established between the village, the LIRRA and the family and friends of the Irish Brigade veterans of the Italian campaign. It is yet another wonderful product of Ted O’Sullivan’s memoirs.
The Irish Brigade website is also delighted to have laid the foundations for a developing relationship with the people of Piedimonte di Etneo, a town in the island of Sicily that was home to the 1st battalion of the London Irish Rifles in September 1943. In 2014, the people of Piedimonte invited representatives of the London Irish Rifles Association to attend an initial celebration of the memory of the London Irish and the experiences of its people during the Second World War. Two years later, in September 2016, a delegation from the London Irish Rifles Association participated in the official unveiling of a monument to the regiment in the centre of Piedimonte.
This was a proud moment for everyone connected with the London Irish Rifles and a further legacy of Ted O’Sullivan and his comrades in the regiment and the Irish Brigade. May it never be forgotten.
The hero of the second volume is Pat, Ted’s wife and the mother of his six children who died just short of her 94th birthday in 2013. She was the rock upon which Ted built his life after the war and the loving partner who raised his children with so much care.
This book, and the life Ted lived that it records, would have been impossible without her.
Return to the road to Sinagoga
On a starry night in Sinagoga at the entrance to the Liri valley 80 miles south of Rome, two brothers raised their glasses on 19 July 2009 to toast the memory of those who had suffered and sacrificed so much in this place in the final days of the Battle of Cassino 65 years earlier.
Gerard and Richard O’Sullivan were at the home of Franco Sinagoga, his wife Clara and their children Alessandra and Antonio. Much has changed in the Liri valley since the battle ended. But the road to Sinagoga is much as it was when their father Ted O’Sullivan and his comrades from the 2nd Battalion of the London Irish Rifles broke the German line that ran through the village on 16 May 1944.
A gently-undulating valley about five miles wide between the mountains rising in the east and the Auruncci Hills to the west is cut by streams and dotted by villages and hamlets that were then formidable defensive strongpoints. The numbers living in the area has dramatically increased and a road used to test cars made at a nearby Fiat factory runs north-west along a line that follows the route of the British Army’s advance in the final days of the Casino battle. But practically all the landmarks that would have been recognised by the London Irish still exist. In the hamlet of Sinagoga itself, German barbed wire has been gathered and spooled and hangs on the wall of a roofless building below which a German bunker was dug. British army ammunition boxes and other debris of war can still be found. Just beyond the hamlet and across a bridge over the road to Rome, a ruined farmhouse still bears the scars of the intense fighting that took place at this spot on 16 May 1944.
All My Sons & Daughters: a London Irish Family at Peace, the second volume of Ted O’Sullivan’s memoirs, describes the events and achievements of his life after the 2nd World War. But the mind is drawn inexorably back to Sinagoga and Cassino; a turning point in Ted’s existence and in the history of the world’s bloodiest conflict. The battle for Sinagoga was the pivotal moment in All My Brothers: A London Irish Family at War, the first volume of Ted’s memoirs which were published in 2007 and provide an account of his life until his marriage to Patricia Webb in October 1946.
Edmund (Ted) O’Sullivan was born in Peckham in south-east London on 28 February 1919. He was the third child and second son of Edmund (Mick) O’Sullivan and his wife Elizabeth. Ted’s father, then a shunter on the Great Western Railways (GWR), had been born in the Rotherhithe region of the London Docklands in 1892. He was the second son of Daniel O’Sullivan, himself the second son of a London Irishman named Daniel, who arrived from Limerick in Britain’s capital in the late 1840s or early 1850s. Daniel the elder had been forced to leave Ireland for uncertain reasons: one family account is that he was a dissident who had been convicted of an unspecified crime and imprisoned on a prison hulk on the River Thames in London. Another says he was an economic migrant. He is recorded in 1854 to have worked as an arsenal labourer, perhaps in the munitions factory at Woolwich in east London, and then as a docker in 1860. He was involved in the Great Dockers’ Strike of 1889 and received, for services rendered during the dispute, the walking stick of the then head of the Catholic Church in England Cardinal Manning who helped mediate a settlement5.
His son Daniel the younger, born in Southwark in 1860, married Frances Wayte when he was still a teenager in September 1879. New research by Richard O’Sullivan has discovered that Frances Wayte was the daughter of Henry Wayte, a decorated Royal Navy Veteran of the Crimean War who was born in Norfolk but was probably living in East London when Daniel and Frances were married at St Jude’s in Bethnal Green in 1879. Soon after their wedding, Daniel and Frances moved to a house on the Rotherhithe Road close to what is now the site of Millwall Football Club. In the 1911 census, Frances and Daniel are recorded to have had 13 children, but only four, all boys, survived into maturity6. The high rate of mortality among Frances’ children is said to have been a problem due to her blood grouping, and is more precisely identified with the fact that her family passed on the rhessus negative blood group, which can cause complications for newly born babies.
The O’Sullivan family was living in Cronin Road in Peckham when their second son Mick O’Sullivan started work, aged 14, for the GWR in 1906. His two younger brothers were later to join him on the railways. Mick met Elizabeth (Lizzie) Hanlon, a member of a large London Irish family living in Camberwell, on a Catholic outing in 1913. They married in May 1914, less than three months before the start of the 1st World War. A socialist and trade union militant, Mick nevertheless volunteered to join the British Army, but was turned down because he was in a reserved occupation. His three brothers served in the army during the war and survived. Three of Lizzie’s brothers also served in the conflict.
When their son Ted was born in 1919, Lizzie and Mick were living, like Mick’s parents, in Cronin Road, Peckham. He was two months premature and a twin. His sibling was still-born. In 1925, the O’Sullivan family, by then comprising five children, moved to Shakespeare Road in Herne Hill. Ted, who was nicknamed Dickie by his family, went, until the move to Herne Hill, to St Francis’ Roman Catholic Primary School in Peckham and then to Corpus Christi Primary School in Brixton. He won a scholarship aged 11 to the Brompton Oratory Central School in west London where he followed in the footsteps of his talented elder brother Daniel.
Patricia (Pat) Webb was born in Brixton on 28 July 1919. She was the first child of William Webb, who had served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force on the Western Front for the whole of the 1st World War, and his wife Lily Ann (nee Halligan). Pat won a place at the Brompton Oratory Girl’s School. Forced at the age of 14 to leave school due to financial pressure on her family in the spring of 1934, Pat worked initially in a tailoring firm in central London. She subsequently secured a job in the GWR where she was a secretary until volunteering to serve in the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) during the war. Pat later worked as a telegraphist at the War Office in Whitehall but initially served in the Southern Command at Wilton House Salisbury. This is about 10 miles from where her father had trained on Salisbury Plain in 1914 and early 1915 before going serve for three and a half years on the Western Front.
Ted left school in the autumn 1934 and started work at Gieves & Hawkes, the Savile Row tailor. He rose to the position of salesman and was secretary of the Corpus Christi youth club in his spare time. On 18 October 1939, Ted was conscripted into the 2nd Battalion of the London Irish Rifles, a territorial regiment that mainly recruited from the Irish community of London. He did basic training in Wimbledon in south-west London. The 2nd Battalion of the London Irish Rifles was assigned to duties in St Alban’s, Sandy in Bedfordshire, at Lowestoft on the Suffolk coast during the invasion crisis of June 1940 and then to Knutsford in Cheshire. Further Home Front assignments took the London Irish to the West Midlands, Haverfordwest in Wales, Malvern in the West Midlands and West Sussex in the summer of 1941. In early 1942, the London Irish Rifles were attached to the 38th (Irish) Brigade, a new unit that also comprised the 1st Battalion of the Royal Irish Fusiliers (The Faughs) and the 6th Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (The Skins). The brigade was moved to Diddlington in Norfolk where it trained for almost six months. In June 1942, the Irish Brigade was transported to Scotland and began intensive preparation for active duties.
On 11 November, the brigade sailed from Greenock on the Clyde to join Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of French North Africa. Before embarking, Ted was promoted to be Colour Sergeant in E Company of the 2nd Battalion of the London Irish Rifles. His job involved feeding and equipping a fighting unit of more than 100 men and it was a position he was to hold until the end of the war.
The Irish Brigade, then part of the 6th Armoured Division, arrived in Algiers on Thursday 22 November 1942, and travelled by train to Bejaia (Bougie), a port town in eastern Algeria. From there, the brigade was transported by truck across the border into Tunisia and was put into the front-line west of Tunis at the end of November. The London Irish held the Allied line between Medjez el-Bab and Bou Arada until the end of March 1943. In this time, it was involved in many skirmishes with the German army and two bloody battles. One was for Point 286 on 20-21 January 1943 in which the battalion lost about one-quarter of its fighting strength. The second involved repulsing a Panzer attack on 26-27 February. After a period for rest and reinforcement, the battalion was put back into the line in April 1943 and participated in the final attack against German and Italian defences north of Medjez el-Bab. Ted and the London Irish marched in the victory parade through Tunis on 20 May 1943.
The London Irish and the Irish Brigade landed in Syracuse in Sicily on 26 July 1942 and were involved in battles at Centuripe7, the River Simeto and around the foothills of Mount Etna. After the German army withdrew from Sicily on 17 August, the battalion spent five weeks on the island’s north coast preparing for the invasion of Italy. Ted contracted malaria on the Simeto and was to suffer from recurrences of the disease for the rest of the war.
The Irish Brigade landed in Taranto8 in south Italy on 24 September. After travelling by truck to Bari, it was transported by landing craft to Termoli9 where it participated in a battle to secure the town. The brigade was subsequently involved in major Allied offensives against German lines on the River Sinacra, the River Trigno and the River Sangro. At the start of December 1943, the brigade was withdrawn from the line for rest before returning to positions opposite the German army in the Apennine Mountains around the area near Castel Di Sangro, with the London Irish Rifles based in the village of Montenero10. The London Irish were pulled out of the line at the end of January 1944.
In early February, the Irish Brigade was moved to Italy’s west coast close to the Gustav Line which stretched from the Tyrrhenian Sea to the Adriatic. Its strongpoint was Monte Cassino. The brigade initially joined the New Zealand Corps and held in reserve for possible exploitation of any breakthrough into the Liri Valley. After the failure of the third attack on the Gustav Line, it was put into the front line at the entrance to the River Liri valley close to Cassino in March and then shifted to Monte Castellone overlooking Monte Cassino at the end of the month. It was then taken out of the line to prepare for the fourth battle of Cassino. The attack, involving more than 200,000 Allied troops, started at 11pm on 11 May. On the morning of 14 May, the Irish Brigade was moved up to lead the advance. It went into action early the next morning. After the Skins had advanced out of the bridgehead east of the Rapido, the London Irish carried the attack forward to the fortified hamlet of Sinagoga on 16 May. It took its objectives, but suffered more than 100 casualties. Ted’s close comrade Sergeant Eddie Mayo, Military Medal (MM), was killed by nebelwerfer mortars during the morning of 16 May11.
After helping break the Hitler Line behind the Gustav Line, the Irish Brigade advanced to the north of Rome. On 12 June, Ted and a group of about 30 London Irish comrades visited Rome and were received in the Vatican by Pope Pius XII. He rejoined the battalion later that day and participated in the battle of Trasimeno between 20-26 June 1944 as part of the Allied attack on the Gothic Line. The Irish Brigade and the London Irish again suffered heavy casualties.
At the end of July, the Irish Brigade was transported to Alexandria in Egypt. Ted contracted pneumonia after swimming in Stanley Bay and was too ill to rejoin the London Irish when it returned to Italy at the end of August. After leaving hospital, Ted, travelling independently, returned to Italy. After grappling with army bureaucracy, he rejoined the London Irish which were then in the line around Monte Grande in the north Apennines on Boxing Day 1944. The Irish Brigade experienced an uncomfortable winter in the mountains and was finally transferred to Forli close to the River Senio in the Po Valley at the end of January 1945. After holding the Allied lines for three months, the London Irish participated in the advance against the German defensive lines in the Po Valley on 5-22 April 194513. They subsequently crossed the Po and advanced north, reaching the border with Yugoslavia in early May.
On 7 May, the last day of the war in Europe, the London Irish crossed into Austria and later in the month took up occupation duties in the Ossiachersee region of Carinthia. They were to remain in this area until the battalion was demobilised in early 1946. Ted was promoted to sergeant major as Warrant Officer II and honoured with a Mentioned in Dispatches for meritorious service. Ted was released on leave to London and saw his family for the first time in two-and-a-half years at the end of May 1945. After suffering a further recurrence of malaria that put him in hospital for two weeks, Ted returned to Austria in June 1945. During his leave, he fell in love with Pat Webb. They decided to marry and Ted left the army on the dissolution of the 2nd Battalion of the London Irish Rifles on 29 March 1946.
His references were glowing. Colonel John Horsfall, commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion in 1945/46, said Ted was “an exemplary soldier”. Ted returned to his old job in Hawkes. On 19 October 1946, he married Pat Webb at Corpus Christi Church, Brixton. For five months they lived in the Brixton home of Ted’s parents Lizzie and Mick. In early 1947, Ted received a job offer that was to change his life.
This is an account of what happened next.
A Village Hampden
Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife
Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray
Along the cool sequester’d vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way
From Elegy written in a Country Churchyard by Thomas Gray (1716-71) which was inspired by the countryside of south Buckinghamshire, including Burnham Beeches and Stoke Poges
It is said that virtue is its own reward.
This was never truer than for the millions of young people who returned to civilian life after serving, sometimes for years, in Britain’s armed forces during the 2nd World War. The overwhelming majority had been conscripted to fight a war that seemed, at first, to be unwinnable. Hitler and the Nazis and Emperor Hirohito and the Japanese were behaving abominably. Most believed they should be stopped. And yet, no big idea united the millions under arms between September 1939 and August 1945 when the war ended.
There was patriotism, but nothing as vulgar as national passion.
Decency probably motivated them more. But it was a sense of obligation which mattered most.
They did their bit to live up to the expectations of family and friends and out of self-respect. It was a mild emotion, sometimes so subtle it was almost invisible among those who advanced amid exploding shells and mortars to take an enemy position, flew time and again to bomb distant targets in a storm of flak or stood watch on mid-winter convoy duty. They were ordinary people living ordinary lives until they were thrown into a conflict that spanned the globe.
It had been a hard and horrible fight. In the end, the Allies had more men and money than Germany and Japan. But Britain’s victories in 1945 would have been impossible without the courage of unsung conscripts doing their duty in terrifying conditions. They had won. The cost, however, had been enormous. It was far greater than their leaders could reveal.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill stood on the balcony of the Ministry of Health in Whitehall on 8 May, Victory in Europe Day, and declared to a huge crowd: “This is your victory!”
He was right, of course. But he didn’t say that they would have to continue paying for that victory for years to come.
Some of the price was already obvious. More than 600,000 Britons, most of them service men and women, had been killed or wounded. Hundreds of thousands of homes had been destroyed or damaged by German bombs and missiles. Britain exhausted its savings and borrowed to the hilt to pay for the war. And even by the end of 1946, thousands of young men and women were still in uniform. Some were fighting in the vast territory under British occupation at the end of the war and in restive parts of a dying empire they did not love.
If those called in the autumn of 1939 to serve in the London Irish Rifles with Ted had known then what they did when the war ended, there might not have been the enthusiasm that made it one of the most formidable infantry battalions in the British Army. But they had survived and were happy, at least initially, to return to jobs kept open since they left for war.
To their surprise and dismay, they found they were often worse paid in civilian employment than they had been in the army and the work appeared insignificant compared to the positions of enormous responsibility they previously held. There was no cash hand-out from a grateful nation because there was no money to give. And there was certainly no advice about how fighters who had seen thousands die violently could become civilians again. It was a quick goodbye and a mass-produced double-breasted suit instead of uniform.
The war was over and it was time to get back to normality. But many had forgotten what that was. Many were never to remember.
And so it was for Ted, veteran of more than three years of fighting and occupation in North Africa, Sicily, Italy and Austria. He left the army in March 1946 as Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant (RQMS) and Warrant Officer II, the second highest non-commissioned rank in the British Army. He had been responsible for feeding, clothing and equipping more than 100 fighting men, often under shell, mortar and machine gun fire. For 30 months, and through three freezing winters in the mountains of Tunisia and Italy, Ted ensured they were ready when the order came to attack. And it came again and again. Few units in Europe and the Mediterranean served longer and fought more battles in the 2nd World War than the 2nd Battalion of the London Irish Rifles. They were one of three battalions in the Irish Brigade, which the Germans feared and respected for their fighting skills. The London Irish helped make the 78th Division, of which it was part, one of the best infantry divisions in the British Army in the 2nd World War.
What followed was bound to be an anti-climax, but probably a welcome one.
Ted returned to work in his peacetime job as a salesman in Gieves & Hawkes, the Savile Row tailor. On 19 October 1946, he married Pat Webb, who had served in the armed forces as a volunteer. But London was a discouraging place for a young couple. There was no housing and the job opportunities were limited. Money was tight. Food and clothes were rationed. It seemed, at times, that the sacrifices of the front-line had already been forgotten.
Pat and Ted wanted a fresh start and, by chance, found a new life in the English countryside. It was as different as it could be to the one they knew. It was rural, English and conservative. Pat and Ted were Londoners to their fingertips and had an Irish name. War, and the memory of the hardships of the 1920s and 1930s, had made them impatient with the status quo. But Pat and Ted had something lost by many of their friends and comrades who did not return.
The ability to walk and talk and to see and hear.
To breathe and think.
Pat and Ted’s destination in the spring of 1947 was Farnham Common, a hamlet in south Buckinghamshire on the A355 road between Beaconsfield and Slough. It sat on the northern edge of the parish of Farnham Royal, an ancient village recorded in the Domesday Book that was written for the Norman conquerors of England after their victory at Hastings in October 1066. Farnham Common in 1947 comprised little more than a couple of dozen buildings including pubs, two non-conformist Protestant chapels and a handful of shops. They served a dispersed community of comfortable representatives of the English middle class, retired members of the armed forces, a sprinkling of the British aristocracy and a large number of ordinary folk, many of whom worked in the homes of the wealthy of the region.
Rationing was still in place, but the dramas of the recent conflict were no more than a distant echo. In many respects, the certainties of Edwardian England in its golden era before the 1st World War were still in place in the village and in much of south Buckinghamshire, a rural county that extended from the River Thames south of Slough, across the leafy glories of the Chiltern Hills to the plain of Aylesbury and beyond.
The gentleness of the landscape hid an ancient history. Evidence of human settlement dating back more than 4,000 years has been found. Once blanketed by mixed deciduous woods, the region had been entirely transformed by Celtic farmers by the time of the Roman conquest of Britain in AD 43. A hill fort was built around 400 BC about two miles west of Farnham Common in Burnham Beeches, an ancient wood covering 54 acres. By the time William I and his Norman companions began their campaign of conquest after Hastings, southern Buckinghamshire had all the settlements that still define its geography. Taplow, overlooking the Thames valley, and Burnham Village were in the west. Farnham Royal, Stoke Poges and Wexham were on the roads running north to the Chilterns. Chalvey and Upton were near to the Thames river valley and Langley was in the south-east. These were manors established by Saxon colonisers from north-west Germany that flooded into England after the Roman legions withdrew in 407.
Buckinghamshire is believed to have been named after Bucca, one of the first Saxon settlers in the valley of the River Ouse which crosses the north of the county. The Normans eventually deposed most Saxon lords. One of William’s companions was made Earl of Buckingham. The conquerors spoke French, built castles and imposed the feudal system. At its pinnacle was the king, anointed by God, to whom loyalty was pledged by a cohort of nobles who in turn secured the allegiance of lesser magnates, knights and squires. At its base were the mass of the English people. Most were serfs who were obliged to serve their masters. Churches, convents and monasteries, tended the sick, blessed the people’s humble unions, educated the sons of the wealthy and anointed the dead. It was a system that was to endure for more than 500 years.
The storms of the English Middle Ages largely passed by Buckinghamshire. The struggle between King John and England’s barons led to the Magna Carta (The Great Charter), a declaration that recognised the rights of the king’s mightiest subjects. It is seen in retrospect as the origin of Britain’s parliamentary system. The Magna Carta was signed in 1215 at Runnymede on the banks of the Thames east of Windsor Castle, a royal palace built on a hill south of the river a couple of miles from where Slough now is. The dramas of the times were acted out in the English borderlands with Scotland, in Wales, where Celtic rebels held out until the 14th century, and in Ireland, conquered by Norman knights and declared to be part of the realm of the English king in the 12th century. The Thames valley was peaceful. In Cippenham in what is now Slough, King John’s successor King Henry III had a palace. Cippenham Green is the only ancient village green in the Slough area.
After losing Scotland in the 14th century and the remaining parts of their French territories in the 15th, the English ruling class turned on itself in blood-bath battles during the Wars of the Roses. But no great confrontations took place in the Thames valley. Within easy reach of royal Windsor and no more than three days’ ride from the palace of Westminster itself, there was little chance of rebellion succeeding. Loyal lords ensured the county never strayed. Buckinghamshire has no great castles dating from the Middle Ages for a simple reason. None were needed. At Eton, opposite Windsor on the north bank of the Thames, Henry VI established a school for the children of the English nobility in 1440. Eton College was to be one of the most powerful landowners in south Buckinghamshire until the end of the 19th century. To supply the school’s construction, a brick works using local clay was founded near Slough.
The Wars of the Roses ended in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth Field where England’s last Plantagenet ruler Richard III was killed. Henry Tudor, a Welsh noble and victor of Bosworth, was crowned Henry VII. The English reformation that followed his son King Henry VIII’s decision to divorce and marry Ann Boleyn was resisted in north-west England and never accepted in Ireland. But Buckinghamshire conformed to the new faith. The region benefited from the growth of central government power during the Tudor period. A postal system was established in 1577. The Bristol Road from London to the west which passed through south Buckinghamshire was made one of England’s five post roads. Three alehouses were established at a muddy crossroads between the highway and the road south to Windsor. It was known as Slo or the Slough.
The exception in a millennium of Buckinghamshire calm was the English Civil War which exploded in 1642 when King Charles I decided to use force to impose his will on the English parliament. William Hampden, an MP born and raised in south Buckinghamshire, was a leading figure in the parliamentary cause. At one point, he overshadowed Oliver Cromwell who was to become dictator of Britain after King Charles was beheaded in London in January 1649. Hampden, who might have challenged for the leadership of the republican state Cromwell helped create, had died the previous summer from wounds suffered in one of the final battles of the civil war. Buckinghamshire was a side-show in a turning point in English history that marked the start of Britain’s global trading empire.
The tradition of resistance to government attempts to impose religious conformity found rich expression in south Buckinghamshire after the restoration of the monarchy and the coronation of King Charles II in 1660. William Penn, a member of a wealthy family from Stoke Poges whose father was an admiral and a creditor to King Charles II, joined the Religious Society of Friends. It was one of the most radical of the heterodox sects that sprang up across Britain during and after the shock of the Civil War. Their religious practices were based on meetings where Quakers, as they were called, would sit in silence and give voice to whatever thoughts they had. Quakers were egalitarian and, centuries ahead of their times, tolerant of other religions. They were amongst the first to call for the abolition of slavery. King Charles II granted Penn and the Quakers a tract of land on the Atlantic coast of America south of New Jersey. Originally named the Province of Pennsylvania (the Forests of Penn), it was one of the 13 original states of the US. The settlers founded a town they named Philadelphia (City of Love) which was dedicated to the principles of peace and fraternity they championed. Pennsylvania was the first American state to accept complete religious tolerance. In the 18th century, it attracted dissident Protestant sects fleeing oppression in Europe. They included the Amish community who remain a colourful component of the people of Pennsylvania. Lutheran Protestants from Germany came. Some settled in the inland town of Gettysburg and established a seminary that was to be at the heart of the decisive battle in the American Civil War in July 1863. The American connection is memoralised in Stoke Poges House, the family seat of the Penn family for several generations. Built in a grand Palladian style with sweeping views over parklands and woods, the house is crowned by a dome designed by the architect who fashioned the Capitol building in Washington.
Peaceful and loyal, Buckinghamshire provided the perfect environment for those seeking to escape the filth and disease of London, 30 miles to the east. By the end of the 18th century, Farnham Common and its surrounding villages and woods were attracting celebrity visitors. Thomas Gray was inspired by the beauties of the landscape to pen Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. The conventional view is that it was mainly written while Gray was sitting in the graveyard of St Giles Church in Stoke Poges. A minority assert that it was actually inspired by the churchyard in Upton, a village in what is now Slough. The poem was one of the finest written during England’s romantic era which was defined by the talents of Wordsworth, Shelley and Byron. It melancholically ruminates upon the anonymous lives of ordinary people buried at that spot and includes the deathless phrase: “Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife”. The poem salutes the unrecognised talents of the humble in one of the most celebrated stanzas in English literature:
Some village Hampden that with dauntless breast
The little tyrant of his fields withstood
Some mute inglorious Milton, here may rest,
Some Cromwell guiltless of his country’s blood…
The reference to Milton is telling. As Gray knew, the puritan poet and author of Paradise Lost had been a Buckinghamshire resident during and after the English Civil War. Like Hampden, he had been a passionate supporter of the parliamentary cause.
The story of Pat and Ted’s life in the county begins on Sunday 20 October 1946, the day after their wedding. Following a nuptial Mass and a frugal but enjoyable wedding reception, Pat and Ted, then both 27, spent their first night together at 31 Arodene Road, Brixton, the home of Ted’s parents Lizzie and Mick O’Sullivan. They set off for a honeymoon in south-west England the next day. Ted recalled the moment in his memoirs written more than 40 years later.
“We left for Torquay in the late afternoon. The train was delayed and we arrived long after midnight. Despite the time of the year, the weather was very pleasant and we were able to visit Buckfast Abbey and other places of interest. We returned to our new home; a large single room at 31 Arodene Road. But we were not really settled in our comfortable but limited accommodation.”
Ted was frustrated with the limitations of his position as salesman at Gieves & Hawkes, though he enjoyed the work. Pat and Ted were desperate to get a better home, but the prospects in London were limited. The housing shortage was so severe that some returning servicemen and their families were living in tents in public parks. Pat and Ted were open to an alternative. One quickly emerged.
“One day, Major Lillie-Costello, commander of E Company of the 2nd London Irish during the Bou Arada battles of January and February 1943 who had been awarded the Military Cross (MC) for valour, called and told me of what he thought was an opportunity with regard to my future. A position had emerged as a relief manager for a small private company called S L Edwards Ltd. The pay was a magnificent £9 a week. I arranged to meet him again at the Naval & Military (N&M) Club in St James’s Square, Piccadilly. There, over drinks, I met the company’s owner Major Edwards, a former regular in the Bedford & Hertfordshire Regiment. We appeared to get on well. But when he discovered that I was not a qualified driver, he told me, with apparent regret, that he would have to find someone else. Edwards asked me if I knew anyone who might be suitable. I told him that I did.”
“A Hawkes’ colleague showed interest. He was also a returned soldier. His name was Reginald Arthur Thomas but he was known in the firm as Arthur because there was an existing employee called Reginald. Before the war, his job was crucial, as he was in charge of the military trimmings department and was an expert on badges, insignia, medals and the gold and silver embroidery essential for mess and full dress uniforms. The war had multiplied the number of officers but their dress had shrunk to battle and service uniforms, with the occasional demand for patrol dress (a suit comprising a short jacket and tight trousers normally only worn at dinners and balls). Thomas was practically redundant and was helping out in the civilian trimmings. He told me he was very interested in £9 a week and a car. Arthur contacted Edwards and accepted the job immediately. Edwards told me he would be in touch about another position.”
That seemed to be that. For the moment, Ted was preoccupied with the challenges of civilian life and the joys of the first months of marriage to the loveliest lady of the parish. The first addition to the family was acquired in the winter of 1946.
“A few days before Christmas, I had sold an expensive dressing gown to a heavily made-up lady in her middle years, apparently for her lover. She asked if I would keep it for her as it was to be a surprise Christmas present. She remembered my name, as late in the afternoon on our last working day before the holiday, I received a telephone call. She asked me if I could have the dressing gown delivered to her flat in Maida Vale. This was impossible as the messengers were all on their way home and only the shop staff were hanging on until the official closing time. I said I would take it there myself. She lived in a luxurious suite of rooms and I was invited in. The woman was drunk and tearful. She gave me a large whisky and I sat in an armchair. A bitch with its very young puppy entered the room. I was taken by the puppy and played with it. Eventually, I got up to go. She insisted that I took the dog as a present. I arrived home, maudlin and carrying a puppy. I was not popular. There were then no convenient tins of puppy food, so the dog was fed on scraps. He fitted into the family but was resented by the family dog Paddy. We called him Mick. He did not grow up to be the thoroughbred that I had expected, but Mick lived a long time and became a friend and companion.”
“About the beginning of the year, I was called to the N&M Club again where Edwards painted a glowing picture of a vacancy as a shop manager in a business he was buying in Farnham Common, Buckinghamshire. There would be free accommodation, electricity and gas. We would be engaged as a team with my wife. Pat was pregnant and we were expecting our baby in August. Edwards said that did not matter as we would be able to engage an assistant in her place.”
“Major FitzGerald, my company commander in Italy from the winter of 1944 until the end of the war, called at Hawkes and invited me to lunch at his club. He had come to say goodbye, as he was off to South Africa. FitzGerald was horrified when I told him I was contemplating taking the position of branch manager of a tobacconist and confectioners in the country. He himself was working at the head office of C&A. FitzGerald offered to recommend me to the secretary of his company. When I told him the pay offered, he said it was far too little. ‘I’m getting £750 a year and can’t live on it,’ he said. ‘That’s why I’m off to South Africa.’ “
The coming and goings of old comrades were not entirely welcome at Hawkes. Whenever I spoke to a London Irish officer in the fitting rooms, Hawkes director Ian Ballingall would nose around among the hanging garments. Knowing that I was leaving, he thought I was soliciting customers for my own business. He failed to realise that these were not customers but friends.”
Toughened by three years on the front-line in North Africa, Sicily and Italy, Ted regarded the hardships of civilian life after the war as unexceptional. But by the standards of our times, it was a challenge for practically everyone. Rationing to prevent a repetition of the sharp rises in food prices in the 1st World War had been introduced in January 1940, four months after the start of the 2nd World War. Meat, butter, margarine and other fats, cheese, sugar and sweets, preserves and tea were still restricted when the war ended in May 1945. Despite the coming of peace, the Labour government elected in a landslide that July was obliged to restrict food sales. There were two reasons. The first was a foreign exchange shortage caused in part by the immediate start of repayments of loans raised to pay for the war. The second was the fear of famine in war-ravaged Europe, particularly in Germany which had lost millions of workers. It had also been stripped of fertile farmlands in the east which were handed to Poland in compensation for territory lost to the Soviet Union under the post-war Yalta settlement agreed in February 1945.
Rationing had been extended to clothing in 1941 and tightened in 1942 and 1943. The war-time coalition government relaxed the clothing ration in 1944 but all restrictions were only lifted in 1948. Designs were state-controlled until 1952. Post-war Britain was poorly-dressed. Most men had only one suit and, usually, only one pair of trousers. Ted had an advantage over most of his former comrades. He worked in a tailors and had a fine suit cut. His wedding outfit, another product of Gieves & Hawkes, was as smart as any worn in 1946. Pat hired a lovely wedding dress for a day.
Nature compounded Britain’s misery. The winter of 1946/47 was one of the coldest on record. There was a cold snap in December and another in January. At the end of the month, easterly winds had set in and brought Arctic conditions. The thermometer in Essex fell to minus 20 degrees centigrade. There was no improvement in February, said to have been the coldest since 1814. Heavy snow continued into March. On 15 March, gales started to sweep into Britain from the Atlantic. There was flooding across the country. But the rain ended the big freeze and the weather at last started to improve at the end of the month.
The climate that winter compounded Britain’s economic woes. The British people faced more shortages than they had in wartime as the government tried to defend the value of the pound by restricting imports of food and energy. To divert food to Europe, bread was rationed for the first time from July 1946. Potatoes were rationed from the start of 1947. The bacon ration was cut. These measures, which continued in some form until the summer of 1954, helped keep prices down and ensured low-income people were almost as well-fed as the better-off. Petrol rationing continued and was deeply resented by the small but growing number of people with cars.
The nationalisation of Britain’s coal mines on 1 January 1947 was immediately followed by energy shortages caused by the weather. Labour’s nationalisation programme continued and most of the electricity generation industry was taken into public ownership soon after.
The war in the Pacific had ended following the use of atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. But there was no peace for the British Army. At the end of 1946, British soldiers were jointly occupying Germany and supporting the restored government of Greece against Communist insurgents. In Palestine, they were under attack from Jewish militants who had started in February 1944 a war against British occupation with the goal of allowing unrestricted Jewish immigration and creating the state of Israel. Leaders of the majority Arab community pressed Britain to resist. The UK was responsible for occupying Libya, an Italian territory before the war. This had been effectively added to the UK’s Middle East empire which already encompassed Egypt, Sudan, Jordan, Iraq, southern Yemen and the Arab emirates of Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and what is now the UAE. British forces were still present in Iran where the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC), now called BP, operated the oil fields. British India, which had provided hundreds of thousands of soldiers for the British Army during the war, was determined to secure complete independence. British rule extended to Burma, Malaya, Singapore, Borneo and Hong Kong. It was an impossible arrangement.
Honouring its wartime agreements, Britain had handed back Lebanon, Syria and Indochina, including Vietnam where Ted’s great uncle William had worked as a teacher before the 1st World War, to French government control. French hopes of restoring its empire were to founder on the realities of the world after 1945. By the end of the 1950s, it had left or been thrown out of it all.
The UK could no longer support the burdens assumed during the war. The flashpoint was Greece which had been occupied by Germany and Bulgaria after a lightning attack on the country in April and May 1941. The Greek royal family escaped and set up a government-in-exile backed by the UK in Cairo. Resistance groups in Greece divided along ideological lines. Greek Communist partisans fought the occupiers but wanted an end to the monarchy as well. They probably outnumbered resistance fighters that wanted to restore the pre-war status quo. The divisions erupted into conflict following the arrival of British troops in Athens with representatives of the Greek government-in-exile in October 1944. Fighting between Communists and pro-government forces briefly flared in February 1945. But the deterioration in relations between the Soviet Union and the West that started after the war in Europe ended in May set the scene for a new outbreak of violence. The Greek civil war began in March 1946. By the autumn, the Communists had more than 10,000 fighters under arms. They were supplied with weapons across Greece’s borders with Bulgaria and Yugoslavia, both then in the Soviet orbit. Britain had been given responsibility for occupying Greece after the war and restoring civilian government. Ted’s younger brother Bill, born in 1923, had volunteered for the Navy during the war and was at that time based in the Mediterranean. On a mission in Greece after the war, Bill had been driven into the hinterland and had come under fire from Communist fighters. It was an incident he was to speak lightly about in later life.
By the start of 1947, London concluded it could no longer continue financing the Greek government. The US recognised that more of Europe would fall under Communist control unless something was done. On 12 March 1947, President Harry S Truman told a joint session of congress in Washington that the US was prepared to provide financial support to stop Communist subversion in Greece and Turkey. The Truman Doctrine, as this declaration has been called, was a seminal moment in American post-war history. It ensured billions of dollars in aid would be provided to help reconstruction in Western Europe. It is also seen as the moment when the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the West began.
In June 1947, US Secretary of State George Marshall delivered a speech at Harvard University in which he offered US aid to help European recovery and reconstruction. By the end of 1951, 16 countries including Turkey had received almost $13,000 million, most of it in the form of aid. The Marshall Plan has been described as the most unselfish act in history. Contemporary historians have a more nuanced view and see the programme as also serving the goal of containing Communism and opening Europe up to American exports. The impact of Marshall Plan aid, much of it used to buy food, was enormous. It accelerated post-war reconstruction in what was to become West Germany, France, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands, all of which had suffered major damage during the war. The impact on public opinion was considerable. For a period, Western Europe fell in love with the US. But a reaction would eventually set in. Eleven years after the Marshall Plan was announced, the Treaty of Rome was signed. Its main goal was to help Europe compete with the US.
Less than two weeks after President Truman announced the US was prepared to support Greece and Turkey, Pat and Ted were preparing to leave London for a new life in the Buckinghamshire countryside. Pat had volunteered to join the army during the war, served in the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) and finished the conflict as a telegraph operator in the War Office in Whitehall. Extremely bright and numerate, Pat was an efficient and diligent member of a team at the heart of the Allied command structure and remembers that she had heard of the imminence of Germany’s final surrender early in the morning of 7 May 1945. She was sworn to secrecy, but told her mother Lily Ann, a widow since 1943 when her husband William had died of pneumonia. Pat wasn’t believed. She returned to civilian life in the spring of 1946, around the same time as Ted was demobbed from the army. Pat and Ted were uncertain about leaving London, but the priority was housing. The die had been cast.
“Pat and I went to Slough and were taken around Farnham Common and the shop. We would both be glad to get away by ourselves, so we agreed to take the plunge. The pay was to be only £5 a week plus commission. This was a drop in pay but the prospect of our own home was too attractive. I did a fortnight’s training at a shop on Farnham Road in Slough that was then managed by Mr Greenough [Ted was to take over this shop in 1955]. On 25 March, I became manager of the Farnham Common business. For a fortnight, I lived in a room as a guest of the former owners. My meals, provided by the Foresters’ Arms across the road, were paid for by Edwards, who traded under the name of Allan’s. When Pat arrived with our pet dog Mick, we moved into the apartment above the shop. Our large bed would not go up the stairs and we were forced to sleep in the living room.”
Pat and Ted quickly established lasting connections with the local community. The most important was the Catholic Church. There were few of their co-religionists in the Farnham Common area so they had to go about a mile-and-a-half to Farnham Royal, the final outpost of rural Buckinghamshire on the Farnham Road before Slough. The parish of St Anthony’s had been created in 1940 to serve the increasing number of Catholics, most of them Irish or of Irish descent, who had arrived to work in Slough’s factories and building sites. Its primary school was entirely financed from church funds and donations. At its centre was a large wood-floored hall that was used for physical education lessons during school hours and for Masses and other religious services in the mornings, evenings and weekends. On the west face of the hall overlooking the Farnham Road, a huge crucifix was attached to declare the faith there practised. St Anthony’s RC Primary School’s motto, inscribed on the badge of the school’s royal blue blazer, was In Hoc Signo Vinces. In English, this means In This Sign You Will Conquer. The Emperor Constantine, the first Christian ruler of the whole of the Roman Empire, said he saw the words above a golden cross before his victory at the Battle of Milvian Bridge north of Rome in 312 which led to him becoming head of the Western Roman Empire. The words were also emblazoned on the Cross of St George’s Flag used by the Irish Brigade in the French army which recruited from exiles and refugees from Ireland in the 17th and 18th centuries. St Anthony, in contrast, was a gentle monk who loved children and animals.
Ted remembered his early experiences with the parish and its unusual priest.
“Our parish was St Anthony’s. The shop was closed on Sundays and so we were able to attend Mass in the school hall, as there was no permanent church building. The parish priest was Father Bryan Houghton, an aristocratic and, reputedly, rich man. Born in 1911, Houghton had been educated at Stowe School close to Buckingham and Christ College Oxford where he read history and was a fencing Blue. He initially worked for Barclays Bank, but threw it all up when he converted to Catholicism in 1934 and was ordained in Westminster Cathedral in March 1940. Houghton attributed his decision to become a Catholic and a priest to his horror about the reports of the treatment of Christians in the Soviet Union. He arrived at St Anthony’s in June 1940, just before the school was opened.”
At the time, the number of people St Anthony’s served was limited. In 1941, Houghton estimated there were no more than 200 Catholics in the area. He rented Wyvis Lodge opposite St Anthony’s school on the west side of the Farnham Road in 1943. It was to be the presbytery for St Anthony’s for more than a decade. Ted remembers Houghton vividly.
“Father Houghton was the first parish priest at St Anthony’s and he was to remain there until 1954. He always wore a cassock and a large Roman hat, rather than the compact but distinctive biretta that was generally worn by Catholic priests at that time. He was clearly an eccentric. We once saw him riding a bike in a cassock, Roman hat and holding an open umbrella. Due to the shortage of milk during the war, he kept a flock of goats that he milked himself. This he used to produce ice cream for parish dances that he organised during the war for members of the armed forces based in Windsor. It was a common sight to see him herding the creatures across Farnham Road at milking time. They were known as the Holy Goats. In these circumstances, Houghton dressed in dungarees and a Roman hat. If it rained, he had an open umbrella too. After leaving St Anthony’s, he became parish priest at Bury St Edmund’s in Suffolk. Houghton was an early champion of ecumenism, but a firm opponent of the reforms introduced by the Vatican in the 1960s. He resigned as parish priest in November 1969, a week before the Latin Tridentine Mass was finally banned in England and Wales. It is said that his loyal opposition to the changes eventually convinced Cardinal Heenan, head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales in from 1965 to 1975, to relax the ban on the Latin Mass. Houghton finally moved to Viviers sur Rhone in the diocese of Avignon in France where he was allowed to celebrate Mass traditionally. He was to die there in November 1992.”
“I joined the choir, which was led by Mr Durden, and sang with them at the High Mass. There was a St Vincent de Paul conference in the parish and I was invited to join. It was a charitable organisation restricted to men only. When we first moved to Farnham Common, we made friends with our neighbours, Marjorie and Ken Beasley, and their children, Angela and Jane. Pat and Marjorie became firm friends and they went shopping together to buy Pat’s maternity dress. Marjorie suggested that Pat should try to book into Colinswood Maternity Home set back from the main road to Beaconsfield about half a mile north of Farnham Common. This was before the National Health Service (NHS) was established so fees would be incurred unless evidence was provided of financial need. After a stringent means test, we were told that there would be no charge for the confinement.”
Colinswood has a special place in memories in the region. Its discreet location made it a favoured spot for unmarried women to have their babies at a time when having a child outside marriage still came with social stigma. The facility has since been closed, but the building remains, still named as Colinswood and located on the main Beaconsfield Road.
“The summer was long and hot, which was uncomfortable for Pat. On 3 August, she was admitted to Colinswood. After a long and difficult labour, Marian Patricia was born on 4 August. Marian was a beautiful but demanding child. My mother visited us for about a week. Marian was baptised about three weeks later at Corpus Christi and we stayed overnight at Arodene Road. Our dog Mick took to our lovely baby. He would stand guard on the pram outside the shops and accompanied Pat on her frequent walks around Burnham Beeches.”
August 1947 was a dramatic moment for Britain and its empire. On 15 August, India became an independent nation within the Commonwealth. The end of British India also involved the creation of the Islamic state of Pakistan, which originally comprised western and eastern parts. The hope that independence could be achieved peacefully, however, proved to be a delusion. In the weeks before and after 15 August 1947, hundreds of thousands died as Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs turned on each other.
Life in Farnham Common proved to be more demanding than Pat and Ted expected. Britain was experiencing shortages due to rationing and an intensifying currency crisis. South Buckinghamshire suffered less than poorer parts of the UK. But money and luxuries were short. There was no television or telephone. Radio was the principal source of entertainment and news. The former regimental quartermaster sergeant and the member of the Southern Command and War Office teams took the challenge of running a small business in their stride. But Pat and Ted had entered an alien social milieu where there seemed to be two classes only: the wealthy few and the impecunious many who served them. It was a further sign that they were now a world away from the life they knew in Brixton and Herne Hill before the war.
“We were unable to build up the business as our merchandise was in short supply. This prevented us from receiving the promised commission on sales. Our customers were the village people and the wives of those living in the multitude of large houses, many with servants. There were actors, band leaders, generals, admirals, stockbrokers and a galaxy of film technicians, many of whom worked at Pinewood Studios in the village of Denham a couple of miles to the east. Most of their children were boarders at private schools and absent during term-time. A majority of the village people were gardeners and servants in the big houses. Close by was Caldicott School, a well-regarded preparatory school that trained children for admission to private schools at the age of 13 or 14. The staff and pupils regarded Allan’s as their tuck shop. The teaching staff were regular customers.”
The war had been over less than two years. Britain still felt like a country at war. Thousands of refugees and exiles who had found shelter in the UK during the conflict were unable to return to their homelands. They included members of the Polish division that had fought with Ted and the Irish Brigade in Italy.
“Close to Farnham Common was the large Polish re-settlement camp of Great Bower Wood. It provided our earliest daily customers who arrived by lorry at about 7am. I could speak no Polish and they no English. This was overcome by our common knowledge of poor Italian. They were war veterans, many from units that had served in Montenero, Cassino and Forli as I had done during the war.”
For many of the Poles who had served with the Allied armies, there would be no return to their homeland. The Soviets imposed a puppet regime that ruled with an iron fist, and was to hold power for more than 40 years.
The war had transformed the lives of many British women. Princess Elizabeth, eldest daughter of King George VI and heir to the British throne who had been born in 1926, joined the ATS and served as a driver. It was an expression of the contribution women made to the Allied victories of 1945. In the 1st World War, millions had worked in factories and farms to allow men to serve in the armed forces. In return, they were granted the right to vote in the post-war election of December 1918. In 1928, the age of voting for women was reduced to 21 from 30, the same as for men. But women were still largely excluded from the labour force. The number working actually fell during the worst period of the great depression in 1931-32. The nation turned again to women when the 2nd World War began. By March 1940, more than 30,000 farm workers had joined the armed forces and a further 15,000 had left the land to join other occupations as real wages rose due to labour shortages.
Ernest Bevin, Labour minister in Winston Churchill’s coalition government formed in May 1940, imposed a minimum wage of 48 shillings (£2 in decimal money) a week for farm workers later that year. This was increased to 60 shillings (£3) in November 1941 and 65 shillings subsequently. But the farm labour shortage remained, threatening Britain’s capacity to feed itself at a time when German submarines were seeking to stop the import of commodities by sea. The Women’s Land Army, which had first been formed in the Great War, was re-organised. It was initially staffed by volunteers, but conscription was later introduced. In 1944, there were 80,000 Land Army women working on the land. Wearing green jerseys, brown breeches and brown felt slouch hats, they did a variety of jobs and a quarter were involved in milking and general farm work. Others cut down trees, worked in sawmills and over a thousand women were employed as rat-catchers. It was hard, uncomfortable, dangerous and poorly-paid work that was exempt from the farm worker minimum wage. But for some Land Girls, as they were known, it offered the opportunity of freedom from the restraints of parents and neighbours. They were still working in south Buckinghamshire when Pat and Ted arrived in the spring of 1947.
“Our next invasion was by young women in the Land Army, a unit created during the war to work on farms to replace men serving in the armed forces. Land Army girls would often hold Marian while I served them. One, who was to become a close friend, was named Sheila. She was a lovely young girl from Lancashire and simply loved Marian. One morning, she failed to come with the others. They told a harrowing story. Sheila had fallen into a threshing machine and lost a leg.”
Sheila’s story is one of the most inspiring Ted tells. Shrugging off her terrible injury, she married Stan Draper, a part-time musician, settled in Slough and had four children — Sandra, Linda, Malcolm and Andrew — who became closely connected with Pat and Ted’s family. A St Anthony’s parishioner, she volunteered to run the parish Cub pack, which involved a multitude of duties including washing the Cubs football shirts during the football season. She was one of the most generous of the volunteers working for the parish who worked closely with Pat and Ted.
The exuberant Londoners whose lives had been transformed by war and the Blitz must have seemed out of place in conservative south Buckinghamshire. But they quickly established themselves as full members of the local community.
“We were told that it would take years for us to be acknowledged by the village people but we were accepted quite quickly. We had hand-painted a sign above the shop with the words Allan’s on it. But the business was called Teddie’s. I was invited to join the local drama group and made an appearance in the Christmas Pantomime in the winter of 1947. My youngest brother Bernard, then a cadet with the Harrison Line, visited us when he had leave. My sisters Ellen (Nellie) and Lilian came and stayed with their husbands for weekends. They all loved Burnham Beeches, which was being restored after the long occupation by the army. The shop closed on Sunday and for a half day on Wednesday. But it would not have been a wonderful time for Pat had it not been for our neighbours and their children. Major FitzGerald and my father were right. I had made a mistake burying Pat in the country.”
The autumn of 1947 was enlivened by the first in a sequence of glittering royal weddings that were to brighten post-war Britain. On 20 November, Princess Elizabeth, then just 21, married her second cousin Prince Phillip of Greece and Denmark, one of the many descendants of Queen Victoria, Elizabeth’s great great-grandmother. Of mixed Danish, German and Greek descent, Philip had four sisters who were married to Germans and lived in Germany during the war. Born in 1921, he served in the Royal Navy in the conflict. As a first lieutenant, he was on one of the destroyers that supported the invasion of Sicily in July 1943. Following his wedding, Phillip was created the Duke of Edinburgh. He continued to serve in the Royal Navy until his wife succeeded to the throne in 1952. In this time, the duke came into contact with another O’Sullivan. Playing cricket on the deck of one of the Royal Navy ships that Ted’s younger brother Bill O’Sullivan was serving in, the duke was batting when Bill was bowling. Bill, famously irreverent and no admirer of the royal family, bowled a bouncer that struck the duke. He returned the compliment by calling Bill “a bastard”. Charles, the royal couple’s first child, was born in November 1948.
The key elements of the government’s social programme were beginning to unfold. The NHS, which provided medical treatment free at point of use and paid for through taxation, came into effect on 5 July 1948. It remains one of the most popular of the changes introduced in the post-war period by Labour. As now, some argued that it was more than the country could afford. The school leaving age had been raised to 15 from 14 in April 1947. British withdrawal from foreign engagements continued. On 15 May 1948, the final troops left Palestine. War immediately began between Israel, which was declared on that day, and the Arab people of Palestine and neighbouring Arab states. When it ended a year later, Israel had greatly expanded the territory it had been allocated under a UN partition plan approved in November 1947. The struggle over the division of Palestine continues to this day.
Competition with the Soviet Union was a preoccupation. In March 1948, and partly as a result of the Marshall Plan which the US was determined should not benefit Communists, Britain, France and the US decided that the three zones of western Germany that they were occupying should be merged. In June, the Deutsche Mark was introduced in the western zone to replace the Reichsmark. It was clear that Germany was going to be divided between east and west. Three days later, the Soviets blocked access to the three western occupation zones in Berlin. The western powers responded by flying food and other provisions into West Berlin. The Berlin airlift continued until May 1949. The Soviet attempt to blockade West Berlin prompted action to establish a western collective security system. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) was created in April 1949. Together with the Marshall Plan, NATO was to remake the relationship between Europe and the US, with Europe in a largely subordinate position. The Cold War intensified further in August 1949 when the Soviet Union detonated an atomic bomb. America’s monopoly over nuclear weapons had lasted just four years. Despite pulling out of India and Palestine, the UK was still under intense financial pressure. A trade deficit drained the country’s foreign reserves. The government initially refused to consider the possibility of devaluing sterling against the dollar. But it was another impossible objective. On 30 September 1949, UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Sir Stafford Cripps announced the pound would be devalued by 30 per cent to $2.80 from $4.02. Australia, India, South Africa, New Zealand, Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Egypt and Israel immediately followed suit. The measure increased demand for British goods, but made imports more expensive. The devaluation of 1949, however, seemed to work and laid the foundations for the economic expansion of the 1950s. Pat and Ted were preparing for an expansion in their family.
“Our second child, a boy, was born on 16 December 1949 and was a contrast to blonde, blue-eyed Marian. He was dark with brown eyes. He was not as difficult as Marian but gave Pat a fresh handful to look after. My brother Bernard, a 3rd officer having passed his 2nd mate’s ticket, was thrilled when we decided to name our second baby after him. He was baptised Bernard John at Corpus Christi. By this time, supplies were better and we were able to engage a shop assistant, Cleo Arnett, daughter of the head keeper of Burnham Beeches. There were unexpected complications. I was given the unpaid task of supervising the ladies’ hairdressers in the village, which was owned by Edwards, when the manageress left suddenly.”
The new decade opened with hopes that it would be a happier one than the 1940s. The political landscape was about to change. UK Prime Minister Clement Atlee announced that parliamentary elections would be held in February. It resulted in a narrow victory for Labour. Its vote rose by 1 million, but the party lost a total of 78 seats to the resurgent Conservatives who won a total of 298. The Liberals were the principal victims. They had only nine seats in the new parliament and there were three other MPs. Labour’s majority over all other parties had fallen to five seats. Ted passed over these developments in his memoirs. But he was interested in politics and voted for the Liberal Party candidate for the constituency of South Buckinghamshire, which had been created in time for the election. The seat was won by Ronald Bell, a notoriously reactionary figure in British politics who was to become a senior member of the Monday Club, formed in 1961 to oppose moderate Conservatives who then dominated the party. Bell was to hold the seat until the constituency was dissolved in 1974. Ted, who had cast his vote for the Conservatives in 1945 partially in reaction to his exposure to the Cossack and Croat repatriations to the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia at the end of the war, said he voted Liberal as the best way of keeping the Tories out. This logic doesn’t seem true in 1950 since the distant runner-up to Bell was C A Dee, the Labour candidate for the seat, not the Liberal.
Pat and Ted’s life was dominated by the challenge of running a busy village shop and raising their expanding family. They were continuing their involvement with the social activities of St Anthony’s. In 1950, the 10th anniversary of the founding of the parish was celebrated. There were two main functions: one was in St Anthony’s Hall and the other at the Good Companions public house in Slough itself. Marian was accepted by the nursery at St Anthony’s in 1951 and this started Pat and Ted’s long association with the school. Its headmistress was Mrs Galsworthy, the original head who was to hold that position until 1954 and would continue teaching at the school for years after. She was to be replaced by Bernard Malone, who was to run the school until the winter of 1963.The world was changing again. The Chinese Communist Party, led by Mao Zedong, had been fighting the Kuomintang government since 1927. After turning their attentions to deal with the Japanese invaders after 1933, the Communists and the Kuomintang led by Chiang Kai-shek renewed their civil war following Japan’s defeat. In October 1949, the Communists captured Beijing and Mao declared the People’s Republic of China on the first day of the month. The fall of China to the Communists was an enormous shock in Washington and a catalyst for witch-hunts in the US against government employees and others who were Communists or Communist sympathisers. Initially, the Chinese Communist Party was seen as being an extension of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). There was some truth in this belief, but it was to become less compelling as the 1950s progressed.
The creation of Communist China set the scene for the first all-out confrontation in the Cold War. Korea had been occupied by Japan since 1894 and annexed in 1910. In August 1945, the Soviet Union declared war against Japan and invaded Korea. In an agreement with the US, the Soviets advanced to the 38th parallel, now the border between North and South Korea. The US accepted the surrender of Japanese forces south of this line in September. In December 1945, Moscow and Washington agreed to administer Korea under a US-Soviet joint commission. Their deal called for this system to end after four years and for Korea to become self-governing. But the two occupying powers set up independent governments in the areas they controlled that were sympathetic to their interests. The northern regime was led by Kim Il Sung, a Communist with a reputation for fighting the Japanese during the occupation. His southern counterpart was the pro-Western Syngman Rhee. Soviet and US forces pulled out of Korea as agreed at the end of 1949. Kim Il Sung visited Moscow in the spring of 1950 and secured Stalin’s approval for an attack on the south. The North Korean army, mainly using Soviet weapons and equipment, crossed the 38th parallel on 25 June 1950. The UN Security Council the same day passed a resolution that called for an end to the fighting, for both sides to withdraw to the 38th parallel and for members of the UN to help achieve this goal. The Soviet Union did not use its veto to block the resolution because it was boycotting security council meetings in support of its demand that China’s UN general assembly seat should be transferred from the Kuomintang government, which was by then based in Taiwan, to Beijing. American troops leading the UN military mission landed in Korea at the end of June. UN forces including British troops began a counterattack and crossed the 38th parallel in October 1950. Soon after, Communist China sent a huge army into Korea to fight the UN. The conflict was to continue until an armistice in July 1953. In that time, most Korean cities were destroyed and up to 1.5 million people, most of them civilians, were killed. At one point during the fighting, there were fears that nuclear weapons would be used.
The UK sent almost 70,000 troops to Korea. More than 4,000 men and women were killed, wounded or taken prisoner. The majority were conscripts. In 1947, 2nd World War conscription had been replaced by a peace-time call-up of 12 months for all males aged 18-26. The following year, this was increased to 18 months. Following the start of the Korean War, national service, as it was called, was increased to two years followed by three-and-a-half years on the reserve list. By 1951, half the British Army’s manpower were conscripts. This was a revolution for the UK which never before had peace-time conscription into the armed forces. The last national serviceman returned to civilian life in May 1963. Practically every adult male aged under 40 had by then been in the armed forces. It was a common experience that was to shape post-1945 Britain and to lead to a reaction among the young in the 1960s. The British government started a rearmament programme which placed increasing strain on the UK economy. Unemployment, however, had fallen to 250,000 despite the return of more than 4 million men and women to civilian life since 1945.
In an attempt to lift the spirits of a country made joyless by rationing and facing a new war with a terrifying new enemy in the Far East, the government organised the Festival of Britain. This was an exhibition of art and technology occupying 27 acres of bomb site on the south bank of the Thames near Waterloo. It was opened by King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth on 3 May 1951. Its centerpiece was the Dome of Discovery, an enclosed space that was the brainchild of Herbert Morrison, a Labour cabinet minister and grandfather of Peter Mandelson who was to champion the Millennium Dome almost half a century later. The exhibition closed in September. The only permanent building was the Festival Hall concert arena which is still the heart of the South Bank arts complex.
The cost of rearmament forced a public spending review. The cabinet voted to introduce charges for prescriptions and for spectacles. Aneurin Bevan, the Health Minister, father of the NHS and a leading figure on the left of the Labour Party, resigned in protest in April 1951. He was joined by Harold Wilson, the youngest member of the cabinet at 35 and President of the Board of Trade. Wilson’s resignation was a key factor in defining him as being on the Labour left. This was to help him win the leadership of the party 12 years later. International affairs continued to complicate the post-war reconstruction programme. In May, the Iranian government, led by Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq, announced the nationalisation of APOC. The British government denounced the move. In September, the Iranian army seized control of Abadan refinery. Atlee ordered plans to be prepared for an invasion. But everything was put on hold when he called parliamentary elections on 25 October. The Tories were expected to win handily, but the result was close. The Conservatives won 321 seats and the Liberals were reduced to six MPs. Labour’s parliamentary representation fell to 295 MPs. The Tories had a majority over all other parties of 17. On 26 October, Conservative leader Winston Churchill, then aged 77, returned to Downing Street as prime minister for the second time. A year before, General Dwight Eisenhower won the US presidential election as the Republican Party candidate. Voters in the UK and the US had now restored the victorious war-time partnership between Churchill and the commander-in-chief of the Allied forces in the 2nd World War.
The Conservatives in 1951 had been transformed by the experiences of the 1930s and the war. They accepted most of the reforms introduced by Labour. Their priority was eliminating rationing as quickly as possible and maintaining British support for the war in Korea which had by then settled into a stalemate. A new era was about to begin. On 6 February 1952, King George VI died from cancer aged 56. His eldest daughter Elizabeth, aged 26, became queen. In the autumn of 1952, Britain detonated an atom bomb and became the world’s third nuclear power. In Farnham Common, Pat discovered she was pregnant again in the autumn of 1951. Ted remembers the worries surrounding the birth of their third child.
“Pat was expecting our third child at the start of 1952 when Marian and Bernard contracted mumps. They were recovering when Pat developed a swelling in the neck. My mother had come to us to help and decided to take the convalescing children back to London. The weather was amazing for early March; warm and sunny. Colinswood informed us that Pat had an infectious disease and could not be confined there. The district nurse arranged for the birth to take place at home. It was a Wednesday and I spent the afternoon purchasing a list of requirements in Windsor. The month progressed, Pat recovered from mumps and Colinswood was prepared to accept her. All my expensive purchases were now surplus. Catherine was born on 31 March 1952. She was about 20 days overdue and, as a consequence, had a difficult birth and a problem with her breathing. The weather had changed completely and there was heavy snow. Buses stopped running and I was forced to walk through deep snow to visit Pat and Catherine in the evenings. Our new baby was exceptionally tall and had red hair. Our three children were completely different: Marian blonde with blue eyes; Bernard was dark with brown eyes and Catherine was red haired with blue/grey eyes. All were beautiful. Pat once more had had a rough time. It seemed unfair. Mick took his role of guard dog seriously. One day, while Pat was shopping, he alerted Pat as he prevented Catherine from throwing herself out of the pram, despite her safety harness. He would bark furiously if a person leant over the baby.”
In later historical era, Pat would have had a career of her own. She was never entirely comfortable with the role of mother and housewife that she had been allotted. But for women in the late 1940s, getting married and raising children was considered to be the highest calling. Pat applied herself to the task, but was always aware there might be a different way. Ahead of her time, Pat was a supporter of equal pay for women, something which was unheard of before the 1970s. She was also always a strong believer in the principle that women should have their own income. This was something that Pat was not to regain until she returned to work in the 1960s.
While Pat and Ted were dealing with the challenge of a third baby, there were further problems for the British Empire. In August 1953, the colonial Kenyan government began to impose curfews around Nairobi in an effort to deal with the activities of the Mau Mau, a secret African society mainly supported by the majority Kikuyu tribe. It aimed to rid Kenya of white settlers and expel settlers of all races from traditional tribal lands. Most Mau Mau violence was directed against other Africans. The insurgency focused attention on the activities of the Kenya Africa Union led by Jomo Kenyatta, a complex figure who had studied at the London School of Economics (LSE) in the 1930s. The authorities believed Kenyatta was involved with the Mau Mau. He was arrested, charged, tried, convicted and sentenced to seven years’ hard labour. Kenyatta was to become the first president of Kenya when it gained its independence in December 1964. A state of emergency was imposed which lasted until December 1960. More than 10,000 people were to die as a result of the Mau Mau rising and there were lurid stories in British newspapers about atrocities perpetrated on white civilians. But only 63 Europeans were to die violently during the eight years it lasted. The Mau Mau emergency was a testing ground for new counterinsurgency measures. The security forces were eventually to overcome the Mau Mau through forced population movements and the creation of secure villages. It was a method that was also used in Malaya, and studied by the US army and used during the Vietnam War.
In Farnham Common, life was busy for the O’Sullivans with three young children, a bustling business, social activities centring on St Anthony’s and visits by family members. Ted’s brothers Bernard and Bill, both seamen, were regulars.
“My brothers Bernard and Bill, the former in the Merchant Navy and the latter in the Royal Navy, would stay with us during their home leaves. When he finally left the navy for a job at GCHQ, Bill stayed for several weeks. Bernard loved Farnham Common and would often visit between voyages.”
The new year started with plans for a glorious coronation ceremony for the new queen in June. There were other hopeful developments. In March 1953, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin died aged 74. He had brutally held supreme power since the death of Lenin in 1924. In the 30 years of his rule, the Soviet Union had been remade through uniquely violent and repressive measures. At least 20 million Soviet citizens perished as a result of executions and mistreatment, many of them in prison camps known as gulags. Stalin’s death was to lead to a period of liberalisation and an easing in Cold War tensions. But the thaw was not to last. Pat and Ted, meanwhile, were looking forward to the royal wedding.
“I was invited to join the village committee which was to organise a function. The coronation took place on 2 June and the country was granted a public holiday. But it poured with rain. Our celebrations were cancelled. The parish council had failed to take out insurance, so it was a complete loss. The owner of the Victoria pub invited Bernard and me to watch the ceremony on his tiny television. For us, and for millions of others, this was the first opportunity to appreciate what television could achieve. We would only have a wireless for some time. There were few other excitements. Our early annual holidays lasted a fortnight. While we were living in Farnham Common, we usually spent them with Mrs Bristow at Broadstairs in Kent. We would break the long journey from and to Farnham Common with a visit to my parents at Arodene Road or to Pat’s mother’s home in Beverstone Road. Bernard was a regular visitor. When he left his company to take his master’s ticket in 1953, he took over the business while we were on holiday. His oral exam was held around Christmas and he took a building labourer’s job in Beaconsfield. His navigational experience and familiarity with charts saved his employer from a penalty. He was awarded his master’s ticket at the age of 25 in 1954.”
Just over three weeks after the coronation, Churchill suffered a serious stroke which left him paralysed on his left side. The decision was taken to keep the news from the British people. Even more remarkably, Churchill refused to resign. In November, he delivered his first speech in parliament after the stroke. He flew to Bermuda at the start of December for talks with Eisenhower and the French prime minister. At the end of the 1953, his wife Clementine went to Stockholm to collect the Nobel Prize for literature that Churchill had been awarded for his writings about British and world history. But Churchill’s moment had passed. He was 79 in November 1953 and unwell. He should have stepped down, but refused. His justification was the doubts he had about the abilities of Anthony Eden, Churchill’s foreign secretary who everyone expected to succeed as prime minister. The nuclear age entered a new era on 1 March 1954 when the US detonated the world’s first hydrogen bomb, a device 1,000 times more powerful than those dropped on Japan in 1945. The shape of Europe changed again with the admission of West Germany into NATO. Meanwhile, Pat and Ted were preparing for a further expansion in his family. Nine years after the end of the war, they were also tiring of village life.
“Although business was booming, my wage was in excess of £10 weekly and there was no rent, gas or electricity to pay, we were not happy. Heath, our accountant, called our business the ‘little goldmine’. Profits were high and outgoings low. But we were desperate to escape from the trap I had created for ourselves. We applied for council accommodation with Eton Rural Council and, at the same time, sought sponsorship to emigrate to Australia. With the latter option in view, I applied for a position with Myer’s Emporium in Melbourne. Mr Edwards circumvented these schemes one day in early 1955 by calling me to his car. He offered the post of manager at 240 Farnham Road, Slough, with a salary of £15 a week. The position also included a very large, three bed-roomed flat. We had just had our fourth child, Edmund Gerard, who had been born on 12 February. We had been compelled to make a little room on the landing for Bernard. I had to make a decision there and then. So without consulting Pat, I agreed to his terms. Edwards set one condition. I had to clear Slough’s annual loss of £2,000. Fortunately, Pat welcomed the improvements the new job offered to our domestic conditions.”
Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough!
It isn’t fit for humans now,
There isn’t grass to graze a cow.
Swarm over, Death!
Come, bombs and blow to smithereens
Those air -conditioned, bright canteens,
Tinned fruit, tinned meat, tinned milk, tinned beans,
Tinned minds, tinned breath
Mess up the mess they call a town-
A house for ninety-seven down
And once a week a half a crown
For twenty years.
And get that man with double chin
Who’ll always cheat and always win,
Who washes his repulsive skin
In women’s tears:
And smash his desk of polished oak
And smash his hands so used to stroke
And stop his boring dirty joke
And make him yell.
But spare the bald young clerks who add
The profits of the stinking cad;
It’s not their fault that they are mad,
They’ve tasted Hell.
It’s not their fault they do not know
The birdsong from the radio,
It’s not their fault they often go
And talk of sport and makes of cars
In various bogus-Tudor bars
And daren’t look up and see the stars
But belch instead.
In labour-saving homes, with care
Their wives frizz out peroxide hair
And dry it in synthetic air
And paint their nails.
Come, friendly bombs and fall on Slough
To get it ready for the plough.
The cabbages are coming now;
The earth exhales.
Slough by John Betjeman published in 1937 in Continual Dew
Slough is now one of the most industrialised parts of southern England.
But at the start of the 19th century, it was indistinguishable from the rest of rural, southern Buckinghamshire, though there was a tendency for new developments to spread along the main highway from London to Bath and Bristol. Baylis House, Slough’s finest building had been completed in 1696 for Gregory Hascard, then dean of Windsor, and was subsequently bought by a member of the Godolphin family. There were some signs of change. The Anglican church of Upton was falling into disrepair and it was decided to erect a completely new church in the Slough area. Close by, a workhouse was built. It occupied land that is now the site of Slough’s Upton Hospital. The Bristol Road was renamed as the Bath Road to reflect the rise of Bath as a leisure resort at the start of the 18th century. The road is still called by that name by local residents.
The first stage coach taking people from London to Bath had started in 1711. Around this time, Slough comprised about 30 houses and at least seven inns. But the pace of change was slow. Slough is reported to have had no more than 200 people by the end of the 18th century. Colnbrook, also on the Bath Road but about three miles closer to London, was then a busier place. One of Slough’s first claim to fame was the fact that the Astronomer Royal William Herschel lived and worked in a house in the town on the road to Windsor from 1786 until his death in 1822. He built an observatory which was used to discover Uranus, then believed to be the most distant planet in the solar system. The Observatory Building, as it was called, was demolished in 1963 during the modernisation of the centre of Slough which has resulted in the heart of the town being possibly one of the ugliest in England. There is now a major redevelopment project under way in the centre of Slough, which is hoped to inspire visitors to the town.
Salt Hill, now part of Slough, was then a separate village with a popular inn that had been visited by the poet Samuel Coleridge Taylor, who wrote The Ancient Mariner, and Pitt the Younger, British prime minister from 1783-1801 and from 1804 until his death. In 1814, George, the Prince Regent, entertained the King of Prussia and his sons, the Emperor of Russia and the Prince of Orange following the capture of Paris by a coalition which Britain forged against Napoleon.
But it was economics, not politics, which were to lead to a dramatic change in the social character of south Buckinghamshire. Isambard Kingdom Brunel, chief engineer of the GWR which was created in 1833, was mandated to define the route of a high-speed link between London and Bristol, England’s principal port and gateway to the Atlantic. It was decided to build the railway’s eastern terminus in the village of Paddington just outside London’s built-up area at that point. Descended from French Huguenot refugees, a political radical and a technocratic moderniser, Brunel, 27 when he joined the GWR in 1835, wanted to secure the most direct, point-to-point route to the west. But he was frequently rebuffed by the great landowners including the Church of England. They owned most of the land he needed to cross. In south Buckinghamshire, his most formidable foe was Eton College, which owned a stretch from the River Thames to the Bath Road. In an annual ceremony, the school would gather at Montem, a mound created by Celtic people of the distant past near Salt Hill. Brunel wanted the railway line to run through Eton to capture the business of its scholars and visitors to Windsor, including Queen Victoria and her family. The governors of the college, however, were resolutely opposed to the idea of noisy trains passing through their lands and bringing with them all the undesirable elements of the new Britain that Brunel seemed to epitomise. They rejected Brunel’s overtures. Frustrated, Brunel was forced to route the line north of the Bath Road more than a mile from the Thames and above the flood plain. A further problem was that the GWR was prevented from building a ticket office. Brunel had to be content with a stopping point. Eton’s objections to a station were only a temporary obstruction. But for about 18 months, those wishing to travel from Slough were obliged to buy tickets from a nearby public house called the North Star. It is said that Brunel decided to get his own back on the snobs of Eton. Instead of naming the stop after one of the ancient and lovely villages of the region, he plumped for a name that could irritate: Slough. The first section of the GWR from Paddington to Taplow, a village on the Bath Road between Slough and Maidenhead, opened in 1838. Slough finally came into its own after Queen Victoria herself used its station in 1842, the first time she was to travel by train. A connection to Eton from Slough, used by Queen Victoria and her family, was completed nine years later. A wide avenue to Slough station’s entrance was built to serve the queen, but it was undoubtedly a source of amusement to Brunel that his conservative opponents travelling to Eton and Windsor would have to purchase tickets to a place with such an ugly name and unpleasant connotations. The English establishment was well-read and everyone would have known of the Slough of Despond. It was described by the Puritan writer John Bunyan in his allegorical novel Pilgrim’s Progress, written while he was in prison serving a sentence for Protestant non-conformism in 1678. In the book, the main character Christian sinks into the Slough of Despond under the weight of sins and guilt.
Eton seems to have got over whatever slight Brunel intended. Etonians sometimes jokily declare that they attended Slough Grammar, a school in the east of the town attended by three of Pat and Ted’s sons.
The coming of the railway was a turning point for south Buckinghamshire. Speculative builders erected villas for office workers with jobs in London. Slough became a dormitory town, one of the first examples of the phenomenon that we now know as the commuter belt. As people came, so did commerce. Warehouses and workshops were built around the station. On the well-drained soil around Slough, huge rose plantations and other market gardens were established to serve London’s booming population. Charles Turner ran the Royal Nursery in Slough and commercially developed the Cox’s Orange Pippin apple which had been originally bred in Colnbrook. A telegraph connection was built in 1843. Gas lighting came in 1849, probably the year that Ted’s great-grandfather Daniel O’Sullivan arrived in Southwark from Limerick.Slough station played a part in one of the era’s darkest dramas. John Tawell murdered his lover Sarah Hart in Salt Hill Park in January 1845. The body was found and Tawell was pursued. He had got ahead of the police and took the train to London. A telegraph message was dispatched and Tawell was arrested when he arrived in Paddington. He was hanged for murder in Aylesbury prison in March that year. It was the first instance of a criminal being caught thanks to telecommunications. A secret scandal that was only to emerge much later was the fact that Slough was probably for a period the home of Ellen Ternan, the mistress from 1858 of Charles Dickens, the English author. She lived in Church Street, south of Slough High Street. Dickens travelled to Slough by train, occasionally using neighbouring stations, including one in the Thames village of Datchet, to camouflage his intentions.
Initially, Slough had a transient population, but a settled community developed that needed the normal range of services. The Royal Hotel by Slough Station was converted into an orphanage and then transformed again in 1921 into the Licensed Victuallers’ School, a private educational establishment for the sons of the owners and managers of public houses. Slough Secondary School was opened in 1912 to provide grammar school education for boys and girls. It was divided in 1936 into Slough Grammar School for Boys, which occupies a site on Lascelles Road to the east of the town, and Slough High School for Girls. The oldest secondary school in the town was St Bernard’s Convent, north of the Bath Road close to Slough Grammar. It was based around a house that had been bought by Bernadine Nuns in 1897. St Bernard’s later became a girls’ Catholic grammar school, though it had fee-paying students, and was attended by both Pat and Ted’s daughters. It went co-educational and became a voluntary-aided (fee-paying) grammar school in 1989. The nuns moved out in 2006. The records show that the region’s first Catholic school was organised in Baylis House by English converts in 1830, when the house was owned by the Godolphin family. It had by then inherited the title of Duke of Leeds. The school was to remain at Baylis House for 87 years.
Slough’s population grew. The 1851 census recorded it was 3,575. James Elliman opened a modern factory in the town to make an embrocation that is still produced, though not in Slough any more. His most lasting contribution to the town was landscaping Salt Hill and then donating the land to Slough Urban Council just before the 1st World War. It was Slough’s first public park. By the end of the 19th century, Slough’s population had ballooned, but was still modest. The census of 1901 shows it was about 11,000. Slough’s first cinema opened on the Bath Road in 1910. The next turning point came during the 1st World War. Much of Britain’s munitions production was in the London area. Once Zeppelin attacks on the capital began in 1916, it was decided to disperse munitions and equipment out of harm’s way. The British Army set up a war vehicles repair depot, known locally as The Dump, at Cippenham Court Farm on the Bath Road west of Slough. After the conflict ended, the War Office sold the depot and a 600-acre site with workshops, machinery and vehicles to a group of business people. They created the Slough Trading Company. It was renamed as Slough Estates in 1926, the year of the general strike which Ted’s father Mick participated in. It was the world’s first modern industrial estate. By then, Slough trading estate, as it is usually known, was employing 8,000 people.
To address the housing shortages resulting from the influx of industrial workers and their families, the territory of the Slough Urban District was extended in 1930 and it took over parts of Burnham, Farnham Royal, Stoke Poges, Langley and Cippenham. By the start of the 2nd World War in 1939, most of the area was covered with new council estates. They included a string of large houses built on Oatlands Drive which ran from the Farnham Road to Stoke Poges Lane. Pat and Ted O’Sullivan were to live in Oatlands Drive in the 1960s and 1970s. Slough’s first proper town hall was opened in 1938, the year Slough was reclassified as a borough. The town’s booming economy attracted people seeking jobs. During the post-1st World War recession, which deepened into depression after 1929, thousands came from across the UK. A large Welsh community developed. Some miners walked all the way from the Welsh coalfields along the Bath Road. It is said that Slough residents put signs up in their windows saying: “Keep Walking Taffy!”
By the start of the 2nd World War, Slough was a prosperous town of about 30,000 people, most of them working in factories and workshops. The 2,000-seat Adelphi Cinema, the town’s first large picture hall, opened in 1930. The Granada Cinema was opened on the Windsor Road in 1938 by Leslie Howard, a celebrated British movie actor. Slough was eventually to have at least five cinemas including The Ambassador on the Farnham Road which the O’Sullivan family used to visit. The Ambassador and the Adelphi have been demolished and the Granada no longer operates as a cinema. The sole legacy of a period when most people went to the pictures at least weekly is the Pavements of Fame, slabs of concrete in which were imprinted the palm marks of some of the stars that acted in Pinewood studios and came to Slough for promotional purposes. They include those of Bette Davis and Bob Hope. The pavements are kept by Slough Council.
Slough Estates boomed during the interwar years. For those in work, real earnings rose and this led to a growth in spending on the consumer goods that the new factories based in Slough produced. The town was also close to London which had benefited from the huge increase in the number of civil servants working for central government during the Great War. Factories set up in Slough included Aspros, which opened in Slough Estates in 1927. Forrest Mars Senior founded a confectionary factory in the estate in 1932. He had fallen out with his father Frank Mars, who had founded a confectionary business in Tacoma in Washington state in the US. Forrest Mars started to produce the Mars bar which was similar to the Milky War candy bar produced by his father in the US. The Slough branch of Mars was later to be a confectionery innovator. Several brands developed in the town, including Skittles and Topic, were subsequently introduced into the US. Mars remains privately-owned, though family members are no longer senior managers. Mars is still a major employer in Slough though it closed one of its two factories in the town in 2007. The Mars family temporarily put Slough at the cutting-edge of the fast-food revolution. Desperate for American-style hamburgers during their visits, the Mars family set up their own hamburger bar named Crockett’s on the Farnham Road at the end of the 1960s. A further confectionery product made in Slough was Wagon Wheels, a chocolate biscuit filled with marshmallow that was invented by Garry Weston, an Australian businessman. Production of Wagon Wheels was moved to Wales in the 1980s. Chix, a US confectionery firm that made chewing gum and sweet cigarettes, also had a factory in Slough. Gerard, Ted’s 2nd son, worked there in the summer of 1973 and remembers seeing birds nesting inside the factory. It was the scene of a bitter labour dispute later in the decade when its workers, mainly recent immigrants from the Indian sub-continent, tried to form a union.
An expanding region of south Bucks was proletarian-ised to the lasting disgust of the established families of the county. The large housing estates built around Slough provided spacious and sanitary accommodation for impecunious migrants from northern industrial towns, Scottish and Welsh mining villages and the length and breadth of Ireland. Dance halls and cinemas were opened to entertain the newcomers. On Saturday nights, Slough pubs would be packed. Initially, the migrants to Slough were overwhelmingly male. The ancient trades of the night flourished and there was a ready supply of prostitutes. The irreverent newcomers were inclined to vote Labour. The rest of Buckinghamshire invariably elected representatives of a conservative disposition. The Second World War gave a further boost to the town. Tens of thousands more arrived and Slough sprawled east and west along the Bath Road, south towards the Thames and north towards the foothills of the Chilterns. The ancient settlements of Cippenham and Upton-cum-Chalvey were absorbed. A large power station with cooling towers visible for miles was built in Slough trading estate. The distaste of the genteel English middle classes for this expression of a new, egalitarian and technocratic Britain was satirically expressed by Sir John Betjeman in his poem about Slough. It was originally written in 1927 and published just before the Second World War. It articulates both misanthropy and snobbishness. Its first line is one of the most remembered in English poetry. People from Slough find it amusing, but also residually insulting. Betjeman later regretted writing the poem, which was about the Slough trading estate rather than Slough itself. His daughter formally apologised to the town after he died in 1984.
The third growth wave came after 1945 when successive UK governments sought to honour their commitment to provide houses for returning soldiers, replace homes destroyed during the war and demolish the overcrowded slums in which many still lived. Slough was selected to be one of the places where new housing, sometimes called London overspill estates, was to be built.
For the 1945 general election, the new constituency of Eton & Slough was created. It returned the Labour Party candidate Benn Levy, a former screenwriter married to the American film star Constance Cummings. He was to sit in the House of Commons until 1950. Levy was to be replaced that year by Fenner Brockway, a First World War conscientious objector and a founding member, like Levy, of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). Brockway was defeated in the 1964 general election and became a peer. A statue in his likeness can be seen in Red Lion Square, site of the Conway Hall where he often spoke at public meetings. Slough was the location for the next phase in Pat and Ted’s life. They set about their new challenge with characteristic energy. But it was incredibly hard work.
“The new job was initially exhausting. For a fortnight, I was compelled to rise at about 4.30am and walk from Farnham Common to Farnham Road, a distance of more than two miles. It was practically killing me, so I demanded that the existing manager Mr Hughes vacate the flat. He did and we immediately moved from Farnham Common. The accommodation, which encompassed two floors, was excellent, but the hours were long. I would open the shop just after 5am and close it at 6.30pm. After, I would have to cash-up, check the tills and pack the money in the safe.”
The Farnham Road shop was almost industrial compared to the village enterprise Pat and Ted had previously run. Opposite were the factories and offices of the Slough trading estate, the largest light industrial zone in Europe at that time. They included a huge plant on the opposite side of the Farnham Road owned by Harris Intertype, one of the world’s leading typesetting equipment manufacturers. A large illuminated clock on its exterior wall was often referred to by the O’Sullivans by the simple expedient of looking out of the window of their flat. The factories were booming and some operated shift systems. This generated a steady flow of business with workers calling in to buy newspapers, cigarettes and snacks early in the morning and picking up evening newspapers when they returned home. The shop had a large confectionery counter and a huge range of tobacco. It was a more challenging and satisfying job for Ted. But there were regrets.
“Annoyingly, we had barely settled in Farnham Road when Eton wrote offering us a council house. Shortly afterwards, a letter arrived from Australia House offering assisted passages to Melbourne for my family. The move had exhausted our savings, so we soldiered on. The first stock take after about three months showed that the shop’s loss had been eliminated. Only once in the next 12 years would it reappear. Edwards agreed that the deficit had occurred because the accountant had made a tiny percentage miscalculation in valuing the stock. He changed his accountants but lived to regret it.”
Being closer to St Anthony’s encouraged more involvement with the parish.
“We had just taken over 240 Farnham Road when Jimmy Eyre, the husband of a St Anthony’s teacher, called at the shop and said that he was placing St Anthony’s order for Catholic newspapers with us. I pointed out that the only way the newspapers could be supplied was at retail prices. This would not be any good as there would be no profit on sales and no returns of unsold copies. A private arrangement was reached with Barry Egerton, a wholesaler, who would supply the papers personally at the wholesale price. The money would be gathered from sales on Sundays and paid to Barry monthly by cheque. This would have worked well if much of the money from people attending the first Sunday Mass and buying newspapers had not been removed. Often, the revenue from the sales did not cover the amount due to the wholesaler. This ridiculous arrangement was to last 25 years.”
In April 1955, Churchill retired as prime minister and was replaced by Eden who called an immediate general election. The end of rationing, rising living standards, low unemployment and the government’s highly successful building programme, which delivered 300,000 homes a year, had consolidated the Conservatives’ reputation in the eyes of the British people as competent and fair. The Labour Party, still led by Atlee, was divided between moderates and left-wing Socialists who gathered around Bevan. In parliamentary elections in May, the Conservatives sharply increased their majority in the House of Commons, winning 345 seats compared with Labour’s 277. The Liberals held on to their six. The defeat was the end for Atlee, never a popular figure in the Labour Party but respected for his self-effacing manner and role as deputy prime minister in the war-time coalition. Hugh Gaitskell, an economist aged 57 who had previously been shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, beat Morrison and Bevan and became Labour leader. Gaitskell seemed to epitomise a new Labour Party approach to British politics. He was more like a manager than a politician and sincerely believed that the divisions in British society could be cured through a combination of public spending, careful economic policies, redistributive taxation and highly-selective increases in public ownership. The left of the party hated him, probably because he defeated their hero Bevan in the leadership contest. Gaitskell included Bevan in his shadow cabinet as colonial affairs spokesman and then, in 1956, as shadow foreign secretary.
Europe continued to be dominated by Cold War rivalry. Nikita Khrushchev became undisputed leader of the Soviet Union in February 1955. Soviet bloc countries signed the Warsaw Pact treaty in May, nine days after the Western powers recognised West Germany as a sovereign state. Later that year, the new country started taking steps to create an army. The division of Germany was to last for 35 more years. The raw material for a generation of British spy novels was created when Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, both foreign office officials, appeared in Moscow and were confirmed by the British government as having been long-term Soviet agents. After riots in Cyprus, a British possession since 1870, a state of emergency was declared on the island in November. It was eventually to become independent at the end of 1959.For the British people, there were two far more interesting stories in 1955. One was the announcement that Princess Margaret, the queen’s younger sister, would not marry Group Captain Peter Townsend, a former equerry to King George VI, a decorated fighter pilot and, crucially, a divorcee. It is believed that the decision broke Margaret’s heart. The second source of excitement was the start on 22 September of an advertising-financed television channel that broke the BBC monopoly over the medium. It was the start of the rise of commercial broadcasting in the UK. The year was special for other reasons. In July, Ruth Ellis was hanged in Holloway Prison in north London for murdering her lover. She was the last woman to be hanged in Britain. In February 1956, MPs voted in favour of abolishing the death penalty, but executions continued until 1964.
The following year was to be dramatic. It started with Elvis Presley’s song Heartbreak Hotel becoming number one in the American charts. A film of Bill Haley performing Rock Around the Clock was shown in British cinemas and there were disturbances in some. The Rock ‘n Roll revolution had begun. It is still with us. A new era in British theatrical drama began in May 1956 with the first performance of Look Back in Anger by John Osborne at the Royal Court Theatre in London. It began an era of realistic theatre collectively known as “kitchen-sink dramas” which featured “working class heroes”, ordinary men and women living ordinary lives. But 1956 is mainly remembered for the Suez crisis in which Britain and France conspired with Israel in an attempt to regain the Suez Canal nationalised by Egyptian leader Abdul Gamal Nasser in July. The British and French attack began at the end of October but was quickly called off following international and, in particular, US pressure. They withdrew, but the canal had been blocked. It was clear evidence that the US would henceforth be the principal power in the Middle East and not Britain and France. It was a disaster for Britain’s reputation and was the end of Eden’s political career. Sick and disillusioned, he resigned as prime minister in January 1957. He was succeeded by Harold Macmillan, the epitome of the type of progressive Conservative politician that had been thrown up by the experiences of two world wars and the great depression.
By contemporary standards, Macmillan would be regarded as left-wing Labour. Macmillan established a new populist style in a speech in March 1957 in which he said: “…most of our people have never had it so good.” The phrase is now used to define the whole 1950s.
The second drama was in Hungary, which had been a German ally during the Second World War. Following the end of the conflict, Hungary was a multi-party democracy but under effective Soviet occupation. Soviet pressure built up and Hungary fell under Communist control in 1949. After the death of Stalin in 1953 and Khrushchev’s secret speech to the CPSU in February 1956 which denounced the dictator, hopes flared in Eastern Europe that the Soviets would allow more political freedom. In June, a Polish workers’ rebellion in Poznan was violently repressed, but a genie had been released and the mood spread to Hungary. On 23 October, a students’ demonstration in Budapest was attacked. Fighting spread and developed into all-out rebellion. That night, the Communist government requested Soviet support. Despite the arrival of Soviet tanks, the uprising continued and Hungary’s Communist leaders fled the country. Hungarian militants battled Soviet tanks in the streets of Budapest. Fought to a standstill, the Soviets agreed a ceasefire on 28 October. A new Hungarian government headed by a Communist reformer Imre Nagy was formed. The peace lasted less than a week. On 1 November, Soviet forces were ordered back into Hungary to put down the rising and restore Moscow’s control. Soviet tanks reached Budapest on 4 November. Final pockets of resistance were crushed on 10 November. The Soviets imposed a loyal government headed by Janos Kadar. Nagy was executed for treason in 1958.
Ted’s reactions to the Suez crisis and the Hungarian rebellion were consistent. He believed the UK’s attack on Egypt was illegal and immoral. He also argued that the behaviour of Britain and France over Suez provided some of the pretext for the suppression of the Hungarian rebellion which Ted supported. Ted had no illusions about the Soviets. He had seen the Red Army on the border between Austria and Yugoslavia in May 1945 and did not like what he saw. Ted was a loyal Catholic and loathed the Communist’s repression of Christianity. But for many who believed the Soviet Union represented hope for the future, the crushing of the Hungarian rebellion was the end of a dream. Communist parties across the world lost members and many supporters who were to become firm anti-Communists. It was the final death of an era in Western politics. Practically no one now believed Communism was an alternative to the status quo in the UK and the West. There was another consequence. The US and the West made no attempt to support the Hungarian rebels. Their policy in Europe was clear. The aim was not to roll-back Communism but to contain and co-exist with it. It was a strategy that was to shape international affairs for more than 30 years.
The British economy continued growing and living standards improved. Pat and Ted and their family were also prospering in the way most families did in the mid-1950s. Like millions of others, the O’Sullivans sampled the pleasures of low-cost holiday camps created to serve ordinary people with an increasing amount of money in their pockets. In the 1980s, British holiday camps were parodied in the popular BBC television comedy Hi De Hi! It was an affectionate but patronising depiction of what was a distinctly British phenomenon in the 1950s. At the time, it gave many Britons a taste for more comfortable ways of enjoying their leisure time. The holiday camp was the forerunner of the foreign beach holidays most Britons now consider to be their right.
“Around this time, we changed our holiday venue and tried Butlin’s at Clacton. We found this perfect, as we took our holidays in early June, to coincide with Whitsun, now known as the Late Spring Bank Holiday. We enjoyed ourselves so much, and were freed from the children so often, that we went three more times, once with my brother Tom and his family. Butlin’s, at that time of the year, was quite thinly-occupied and the large staff were prepared to help families, particularly those who participated in camp activities. We joined in everything. Each evening, the children slept immediately, exhausted after a long day of intense activity. They won prizes for beauty and dexterity in various competitions. June was also a good time for a holiday since it was cheaper at that time.”
“The children were growing fast and we decided to abandon Butlin’s as a holiday venue. At the start of 1958, we saw an advertisement in Daltons and we wrote away for furnished self-contained apartments in Par, Cornwall. We travelled up to Paddington and there took the Cornish Riviera Express. We booked seats and lunches in the dining car. The first snag came when two of the childrens’ seats were usurped by a couple with their pet cat in a basket. We were incensed when we heard them complain to friends: ‘We are stuck with a cartload of kids.’ We kept our tempers. They were later rebuked by the ticket inspector as they were travelling on privileged tickets. They were railway staff. We were the customers. We never booked again.”
“Although something of an industrial town because of its docks and china clay, Par allowed us an enjoyable holiday. The first week we spent touring Cornwall by train. The fare for adults was 17/6 (87.5p in decimal money) for the week and 8/9d (about 44p) each for the three oldest children. It was the best value we had ever experienced. Using the then-existing network of railway lines, we saw all parts of Cornwall. The second week we spent locally and went for walks. We had a wonderful holiday, but we decided not to return to Par because of the China clay spoil heaps. In addition, the accommodation was not first class.”
History was again on the move. In March 1957, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany signed the Treaty of Rome which founded what is now called the European Union (EU). Greek Cypriot leader Archbishop Makarios, who had been arrested the previous year and exiled to the Seychelles, was released in April 1957 and moved to Athens. The Greek Cypriot guerilla group EOKA, which wanted union with Greece, resumed its operations. The IRA, dormant since the 1930s, launched attacks along the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. The empire was beginning to evaporate. Ghana became independent in March 1957 and Malaya followed in August.
The space race started with the launch of Sputnik 1 by the Soviet Union in October that year. The following month, Britain exploded its first hydrogen bomb. The word Beatnik was probably used widely for the first time in the UK to describe young people with unkempt hair, casual clothes and a taste for jazz music, which was favoured over Rock ‘n Roll by students and intellectuals. Tommy Steele, the first modern British pop star, began his career in 1957.The next year began sadly. In February 1958, a BEA airliner crashed in Munich, killing and injuring many of the Manchester United football team which had won the league championship in the previous two years. They were known as the Busby Babes after Matt Busby, the team manager. The tragedy eventually became a legend. Bernard O’Sullivan, an enthusiastic football player and centre forward who was to become captain of St Anthony’s primary school team, became a fan and watched them win the European Cup at Wembley in 1968, though his attachment to the club was to wax and wane over the years.
The British youth movement gathered further steam in 1958 with the first of what became annual Easter marches of protest organised by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) to the UK government’s nuclear weapons research centre at Aldermaston near Reading. The trigger was the announcement of a plan for nuclear missile bases in the UK. CND secured the support of some leading British intellectuals and writers including the philosopher Bertrand Russell, the novelist J B Priestley and Lord John Russell, a Liberal politician. A darker side of Britain was revealed in anti-immigration riots in Nottingham and Notting Hill in August and September.
The Middle East was again in the news. In July 1958, the Iraqi monarchy was deposed in a military coup supported by Arab nationalists, republicans and Communists. King Faisal II, who had been educated at Harrow, was murdered with his close family and some advisers. Among the supporters of the new republican regime was Saddam Hussain, then still a teenager. He was to become one of the world’s most notorious figures in due course.
Meanwhile, the O’Sullivan family was getting bigger. On 17 September 1958, Stephen James was born, Pat and Ted’s third son and fifth child. He was red-headed like Catherine. The three-bedroom flat on Farnham Road was getting crowded. One room was for Pat and Ted, one for Marian and Catherine and the third for the three boys. Earlier that month, Marian had started at St Bernard’s Convent in eastern Slough. This was the only Catholic girls’ grammar school in the area. It also accepted fee-paying students who came from the wealthier middle class areas around Slough. It consequently felt something like a public school. The girls wore smart felt hats, blazers and skirts in the winter and light blue dresses topped with a straw hat in the summer. Marian took to the new environment. It was a sharp contrast to the proletarian tone of St Anthony’s which mainly drew its pupils from working class Irish immigrants.
The year closed with Charles De Gaulle becoming president of France’s 5th Republic. He promised to keep Algeria French, but he was eventually to change his mind. In January 1959, Fidel Castro became president of Cuba after deposing the US-supported dictator Fulgencio Batista.
In August that year, the British Motor Corporation launched the Mini, a compact and economical vehicle that became a symbol of Britain in the early 1960s. Ted was proving to be an excellent small businessman and ran his shop efficiently and profitably. Pat and Ted’s children, when they came of age, played various roles from shop assistant to paper boy. The product range was extended, though Ted was quick to discontinue sales of semi-pornographic magazines and condoms which the previous manager had stocked. Despite the cost involved due to their large family, Pat and Ted were able to start in 1959 a sequence of three annual fortnight-long visits to a farm in Cornwall.
“The next three years took us to Cornwall but further afield. Once more using Daltons, we discovered a cottage at a place called Maenporth, a village beyond Truro. We wanted the weeks in May which corresponded with Whitsun that year. The farmer, named Mr Clewes, was letting his former home for the first time. He was pleased to have such an early offer but had misgivings about us. Five children and from Slough! He collected us from the express at Truro and took us along the sea road. Catherine was feeling a little car sick. Fortunately, we were at the Maenporth end of the footpath to his farm. Marian, a very resourceful 11-year-old, took Catherine along the path whilst the remainder carried on in the car. One could almost see that Mr Clewes was already regretting taking us, but at the end of a gorgeous fortnight of perfect weather, he was full of praise for our children and begged us to book for next year. We walked everywhere as a family. Often, Pat would remain on the beach at Maenporth, while we explored. Little Gerard, a sturdy child, would walk for miles. We came the following year with my parents, and they enjoyed themselves very much. My father and little Stephen would be seen walking hand in hand around the farm; dad 66 and Stephen not yet two. When we arrived in 1961, Mr Clewes was very upset that we had not brought my father.”
Cornwall in the summer is close to heaven. The O’Sullivan children loved every second of their three holidays on the farm. Most days were spent on the beach, sometimes picking winkles that would be boiled, seasoned and used in delicious sandwiches. The farm itself was full of wonders. An enormous barn containing bales of straw was a perfect adventure playground. The animals were a delight, though Gerard once received a head full of muck after getting too close. Fresh fish were served for tea. There were blackberries for blackberry and apple pie. The taste of Cornish ice cream – golden, creamy and with nuggets of ice embedded – was more than enough to turn the young O’Sullivans’ heads. Ted was now in his prime as a businessman and wanted to expand.
“The business was booming and we decided to extend the shop. This was done with the help of John Horsewood who was engaged as assistant manager. It was discovered that the partition at the end of the shop could be moved quite easily. This we did by reducing the stockroom space. A professional builder constructed an extension, which was to become the main store for the tobacco and cigarette stock, the most valuable part of our merchandise. Into this new strong area was moved the safe. I redesigned the shop and opened up the windows, moving back the counters. This was against the then modern practice of having a quick service window on to the street. It turned shops into mere kiosks. The idea was to encourage customers into the enlarged premises, with its stationery and books on display. The gamble paid off and sales immediately rose. Edwards saw the potential and adopted the redesign for the premises at Ryefield Avenue, Ruislip where Arthur Thomas, who had been my former colleague at Hawkes in 1946, was the manager.”
“Another result was that one of Edwards’ former army colleagues called Teddy Moyniham, a rich ex-Kenyan, became interested in investing in these sort of businesses and he asked to work in the shop to discover how one operated. He was impressed at the end of a fortnight but gave up the idea of entering the news and tobacco retail trade because he thought it was too much like hard work. He convinced Edwards, however, that I was underpaid and suggested a commission on my ever increasing sales. This raised my remuneration and we were now comfortably off.”
It was, however, physically exhausting. Ted opened the shop before dawn to take in the newspaper deliveries. He then marked them up with addresses ready for the paperboys who delivered to Ted’s customers. At that time, paperboys, and the occasional papergirl, were as familiar as postmen. Ted was in the shop until about 1pm when he would have lunch prepared by Pat and take an afternoon nap. He would be back in the shop for the afternoon until closing time at 6.30pm. Pat, meanwhile, was raising a large family, doing the shopping and preparing the meals. Like other retail establishments at the time, the shop closed for half a day on Wednesday but was open until 12 noon on Sundays. In total, Ted would work an average of 60 hours a week in the shop. On top of that there were administrative duties including managing the books and the annual stock-take. If Ted was reasonably paid, he was earning every penny. The burden of work eventually took a toll on his health.
“One spring I noticed that I was losing my voice and could speak barely above a whisper. I called at my doctors in Farnham Royal and found that a locum was in charge. He told me not to worry, cut down smoking and avoid using my voice. This was a useless suggestion for a man who worked in a shop 12 hours each day. I went back and saw Doctor Milward who sent me immediately for examination by a specialist. I was ordered to hospital for an emergency operation. I had no idea what was wrong. I waited a month and went to see Doctor Milward again who rang the hospital. He told me that a polypus on my vocal chords had been discovered and that he had not known until then that it was benign. I was to see the specialist every three months. Later, a customer told me that her husband had gone in for the same biopsy but had died in hospital with cancer. I was fortunate. By being kept inadvertently in ignorance of how dangerous my problem might have been, I avoided months of worry.”
Despite the pressure of his daily job, Ted had energy to spare. As well as running the business, he was a member of the National Union of Newsagents, an employers’ organisation protecting small traders. Ted was appointed honorary secretary of the Windsor branch, a position he held for about eight years. When he retired from this post, he was given a silver beer mug with a glass bottom. It was one of the very few personal possessions, apart from clothes and books, that Ted had.
Pat and Ted were very proud of their children. Marian was enjoying being at St Bernard’s. An excellent scholar and sportsman, Bernard was doing well at St Anthony’s which Catherine entered in 1957. Edmund, who everyone called Gerard, attended the Slough Community Centre nursery just off the Farnham Road. This was a local authority facility, an innovation at the time. At the end of the week, Pat would collect Gerard and buy him a bottle of orange juice and a chocolate biscuit. Sugar rationing had ended, but sweets were still an occasional treat. The children were given a couple of coppers each week as pocket money which they invariably spent on confectionery from Pat and Ted’s shop after Sunday lunch, which was always a traditional roast washed down by a glass of “pop”, usually R Whites’ lemonade or Tizer, a raspberry-flavoured fizzy drink. Ted would occasionally make himself a shandy, a mixture of brown ale and lemonade.
Like his father Mick, Ted was a very light drinker. His sole obvious vice was an addiction to Senior Service, untipped cigarettes. His taste for the brand had developed during the war when Senior Service made up his cigarette ration. Pat would smoke an occasional cigarette, but gave up entirely in the 1960s. Ted was never to master his nicotine addiction.
Harold Macmillan called a parliamentary election in October 1959 and increased the Conservative majority. Ted was contemptuous of the suggestion that the majority lived in the lap of luxury and voted Labour. But the Conservative era was beginning to draw to a close. Things were stirring in St Anthony’s. In 1954, Father Houghton had moved to Bury St Edmunds and was replaced by Father James Reidy, a graduate of London University who had been a teacher before deciding to train for the priesthood. He was ordained in 1941 and ministered to Catholics in Luton, Ipswich and Biggleswade before moving to Slough. Reidy, who was accompanied by his spinster sister, was to be a dynamic force in the parish for more than a decade.
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountain green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?
And did the countenance divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among those dark satanic mills?
Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!
I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.
‘And did those feet in ancient time’, a poem written by William Blake in 1804 as a preface for his epic work dedicated to the Buckinghamshire writer John Milton. It is best known as the hymn Jerusalem with music written in 1916 by C. Hubert H. Parry
Britain in 1960 was balanced between the certainties of the past and the challenges of a new era being created by economic growth, increasing consumer spending and the arrival from the US of what is now known as youth culture.
That year, people born in 1945 were 15 and old enough to leave school to work. The memory of the ordeals of the war and the victories against Germany and Japan had little meaning to the teenagers of the 1960s, though the boys still enjoyed watching black-and-white war films shown on television and reading about the conflict in comics like The Wizard and The Victor.
Harold Macmillan kicked off the new decade with a speech in South Africa in February in which he said that a “wind of change is blowing through this continent…”. Elected in his own right as prime minister and with a commanding majority in the House of Commons, Macmillan was determined to brush off the objections of the hard-line imperialists in his party and accelerate the process of granting independence to Britain’s remaining colonial possessions. Horrified by the speech, reactionary Conservatives including South Buckinghamshire MP Ronald Bell set up the Monday Club, which was to be charged throughout its existence with harbouring racists. Seven weeks after Macmillan’s speech, a demonstration in Sharpeville outside Johannesburg against the South African government’s Pass Laws, which required all those classified as non-whites to carry identity cards, ended in violence and shootings. A total of 69 black Africans were killed and more than 180 were wounded. Arrests followed. It was to be the start of a campaign of resistance against white minority rule in South Africa. The following year, Nelson Mandela was made head of the military wing of the African National Congress (ANC), the main African anti-apartheid political movement. Mandela was eventually arrested and sentenced in 1962 to imprisonment for terrorist offences. He was to remain in jail until 1990. South Africa became a republic in 1961 and resigned from the Commonwealth. White settlers in southern Rhodesia took note. Their leader Ian Smith rejected plans for independence devised in London that were based on majority rule or confederation with northern Rhodesia, now called Zambia. After lengthy negotiations with the British government, Rhodesia declared itself independent unilaterally under white minority rule in November 1965.
Princess Margaret married Anthony Armstrong-Jones in May 1960. The first performance of Beyond the Fringe was seen during the Edinburgh Festival in August that year. It launched the careers of Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller. An Old Bailey jury ruled Lady Chattersley’s Lover by D H Lawrence, which had been banned for 30 years, was not obscene. It inspired an exciting new phrase: the permissive society. At the 1960 Olympics in Rome in August-September, Cassius Clay, whose grandfather was born in County Clare in the west of Ireland, won the light heavyweight gold medal.
A new spirit seemed to be in the air. The children born of the veterans of the 2nd World War were becoming teenagers. People were better off. More women were working. A youth culture was spreading from the US based on popular music and coffee bars. But the definitive 1960 moment came in November when Massachusetts senator John Fitzgerald Kennedy, then aged just 43, narrowly beat former vice-president Richard Nixon to become US president. In his inaugural speech the following January, Kennedy appealed to youth by referring to the fact that he had been born in the 20th century. He was a contrast to his predecessor President Eisenhower, who was then 68. Pat and Ted loved Kennedy and his enormous and energetic family. There was no doubt they were influenced by the fact the Kennedys were Catholics and of Irish descent. Like Pat and Ted, Kennedy was a war veteran.
St Anthony’s parish in 1960 was about to grow enormously. Slough was booming as the factories in the Slough trading estate met the soaring demand for consumer goods and light industrial products. It was also selected as one of the locations for a huge public housing building programme. Slough was, in effect, to become a new town offering a better life for working class Londoners. The building programme stimulated the demand for labour still further. A high proportion of the incomers were Catholics, mainly people of Irish descent, who came from the London Irish heartlands in Britain’s capital, and new migrants from Ireland. The population of Slough had also been enriched by thousands of Poles. They were mainly the families of the veterans of the Polish Division that had fought with the Allies during the war but had decided against returning to Poland. There were a small number of immigrants from other places – there were numerous Italian families and at least one family of Ukranians, and Latvians and Spaniards were to join the parish.
At that moment, St Anthony’s was led by Father Reidy, a driven man who was to change the face of the parish in a decade. Reidy was about six-foot tall and in his late 40s when he came to Slough. He had a middle class English accent and seemed ill-suited for a parish peopled mainly by working-class foreign immigrants. Many found him terrifying. But he was a priest with a mission to build a huge new parish church. It was to take almost nine years of fund-raising and hard work. Pat and Ted were at the heart of Reidy’s effort to create a Catholic Jerusalem in the Buckinghamshire.
It was a time of massive expansion in the Catholic Church in the region. In 1958, Slough’s first Catholic secondary school, named St Joseph’s Secondary School, was opened on Shaggy Calf Lane. It was to serve Catholic boys and girls that had not passed the 11-plus examination, a test taken by every competent child in England which determined entrance to the limited number of grammar schools. No Catholic grammar school for boys was ever to be opened in Slough. At this point, St Anthony’s was bursting at the seams. In January 1958, when Marian was in her final year at the school, it had risen to 426. That autumn, the number rose to 480. Temporary classrooms that were to last for years longer than planned were built in St Anthony’s playgrounds to accommodate them. The numbers continued to grow until they hit 490 in 1961, the second year that Gerard was at the school.
“Father Reidy moved into Wyvis Lodge, the house on the west of the Farnham Road which Houghton had used as the Presbytery, and continued with the school hall for Masses and other religious services. He wanted a proper church, but the land bought for this purpose north of St Anthony’s primary school was declared a part of the Green Belt. Wyvis Lodge was compulsorily purchased by the London County Council (LCC) in 1958 for what would be, in its time, the largest council housing estate in Europe. In less than a decade, what had previously been countryside was built over to provide homes for people being re-housed from west London where a massive programme of demolition was under way. Fortunately, Shepherd’s Hey, a large house built around 1930 which had a large acreage of surrounding land, came on to the market and was purchased for £7,000. A chapel was set up in the house for benedictions, week-day morning and evening services, funerals and weddings. The school hall continued in its dual role and was used for Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation.”
Reidy wanted much more. His goal was a church as big as a cathedral to celebrate the glory of God and, it must be said, express the dreams of an ambitious man. The purchase of Shepherd’s Hey meant that the parish now owned a complete swathe of land north of the school which was comfortably big enough. Its land also backed away from the school to the east in what was called “The Field”. This was to serve as an adventure playground and sports pitch for St Anthony’s until proper facilities were built in the 1970s. A small army of volunteers, including Pat and Ted, would be conscripted to help Reidy achieve his goals. Ted became honorary secretary of the St Anthony’s Development Association. He joined Gerry Breen, a Royal Navy veteran, and a group of dedicated volunteers who were to work wonders in the years to come.
On 8 October 1960, the site for the church was blessed and construction began. It was a wonderful moment for Reidy, but there were consequences. The parish had about £7,000 in hand. The church would cost at least £80,000. The difference, the equivalent to the annual wages of more than 70 average people in 1960 and at least £2 million in 2007 terms, was to become an obsession for Reidy and an exhausting burden for active parishioners like Pat and Ted. It would be raised through a regular series of bazaars and fetes in which the deficit would be reduced by a couple of hundred pounds at a time.
“The men of the parish formed the Guild of St Joseph the Worker. Parties under Gerry Breen started to prepare the site north of the school. At the turn of the century, lines of cottonwood trees had been planted and these were cleared, at first, by felling and grubbing-out the roots. This was expensive in machinery and man-hours. One of our Irish volunteers suggested pulling them down with ropes and brute force. It was a most successful innovation. Meanwhile, a small party comprising Joe Slowey, Jim Murray and I set about the decoration of Shepherd’s Hey under the supervision of Doug Elliot.”
Today, health and safety regulations and the threat of insurance claims would have prohibited many of the methods used. It is also difficult to imagine that the destruction of dozens of beautiful trees would be tolerated. But this was the early 1960s. The workforce comprised men in their prime who had been hardened by manual labour and war-time service.
“Two incidents remain in my memory. We borrowed an electric sander to clean the cedar shingles on Shepherd’s Hey. I was on top of the ladder working when I was attacked by wasps that had been living in a nest on the roof. I dropped the drill and was reminded of it often, as the lender claimed it never worked properly again. The second incident was late on a summer evening when Jim Murray and I, the only remaining workers, were painting windows on the roof. Our volunteer foreman, thinking careless workmen had left it behind, removed the ladder and left us stranded and in the dark. We were rescued, eventually. I finished off the painting on one of my days off.”
Ted’s energies were quickly directed into a project that was to be the start of a new career leading and teaching the young people of St Anthony’s. Ted tells how it all began.
“It was in 1959 that two ladies of the parish, Mrs Elliott and Mrs Slowey, formed a Brownie pack. Catherine, then aged seven, asked if she might join. We acquiesced most happily and Pat joined the mothers’ group, which supported the pack. The following year, Mrs Slowey left the Brownies and, with Sheila Draper, started the Cubs, now called Cub Scouts. At an inaugural meeting of the parents of the 9th Slough Cubs, into which Bernard, then aged 10, had been enrolled, I rashly promised that I would start a Scout troop in January 1961 if no other person had come forward. I loved being a Scout in the 1930s and I wanted my sons to enjoy it as I had done. Unsurprisingly, since I had put my name forward for the job, no one else presented themselves. I started the troop and became the group Scoutmaster.”
The first patrol of the 9th Slough Scouts comprised four boys promoted from the Cubs and four older boys. The younger ones were Bernard O’Sullivan, Derek Dawes, Francis Breen and Peter Williams, all pupils at St Anthony’s who were soon to move on to secondary school. The four older ones were James Shea, Anthony Curtin, Henry Maher and Robert Dulley. The last two had Scouting experience and were made patrol leader and patrol second. Other early recruits included the brothers Michael and David Balfe; Michael Aylmer, Michael Murphy, John Whelan and Genik and Marek Jaworski. Many of the 9th Slough scouts were tall and fit. The troop, as a result, produced excellent sportsmen and future leaders. I invited John Murphy-O’Connor to be my assistant Scoutmaster. His father Doctor James O’Connor, brother of Cormac Murphy-O’Connor who is Cardinal and Catholic Archbishop of Westminster until he retired, was delighted and became a patron of the 9th Slough.
The Murphy-O’Connors were a remarkable family. Their parents had migrated to the UK from Ireland before the 1st World War. Cormac and two of their other sons, Brian and Patrick, became priests. Another son was an officer in the Royal Artillery who had died aged 32. James was a distinguished rugby player. The establishment of the 9th Slough Scouts was well timed. There were dozens of young boys in the parish who wanted something to do with their leisure time.
“There was intense competition to join. Parental enthusiasm forced me to increase the numbers rapidly. By St George’s Day on 23 April 1961, the troop consisted of three patrols totalling about 25 boys. It paraded with the Thames Valley Catholic Guild at Windsor and was inspected by the Duke of Norfolk, Britain’s senior Catholic aristocrat. Nominally, meetings were confined to about two hours on a Friday evening but activities spread to Sunday afternoons, with hikes and other activities. Meetings were held in St Anthony’s school hall but I thought very seriously about building a Scout hut, the cost of which would be financed in part through an appeal to local businesses. The idea was vetoed by Reidy who wanted any money raised to go to the church building fund. We were invited to join the Thames Valley Guild at a weekend camp at the Catholic college at Winnersh. All the Scouts joined in and three full patrols attended. Our young Scouts surprised the others by serving a dinner on Whit Sunday of braised chops, mashed potatoes and vegetables cooked over wood fires followed by fruit and evaporated milk. They should have won the competition for the best meal but the examiners refused to believe the patrol leaders’ statement that nothing was prepared beforehand. Years of experience as a company quartermaster sergeant in the army had been passed on by showing that good cooking was a matter of preparation. We had used borrowed canvas but were determined to equip ourselves with proper tents. One of our earliest successes was winning the Slough District Scouts swimming gala which attracted publicity in the local press.”
Scouts in 1961 were largely unchanged from how they operated when Ted was a member in the 1930s. In fact, Lord Baden-Powell, who had created the Scouting movement in 1908, would have recognised the rituals. Scouts in 1961 still wore khaki shirts and shorts. They had green flashes on garters that supported their socks and scarves wrapped around their necks that were held in place at the throat with a leather fixture called a woggle. The entire outfit was crowned by a green beret with a gold-coloured Fleur de Lys badge. Baden-Powell was partly motivated by the desire to prepare boys for possible service in the British Army. Scouting for Boys, which Baden-Powell had published in 1908, was still being eagerly read by Scouts in the 1960s. It propagated survival techniques, including how to trap and cook wild animals, methods of stalking enemies and game and an organisation which was unapologetically modelled on British Army training in the first decade of the 20th century. As the 1960s developed, the Scouts became one of the most counter-cultural youth movements of the times, but it appealed to boys in their early teens who wanted a taste of adventure, an escape from parental supervision and the opportunity to spend time with their peers. Ted directly applied his army experience to his new role as youth leader and was mildly criticised for being militaristic. He insisted on smart turn-out and 9th Slough Scouts had to learn how to march and salute. Most of the boys liked the idea of being in a paramilitary unit. Wooden staffs used in hikes also looked rather like weapons.
The early days of the troop involved a lot of hard work, though there was plenty of fun as well with the enthusiastic and idealistic young lads, mainly the sons of relatively humble families, who flocked to join 9th Slough. Ted, drawing on seven years in an elite rifle regiment and an innate capacity for leadership, turned them into a comradely and lively unit who tackled many challenging tasks: long distance hikes and camping. And there were terrifyingly enthusiastic bouts of British Bulldog which involved the scouts trying to charge through a line of defenders.
“Towards the end of 1961, by making money through jumble sales, sufficient funds had been raised to put a deposit on three Nijer tents, each big enough to sleep eight, and two 160-pound army surplus tents. Weekend camps were held by patrols in Shepherd Hey’s grounds. I could not stay with them the whole time because of my business commitments, but the boys behaved themselves and did odd tasks around the site of the church. Soon these odd jobs produced lasting results, such as a soak-away to take waste water from the new church crypt. The boys would also go on long hikes through the Buckinghamshire countryside on summer weekends.”
Ted was perhaps ill-informed. Not all the 9th Slough Scouts were completely well-behaved absolutely all the time. The first intake included some sparkling personalities: Paul Olney, a natural entertainer whose family lived in Gloucester Avenue, was thought by the younger O’Sullivan boys to be one of the funniest people in the world.
Despite the arrival of President Kennedy in the White House, American policy seemed unchanged. He approved increased spending to counter Communist insurgencies in south-east Asia. In April 1961, anti-Castro rebels backed by the US invaded Cuba but were quickly defeated when Kennedy refused to provide air support. Meanwhile, the Soviets were basking in the success of the first space flight with a human aboard: Major Yuri Gagarin. For reasons that are still not entirely clear, Soviet leader Kruschev had decided to intensify the competition with the US. In August, the East Germans closed the checkpoint between east and west Berlin. Later that month, work started on the Berlin Wall, the definitive symbol of the Cold War at its worst. The same month, Macmillan delivered a speech in the House of Commons that made the case for the UK to join the Common Market launched by the Treaty of Rome four years earlier.
The sexual revolution meanwhile was in full swing. The contraceptive pill went on sale for the first time in January 1961.
In early 1962, there was a sixth and final addition to the O’Sullivan family. Richard William, Pat and Ted’s fourth son, was born on 6 January.The 9th Slough Scouts were in robust good health. There was lots of energy and Ted decided to harness it in a fortnight’s camp in the summer of 1962.
“The troop was burgeoning and I recruited another assistant Scoutmaster, John Samson, who was a massive six feet four. A social worker, he was interested in youth movements. Our first fortnight camp was to be in Wales. In late spring, I took the train to Haverfordwest and bus to Newgale. I remembered with affection my time in west Wales in 1941 and the magnificent sands at Newgale which extended for two golden miles. Approving the site, I returned home and enthusiastically prepared for camp. The GWR were extremely helpful. They collected our equipment and delivered it to the site for a reasonable sum. The charge was to be five guineas (£5.12) for the fortnight and 15 Scouts paid a weekly subscription to cover the cost. No assistant Scoutmaster would agree to forfeit his own holiday, so a Reading teacher, who was given the sobriquet Kim, agreed to meet us there. I was called Skip, short for Skipper. An incident occurred on the train journey: one extremely boisterous Scout climbed out on to the running board, and the guard threatened to turn us all off the train. Until then, I did not realise that some of the lads were not as well brought up as ours. For some parents, five guineas to dispose of them for a fortnight was a bargain.”
The 9th Slough Scouts’ camp of August 1962 would have taxed experienced campers. Latrines were dug for sanitary purposes. All the cooking was done on wood fires. An unpleasant early discovery was that the site on a farmer’s field was not a good place to find wood. Locating material to burn became a preoccupation and teams were sent out to search the beach for driftwood. The weather was generally appalling due to rain and south-westerly gales. Despite that, Ted managed to maintain morale and discipline among more than 30 young people, most of whom had never been away from home. Ted had learned the importance of plenty of food and treats in his years in the army. He established a tuck shop which would sell confectionery. Most evenings, there was a convivial campfire in which there would be a singsong. The campers would wrap themselves in blankets against the night-time chill and sip sweet milky cocoa until it was time for bed. Cravings for a snack were satisfied with cheese dreams, a magnificent confection produced by frying cheese sandwiches in boiling lard. Some Scouts would attempt sketches to entertain the troop. It was on one night in Wales that the 9th Slough stumbled on a trademark performance which involved one Scout lying on the ground as if injured. Into the firelight, a second would come and, after checking, would call out. “He’s not well!” A line of other lads out of view in the darkness would repeat the message into the distance to the final recipient of the message who would ask a series of questions: is he talking? and is he breathing? to which the one in the firelight would answer No! This was then passed up the line with the volume falling like an echo with each repetition. The climax would be the question: “Is he dead?” To which the boy by the prone figure would should Yes! At that point the one in the distance would shout out loudly: “About time too!”
It always worked. Other campfire stalwarts were the inevitable Ging-Gang-Goolie and In the Stores songs. The latter would encourage individuals around the campfire to make up their own verses.”Ted was not prepared to accept limitations on what could be done. After all, he had supervised the preparation of roast beef dinners under German shellfire in Tunisia and Italy.
A Scout district commissioner visited the camp when a meal was being prepared one evening and exclaimed: ‘Now, I’ve seen everything! Young lads cooking roast chicken in a south-westerly gale and enjoying it!’ On another occasion, fish and chips were cooked over blazing wood fires. There was an ambitious programme of visits.
“There were several coach-trips, through the mountains, to St David’s and to Haverfordwest for Sunday Mass. At St David’s, the boys clambered over the ruins of the ancient cathedral and scaled the vast cliffs, with Kim and I pursuing them in case they fell. At the monastery, a priest whom we had saluted solemnly as we passed offered to say Mass at the camp. This he did on the second Sunday in one of the two 160-pounder tents, which were big enough to accommodate almost 50 people. He refused a collection from the boys and told us to put it in the camp fund. The farmer’s wife was bought the largest box of chocolates on sale at the local shop. Our family was totally involved in the camp. Bernard, then aged 12, was in the Scouts. Marian and Catherine, who were in the Guides and Brownies, and Gerard, in the Cubs, joined the camp. Richard, who was then just seven months old, stayed with his mother. He loved Newgale Sands. Doctor O’Connor met us at Slough Station on our return and drove Pat and the children back to our home.”
It was great fun, but there was at times a nightmarish quality to the experience. Most of the campers were invariably damp. They reeked of wood smoke and staying clean was a challenge. Everyone washed in cold water in aluminium bowls. But it was a fantastic success. A minority couldn’t cope with the conditions, but practically everyone had the time of their lives. Ted immediately decided to repeat the experience the following year.
The world, meanwhile, was not feeling quite so jolly. That autumn, the US discovered that the increasing numbers of vessels sailing from the Soviet Union to Cuba were supplying the construction of missile sites on the island. At the end of October, the Cuban missile crisis brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. Moscow gave way and agreed to dismantle the missile bases, though Washington made the concession in return of dismantling its own missile bases in Turkey. President Kennedy had managed to look both strong and peaceful. Krushchev, on the other hand, looked foolish. He was deposed as Soviet leader in less than two years. Cold War tensions were an appropriate context for the first James Bond film Doctor No, starring Sean Connery, an Edinburgh milkman and body-builder turned actor who was the son of a Scottish mother and an Irish father. The BBC broadcast That Was The Week That Was, the first political satire on British television. It launched the apparently eternal career of Sir David Frost. In the early autumn of 1962, Ted took some of his children to buy winter coats at Barkers in west London. They had lunch in the restaurant and Gerard wandered off to find the toilets. Erroneously, he walked into the afternoon showing of Lawrence of Arabia in the adjoining cinema. He also recalls the imprecisely scandalous circumstances surrounding the death of Marilyn Monroe in August.
There was another significant moment in British post-war culture in September 1962 when the Beatles released their first single, called Love Me Do. This was followed in November by Please Please Me. Within a year, the Beatles were global stars.One of the most significant events of early 1963 was a snow blizzard which brought much of Britain to a standstill. Outside the shop in Farnham Road, it was at least six inches deep and drifted to three feet in places. Ted mourned the death of Hugh Gaitskell, who died prematurely in January aged 56. Harold Wilson beat George Brown to become Labour leader. The first great political scandal of the modern era erupted in March 1963 when it emerged that John Profumo, Defence Secretary and a veteran of the Tunisian and Italian campaigns of 1943-45, had had an affair with Christine Keeler, a prostitute who was born in the Slough area. They had met the previous summer during a louche party at Cliveden, a magnificent stately home in the Chilterns about 10 miles from Slough that was then owned by David Astor, proprietor of The Observer. Keeler at the same time was having a relationship with the defence attaché at the Soviet embassy in London. It was a convoluted tale with many unlikely twists. Profumo eventually resigned in June 1963. The scandal suggested that Macmillan was losing a grip on his own government. His health declined and he announced on 10 October that he would resign as prime minister and Conservative Party leader. Sir Alec Douglas-Home, an Etonian who sat in the House of Lords, was named as Macmillan’s successor. In the US, the campaign for equal voting rights in the southern states came to a climax with a huge demonstration in Washington in August 1963 attended by 200,000 people and addressed by Martin Luther King.
Ted was fascinated by all these developments, but he had another big task in hand.
“Our second fortnight’s camp was to be held at Charmouth in August 1963. Once more, I travelled down to reconnoitre. The first choice was Beer in Devon but I changed my mind and selected a site close to Charmouth, about one mile east of Lyme Regis. It was not so ideal but not so remote. There were no assistants apart from Pat, who was in a caravan at the bottom of the hill. We took three patrols of six, three Guides, two Cubs and two Brownies. Two young men aged 17 asked to come. They went off as an advance party but they chose a site which I thought could be flooded, as indeed it was. The weather once more was grim and south-westerly gales brought rain and spindrift. The sea was only about 250 feet away at the bottom of a cliff. Despite this, the camp was successful and much was achieved. On Sundays, we went to Mass at the old Manor House at Chineock, owned by Colonel Weld, a member of a recusant family, who was Lord Lieutenant of Dorset and the owner of Lulworth Cove.”
“One of two Scouts fooling with sheaf knives was wounded. We had a trip by coach to West Bay, where I sent him to hospital. They did not go and Pat had the task of dressing the wound. Later, the boy’s mother complained of neglect to Gerry Breen’s mother, who replied that this was a calumny, as her three grandsons – Bobby, Francis and Eamon – were there and their father visited the camp twice. Gerry and his wife Josie actually stayed at the camp for a weekend. They found it spartan but their three sons had the time of their lives. I unfortunately suffered an attack of food poisoning and was very ill. Marian was terribly worried and took over the running of the camp for the evening and night that I was indisposed. She was a very capable girl of just 16 years and was my main assistant. The two civilian boys – Bobby Breen, who was to have a successful career as a football player and manager, and Keith Dawes – were a great help and joined in everything, including our two attempts at bridging the river Char. This we did watched by holidaymakers who were collapsing with laughter. The bridge was highly unstable. Gerry Breen, who was operating a cine-camera, was rolling around with laughter and could not cope with its simple mechanism. A Boys’ Brigade group camping south of Charmouth was compelled to abandon their camp and return home to Cippenham. Our tents were smaller but built to withstand stormy weather.”
It had been another successful two weeks, but there was a limit to what Pat and Ted and their family could accept. They decided against leading another long camp in the following years. No one else stepped up to accept the burden. After that, the 9th Slough was to be confined to weekend camps, though one week event was held at the Chilterns during late July and early August 1966. The Nijer tents, acquired in 1962, were still being used by the 9th Slough Cub pack more than 30 years after they were bought.
Pat and Ted’s children were growing up. Marian did her O levels in the summer of 1963 and entered the 6th form at St Bernard’s Convent. In 1961, Bernard had passed the 11-plus and won a place at Sir William Borlase School at Marlow. It was one of Britain’s oldest grammar schools and had a reputation as a power house of learning. It was a fantastic achievement, but it involved Bernard travelling by bus for more than an hour each way. Now an independent grammar school, Borlase was even then run as if it was an elite public school. It was a complete contrast to the life of Bernard’s contemporaries in working-class Slough. He adapted well. Asked by a Borlase sixth former what his name was, Bernard replied O’Sullivan. His interrogator, however, decided to call him O’Toole. He was to be called Toole by his peers for the rest of his time at the school.
Competitive pressures were mounting on Pat and Ted’s business. One was the rise of supermarkets that offered a wide-range of products at low prices and the growth of specialist national chains like W H Smiths. The other was the advent of a direct competitor no more than 100 yards down the Farnham Road.
“In 1963, a sub-Post Office was set up next door and our business rocketed. The proprietress was ambitious and transferred her post office to an empty shop, which was built a few doors away. She immediately put in tobacco and confectionery and, due to shortage of money, took on a partner. He, despite an embargo by the federation, obtained newspapers from a London wholesaler and we started to lose customers. The loss in trade was marginal and the opposition was in trouble over payment of bills. The Post Office auditors moved in and found that there was a large deficiency. The lady went to prison. The man took over the whole business. But Edwards could see the warning lights. Running an independent news agency was from now on going to be increasingly difficult. He decided to get out of our type of business and started to look for a buyer.”
The Scouts were going strong. It was just before Ted set off for their regular Friday evening gathering on 22 November 1963 that there was a newsflash on television announcing that President Kennedy had been shot during a visit to Dallas. While Ted was walking to Scouts with Gerard less than half an hour later, Bernard in uniform and riding his bike, stopped to say that it had been announced that Kennedy was dead. For Pat and Ted, this was the third shock of the year. The first was the death of Gaitskell. The second was the death in June of Pope John XXIII, successor to Pope Pius XII who Ted had met in Rome in June 1944. He had convened the modernising Vatican Council II. Ted immediately suspected dark forces were behind Kennedy’s assassination. Most Americans continue to hold that view.
The year that followed was to be a turning point for British politics and for Pat and Ted. The massive effort at St Anthony’s finally reached its climax. The work on the new church was complete, but the parish still had a huge debt. It was, nevertheless, an enormous achievement. It has also taken a toll on practically everyone.
“The magnificent church was opened in February 1964 by Bishop Leo Parker. Not completed, it had embryonic transepts. Brick walls built on the north and south sides of the altar remain because it was too ambitious a project. There was room for about 400 seated and ample standing places. One oversight was the acoustics which were appalling and sound equipment has proved costly. We were proud of the church. A small group of men made contributions of a few shillings each week and had amassed a tidy sum of about £400 which we wished to spend on church furnishings. Reidy, however, demanded £300 of it from the treasurer to buy what we thought was an inappropriate accessory. Gerry Breen and I spent the balance on buying acolytes, torches, a thurifer and a holy water stoop on a visit to Victoria in London. What was bought with our savings were large brass candle holders, designed for the old-fashioned altars, now discarded. They are used only on occasions on the steps of the sanctuary. Our furnishings are still in use at most Masses.”
Reidy’s health started to decline and he moved to Ipswich in 1969 to be replaced by Father Glanfield, a 2nd World War veteran with a more demotic style. Reidy died in February 1983. There was a further change at St Anthony’s in 1964. Francis Jenkins, who had previously been a deputy head of a primary school in Twickenham, was appointed headmaster to replace Malone. He was in some respects a curious character and would be seen in the school with a cigarette clasped in his lips. St Anthony’s was still overcrowded even by the standards of the time. It was not unusual for there to be more than 40 children in each class. Pressure eased when St Ethelbert’s Primary School, which was connected to the oldest Catholic Church in Slough, was opened in January 1967.
An enjoyable family high point of the period was the celebration of Mick and Lizzie’s Golden Wedding anniversary in May 1964. Hosted by Ted’s sister Lilian and her husband Henry (Arfer) Bruce at their home in Surbiton, the event was attended by all but one of the O’Sullivan brothers and sisters (the exception was Bill O’Sullivan, who was then living in the north of England) and their wives and children. The weather was splendid and there was an enormous buffet of delicious food. It was an opportunity for the next generation to get to know each other better. Further family gatherings were held at the Bruce home in the years to come and they were always eagerly anticipated by Ted and his family. There were reciprocal visits. Tom, Ted’s younger brother, Agnes and their five children would make noisy visits to Farnham Road. Pat’s younger brother Denis, his wife Margaret (Peggy) and their two daughters Gillian and Hillary would also come. The girls speak with pleasure of the time they spent with their six boisterous cousins in Slough.
The tide of British politics was turning. On 16 October 1964, parliamentary elections were held and the Conservatives lost to Labour led by Harold Wilson, a grammar school boy and a brilliant Oxford scholar who had been a cabinet minister aged 31. He was seen as the embodiment of the new era the 1960s seemed to express. Labour had moved away from doctrinaire positions and appealed to the electorate as the party of competence and merit. The Tories seemed old-fashioned and dim. The truth is that there was not that much difference between the two parties. Labour faced problems in government that were to be as intractable as they had been for the Conservatives. Ted was an enthusiastic supporter of Wilson and the new Labour government. Like many of his generation, he felt the Tories had been in power far too long. In the Eton & Slough constituency, however, the swing to Labour was reversed. Fenner Brockway lost to the Conservative candidate Sir Anthony Meyer, a hereditary baronet, by 11 votes after three recounts. The defeat is generally attributed to a reaction to Brockway’s support for the growing number of non-white people in Slough. Another factor might have been his age: Brockway was then 76. Meyer, a wounded 2nd World War veteran, was a moderate who refused to campaign on the race issue.
The following month, President Johnson defeated the Republican Party’s presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, a libertarian anti-Communist. In August that year, Johnson had escalated America’s war in Vietnam following an apparent attempted attack on US warships in what is known as the Tonkin Gulf incident.
A watershed moment was approaching in Pat and Ted’s life as important as when he was called up in 1939 and when they left London in 1947. Their children were making good progress at school and Catherine had started at St Bernard’s Convent in 1963. Pat and Ted were extremely proud of them. Marian that year joined the 6th form and was a prefect. But work was becoming increasingly challenging. Economic change was killing off traditional practices and many established businesses. An independent newsagency was once a lucrative investment that also provided a middle-class lifestyle for its managers. The 1960s were to see the death of this model. It was to be replaced by chains, supermarkets and owner-manager businesses which in most parts of the UK are today dominated by people of Asian origin, many of whom entered the UK from Uganda around 1971 when they were expelled by Idi Amin. Edwards decided to sell and the business was put on the market. The consequences were to be traumatic for Pat and Ted. In 1964, there was no such thing as redundancy pay. Employees had no job security and there was no protection in the retail business against arbitrary changes in the terms and conditions of employment. Ted was also disillusioned with the business he had entered with so many hopes in 1947. He had poured in his heart and his soul, but the returns were limited. The final blow came in early 1965.
“Three applicants seriously tendered for the businesses but refused to take any of the managerial staff but myself. I was offered the position of general manager. Edwards refused these offers but lived to regret it. Finally, Martin’s – which owned and ran a chain of shops – bought the business in early 1965 with me as manager. I lost morning staff and my two free mornings a week. My pay was adjusted downwards. These terms were intolerable. I was unwell, in part with worry, and gave notice to my employers. Since my home was connected with my job, this meant I was effectively homeless. Pat had seen what was coming. We applied for, and were awarded, a vacant council house on Oatlands Drive east of Farnham Road. Besides selling me, Edwards went back on many promises, one of which was to help arrange the purchase of my own house. I had six dependent children and was, for the first time, paying rent. I felt completely betrayed. Pat was bitter. My store was the only one in Edwards’ small chain consistently to show a surplus. Edwards called upon me while I was at Oatlands Drive. With tears in his eyes, he gave me £350 as a final payment for 19 years dedicated service. I was out of work and on sick pay. Doctor Milward, my GP, said I had for years performed the work of two men: a newsagent and a secretary of many voluntary organisations.”
It was a difficult time for the O’Sullivan family, though the younger children enjoyed the adventure of moving into a larger living space which also had an enormous garden. Some of the neighbours were interesting, to say the least. The older ones were perhaps conscious that they were taking a step down the social ladder. They were now residents of a council estate. Pat supervised the cleaning of her new home. There were compensations, however. One was the proximity of a giant playing field around Baylis House and its accompanying heated outdoor pool. The three younger O’Sullivan children that summer joined in huge informal cricket games involving the many children who lived nearby, some of them pupils at St Anthony’s. Ted’s first task was to get a job.
“Sandy Burgess, a director of the weekly Windsor Express newspaper, offered me a post at £1,000 a year in the circulation department and I took it despite the job consisting mainly of calling on houses to promote the new weekly Slough Express edition. It was suggested that it would lead to better things. The job offer was dependent on my being able to drive and it took me over a year and six attempts to get my licence at last. Gradually, extra tasks were laid upon me and I was working packing newspapers for three nights of about 10 to 12 hours. After, I was expected to perform my circulation tasks. The scream of the machinery affected my ears.”
Ted would occasionally call upon the services of his younger children. Gerard once accompanied his father on a promotional mission in Slough on a Saturday morning. It involved posting a copy of the Slough Express accompanied with a promotional letter through letterboxes.
Sir Winston Churchill died on 24 January 1965 and was buried in early February after the first state funeral for a non-royal person since the death of the Duke of Wellington in 1852. It was televised live while Richard Dimbleby, who specialised in royal events, provided a solemn but interesting commentary.
Social change was taking place in St Anthony’s parish. There were people of Anglo-Indian descent who had children at the school and attended Mass. But there is no recollection of any representatives of the growing number of Caribbean people who were moving to Slough for work, usually from London or other of Britain’s great cities. Most of them were members of Protestant churches and they enriched Sundays in Slough with their smart church-going clothes.
Before Easter 1965, Gerard was preparing for the traditional bob-a-job fund-raising week which involved members of the 9th Slough Scouts and Cubs doing chores in return for cash. Ted suggested that he might like to accompany a recent arrival in the area called Curtess Thomas. He was a year older than his fourth son and a new member of the Cub pack. Not one to defy his father’s authority, Gerard reluctantly called on the Thomas home in Waterbeach Road near Oatlands Drive at 9am on Easter Monday, the start of bob-a-job week. The door was cautiously opened by a Caribbean lady in a pink dressing gown. “Excuse me. I have come to do bob-a-job with Curtess,” said Gerard, tremulously. “Whaaaat. Come in! Come in!” He was escorted into the immaculate front room while the lady called up the stairs. “Curtess! Get up! You are supposed to be doing bob-a-job!” Gerard sat down nervously and suddenly heard giggling. Peering around the door were two sets of sparkling brown eyes in glowing young faces. A girl a year or two older walked in and smiled. Upstairs, life was stirring. Curtess eventually appeared and then immediately disappeared into the kitchen. He re-emerged with toast in his hand and started to rummage around in a cupboard for parts of his uniform while his mother howled her disapproval. About 20 minutes later, Curtess was ready. Gerard was later to say that he was a member of Britain’s first entirely integrated, black-and-white bob-a-job team. For three busy days, he and Curtess worked the streets of Slough. At one point, Gerard saw Curtess, a powerfully-built boy, being dragged along the opposite side of the road by a large boxer dog whose owner had decided needed to be taken for a walk. They became friends. Gerard and Curtess were to do bob-a-job twice together. It is often said that Britain was a more racist society in the early 1960s than it is now. But Gerard has no recollection of Curtess ever complaining about how he was received by people answering their door to the polite lad from the island of Dominica. In both weeks, Gerard won the prize for collecting the most money. But coming a close second on both occasions was Curtess. He had only lost because Gerard sneekily went out on his own for an extra day. The Thomas family comprised Curtess, his two brothers Clayton and Jimmie and their sisters Catilla and Janet. The three boys were all to be members of the 9th Slough. They were unusual since most of the Caribbean islands with a British connection had been dominated by Anglican and non-conformist Protestant churches. Dominica, in contrast, had originally been held by the French and its people were Catholics. In hindsight, Gerard recognised that Ted’s insouciant suggestion that he should partner Curtess had a wider purpose. When he was a boy, Ted had made friends with Tedros, a youngster from Abyssinia who had sat next to him at the Brompton Oratory. The experience had taught Ted that all were equal, regardless of skin colour. He was passing on this lesson in decency and humanity to his son. Ted detested racial bigotry and would point out that the increasing number of people from the Indian continent seen in Slough included Sikhs who wore campaign medals won in the Italian campaign. His enlightenment was years ahead of its time.
Edward Heath, chief whip in the last Tory government, was elected leader of the Conservative Party in July 1965. He was the first non-public school boy to lead the Tories. It was a sign that Britain was becoming a more equal country. The 1960s were now in full swing. The Beatles, a likeable boy band from Liverpool, had transformed popular culture. A Hard Day’s Night, the 1964 film which featured the band acting out a story interspersed with them singing some of their hits, is seen in hindsight as the forerunner of the pop video. Boys started to grow fringes and Bernard, previously a heavy user of hair cream, followed suit. Ted was unimpressed and still favoured the classic short back and sides. It was the beginning of the Mod fashion era. Young men wore light slacks, American cotton shirts and thin Italian ties. The twist dance phenomenon forever destroyed the traditional method involving men guiding women over dance floors. Everyone did their own thing and still do. American soul music epitomised by Motown was at its peak. Curiously outdated competitors for the hearts of young people of Irish descent were The Bachelors, an Irish trio much mocked by those at the cultural cutting edge. Gerard, in his final year at primary school in the autumn of 1965, was shocked when a poll among his class for the best pop group in Britain was won by The Bachelors and not The Beatles.
The Catholic Church could not escape the impact that rising incomes and better education was having on its people. Raised in the most fervently Catholic country in Western Europe, Irish immigrants found it difficult to pass on their devotion to their children growing up in irreligious England. As the 1960s progressed, church attendance started to decline. Vatican II, a reforming church council held in 1962-65 that Ted enthusiastically supported, attempted to fend off the tide of non-belief by modernising church practices. Out went Latin and in came the vernacular in all services. Younger priests attempted to inject elements of the rising youth culture into Europe’s oldest institution. Guitars and folk hymns were introduced. Priests began to fudge some of the more challenging Catholic doctrines: the ban on meat-eating on Fridays being one of the first victims. Confession, one of the church’s seven sacraments, fell out of favour. Artificial methods of birth control, banned by the church, were adopted nonetheless by Catholic married couples. Family sizes started to fall. In July 1968, Pope Paul VI finally ruled on contraception, an issue that had been opened up to debate by Vatican II. In the Encyclical Vitae, he reaffirmed traditional teaching. The church was lambasted by non-Catholic Britain and by many of its own members. The effect was a further decline in the Catholic Church’s authority in the UK. Ted was a moderniser, but utterly loyal to the faith he loved and had worked for all his life. He was responsive to the arguments in favour of contraception within marriage. Pope Paul’s ruling was of largely theoretical interest. Ted could ignore the issue. Others younger than him could not. He remained among a minority of Catholics for whom the church remained at the centre of life. Ted hoped his work would instill enthusiasm among the young people he served including his children. But it was a campaign that he was bound to lose. Those lacking commitment dropped out of church practice for practically everything apart from weddings and funerals. Probably no more than 5 per cent of baptised Catholics attend Mass regularly and only a fraction are always observant. But the ones who remained faithful are more committed. Curiously, those who maintain the faith most diligently in the 21st century are, apart from new immigrants from Poland and other Catholic countries, better educated and better off. Lower-income Catholics born in England are rarely seen inside a church. There has been, as a result, a revolution in the church’s finances. There are many fewer Mass-goers, but the collections have boomed. The church is smaller but probably more sustainable. It has also largely abandoned trying to interfere in the private lives of the faithful, though the teaching remains unchanged.
Ted was 47 in February 1966 and the future looked uncertain. But he was pleased when Labour called an election in March and won with an increased majority. Joan Lestor, the Labour candidate, defeated Sir Anthony Meyer in the contest for the Eton & Slough constituency. Bernard had a moment of fame during an election meeting in Slough addressed by Harold Wilson. A boy in the audience threw a stink bomb and a piece of glass hit Wilson in the eye. Bernard, who was standing behind the prime minister, leant forward and asked: “Are you alright Harold?” That week, a photograph of Wilson before the incident captured Bernard standing in the background behind him.Ted was still deeply involved with the Scouts. He was meticulously preparing for the highlight of his career as Scout leader.
“It was St George’s Day in 1966 when it became the 9th Slough’s turn to host the Thames Valley parade. Our president suggested we have a Boy’s Brigade Band. I wrote to Colonel Hood, then commanding officer of the London Irish Rifles, and asked him if we could have the pipes and drums of the battalion. I signed the letter ‘Rosie’ in brackets. He wrote back and told me I could have the band if I paid £17 for transport. They paraded at the Northborough Road recreation ground, where the Mayor of Slough and our president inspected us. I realised the dream of my life: to march in front of the pipe band of the London Irish Rifles in their full regalia. The local press covered the occasion. Pat Newbery, one of Ted’s oldest friends, played the organ to the packed church of about 400 Scouts and Cubs and their guests. The Pipe Major Pat O’Brien, a good friend from the 1st Battalion, paraded along the aisle as he piped the tune of Faith of Our Fathers, the haunting hymn of sacrifice and longing associated with the Irish Catholic diaspora. The sermon was preached by our chaplain. After benediction, no fewer than four receptions had been arranged: the Scouts in the hall, the VIPs in a classroom, the guests in another and the band in the crypt looked after by Gerry Breen with copious supplies of beer. After, the band beat retreat in the crowded playground now filled with coaches. The pipe major said that the band had never expected free beer at a church.”
It was a memorable moment. But Pat and Ted were looking to the future.
Exactly 32 years after leaving the Brompton Oratory because of economic pressure and fear of the headmaster, Ted would go back to school, but this time, as a teacher.
All my children
Teach us, Good Lord,
To Serve Thee as Thou deservest;
To give and not to count the cost;
To fight and not to heed the wounds;
To labour and not to ask for any reward,
save that of knowing that we do Thy will.
Through Jesus Christ Our Lord, Amen.
Prayer of St Ignatius of Loyola, 16th century
The summer of 1966 was both an end and a beginning for Pat, Ted and their six children.
Gerard started at Slough Grammar School, the first of three O’Sullivan boys to attend the school. The last long 9th Slough camp organised by Ted was held in Hambledon at the end of July. Ted had planned for it long in advance and failed to spot the camp’s first day coincided with the final of the FIFA World Cup competition, held in England for the first time in 1966. Excitement built across the country as England, captained by Bobby Moore, got through the qualifying round, beat Argentina in a controversial quarter-final game and then knocked Portugal out in the semi-final. But, while England came to a standstill on Saturday 30 July 1966 for the most important moment in British sporting history, around 20 boys aged 10-16 were preparing to set off to camp. One of the more enterprising lads brought a radio and reported on the progress of the game. England won in extra-time 4-2. It is unlikely that a Scout leader would organise travel at such a moment in today’s world. It is difficult to conceive that the departure date would not be changed. And it is absolutely impossible to imagine everyone turning up on time regardless. It shows how much attitudes have changed in four decades -and also how the fortunes of England and German national teams have changed over the intervening 40 years.
The participants in the camp were a select group: Bernard, Anthony Curtin and Genik Jaworski were senior scouts. The others included Curtess Thomas, the Anglo-Dominican who had accompanied Gerard on bob-a-job, Anthony Duff, Terry Wallace and Dermot Sarsfield. Richard, then aged four, came for the last days of the camp and would be first up in the morning, dressed in short trousers with Wellington boots and wearing a cowboy hat. He would entertain himself until breakfast by kicking a plastic football around the campsite and re-enacting the World Cup final whilst commentating on himself in the manner of Kenneth Wolstenholme who coined the immortal phrase in the last seconds of the game: “They think it’s all over. It is now!” Richard remembers precisely replicating Geoff Hurst’s reaction to the disputed third goal; first placing his hands on his knees and then finally acclaiming the referee’s decision to award a goal. It was a damp and occasionally dispiriting week. It was Gerard’s first full camp as a Scout and he remembers that the troop had greater difficulty getting out of their sleeping bags in the morning than the original 9th Slough contingent in Wales four years earlier. They didn’t seem to be as tough as they were. It all ended in a downpour.
Ted, meanwhile, was on the brink of a momentous change of direction. While still working in the Farnham Road shop, Ted had become a student.
“When Marian was approaching A levels, and partly in order to encourage her, I enrolled in 1964 for two subjects at Slough College: geography and economic history. I took my first examination for some 30 years and it showed. I only received an O level pass at A level geography but obtained an A level in economic history. I retook geography and passed. I obtained an A level in economics the following year. Earlier in 1966, I had written to St Mary’s College of Education, Strawberry Hill, at the instigation of Frank Jenkins, the headmaster of St Anthony’s. There was a grave shortage of trained teachers. I received a provisional acceptance. I continued my work at the Slough Express, but at the same time took English language and history at O level which I passed. Late in August, after receiving my O level results, I wrote to St Mary’s and asked about my position. They replied that I was already expected at the start of term in one week’s time. I spoke to Sandy at the Slough Express, who was not pleased. I pointed out that I had not taken my fortnight’s holiday and that, plus the current week, would give him three week’s notice. He released me. I owed him many thanks for giving me the job but I had more than just earned my keep. My night work had saved paying another a high rate and I fulfilled all my other obligations.”
St Mary’s in Twickenham is one of the loveliest colleges of higher education in Britain. It was founded in 1850 by the Catholic Poor Schools Committee to meet the need for teachers to provide an education to the growing numbers of poor Catholic children in the UK. Many of them were refugees from the Irish famine like Ted’s great-grandfather Daniel. In 1923, the college moved to its present site at Strawberry Hill.
“I started at St Mary’s in September 1966. There was a galaxy of courses on offer and most students took one hard and one easy option. I registered with Mr Moran, the head of geography, who suggested sociology as an easy second subject. I was, however, attracted to history and registered with that department. My subsistence grant was about £1,000 a year, which was also to cover the cost of books, stationery and other accessories. It was to be paid monthly. My daily travel, I would pay myself and would be reimbursed based on public transport fares at the end of each term. Once more we had erred on the side of honesty, since I did not claim for Marian as I was entitled to. She was studying at Digby Stuart teachers’ training college (now called Roehampton University) full-time but her permanent home was in Slough. There was no advice given to students about this matter and we were afraid we might be thought dishonest. I also worked all the holidays, when I should have received national assistance, as one student from Canada did. The biggest mistake was not buying a house, as mortgage interest would have been paid as well. Our rent was paid from the grant. So we attempted to live on my grant and on what was left of our meagre savings. I told Reidy that we would have to reduce our church contributions. To this he replied: ‘Do your best. Deus Provebit (God will provide).’ I still continued supplying Catholic newspapers, which I had arranged to have delivered to Bunce’s on Farnham Road. To this I added other self-imposed tasks: working around the church on Saturdays, which were now free. I continued with the Scouts since no person would take over. Bernard stepped into the breach and, now a Senior Scout, covered for me in any absences.”
“The other students at college were about 18 years old, nearly 30 years my junior. They helped make my three years at St Mary’s among the happiest of my life. A little extra cash was earned by being an AVA steward. After the first year, I was elected as students’ representative on the geography panel. Once again, coincidence reared its head. Moran was an old Oratorian, both as a pupil and as a teacher. He had served as a pilot with the RAF during the war. Despite my age, I was not considered to be a mature student because people classified as such were doingone or two-year courses, not the full three-year programme as I was. Consequently, I was compelled to take full physical education (PE) and religious education (RE) courses. One of the PE instructors was Mick Jagger’s father, who treated me as if I were the same age as the others.”
Ted’s children recall with some amusement his return to the gym. He in turn displayed his unhappy relationship with the youth culture of the 1960s by claiming he thought Mr Jagger looked miserable because of the shenanigans of his son Mick, lead singer of the Rolling Stones and a convicted drug user who had dropped out of university to be a rock star. Sir Mick is now one of Britain’s richest men. His father died in 2006 aged 93.
Ted bought a white Ford 100E and used it every day to get to and from Twickenham. In the morning, he would give Catherine and Gerard a lift to their schools which were on the way. The saving in bus fares was appreciated, but the car was unreliable, particularly in cold weather. Ted parked it in the road outside the house.
“In the early morning of Good Friday in 1967, a loud crash was heard from the road outside. The rear of the car had been hit and it would be a write-off. The perpetrator had flown. The police were called and the constable suggested that the miscreant would be injured. He contacted the local hospitals, with no result. Our insurance was for fire and theft only, so it was a dead loss. Our second-hand supplier disposed of the wreck and sold me a blue car of the same make for just over £100. Our money was disappearing fast. We hoped that no other misfortunes lay in store. We visited my parents, where my father called me for a private discussion. He said he realised that we were having a tough time. He held out a bundle of notes saying: ‘Here is £400, it is yours. Pay it back, when and if you can. I require no interest.’We were able to pay back £300 before he died 11 years later and my mother excused me the remainder. They were very generous. As well as my course, which included geography, history, education, PE and religious education, I had to take basic English and mathematics courses. The exams in the latter two were passed quite easily. There was an optional course in the use of television and basic art, drama and music. The pianoforte lessons came to nothing after the instructor was taken ill.”
Ted’s time at St Mary’s coincided with the peak of the 1960s student and flower power. It was exciting for some at the time, but what was taking place in British colleges and universities was a pale imitation of events in the US, where the anti-Vietnam War movement was building, and the strikes and protests in France in May 1968 that led to the resignation of France’s President Charles de Gaulle. Two more martyrs were provided to the student protest movement. In April 1968, Martin Luther King was shot and killed. In early June, Massachusetts senator Robert Kennedy, who was running for the nomination of the Democratic Party on an anti-Vietnam war platform, was shot dead in Los Angeles. In August 1968, Warsaw Pact forces entered Czechoslovakia to crush the reforming government of Alexander Dubcek who had become leader of the country’s Communist Party in January. Ted noted these events but was preoccupied with his studies. Teaching practice is at the heart of teachers’ training and Ted was quickly put into a school.
“There was teaching practice in schools for two months approximately each year. The first was at Holy Family in Langley and there I met the headmaster Mr Fearon who was seen by some as forward-looking. Several senior lecturers visited and were impressed. The second teaching practice was at St Joseph’s Secondary Modern in Slough. I taught geography mainly but was given the task of instructing civics to a class introduced as no-hopers by their teacher. These children, who were in their 4th year of secondary school, were due to leave after Easter or as soon as they reached 15, the earliest age children could legally get full-time work. After a shaky start, I captured their imagination by bringing in a wage packet containing a typical amount to be earned by a 15-year-old. I wrote the wages on the board and then deducted expenses to demonstrate that getting a job was not as attractive as they imagined. Soon, they were doing simple book-keeping which showed them the use of a basic education. Most of the class decided to continue at school beyond their original release date.”
The connection with St Joseph’s, where many St Anthony’s pupils were to go, opened the door to another family connection. Marian graduated from Digby Stuart in the summer of 1968.
“Partly as a result of my stay at St Joseph’s, our daughter Marian was immediately engaged as a teacher when she left Digby Stuart. She was over-qualified, having a distinction in her main subjects, plus a distinction in education. Just before she was due to start teaching, a letter from the Department of Education informed her she could return to college for a further year to take a Bachelor of Education degree. Any head was compelled to release her so she might complete the course. But Marian’s begged her to stay as one of his teachers was possibly due for suspension. He wanted Marian to take charge of science and physics. She agreed, but when her first monthly pay-check arrived for under £50, Marian was reduced to tears. Teachers’ pay throughout my short career was poor. At that time, it was abysmally low for the probationary year. Marian was eventually to get a degree, but not until almost 20 years later. There was something unfair about the system at that time. It was only in England that a degree was not granted to those who completed the full three-year teacher’s training course. Attendance at lectures was compulsory and the terms longer than at the universities. This anomaly has since been corrected and those doing three-year teacher training courses are now awarded degrees.”
“The final practice was at St Anthony’s. It was very successful, except for one incident. One of my Scouts played up during a lesson. I rebuked him later. He came back with his mother who threatened to report me to the education officer, which she knew might blight my future career. He left the Scouts. I was awarded a distinction in practical teaching. Jim Campbell, who had been a teacher at St Anthony’s until the mid-1960s, asked me to join his staff at Maidenhead but I did not relish the idea of working under a friend. I took the post offered by Jenkins. A record had been set which will probably be hard to beat. Our six children had been students at St Anthony’s and a parent had been a teacher.”
Ted finished his studies with a remarkable land use study of Slough, a work which a professional town planner would have been proud of. The thesis, perfectly typed and bound with many relevant photographs, was accompanies by an A3-sized volume detailing the nature of the factories operating in Slough in 1969. A copy of the work is now permanently lodged with the Slough Museum.
“To celebrate the completion of the three-year course, I took three of my colleagues for the day to Littlehampton in the Mark 1 Cortina car we had purchased to replace the blue 100E, which simply wore out. The party included Margaret Lyons and Margaret Osborne. We had a perfect day and a picnic was prepared by Pat, who was extremely tolerant of my behaviour. It was marred by a puncture on the return journey. During the three annual summer holidays, I had worked shift work at Technicolor. For this I received £15 a week. Night work was tedious but, otherwise, it was not bad.”
The end of Ted’s student years coincided with the landing of a US moon mission in July 1969. It had been a wonderful three-year spree, but it was time to get back to work. Ted was returning to the front line, but this time as a teacher. Starting a new career as a primary school teacher in your 51st year is a challenge few would choose. It is doubly demanding when those in your care are the children and grandchildren of close associates and friends and two are your own sons as well. Ted – an ex tailor’s salesman, front-line infantry colour sergeant and former businessman – readily accepted the challenge. It was as if he owed the world twice as much as everyone else. Deep inside, he knew that if there was any reason why he was spared while so many of his London Irish friends died almost 25 years before, it was for him to help take their place as father, leader and teacher. This was not a career choice. It was Ted’s destiny, his magnificent obsession. But it would have been impossible without Pat’s support. She had by then started work full-time. Her financial contribution was essential.
“I joined the staff of St Anthony’s in September 1969 as class teacher with special responsibility for games and PE for which there was no remuneration since I was a probationer. This responsibility was quickly transferred to a young teacher who claimed to be a specialist. A colleague was Mike Twomey, whom I worked with at Holy Family. My first class had about 38 boys and girls. They were of mixed ability but quite easy to deal with as I appeared to be able to amuse as well as teach them. The classroom was one of two which had been made from the former playground shelters. It was badly in need of exterior decoration. The roof was leaking and most of the glass was either shattered or cracked. Volunteers from among the parents of both classes were sought to clean it up. Father Glanfield, the parish priest, supplied the money for the necessary materials. Each Saturday, a group of volunteers worked with a will to improve the dilapidated buildings. Father Glanfield employed professional glaziers to repair the windows. At the end of three weeks, there was a complete transformation. The head gave me money to purchase net curtains, which were draped around the windows. The children’s work responded to the improved environment.”
“When I joined the school in 1969, Stephen was in his final year at St Anthony’s and in Twomey’s class. By popular vote and the unanimous acclaim of the teachers, he became head boy. He was called upon to make public speeches before the whole school. Stephen passed into Slough Grammar in September 1969 where he joined Gerard. Pat, who had borne the strain of eking out our small allowance and had been a full-time mother and housekeeper for more than 22 years, now added to her burden by taking a full-time occupation. She was to hold down an onerous position in the wages department at Cooper’s Mechanical Joints in the Slough trading estate. Pat is extraordinarily numerate and she was a reliable member of the company’s accounts team for more than a decade.”
The late 1960s were a fascinating moment in British post-war history. In 1968, 1 million children born in the baby-boom reached 21. They were an irresistible force for change and Britain’s leaders were ready to make it happen. Roy Jenkins, Labour’s Home Secretary, was a liberal rather than a socialist and he focused on legislation that still echoes. Divorce laws were relaxed and homosexual acts, performed in private by consenting adults aged 21 and over, were de-criminalised. Abortion was legalised. Restrictions on what could be said and depicted in films and on the stage were lifted. Rules governing pornography were eased. The BBC reflected the changes and often played a leading role in testing the limits of public taste. The ground-breaking comedy series ‘Til Death Us Do Part featured a working class family in the East End of London in which swearing was frequent and racial and other prejudices depicted as a way of discrediting them. Television plays were screened at peak hours that explored a host of forbidden topics including extra-marital sex, family breakdown and abortion. The Labour Party was against capital punishment though a final ban on executions was only effectively approved by parliament in the 1980s.
There was a reaction. The churches and conservatives of all parties lamented the collapse of traditional morality and denounced the sexual permissiveness the BBC and others seemed to be encouraging. In 1963, Mary Whitehouse, a teacher and conservative Christian, emerged as the spokesperson for those wanting to reverse the tide. She was to be an influential figure who had an impact on the BBC, though she was also regarded as a figure of fun by young people whose principal complaint was that the permissive society was not yet permissive enough. Pat and Ted were pulled in two directions by the changes. They knew that divorce laws that prevented the humane dissolution of a failed marriage made no sense. They also recognised that artificial means of birth control were bound to be used, even by faithful Catholics. But they disliked the breakdown in discipline and respect the changes of the 1960s seemed to entail. Long hair was a particularly hateful manifestation of the times. Pat and Ted were also faithful Catholics and accepted, though with varying degrees of enthusiasm, the church’s reaffirmed teaching about birth control and divorce. In hindsight, the principal concern was for the future of their children. Middle-class parents appeared to be more relaxed about the behaviour of their offspring and, perhaps, could afford to be. Pat and Ted, living on a council estate in Slough and deeply conscious of how hard it was to make progress in a country where class still mattered, could not afford to be similarly indulgent. But there was nothing exceptional in their reaction. Most British parents were engaged in a form of guerilla warfare with their children about a host of what now appear trivial issues: length of hair, clothes, music, sexual behaviour and experiments with alcohol and drugs. It was a long struggle that was to be won by the children. Parental authority, which had been almost absolute at the start of the 1960s, was decisively and permanently broken by its end. Britain and other Western countries are still struggling with the consequences.
The most significant change was in the role of women and girls. Reforms largely drawing inspiration from the US were abolishing distinctions between the way boys and girls were educated. At the start of the 1960s, the assumption was that girls were intellectually inferior to boys and that their proper destiny was to marry and have children. Many bright girls were actively discouraged from going to university and pushed towards nursing and teaching. They were banned from playing contact sport on the grounds that it might damage their wombs. Even by the end of the 1960s, boys outnumbered girls by more than three-to-one in British universities. Most girls expected to be married by the time they were 25. So there was no surprise when Ted’s beautiful and talented eldest daughter Marian announced in 1969 that she had fallen in love and was going to get married. She was 21.
“Marian married in January 1970 at St Anthony’s. It was a grand affair. About 100 attended the sit-down dinner at St Anthony’s parish hall. Marian and her husband Terence (Terry) McLain made an extremely attractive couple. I had the responsibility of giving away the bride and making the traditional speech at the wedding breakfast. Terry, a product of Slough Grammar who had a geography degree from University College London, was an executive in the IT industry. He was then working in the US with Control Data, the computer firm based in Minnesota. After the wedding, they left for Washington DC, where they were to live before moving to Minneapolis.”
UK Prime Minister Harold Wilson called a general election in June 1970. The opinion polls suggested a clear win due to signs that the economic problems that had dogged his government were coming to an end. The result was a startling shock. The Conservatives under Ted Heath secured a 31-seat majority. The public was increasingly worried about inflation and Heath had made it a central issue in his campaign. Wilson had come across as complacent. But there was also boredom with Labour which had delivered less than many expected. The forced devaluation of sterling in November 1967 had been seen as a startling policy U-turn which seemed to have an impact on Wilson’s reputation for competence similar to that experienced by Prime Minister John Major when the UK left the European Monetary System in September 1992. Some say the narrow defeat was partly the result of the fact that, four days earlier, England had been knocked out of the World Cup in an amazing quarter-final in which a 2-0 lead was eventually reversed in extra-time by West Germany who won 3-2. It was a depressing moment for many Britons whose sense of inherent superiority had been bolstered by England’s World Cup victory against the same opposition four years earlier. Some argue that the ensuing demoralisation was one of the reasons for the UK’s failings in the 1970s.
Later analysis showed that a more decisive factor in Heath’s surprise 1970 victory had been voters attracted by the rhetoric of Enoch Powell, a Conservative MP for Birmingham who had denounced the increase in non-white immigration. In a speech in Birmingham in April 1968, Powell quoted a Latin poem which said: “I seem to see the River Tiber foaming with much blood.” This appeared to confirm him as an outright racist and Powell was sacked from Heath’s shadow cabinet soon after. But Powell had established himself as the right-wing populist of the times. Dockers marched to parliament to support his call for restrictions on non-white immigration. The establishment dismissed Powell, but he won the approval of many white working class people, including Labour voters. Some suggest that Powell attracted no fewer than 2.5 million votes for the Tories, a figure more than big enough to explain their 1970 victory. Race and immigration had become a factor in British politics and still is.
The Heath government announced a fresh approach to economic affairs. Public spending would be compressed, private enterprise encouraged and trade union power confronted. These measures coincided with a slowdown in the US economy which was itself struggling with the legacy of excessive public spending, partly due to the demands of the Vietnam War which Republican President Nixon had been elected in 1968 to bring to an end. His solution was to escalate the war to bring North Vietnam to its knees and intimidate the Soviet Union, which was the principal source of weapons for Communist rebels and their North Vietnamese allies. The British government quickly encountered a familiar problem. In July, dockers went on national strike for the first time since 1926. A state of emergency was declared and the dispute was settled with a pay rise.
St Anthony’s in the late 1960s and early 1970s was fully embracing the modern ways encouraged by Vatican II and the enthusiastic idealism of younger priests. The goal was to establish connections with young Catholics, many of whom were falling away from the church. The conclusion was that the church should become more fun. There were some interesting experiments at St Anthony’s.
“Father Glanfield was a complete contrast to his predecessor and we became firm friends. One of his first innovations was to have lay-readers. The Dominicans were invited to conduct a mission and two young priests came for a fortnight. Their enthusiasm and the novelty of their approach brought huge congregations. There were some novel stunts. In one, Gerard was married to Catherine wearing Marian’s wedding gown in a simulated wedding ceremony designed to highlight the importance of the sacrament of marriage. Some visitors to the church at the time thought it was the real thing.”
Ted, now employed at St Anthony’s, was always ready to pitch in as a volunteer for fund-raising.
“Gerry Breen and I were always being approached to assist with some money-raising event on the part of one of the sodalities. It was suggested to Father Glanfield that a single event of a week’s duration could arouse interest and cash in one go. Thus was born the Farnham Fayre of 1972. A committee was created with Gerry as chairman. The local solicitor was treasurer. Other members were Seamus Hayes and Henry Maher. Father Glanfield was president. The programme was spread over eight days in June. On the first Saturday, we had a disco where the Fayre Maid of Farnham was chosen. On the Monday was a Whist Drive and so on through the week. There was a break on Friday evening to prepare for the Fayre itself. I painted large signs for months. They were erected on the Friday night. It culminated in a dance in the hall. The profit was in excess of £800 and Father Glanfield was pleased. It would become a major local event, although it would shrink gradually to the Fayre itself. In its time, the Fayre raised thousands of pounds for the church and the parish.”
“Finding volunteers was always difficult and particularly challenging when it came to work around the church and presbytery. Father Glanfield appealed for help to repair the roof of the garage. One Saturday morning, we sat on the roof and discussed the work. No others appeared. We secured the support of three companions who had been working on the grounds. With some technical advice from Jack Warner, we rebuilt the garage roof so well that it remains intact well into the 1990s. We also replaced all the guttering at Shepherd’s Hey.”
Work would sometimes be delayed by the intervention of Father Glanfield’s curate Father Murphy, a lovely Irish priest in his 60s. He had a tendency to distract workers with lengthy ruminations. Murphy eventually returned to Ireland. The last time many parishioners saw him was in a photograph in the Guardian accompanying a piece about life in Ireland. It captured Father Murphy, apparently asleep on a bench, with a pint of Guinness in his hand.
“After about three years at St Anthony’s, Mike Twomey left suddenly. A replacement for his class, which included Richard, lasted just one term. My colleagues Joan Jones and Dottie Merrigan took over temporarily. In the end, I was transferred to the class and set about preparing them for their grammar school entrance exam. In September, I was to accompany them into their new class, which would be the hall of the new middle school. The classrooms were still being built and my class was in the vast hall. After attending a course in the evenings at a school in Woodley, I decided to introduce the idea of no timetable. Children would be given his or her own programme of activities. This was hard work but the results were excellent.”
Richard recalls this period with some wonderment as he and other 11 year olds were encouraged to set up their own study timetables and work extensively on personal projects
In February 1971, the British currency system was decimalised. Many shoppers believed that retailers had used the moment to round up prices to the nearest full penny. Inflation was accelerating. British politics was entering period of turmoil. Postal workers went on strike in January. In February 1971, 1.5 million people went on strike over the government’s proposed Industrial Relations Bill which would have removed the immunities trade unions had enjoyed since 1908 from prosecution for damages caused by industrial action. Unnerved by the economic trends, Heath changed course, increased public spending and reintroduced a prices and incomes policy. Northern Ireland was becoming more violent. Nobody seemed happy.
In March 1971, what is now Bangladesh declared its secession from Pakistan. The Pakistani army was sent to snuff out the independence movement. Reports of famine were carried by UK newspapers. It inspired the former Beatle George Harrison to organise a fund-raising concert in August and record Bangladesh, a song designed to increase awareness of the crisis and raise money. It was an approach that was to be emulated 14 years later by Bob Geldof in Band Aid. These unhappy developments were signs that the 1970s were going to be a difficult decade. The UK signed the Treaty of Rome in January 1972, though accession would be subject to parliamentary approval. This was to be the only highlight of a bad year.
The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) went on national strike the same month and only returned to work on Ted’s 53rd birthday on 28 February. In Northern Ireland, 14 people were killed on 30 January, known as Bloody Sunday, when paratroopers opened fire during a demonstration against internment without trial which had been introduced the previous August. The six counties of Ulster that had been retained in the UK by the 1921 partition had suffered consistently from high unemployment. The government of Northern Ireland, which was dominated by the mainly Protestant Ulster Unionist Party, discriminated against Catholics. A civil rights movement campaigned against unfair treatment in the distribution of jobs and housing. Riots broke out in Derry in October 1968. The tensions erupted into the worst street disorders seen in the UK in modern times in the summer of 1969. In August, the government sent troops to Northern Ireland to restore peace and there was a temporary lull. The IRA split and its northern Provisional wing resumed the war against what it deemed to be an illegitimate British occupation. Internment had been badly applied and focused on Republican militants rather than their Loyalist counterparts. Bloody Sunday was a disastrous turning point for Northern Ireland and the UK. Thousands of young Catholics and Republicans flocked to the IRA. Thousands of young Protestants joined Loyalist gun gangs. The British government suspended the Northern Ireland parliament and introduced direct rule of the six counties by Westminster. Terrorism was rising.
In the Munich Olympic Games in September, 11 Israeli athletes were killed during a failed attempt to rescue them from hostage-takers demanding the release of Palestinians in Israeli jails. There were other extremists: the Red Brigades in Italy and the Red Army Faction in Germany. The following year was to be even more turbulent. There were strikes by gas workers and the NUM. During and after the October war in 1973, oil prices quadrupled. Inflation accelerated further despite the government’s prices and incomes policy. The economy started to go into recession again.
While the country faced the future with uncertainty and doubt, Ted was contemplating the prospect of promotion. St Anthony’s headmaster Jenkins was due to retire in early 1974. Applications were invited and Ted threw his hat into the ring. There could have been few more impressive biographies. A seasoned businessman, administrator, front-line soldier and volunteer who had built parts of the facilities of the parish with his own hands, Ted had excellent academic credentials including distinctions and a proven record as a teacher. He had also just completed his degree course in the Open University, a distance-learning college launched in the 1960s. There was only one deficiency, and it was to be decisive. Ted had only been a teacher for three years. He got to the final shortlist of three but didn’t get the job. Ted could not hide his disappointment. He was convinced he could do a better job than anyone and his passion for the community that the school served was unmatched. Inevitably, there was a feeling that, aged 55, he was considered to be too old for further promotion. Today, he could have argued he had been discriminated against on the grounds of his age. In 1974, such ideas were alien. The future was youth. Maturity, however valuable it might be, was out of fashion. The attitude was compounded by the economic environment in the UK at the time. A depression caused in part by the oil price rises of 1973/74 had led to a sharp rise in unemployment. The government was short of money. For many employers, the solution was to lay off older workers in favour of younger ones. Ted felt the rejection deeply, particularly after his decades of devoted service to the parish. But it was not in his nature to let setbacks linger. And despite the age difference between him and the younger members of staff, Ted tried to get on with everyone.
“I was to make many lasting friendships with the younger staff, in particular Mary Bridin-Fyffe, the daughter of a lecturer at St Mary’s, Alan Dewhurst, son of a famous surgeon and Denuta (Diane) Leduchowicz, who had been at St Anthony’s with Catherine.”
Mary Bridin-Fyffe reflected on her days with Ted at St Anthony’s in a letter she wrote in January 2008.
“I remember with great fondness those days when there was so much laughter due mostly to Eddie’s irrepressible sense of humour,” she said.
Ted specialised in word play and puns. Invariably, the punch-line would be delivered with a raising of the eyebrows and a clearing of the throat. He loved using spoonerisms and would often revert to Cockney rhyming slang. “Where’s my titfer (Tit-for-Tat – hat)?” and “Mind your plates (Plates of Meat – feet)”.
Ted was also coming to terms with a new headmaster and a new regime.
“The new head took over at Easter in 1974. He called in Her Majesty’s Inspectorate (HMI) just before the summer break but we did not hear the result. There seemed to be some problem. In September, rigid timetables were set down and a new mathematics book was issued to the lower classes. These did not work and the school’s mathematics would suffer as a result. The senior class teachers suggested going back to the old text book. The children, as a result, once again started making progress. I was given an extra task of coaching a class in mathematics. They had suffered under the experimental system. It had been a complete waste of money. In reality, it was the fruit of an opportunistic sales effort by the book’s publishers. They had arranged with the local education office to talk about the new ideas in the book. But they employed high pressure salesmen, not lecturers. St Anthony’s was not the only local school to order a complete set.”
Ted, as his methods suggested, was by no means a conservative when it came to teaching. But he had a good idea of what worked and what didn’t. He had been an instructor in the army dealing with young men of varying competences. Some were effectively illiterate. He had also raised six children and accepted the responsibility of caring for up to 40 young people in the Scouts. Ted thought some of the practices being introduced in the early 1970s were foolish and damaging.
“There were innovators in education everywhere. It seemed the educational establishment was trying to find a way to teach children without hard work. But the fact is that teaching is hard work. The only way was to try to stimulate each child by as much personal teaching as possible. Instead, teachers were forced to adopt miracle systems that promised to make it all easier. The initial teaching alphabet (ITA) system was brought in. This was supposed to be a starter programme for teaching children to read. It entailed them learning a phonetic alphabet in which the spelling of sounds was consistent. It had been tested elsewhere, but not at St Anthony’s. The result was that children who had difficulty learning an alphabet of 26 letters were confronted with one of about 52 letters. After they had mastered that, they would have to unlearn it before they went on to normal reading. ITA did not help those with difficulties but it wasted up to three years of the normal and bright.”
The ITA revolution was quickly abandoned. It was an embarrassing fiasco. It was not the first time Ted witnessed the damage done by those in authority imposing foolish plans on people serving on the front-line. But there were good things too.“The best innovation was the personal timetable and constant one-to-one interaction with pupils. It was effective but it added hours on to one’s working day. Often, people would look for me in my classroom and could not see me as I was working with a child at his or her desk.”
Ted, nevertheless, was eager to introduce changes that seemed to work. He taught geography by combining the disciplines involved in the meaning of elevation with art. His children produced relief maps which the headmaster admired so much that he took them with him to show what his school was doing. Literacy and handicrafts were combined to produce signs with path names set in metal scrolls that were used in the school’s grounds. Two wood lecterns and racks for hymn books were built for the church. Woven banners to be used in church processions were produced. Ted’s class made school house badges out of wood and signs for the Farnham Fayre. They erected a greenhouse for the school garden, which the children would help tend, and dug a pool. A weather centre was built where thermometers and rain meters were kept for the children to measure changes in the climate. Ted was his element in the classroom. One of his tricks was to demonstrate the law of gravity by standing on his head. Keys and coins would tumble out of his pockets to the children’s hilarity.
There had been a fresh reform to the Buckinghamshire education system. Children were to stay at primary school for a further year and only leave at the age of 12. This entailed setting up a middle school for children aged nine and above. The idea was to create a transitional stage that would prepare them better for the challenges of secondary school. It was another well-meaning innovation that ultimately did not succeed. Ted was selected to be the lead teacher in the middle school system. He also had the unusual experience of teaching two of his sons: Stephen and Richard. Stephen went to Slough Grammar in 1970. Richard had joined St Anthony’s in 1967 and was to be Ted’s companion on his daily car journeys to school from September 1969 until he in turn left for Slough Grammar in 1974.
“One of my greatest pleasures was teaching my youngest son. Richard was bright and a great master of number. I would say I learnt more from him than he did from me. He would be an excellent head boy like his elder brother Stephen. All my sons were also team leaders in games. I was extremely proud of them.”
Richard O’Sullivan remembers vividly the time he was Ted’s pupil. This would involve coping with the inevitable challenges caused when your dad is your teacher. Ted dealt with the rare moments when Richard’s concentration would stray with his trademark wit:
“Wait until I get home to tell you father,” Ted would say. You had to laugh.
Richard further recalls a sense of competition between father and son on learning matters during this period. This thirst for knowledge, inculcated by Ted, remains to this day, and Richard would later refer to his father as “the human internet”. Even as Ted physically aged, Richard would continue to be enthralled as he listened to his father debating historic and theological matters. Now the facts could be rec-orroborated easily and invariably his father’s version proved to be correct.
Bernard had started work at Instone & Ashby’s, an entertainment equipment and service company based next door to the O’Sullivans’ old home on the Farnham Road. Bernard bought the company in 2006. Catherine left school in 1970 and started a career in finance. Gerard did his A levels in 1973 and was accepted at the LSE. He remembers that his grades were disappointing and expected to go to Aberystwyth in west Wales. Ted suggested that he might still make it to the LSE and wrote a letter to the college to ask them to think again. Gerard had won a three-week travel scholarship to Czechoslovakia in the summer of 1973. When he returned, he found that the LSE had decided to accept him despite his weak A level performance. It was just another example of Ted doing as much as he could for his children. One of the benefits of teaching was long holidays. Ted seized the opportunity to fulfill his dream of visiting Ireland.
“The highlights of the year were our holidays. Camping appealed and we had two tents we could use. In the summer of 1970, we set off on our first long-distance camping holiday. We began by camping in England and Wales and crossed to Ireland by ferry to Rosslare. We travelled to Tramore to visit the Hayes family who were St Anthony’s parishioners and then made our way through Limerick to Shannon where we picked up Catherine. We then started to make use of Ireland’s abundant bed and breakfast facilities. In our first visit, we explored the Burren countryside of Clare in the far west and County Kerry, from where the O’Sullivans originated.”
Pat and Ted wanted to see more. They bought a good second-hand, frame tent which had two bedrooms and a canopy.
“The following year, our overloaded Cortina picked up Stephen from his Army cadet camp near Portsmouth and slowly we progressed to Fishguard via Cornwall and Wales. We made our way to the west and discovered paradise, although it was often very wet. Connemara in the extreme west was a place of wild beauty and the site of the Bens Mountains, Kylmore Abbey and Killery Harbour where the film The Field starring Richard Harris was made in the 1990s. It was the home of our friend Mary Little and her brother greeted us with a ‘drop of the cratur’, home-made poteen. It was a pale blue liquid which tasted marvellous. We camped on a spit of land jutting out into the ocean that could only be reached by travelling on an unsurfaced rocky road. Amazingly, some of the caravans there were being used by Northern Irish Protestants who had retreated south from the troubles. Mackerel and other fish freshly caught that day were often available at a penny each. It was also like going back in time. One evening after 10pm, I drove to the local shop called O’Shaughnessy’s to buy some milk. It was still open. ‘Good evening, Mr O’Shaughnessy, I hope I’m not too late?’, I nervously asked. ‘Too late! The evening’s yet young,’ was the reply. ‘What can I do for you?’”
“Accompanied by Richard, I went fishing with a reel of tackle and some hooks in Killery Harbour, Ireland’s only sea lough which is surrounded by misty fells. I managed to entangle myself with the line and embedded the hook in the thumb. It hurt badly and I had to find a doctor. A vet from Belfast, who was a neighbour at our campsite, cut the line and took me by car to Roundstone. The doctor was out but his wife accurately suggested we try the local pub. I showed my thumb with the large hook in it. The doctor told me to go to his surgery and he would be there in 10 minutes. He arrived on time and examined my injury. After a moment’s consideration of the options, he reached into his draw and brought out – not a surgical instrument – but a pair of cutting pliers. He snipped off one end. ‘This may hurt a little,’ he cautioned and pushed the remainder of the hook back the way it went in. The doctor doused the wound with iodine and wrapped a sticking plaster on my thumb. The charge was a pound. The treatment was quick, effective, cheap but excruciating. The Northern Irish vet was shocked when I told him how it had been done. ‘I wouldn’t do that to a dog without anaesthetic,’ he said with disapproval.”
Richard recalls these camping adventures with great affection, and the times when Ted would regale the sleeping campers with the immortal words “get up, it’s a gorgeous morning” amidst the faint whiff of Senior Service and the buzz of the Gaz cooker brewing up of the first of many cuppas. By the time, Richard and Stephen arose from their sleeping bags, the “glorious” morning had usually been replaced by a steady drizzle. Whether Ted was using a ruse to encourage early rising was never really clear.
Ted was also maintaining his connections with his old comrades in the London Irish Rifles. In a visit to Helston in Cornwall, he met by chance the half-brother of George Charnick, who had been E Company Sergeant Major and, finally, Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) of the Second Battalion (Charnick was a highly-decorated member of the second battalion with a DCM and the US Silver Star). Ted was a regular at the old comrades’ gatherings at the Duke of York’s barracks on the King’s Road in London which took place on St Patrick’s Day in March and Loos Day in September.
“Few of my Battalion friends appeared. I was never to see George Charnick again (he died in 1981). Most died young. Their privations in Tunisia, Sicily and Italy did not lead to a long life. I’ll never forget them.”
Pat and Ted’s life continued and encompassed all the events the passage of time entails. A new generation was in the making in the US.
“In 1972, Pat went to Edina in Minnesota to visit Marian and arrived just after the birth of her first child, Kirsten, on 21 July. She was a beautiful blonde baby who was exceptionally tall, a characteristic inherited from her father Terry. She was followed two years later by Gavin and, in 1976, by Andrew. While Pat was in the US, I took Richard and Stephen for a holiday in Cornwall. They enjoyed the beach and the sea while I concentrated on the essays I needed to complete for my Open University degree. This involved a summer school course in Norwich in 1971. I completed the two-year course in the summer of 1973 and was due to take my final exams at Reading at the same time as Marian and Terry were visiting. At the end of their trip, I took them to Heathrow and saw them off. The flight was delayed by an hour. Later that day, I went to sit my examination for my course on education and society. I was given, instead, the examination on educational psychology. My last-minute revision had been for the first. I somehow completed the paper and discovered, later, that I had got my dates wrong. The education and society exam was the previous day. All my work for two years was now at stake. I wrote to the authorities and explained about Marian’s flight. They allowed me to sit the missed exam.”
Ted passed and could put BA Ed after his name. He was the first of his family to get a degree, though he and his children now have a total of five. In the summer of 1974, Ted borrowed a gown and went to his graduation ceremony at Alexandra Palace in north London. Pat and Gerard were there. After, Ted was photographed holding a rolled-up sheet in place of his degree certificate which was not yet ready. Gerard was then completing his first year of an economics degree and living in a student house in Swiss Cottage. His companions included Valerie Flessati, who was later to marry Bruce Kent, then the Catholic Chaplain at London University and a monsignor. Kent was to give up the priesthood in the 1980s and became a prominent figure in CND. He was a regular visitor to Gerard’s house in 1973 and 1974, though this did not seem at the time to be significant.
Lizzie and Mick O’Sullivan celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary at Henry and Lilian Bruce’s home in Surbiton in May 1974. Bernard, living in Australia, could not be there, but all their six other children came. As always, they competed with each other to tell stories and crack jokes.
British politics was in a complete mess. Panicked by rising unemployment, Prime Minister Heath changed course and stepped up public spending. He also imposed prices and income controls supervised by separate government departments. An attempt to end wildcat strikes was made and failed. With inflation accelerating, strikes increased. There were occasional power cuts as electricity workers walked out. The troubles in Northern Ireland were intensifying. The autumn of 1973 felt like the end of an era. War in the Middle East and big oil price increases signalled the start of a period of economic turmoil in the West.
But for the O’Sullivans, there was another memorable family celebration. Bernard married his fiancée Linda Griffiths at St Anthony’s on 27 October. The union was celebrated in a lavish wedding breakfast, attended by ten bridesmaids, and an evening reception in Stoke Poges village hall attended by 200 guests. Marian travelled from Minnesota for the occasion with Kirsten, who was then 15 months old. Linda was the eldest of the four daughters of Dilwyn and Pat Griffiths.
It was a happy moment at a challenging time. The NUM had successfully forced the government to concede a wage rise in early 1972 that made mineworkers the best paid workers in Britain. But inflation eroded their gains and the NUM leadership rejected the offer of a 7 per cent pay rise at the end of 1973. In February 1974, the NUM went on all-out strike. Heath declared a state of emergency and introduced a three-day working week to conserve electricity. He then decided to call an election on Ted’s birthday on 28 February 1974 to secure backing for his stand against the miners. The Tories lost 35 seats and Labour gained nine. Labour had the largest number of MPs, but not an absolute majority. Heath unsuccessfully tried to reach agreement with the Liberal Party which had increased its number of seats from six to 14. He resigned as prime minister and Harold Wilson was invited to form a government. He had to rely on the consent of minority parties including the Scottish Nationalists, Welsh Nationalists and Ulster Unionists. With inflation and unemployment rising, some wondered whether Britain was becoming ungovernable.
Next year, Pat and Ted went to Scotland, again camping. They reached Edinburgh and took the road north through Perth to Inverness.
“We stopped at Culloden Moor. We were in a small queue when we spotted familiar faces. Speaking in a loud voice, I started to tell Pat that John O’Sullivan was one of the leaders of the Highland army at Culloden. They turned around at the name. It was my sister Lily with her husband Henry and their youngest daughter, Marian. We knew they were in Scotland, but to meet at Culloden was another of life’s coincidences.”
In July 1974, Pat and Ted set out on their third and last camping holiday in Ireland. At their campsite in Roundstone, the weather was abominable and they retreated from the coast to Lough Key, near Boyle in Roscommon.
“We passed through Knock without noticing it and missed the shrine. Lough Key provided a sheltered haven and we were able to explore. One Sunday, we visited Carrick on Shannon and were stopped by the Gardai who were supported by a unit of soldiers with rifles pointed in our direction. ‘Your car number, please sorr,’said the Gardai officer. I had no idea what it was. Richard saved the day by calling out 108 YHT. That morning, there had been a mass escape involving some convicted for terrorist offences from Port Laois prison. At Elphin, we called on the presbytery to see Father Donnelly, who had been a popular curate at St Anthony’s in the 1960s. We knocked several times but all we could hear was the commentary on an Irish football game. Later, we passed through Sligo and visited the cathedral.”
Pat and Ted drove to Dublin and took the ferry to Wales where they visited Snowdonia. It was a huge journey, but they had seen many of the beauties of the British Islands. Pat had enjoyed the holidays, but was not as keen on the outdoor life as Ted, especially as the camping normally entailed several nights of sleeping with the benefit of just a ground sheet and also staying at camp sites with limited hot water facilities. In 1976, Pat, Ted and Richard went to visit Marian in Minneapolis, and travelled extensively through Wyoming, South Dakota and Montana with Marian’s husband Terry. This was the first time Ted had been outside the UK since leaving Austria in 1946. Pat and Ted loved every minute and enjoyed spending time with their three grandchildren.
Labour had called an election in October 1974 and increased its number of seats, but still did not have a parliamentary majority. Defeated for the third time in four elections, Heath was challenged for the leadership of the Conservatives. Moderate Tories were split and Margaret Thatcher, education minister in Heath’s cabinet, was elected in February 1975. It was to be a watershed moment for British politics. She was to win three successive elections, but was never popular with the British people. The Conservative parliamentary party finally lost patience with her leadership. She was challenged by Michael Heseltine, an MP representing Henley in the Thames Valley, during the Kuwait crisis in November 1990. Failing to win the requisite majority in the first round of voting among Tory MPs, Thatcher pulled out of the contest which was eventually won by John Major, a moderate Conservative who had lived in his early life in Brixton. This was all an unimaginable prospect in the spring of 1975 when many, including Ted, believed the British people would never elect a woman as prime minister. Pat, ever the wise one, said Ted shouldn’t put any money on it. Another big domestic event in 1975 was the first referendum in British history. It was held in June and the voters were asked whether they accepted the renegotiated terms of Britain’s membership of the Common Market. It was decisively won by the yes campaign.
There were changes at St Anthony’s which were to create challenges for Ted.
“At St Anthony’s Church, there had been frequent changes of parish priest. Father Norman Smith took over from Father Hazell, who was made a canon. Smith was to be with the parish for about three-and-a-half years. He was there when Bishop Grant officially opened the new middle school in July 1975. The middle school had a Christmas dinner for the staff at Beaconsfield on 21 December 1977. On our way back to Farnham Royal, we were diverted by the police through Britwell. We learnt that the old part of the school, which had originally been erected in 1940 and was then being used for St Anthony’s primary and junior schools, had been set on fire and extensive damage had been done. It had been exacerbated because the regular fire service was on strike. Emergency crews were summoned from local districts. Later, two of my former pupils were charged with arson and convicted. It was terribly shocking and depressing. But there was a positive. The insurance money was used and a brand new school was built to replace what had been destroyed.”
Ted was in his element in the modern facilities that the new middle school contained. He encouraged his pupils to paint landscapes and portraits – with some enthusiasts staying after school to complete their work — and produce pottery in the new kiln. Using the lids of redundant desks, the children created sign posts for the gardens that Ted spent hours of his spare time working on. He helped cultivate a new football field for the areas first competitive middle school competition. St Anthony’s, with Richard O’Sullivan in the team, were promoted to the first division in 1973/74. Another vivid memory was in respect of Ted’s sense of fair play. On one occasion he was refereeing a local derby between St Anthony’s and Farnham Common, during which he was constantly harangued by a member of staff from the opposing school. Ted reaction was merely to offer to hand over the whistle, suggesting that the other teacher could obviously handle the match with greater skill. Of course, his offer totally exposed the poor behaviour being displayed by a member of staff – Ted would never accept bullying.
The third generation was growing in number. In the summer of 1975, Bernard and Linda’s first child was born and named Bernard Graham. He was to be followed by Michelle Patricia, born in 1977, and David Edmund, who was born in 1980. Marian and Terry and their children moved to Brussels in 1978 and lived there until 1984.
“This provided another opportunity to travel. We set off early for Belgium one summer but it almost ended in disaster. Despite having just had a full service, the car broke down when the fan belt broke in the middle of the night near Kingston. An RAC mechanic repaired the belt but created another problem. As dawn broke, the car lost all power. After further RAC intervention, the car was restored to full health. But we had missed the ferry to Dunkirk in northern France. Instead, we crossed to Calais and drove from there to Marian and Terry’s house in the town of Waterloo south of Brussels.”
Future summers were used for more trips to Brussels and journeys further afield including the Ardennes and Paris. But it was not all fun. Ted was upgrading his skills.
“I entered courses and spent weeks at places like Missenden Abbey. I challenged the innovators and their impractical new ideas and did not see eye-to-eye with the adviser on primary education. One day, a young teacher brought specimens of her work to display. They were magnificent efforts on the part of her pupils and mounted on different coloured cards. Each specimen was a thing of beauty.
‘How many times did the child write this work to get it to look so good?’, I asked
.‘Several times,’ she replied.
‘But, the spelling is incorrect,’ I said.
‘Do you not correct the first attempt?’
‘Of course not. It would spoil the look of the work.’
‘Then you are reinforcing incorrect spelling.’
The adviser intervened. ‘Mr O’Sullivan, may I have a word with you?’
Outside, he raised his concerns. ‘Don’t you realise that you are upsetting that young teacher? Spelling is unimportant,’ he said.
‘If you wish to leave the course, you may go now.’ I replied: ‘I am quite happy to do that but if I see anything that appears to be wrong I must say so. Spelling is crucial and must be corrected or pointed out if wrong.’”
“On another occasion, the same man entered my class during mathematics. I overheard him saying to a child: ‘Don’t spoil the look of your work by writing down all that untidy working out. Just write it on any scrap of paper.’
I called him aside and said: ‘That is exactly the opposite of my teaching. I wish to see the working out, then I know how the child’s mind works.’
‘You wish me to leave your class then?,’ he said.
‘Yes please,’ I said.”
“I had taken a risk but got away with it as I was friendly with other advisers and would be accepted by senior county advisers. I went on an outdoor pursuits course in Cumbria. On the last day, six of the youngest men invited me to join their crew as coxswain, while they rowed the full length of Lake Windermere. At a final drinking session, the three county advisers said that they wanted to make me a headmaster even though I was in my late 40s. I had to tell them I was actually in my late 50s. ‘There is no chance for a man of your age obtaining a promotion nowadays,’ I was told. ‘People in their early to mid-thirties were being chosen.’ The county geography adviser asked me to join his summer school as a lecturer for a couple of weeks. I said no. I had sacrificed enough holidays.”
Harold Wilson had resigned as prime minister in March 1976 and was succeeded by James Callaghan, previously the foreign secretary. After a period in which the economy recovered, a new crisis began in 1978 when the Iranian revolution interrupted oil supplies and led to a fresh round of price increases. The UK and the economies of the West started to go into recession again. Inflation accelerated. The government’s pay policy guidelines were challenged and eventually destroyed in a series of public sector strikes in the spring of 1979. The government lost a vote of confidence in March and a general election was held in May. The Conservatives won a clear majority of the seats. Callaghan resigned and Thatcher became prime minister. Labour was to be out of office for 18 years. The Conservatives focused on halting inflation. Tight fiscal and monetary policies were introduced which caused unemployment to rise to 3 million in 1981.
There were changes in Pat and Ted’s family. Gerard married Heather Rabbatts in June 1980. Richard completed his A levels the same year and started a mathematics degree at Lancaster University. In 1981, Stephen accepted a generous invitation from Marian to stay with them in Waterloo. There, he passed his A levels at the appropriate level and secured a place to study French in Southampton. Ted was also observing the comings and goings at St Anthony’s.
“Father Fennel arrived and remained but a few months. During much of his tenure, I was in Wexham hospital where I had been admitted because of prostate problems. There were two results from my illness. The Catholic newspapers weren’t supplied and the gardening stopped. Since there were no volunteers, the church finally made a decision which could have come years earlier. It paid contractors to do it.”
“Father Nightingale replaced Father Fennell. He was an old Scouting acquaintance and we were quite friendly. Nightingale decided very early in his stay that a presbytery should be built adjacent to the church and that Shepherd’s Hey should be sold. It had been targeted by thieves and the lead on its roof was stolen twice. A new modern house was built onto the church and direct access provided to the first floor of the sacristy. After about a year, many faults would appear because of poor workmanship. Nightingale did not remain long. Father Richard Moroney took over the parish temporarily while the bishop looked for a replacement. Canon Hazell returned.”
“In 1979, St Anthony’s headmaster Mr Edmondson took a post unexpectedly at Maidenhead. Christine Harlow took over and I was temporarily appointed as her deputy. The process took some time and I was urged by Mr Jenkins and my old friend Jim Campbell to apply for the job. I had been too old at 54 so I was certainly over the top at 60. I did hope to be confirmed as deputy but did not submit my application to the governors. Florence Boland-Lee was appointed from St Ethelbert’s primary school. I enjoyed my stint as deputy, and particularly assemblies where scope was given to my innovations.”
“Bernard and Linda, who lived in Slough, were sending their children to St Anthony’s. During my last year, Bernard junior was a member of a class to which I gave a lesson in mathematics each week but he was never old enough to join my normal class. His sister Michelle was in a junior class and David would join the school later. Richard graduated in the summer of 1983, and a year later Stephen graduated and, after six months at the European Commission, began work in the Export Credits Guarantee Department (ECGD) in London where he was a specialist in sub-Saharan African economies. For six months, he lived with Gerard, Heather and their son Euan, who had been born in January 1983.”
Stephen gave up the civil service and qualified as a teacher of English as a foreign language. He worked initially in Spain and then took a post in Ankara where he met his future wife Amanda, also an English language teacher. They worked for a year in South Korea before taking jobs in Dubai where they lived for four years. This was followed by a return to the UK. They now live in Loughborough.
In April 1982, the Argentinian government ordered the capture of the Falklands Islands, a British possession in the south Atlantic. The UK dispatched a task force to recapture the island, which was achieved in June. The economy was recovering and Prime Minister Thatcher benefited from the patriotic wave that swept the UK after the Falklands victory. The Labour Party, meanwhile, was collapsing. Callaghan resigned as party leader in 1980 and was succeeded by Michael Foot, a veteran left-winger. Constituency parties were dominated by radicals who denounced the previous Labour government. Leading Labour founded the Social Democrat Party (SDP) in 1981. The new party won a series of by-elections and formed an alliance with the Liberals that seemed set to displace Labour as Britain’s main opposition party. Their principal achievement was to split the anti-Conservative vote. In elections in 1983, the Conservatives won more than 30 seats and secured a majority over any other party of 144 seats. Labour lost 55 seats and won little more than 500,000 more votes than the SDP-Liberal alliance. Foot immediately resigned as Labour leader and was replaced by Neil Kinnock, a Welsh MP associated with the left. He attempted to steer Labour to the centre ground but was fated to lead the party to defeat in elections in 1987 and 1992. Tony Blair succeeded Kinnock and was to become prime minister after a crushing victory over the Tories in May 1997.
There were many changes in Pat and Ted’s family and he summarised some of them in his memoirs.
“Marian, Terry and their family returned to Minneapolis in 1984. Marian completed a degree in media and communications. After working for a spell in local television, Marian secured a good position with Minnesota Mutual, the state’s largest insurance company. Catherine was then living on her own and had bought a pretty little new house at Southwater, near Horsham, the garden of which I redesigned and worked upon during frequent visits. During this period she met Roger Gibbons and they were married in the summer of 2008.”
The end of Ted’s working life was approaching. Pat retired from Coopers when she reached 60 in 1979 but continued in part-time positions for a couple of years.
“In July 1984, at the age of 65 and five months, I retired from teaching. A ceremony was arranged and I was supposed to be unaware but I realised something was up. A photographer came from the local paper and my class and I posed for a group photograph. At a ceremony attended by the school and the parish, I was presented with various retirement gifts. At Alan Dewhurst’s house in Iver, I was presented with a watch and he staged a ‘This is Your Life’ sketch. I was given a red book, in the style of the television programme.”
It was another end, but also another beginning. Fifteen years at St Anthony’s had passed in what seemed to be a flash, but the school and the parish had been enriched permanently by Pat and Ted’s uncounted acts of labour and love. There had been many joys, a few setbacks and some disappointments. Ted believes he should have been headmaster and would have been a great one. He was right. But Pat and Ted could consider with satisfaction the achievements of almost 40 years serving the parish and its people.
In his memoirs, Ted acknowledges the work of a generation of parish priests who had dedicated their lives to the church and the service of the Catholic people Slough and Farnham Royal.
“During our time at St Anthony’s parish and school, we had enjoyed the friendship of all the curates, working with them on many projects. In particular, I recall Father Oates, Father Oswald Baker, Father Brendan Peters, Father Dominic Gilhooly, Father Michael Donnelly, Father Peter Brown, Father Richard Moroney and Father Joe Walsh.”
And then there were the friends and partners in the work of the parish since 1947, the teachers and, above all, the thousands of children Ted inspired and educated. Pat and Ted always acknowledge they were just two among many who built a church and a school to create a community that was proud and productive. But their decades of service to the parish and its people, particularly the young ones, are exceptional.
Pat and Ted were more than special.
They were unique.
Finding Eddie Mayo
They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
From ‘For the Fallen’ by Lawrence Binyon, 1914
Full of energy and, in his opinion, prematurely obliged to give up teaching because of retirement rules, Ted restlessly sought out a new challenge.
It was soon clear that a long journey was the best antidote to enforced idleness.
“We planned an expedition by simply drawing a line across the map of north-western Europe. Being familiar with Belgium and a part of West Germany, we started at Ostend and continued with an eye on including the Rhine valley and Austria. Our journey began on 1 May 1985. We drove to Dover and crossed on the Belgian ferry to Ostend. We immediately encountered a snag: President Reagan was visiting Cologne, which was to be our next port of call. We adjusted our route and made for Koblenz. Above the hotel on a cliff was a castle. Castles would be a common sight along the lovely Rhine valley.”
“After breakfast, we passed along the southern bank of the river. At St Goar, there was a halt for a snack to see the Lorelei, a rock on the east bank of the Rhine almost 400 feet above the river. After following the Rhine for a bit, we crossed the river to Karlsruhe and travelled on to Augsburg where we stayed for the night. Munich was avoided but we took time to visit Dachau, a pretty town with no outward sign of the notorious camp where tens of thousands had been worked to death, tortured or murdered. The last time I had been there in 1945, the city had been nothing more than a ruin. We crossed the Austrian border and arrived at Salzburg, known as the Florence of the north because of its extraordinary beauty. The car was parked in what had been the mine workings for salt (salz) after which the town is named. The first thing we saw was the beautiful Catholic cathedral. The hills were alive with the sound of music. There was an orchestra playing outside and the bells were ringing. In the distance were the Alps, still covered in snow. Salzburg is a wonderful town where Mozart had been born and an annual festival is held in August that attracts music-lovers from all over the world.”
It was a reminder of The Sound of Music which Pat and Ted loved and the family saw together in a Slough cinema in the 1960s. They continued to the south-west. It was a return to places Ted had known during his 10 months in the army of occupation after May 1945.
“We passed under the Hohe Tauern, the highest mountain range in Austria. The motorway continued into Carinthia, Austria’s southern-most province where I had been 40 years before. I returned to the lovely villages I had regularly visited at that time: Annenheim, Bohdensdorf and Sattendorf. I was disappointed that a new road had been cut and I had difficulty in finding my way. From there, we went to Villach, a town I had passed through in 1945 on my way home to the UK after two-and-a-half years’ service overseas. It was also the scene of one of my last big responsibilities when I set up a hot food point for Polish soldiers returning to their homeland in the winter of 1945 (mentioned in the 2nd Battalions’ war diaries). We found a decent hotel. The waiter was very kind and served a good meal. My German, still lingering in my memory after four decades, was standing up to the demands of the journey.”
“We left Austria for Italy by the Tarvisio pass, the exact route the London Irish had used going the opposite way on the first day of peace on 8 May 1945. The road was exactly as it had been 40 years previously. In Italy, we avoided the Autostrada, preferring to travel on the magnificent roads built during the Mussolini era in the 1920s and 1930s. This would allow us to see the country and meet the people more easily. We passed through Udine, another town briefly seen in 1945 after the Irish Brigade had broken through the Gothic Line on the River Po, and travelled on to Venice. Here we parked by the Lido and took the waterbus through the canals to St Marks, a simply lovely place rightly celebrated across the world. We remained on board as we were worried about the car. We need not have troubled. The car was probably considered to be too humble to interest thieves. The canals looked decayed and compared unfavourably with Amsterdam, sometimes called the Venice of the north. They smelt too. We spotted the Britannia and the Ajax, a British frigate. The Prince and Princess of Wales were visiting but they kept out of our way.”
“The next stop was Padua, the home town of St Anthony and a major pilgrimage centre, but we did not stay long and headed for the small town of San Angellina. We spotted a restaurant and entered. We were the only guests and we were given a warm welcome. My Italian was returning but not equal to mastering the menu and Pat was taken to the kitchen to choose her own food. After a sumptuous meal, Pat retired. I joined a party of local notables, drank too much wine and conversed in a mixture of Italian and English. After sad goodbyes next morning, we made our way through Bologna and headed to Florence. It had started raining but we were able to look around the city and cross the Arno on the Ponte Vecchio. I had seen it only in wartime and briefly. Now I could study the city at leisure in the company of Pat. Our schedule was pressing. The next major stop was Rome, but we stopped on the way at Siena as darkness fell. We had a brief tour of the ancient city famous for its annual horse race. Following the Via Cassia we passed Lake Bolsena, glistening in the morning sun. At a Buonconvento, we had an excellent breakfast in a trattoria.”
“We entered Rome by the Flavinia Gate and, after a hair-raising tour of the city, stopped at the Hotel Gloria in the Flaminia district. We stayed there for three days. We took the bus to the massive Victorrio Emmanuale memorial and spent a day walking around the historic sites. The next morning, we took the bus directly to San Michelo. Crossing the Tiber, we walked up the avenue to St Peter’s. The basilica was closed as Pope John Paul II was giving a public audience in the Piazza. We joined a queue and the guards let us through the barrier. We found seats within good sight of the Papal stage which was covered by an awning. The pope appeared and the audience lasted about two hours. He addressed the people in about a half dozen languages.”
It was a poignant moment for Ted. In June 1944, then a 25-year-old Colour Sergeant, he had been selected from the Irish Brigade for an audience with Pope Pius XII in the Vatican itself. He recalls that the brigade pipe band had played The Sash My Father Wore, an anthem of the anti-Catholic Orange Order. Pat and Ted then left Rome and headed south. They travelled down Route 6 through the Liri Valley and over the River Rapido. The road took them to Salerno where the Fifth Army had landed in September 1943. They then cut eastwards towards Campobasso in the Apennines, another location of Ted’s wartime adventures.
“It was there that I had spent Christmas 1944 in a Franciscan monastery. We travelled down the valley of the Biferno which emptied into an artificial lake. We soon arrived at the little port of Termoli where I had landed in September 1943 under a heavy shell bombardment. The cobbled quay where I had run up to shelter in a hotel was still intact. But the port itself was now a crowded marina. We stopped in a cafe by the quay where a lady told me she remembered Irish Brigade soldiers quite well. She had been a little girl when we landed.”
“We started travelling north along the Adriatic Coast. The road crossed the River Trigno where the Irish Brigade had grappled bloodily with the German army in October 1943. There were many unhappy memories of my time there including the muleteers under my command who had been killed by shelling and Major Kevin O’Connor whose bodyguard I had been the night before he died. We crossed the river, following a route I navigated nightly before the Irish Brigade attack on German defences to the north. We passed through San Salvo which had been a German strongpoint in the autumn of 1943 and then went on to Cassalbordino. It was at this place that General Montgomery gave me 5,000 Gallaher’s Blues for my E Company riflemen. On a hill overlooking the Sangro was the Commonwealth Graves cemetery. We found the grave of Major O’Connor and many others, including Sergeant Hugh Donaghy MM, an old companion and an E Company friend. After displaying extraordinary valour, Hugh had been posted to the intelligence platoon for the Adriatic campaign. This was normally a far safer number than being a platoon sergeant in a fighting unit like E Company. The war did not spare him and he died on the Sangro. Leaving this sad reminder of the battles of the Adriatic, we passed close to the swampy area where my clapped-out Jeep nightly refused to budge until pushed by a small and very frightened quarter bloke, the nickname for a quartermaster sergeant.”
“We stayed at the Setto Belli Hotel and dined with the family that owned it. Next morning, we proceeded north along the beautiful coastal road and lunched on the promenade at Giulianova. After that was Ancona but we avoided Pesaro and Rimini. Our next stops were Modena, Carpi and Mantua (Mantova) where we were able to go to Mass and look around the old city. It was terribly wet, so we moved on to Verona and then Trento (Trent), the site of great councils of the Catholic Church at the end of the 16th century that launched the counter-reformation. After Adige, we crossed into Austria and stayed in Sterzing. At our hotel, I started to sketch the mountains in the fading light. This work was not the start of a magnificent portfolio. The oil-painting set I had received as a retirement present has seldom been used. I should have asked for water-colours. We made for Innsbruck and toured the city, which was picturesque. Taking the route crossing the border at the Scharnitz Pass, we came to Oberammagau. After a couple of hours, we passed into Unterammagau and along the romantic route towards Augsburg. It was past 6pm when we arrived at Stuttgart and we pushed on to Karlsruhe, which I had last seen some 40 years before. The next day, we halted at Zweibrucken and had our lunch by the Moselle. Crossing the river, we aimed for Trier (Treves) but arrived at Bitburg by mistake. The American forces were much in evidence, so we happily took a diversion and discovered a wonderful gasthaus in Brimingen. In the bar, we quickly made friends with the host and the few regulars. We treated each other and it was obvious that mutual respect prevailed. Like the places in Italy and Austria, most people we met wanted our friendship. We passed through Luxembourg and made our way through the Ardennes and to Bastogne, which we had visited many times during our visits to Waterloo. We were virtually on home territory. We passed on to Namur and Quatre Bras, the site of the preliminary clash between English and French troops before the decisive battle south of Waterloo in 1815. At Ostend, we boarded the ferry and made our way home. We had travelled 3,200 miles in about 19 days. It was a holiday of a lifetime. We loved Europe and it became obvious, as we progressed, that Europe, or at least its people, loved us.”
There were to be many further adventures. Another trip to Minneapolis, a journey to Tunisia with his daughter Catherine and her future husband Roger Gibbons, and to Dubai to visit Richard who was working as a finance manager with BT. Ted wrote a journal of their three weeks in the UAE and he could hardly conceal his wonderment at the adventure of visiting all seven emirates. For a period of successive years from 1996 to 2000, Ted, Pat and Richard joined together with Marian, her husband Phil and young daughter Taylor on trips to Ireland, Italy, Japan, Cornwall and US/Canada. During these trips, Phil ran the Dublin marathon, and the Venice marathon. The challenge of cross cultural experiences were clear on one occasion when Ted tried to handle chop sticks as a modified knife and fork. The week before their 51st wedding anniversary in October 1997, Pat and Ted stood in St Peter’s Square in Rome to receive once more the blessing of Pope John Paul II. In June 1999, they attended the wedding of Gerard to his second wife Maria at St Gabriel’s Catholic Church in Tufnell Park in north London. In July of the same year, all his children and grandchildren gathered at St Anthony’s church for the wedding of Kirsten McLain, Marian’s eldest daughter, to Rick Romanin, an Australian from Melbourne. In blazing sunshine, the wedding party enjoyed a glorious wedding reception and breakfast at Stoke Poges House.
On New Year’s Eve 1999, Pat and Ted saw in the new millennium in the company of family members. Sitting up into the early hours, Ted led singing of traditional folk songs. In 2002, Pat and Ted took a week’s holiday in Cyprus with some of their family. That winter, they stayed at the home of Maria’s sister Teresa and her husband Frank in Culmore near Derry. Standing on the walls of Derry which had been unsuccessfully besieged by the army of King James II in 1689, Pat and Ted peered down on the Bogside, site of killings and other tragedies during the troubles including Bloody Sunday in January 1972. In the summer of 2003, there was another holiday in Wales. On a lovely August day, they travelled to St David’s Cathedral in Pembroke which Ted had first seen as a soldier in 1941 and visited again as a Scout leader in 1962. In the spring of 2007 at Bernard and Linda’s home, Pat and Ted for the first time met their three great-grandchildren: Jack and Lauren from Australia and Owen from the US who had flown with their parents to visit England.
Ted had suffered a minor stroke in 1991 and spent weeks in hospital and convalescence. He recovered, but never fully, and the stroke permanently affected his ability to walk. The degeneration was slow, but by the summer of 2005 it was obvious he needed permanent help. Pat and Ted were by then living in sheltered housing in Slough, and Ted moved into Oxford House on the outskirts of Slough at the end of that year. It had been found by Bernard and Linda who also organised for Pat to find a comfortable apartment in a sheltered community in Farnham Royal near St Anthony’s. Increasingly frail, Ted fell gravely ill in the spring of 2006, but he recovered against many expectations.
Retirement is a phase of life full of mixed emotions. The toils of work are over, but the mind invariably turns to the past rather than the future. Ted had made good use of his time since 1984, but still suffered regrets about what he might have achieved if only he had the opportunities, the support and the time. But that was not just true for him. It’s true for everyone. Pat, ever the pragmatist, would attempt to lighten Ted’s darker moments by reminding him that he might have been killed during the war.
It was a statement that Ted could hardly dispute.
In fact, Ted’s first close encounter with death had come at his moment of birth on 28 February 1919, two months before the due date. He had survived but his twin did not. His parents’ landlady Mrs Baker had noted Ted’s condition during the first months of his life and declared: ‘He is looking at the angels. You will never raise him!’ Ted confounded that forecast and many subsequent ones by refusing to do what was predicted and opting instead for what he believed was right.
Life is the most precious of all gifts. Ted loved life and was never complacent about what he had been given, something denied his lost twin and so many others he had known and loved. It was the least they deserved.
People born around the same time as Pat and Ted were members of what is now referred to as “The Greatest Generation” in recognition of the resilience and courage so many of them displayed. Their lives were among the most eventful in history. But they paid a huge price. Almost 300,000 Britons died in the World War II, twice that number suffered lasting physical harm and the majority were psychologically-scarred by the conflict. The careers and living standards of Pat and Ted were disrupted to an extent that none in contemporary Britain will ever experience. They were born during the slump that followed World War I, entered the labour force in the depths of the Great Depression, left their jobs to fight and then returned to work, in Ted’s case seven years later, often on lower real pay and in the same positions they had before a war none of them wanted or deserved. They faced shortages of affordable housing and had to help pay off the debts Britain incurred during the World War II. Their vacations were short and holidays were modest. They rarely took time off for sickness, were invariably cheerful and hated grumbling. Their pensions were modest and many, in their old age, wondered if the modern world and its excesses were worth the sacrifices they made.
Ted O’Sullivan had a remarkable range of talents, some of them largely unknown to people who were not close to him. His facility in French, German and Italian was, however, often exceeded by his desire to communicate with everyone from France, Germany and Italy he ever met. He was numerically competent, a capacity that made it possible to be an excellent small business manager. Ted was extremely well-read and would metaphorically devour half a dozen books a week. To the amazement of listeners, he would reach into his memory and pluck out a relevant classic poem and there was a lovely moment in the 1990s when he stood on a London Bridge and recited, in full and with relish, William Wordsworth’s Upon Westminster Bridge.
On one occasion, when he was almost 80, Ted was challenged to name the Shakespeare play that a passage selected from the bard’s complete work was read from. He got most of them right.
More than once he was heard to intone lines from Mark Anthony’s speech in Julius Caesar: “The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones.” It probably struck a chord.
Ted was drilled in some of the most celebrated works of sacred music when he was a choir boy at Corpus Christi in the 1920s and 1930s. He loved great operatic arias and thoroughly enjoyed the festival of London Welsh choirs at the Albert Hall in 2002 where Gerard was in the bass section.
Ted adored being tested in general knowledge and was a formidably participative viewer of Mastermind, the BBC television quiz show. A walk through the countryside would invariable prompt a lecture on geology and history. Ted was eternally curious and wanted to learn as much as he could. He was also generous in sharing the knowledge he acquired in a conversational mode for which he was well-known. Talking was the means by which developed his thoughts and he could do it for hours.
In an era where money appears to matter more than anything else and merit is measured by the size of your house, the newness of your car, the expense of your holiday and the scale of your investments, Ted might have appeared to have been unsuccessful. He had practically no personal belongings, though he liked to look smart, and his car was always second-hand. Holidays were carefully-budgeted. Pat and Ted bought a house, their council home in Slough, late in life. All this was at least partly by choice.
Ted was an idealist who placed little value on material things. Having six children, devoting the majority of his spare time to voluntary work, going to college and living on a student grant for three years in his middle years and becoming a primary school teacher is not a combination from which multi-millionaires are made.
But fate also played a part. Ted was born into a large and, by 21st century standards, poor family. Having an Irish name and being Catholic was a distinct disadvantage in London in the years before 1939, but his talents secured a scholarship to a decent school and a respectable job. If there had been no war, there is no telling the heights Ted – smart, efficient, hard-working and sociable — might have attained in the retail industry. If he had stayed in the army after 1946, an opportunity that was offered and rejected for marriage and family, he would have been commissioned and might have ended his career as a regimental commander or higher, though Pat noted that he might well have died in the Korean War. If he had taken his family to Australia, as he planned in the 1950s, a new range of possibilities would have opened up in a society where merit mattered more than social position. If he had become a teacher earlier, he would have definitely been a headmaster.
But if Ted had been solely concerned with his own interests, then his attainments and legacy would have been infinitely smaller, though his bank balance would have been substantially larger.
He followed the injunction in the wonderful prayer of St Ignatius of Loyola that begins Chapter 5: to serve, to give, to fight and to labour and to seek no reward. There was no gap, as there so often is, between what Ted believed and what he did.
There is one more story to tell.
On their trip to France, Italy, Austria, Germany, Luxembourg and Belgium in 1985, Pat and Ted had gone to see Europe. But there was special reason for the trip. Ted was on a quest to find the London Irish Riflemen he had left behind as he records in his memoirs.
“We left Rome and made our way southward along Route 6 to Cassino which the Romans called the Via Casselina. It still was a beautiful road and soon I remembered some of the names. We eventually saw Monte Cairo rising on the horizon. As we got closer, Monte Cassino came into view with the beautiful white monastery on top. The ruins that I remembered had been cleared years before and the monastery had been restored in all its glory. In the Rapido valley, close to the town of Cassino which I last saw as a desolate ruin, was the British and Commonwealth Cemetery. There rested 5,000 young men from many countries. Another 4,000 without graves were commemorated on the memorial. They included Colonel Goff, the commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion of the London Irish Rifles who was preparing our assault on the Gustav Line when a German bombardment took his life on 15 May 1944. And there were the names of many others I remembered and some I had forgot. I wanted to go to the monastery but Pat was too upset at the youth of the soldiers buried or commemorated. I was so moved, I reloaded a used film and many of the photographs were double printed.”
Ted searched for the graves of three of his closest E Company friends.
There was Corporal Eddie O’Reilly MM, who had died on the morning of 16 May amid a hail of nebelwerfers. Nearby was Gerry Keegan, another MM who was killed by shells six days later aged 21. And there was Sergeant Eddie Mayo, MM, inspiring leader and hero, who fell with O’Reilly on that triumphant but terrible day.
The motto of the London Irish Rifles is Quis Separabit. It means Who Will Separate Us?
It is not a question.
It’s a statement of eternal loyalty.
Ted had found Eddie Mayo and his beloved comrades in the Liri Valley.
But they had never really been lost.
They’d been with him all the time.
And they will be with him forever.
On a sunny Sunday in October 2007, many of Pat and Ted’s family gathered at the Bourne End home of Bernard and Linda O’Sullivan to celebrate the signing of All My Brothers, the first volume of Ted’s memoirs of which this is the sequel.
It was a happy occasion though age has wearied the author. At Oxford House where Ted lived, his book was eagerly sought by those who work there. They hadn’t had an author to care for before.
At the London Irish Rifles Regimental Association (LIRAssn) in Camberwell, no more than a stone’s throw from where Ted was baptised in March 1919 and near the site of the dismal south London slum where his mother’s family had lived, All My Brothers has sold well. A copy has been delivered for permanent use at the Imperial War Museum and the British Museum. Today’s London Irish riflemen, young and bold like Ted and his comrades, are still fighting, this time in Afghanistan. To mark this, a copy of Ted’s memoir was passed across to Ranger Jason Craig, who had just returned from a tour of duty in Helmand province, They have heard of Ted now and of his beloved 2nd Battalion. Their bravery and achievements during the war are being remembered in new tours that follow the road to Sinagoga where the London Irish Rifles had their finest hour in May 1944. The visitors tread softly. For they tread on many dreams.
Nick Mosley and Rosie meeting for the first time in over 60 years in 2007. Old comrades emerged. Sir Nicholas Mosley MC (Military Cross), a lieutenant in E Company of the London Irish at Cassino who had been wounded on the morning of the battalion’s attack on the Gustav Line on 16 May, made contact. Ted met him for the first time since March 1946 in his Camden home. Mosley had succeeded to a baronetcy on the death of his father Sir Oswald in 1980. Sir Mervyn Davies MC, a retired high court judge who was Ted’s company commander from the Adriatic to north Italy, wrote to send his salutations – he recalled that E Company were effectively run by Charnick, McNally and Rosie, as Ted was known to his comrades. Both Mosley and Davies were impressed by what Ted had done after the war, particular by his college education and university degree.
Jim O’Brien, a London Irish veteran of the North Africa and Italy campaign who succeeded Ted as E Company Colour Sergeant in the summer of 1945, paid Ted a visit. They had a happy three hours talking about their adventures together. Richard felt privileged to be able to listen into a private world of shared memory and camaraderie – a very special moment indeed. Letters came from the children of veterans who have since died begging for information about their parents’ wartime service. Ted always tried to help.
In the ensuing weeks, reports of Ted’s book were carried in local newspapers, stimulating orders from people who had met him in this post-war life. Sitting one morning in her home near Culmore in Northern Ireland, Teresa Rodger, sister of his son’s wife Maria, almost fell off her chair when she saw an article about All My Brothers with Ted’s photograph in The Universe, the Catholic weekly newspaper Ted read while serving in North Africa, Sicily, Italy and Austria. All My Brothers has a place on her bookshelf. It is entirely appropriate. Young men from the region, republican and loyalist, had been Ted’s wartime comrades, many making the ultimate sacrifice.
A piece was published in the Dagenham Express about Eddie Mayo, who originated from east London, in the hope of triggering a response from someone connected to Ted’s greatest war-time friend. No response came until 2014 when his grandson contacted Richard O’Sullivan, opening up another well of memory and pride.
And then the letters came: from Slough MP Fionna MacTaggart, from UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown and from London Mayor Ken Livingstone. There were letters from his old schools: Corpus Christi Primary in Brixton, where All My Brothers is lodged in the library, and from the Brompton Oratory where pupils at the school that Ted attended from 1931 to 1934 also have a copy of the wartime memories of one of their old boys – in fact they intend to quote some of Ted’s memories as they commemorate their 150th anniversary in 2012.
Paul Donovan, an ordained Catholic priest and former St Anthony’s pupil who is now Chaplain to the Royal Navy, sent his best wishes.
Thrilled by the discovery of an account of what it was like to be employed in Gieves & Hawkes before and after the war, the firm’s Chief Executive Officer, Mark Henderson, wrote to say the book would help as an additional source for the tailor’s archives and museum that were being updated.
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster, said he found many parallels between Ted’s story and that of his own family who arrived in England in the 1920s. A letter was also received from the President of Ireland Mary MacAleese, a Northern Ireland Catholic like many of Ted’s riflemen.
One day, another came, this time with a royal seal. It was from Queen Elizabeth II, who had volunteered, like Pat, to serve in the ATS during the war. Soon after, a letter congratulating Pat and Ted on their 61st wedding anniversary arrived from Buckingham Palace. It is a lovely expression of respect between Britons of such different rank who became equals in time of war.
In January 2008, an email arrived from Trinidad from Peter Clarke, son of Sir Ellis Clarke who had been a member of the Corpus Christi youth club Ted had helped run and Pat attended in the 1930s. He was one of the first non-white people many at Corpus Christi had close contact with though Ted sat next to an Abyssinian boy named Tedros at the Brompton Oratory. Clarke was then a student at London University. He subsequently became governor-general and then president of the independent Commonwealth state of Trinidad & Tobago. Initially treated with circumspection, Clarke made many friends and charmed the girls of Corpus Christi with his excellent dancing. The hobby is being maintained in his 10th decade, as Peter Clarke said in his reply to a letter about All My Brothers (in which Sir Ellis Clarke is mentioned) that was sent to his father by Ted’s youngest son Richard:
“He [Ellis Clarke] was thrilled to receive your letter and most certainly remembers your mother and father. My father celebrated his 90th birthday on 28 December 2007 with a large party at which he danced with many of his guests. He has been blessed with good health both mental and physical and spends most of his days attending meetings of organisations in which he is involved, dispensing advice to visitors at his home and entertaining friends and family.”
Then in May, a moving letter from Ellis himself arrived for Ted.
It is quite a thrilling experience to be in touch with a fellow parishioner and clubmate after 70 years without contact.
Psalm 90 says that “Seventy is the sum of our years, or eighty if we are strong”. Fortunately, we are very, very strong. I must congratulate you on an achievement which is way beyond my own capability. To publish your first book at age 88 must be something of a record. I am in complete amazement because I find writing to be a most difficult – I might almost say repugnant – undertaking. Over the years, dozens of friends and acquaintances have begged, besought and tried to bully me to write my memoirs but all to no avail.
So you can understand with what admiration I received and read the gripping account of your interesting and exciting life. My own has been full and satisfying but not as adventurous as yours. I practiced law for some 13 years before becoming Solicitor General, Attorney General, Chief Justice Designate (one never assumed duty) and on to a diplomatic career as Ambassador to the USA and Mexico and Permanent Representative to the UN and the OAS. I returned home as Governor General and then President…It would be wonderful if at some time and place we could see each other again. Please give my best regards to Patricia and may the Good Lord who has blessed us so richly continue to envelop us in His loving embrace.
Sir Ellis Clarke wrote to Pat and Ted in 2007.
There were more memorable moments. Ted’s grandson Gavin with his wife Carolyn visited with their first child Owen in the spring of 2008. But he was becoming weaker with the passage of time. Ted was hospitalised in February 2009 but had recovered sufficiently to return to Oxford House in time for his 90th birthday at the end of the month. He was visited by his younger brother Tom and sister Lillian. Bernard, the sixth of his siblings, flew from Shelley Beach in Australia to see his “big brother” one more time despite the serious illness of his beloved wife Pam.
Spring in Britain in 2009 was exceptionally lovely as the final part of Ted’s life story unfolded.
The London Irish Rifles, prompted by Ted’s tale of courage and sacrifice during the Battle of Cassino, organised a parade to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the Cassino battle along the road to Sinagoga, the route the 2nd battalion took on 16 May 1944. Richard O’Sullivan, representing his father, joined the few remaining veterans and the growing number of their descendants behind the London Irish pipers. They were greeted by the Sinagoga family who had lived in the village for hundreds of years. They included Alessandro Sinagoga, then 87, who had been there in May 1944 when Ted and his comrades broke the final section of the Gustav Line.
Bernard called Richard to tell him to come home quickly. Richard flew from Rome and travelled directly to be with Ted at Oxford House on the evening of 23 May.
Several times, he showed a digital recording of the march to Sinagoga. Ted watched intently and a tear streaked down his cheek. Richard stayed as late as he could, kissed his father tenderly and returned to his home in Windsor just before midnight.
At 615 the next morning, Oxford House called to tell him that Ted had left us while he slept just after dawn.
It was Ascension Day and Ted had been called, at last.
On a beautiful morning on Thursday 4 June, about 150 people gathered at St Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church in Farnham Royal, south Bucks for Ted’s funeral mass.
The mourners were greeted at the porch of St Anthony’s by Ted’s grandchildren: Gavin McLain, Marian’s eldest son who lives in Edina; Bernard Graham, Bernard and Linda O’Sullivan’s eldest son; Andrew McLain, Marian’s second son, also from the US; Michelle O’Sullivan, Bernard and Linda’s eldest daughter; David O’Sullivan, Bernard and Linda’s youngest son and Euan Rabbatts, (Edmund) Gerard’s son.
At 1130, the funeral cortege arrived and the mourning party led by St Anthony’s parish priest Father Moroney was piped into the church by Peter Doughty, a London Irish Rifles piper in saffron kilt and caubeen whose father-in-law had served in the 1st Battalion of the London Irish Rifles in Italy. Ted’s remains were placed before the altar. The coffin was covered in the Vatican flag; gold and white with the keys of the kingdom of heaven symbol. A floral arrangement of red roses, in remembrance of Ted’s army nickname Rosie, were laid on top. Richard O’Sullivan, Ted and Pat O’Sullivan’s youngest son, then placed items associated with Ted’s long life, achievements and beliefs: Holy Scripture; the green caubeen (baggy hat) with silver harp and hackle feathers in St Patrick’s blue, the headdress of the London Irish Rifles in which Ted served from 1939-46; Ted’s service medals and the first volume of his memoirs, All My Brothers. The mass began with the hymn Praise My Soul the King of Heaven. The readings were from the Book of Wisdom, read by Gerard O’Sullivan, and the Letters of St Paul, read by Richard O’Sullivan. David O’Sullivan read Psalm 23, the Lord’s My Shepherd. The gospel reading was Verses 1-16, Chapter 5 of The Gospel according to St Matthew: The Beatitudes from Sermon on the Mount.Marian Johnson, Ted and Pat’s eldest daughter and mother of five who lives in Edina, Minnesota, then delivered the eulogy. It reminded the congregation of Ted’s key characteristics: his faith, his public service, his love of family and his sense of humour. When it was finished, the congregation erupted into applause.
The bidding prayers called on the congregation to pray for Pat O’Sullivan, Ted’s widow; his children; Ted’s brothers and sisters; St Anthony’s parish; the staff at Oxford House where Ted lived from 2004 and for Ted’s dream of a just and peaceful world. The prayers were delivered by Bernard O’Sullivan, Pat and Ted’s eldest son; Stephen O’Sullivan, Pat and Ted’s third son; Gavin McLain, Bernard O’Sullivan Jr, Andrew McLain, Michelle O’Sullivan and Euan Rabbatts.
It was then the turn of St Anthony’s Primary School choir. As silence descended over the church at the start of the Offertory, 25 young voices rang out like angels with Christ Be My Light, a hymn of hope and dedication written by Bernadette Ferrell. For those who had witnessed, or heard about, Ted’s service to St Anthony’s as a teacher, it was a moment of intense emotion.
The mass continued with the Eucharistic Prayer, followed by the Kiss of Peace. At communion, Victoria Wood, a local soprano, sang Panis Angelicus and Schubert’s Ave Maria. She was accompanied on the organ by her mother Sara Wood After the ensuing silence, Canon Frank O’Sullivan, Ted O’Sullivan’s cousin, 88, rose to the lectern to share his memories of the man he had known his own whole life.
Frank said the three things we could see today that he knew mattered most to Ted were the cross, the scriptures and the flag of the Holy See. Frank told the story of how, when Ted’s father Mick was working on Sundays, he would walk from Brixton at 6am for mass at Westminster Cathedral and from there to Paddington, where he was a shunter. This dedication to the church had been passed on to Ted and his brothers and sisters.
Finally, Father Moroney shared his own thoughts about Ted O’Sullivan.
“He was a presence, everyone who met him remembered him,” Father Moroney said. Ted was a remarkably well-informed man when it came to matters of faith and theology. Father Moroney said he would talk to him about the implications of Vatican II and Ted was always insightful and interested.
The final hymn was Bread of Heaven. After, Father Moroney carried out the ceremony of the Final Commendation and farewell. The piper led Ted out of the church, and he was buried at Slough Cemetery to the haunting sound of an Irish piped lament.
At Stoke Place, more than 80 mourners were greeted and refreshed. Michelle O’Sullivan had compiled a DVD containing almost 100 photographs of Ted and his family which diverted and entertained everyone there. The story of Ted’s life was told, using photographs and words with a special emphasis on the role of his wife Pat who was noisily toasted. In a remarkable moment, Pat Guerin, one of Ted’s former pupils, now married with three children, spontaneously expressed the thoughts of many of those that Ted had taught. In a letter he wrote earlier, Guerin summarised his feelings: “He made such an impact and I am not sure he knew how much I and many others appreciated him, his methods, his standards and his ways. A truly great individual of whom I am sure you are very proud.”
Richard O’Sullivan told the story of his visit to Cassino and Sinagoga in May and called for three cheers for Ted and an Irish roar. Peter Doughty let rip with the London Irish marching tune: the Garry Owen followed by the Killaloe with the party clapping in time to the rousing sound of the pipe. It was an uplifting end to a remarkable day.
Ted would have loved it but would have said there was no need for all the fuss.
They are like that, the ones that served, gave, fought, toiled and laboured so much.
They were doing their duty for God’s glory and the love of all their brothers and sisters; for all their sons and daughters.
But their work is done.
It’s our turn now.
Ted’s second book is finished.
But the story still goes on;
A stream of thoughts and feelings
B’tween what’s done and what’s to come;
An endless river of love
That will take us safely home.
1 The Battle of Cassino, which is sometimes described as the hardest battle of the 2nd World War, started in January 1944 with an initial assault against German positions on the Rapido River, which runs through the town of Cassino. There were two further unsuccessful Allied assaults in February and March. The fourth and final battle of Cassino started on 11 May 1944. The battle was final deemed to be over on 18 May 1944 with the capture of Monte Cassino by the Polish Corps. The Polish cemetery east of the monastery is a shocking reminder of the appalling casualties the Polish Corps suffered in the final battle and is the most compelling centre of Polish national feeling outside Poland itself. It was visited by Pope Benedict XVI, a German, during the Battle of Cassino memorial ceremonies in May 2009.
2 Sinagoga is Italian for Synagogue and the Sinagoga family believe they are descended from Jews who lived in the Cassino until after the construction of the Benedictine Monastery at Monte Cassino at the start of the 6th century and subsequently converted to Christianity. The monastery played an important role in the history of the Catholic Church. St Thomas Aquinas (1225-74), considered to be one of the most important Catholic theologians, was born in Roccasecca (Dry Rock) north of Monte Cassino and went to school in the monastery.
3 The 2nd Battalion of the London Irish Rifles was formed in the first half of 1939 and was dissolved in 1946.
4 Sinagoga was a strong point in the Gustav Line which was built across the Italian peninsula in 1943/44. The Sinagoga family remembers that the soldiers that held Sinagoga during the Battle for Cassino were mainly from Austria and Catholics. They say that they were treated decently and that there were none of the excesses committed against the civilian population by elements of the German army elsewhere in Italy. Until the first volume of Ted’s memoirs refreshed memories that Sinagoga was the site one of the 2nd Battalion’s bloodiest World War II engagements, the village had only previously been visited once by veterans: two members of the German army who had been based there during the Cassino battles. Sinagoga is one of the many places in the Liri valley that still bears the scars of the fighting. The remains of a German dug-out can still be seen and the Sinagoga family has German barbed wire and British Army ammunition boxes
5 Cardinal Manning’s walking stick is owned by Anthony O’Sullivan, Mick O’Sullivan’s eldest grandchild.
6 Daniel and his eldest brother William, who subsequently became a De La Salle Brother, were both educated at St Joseph’s College in Beulah Hill, south London. A family tale is that the cost of their education was paid for by an unnamed benefactor who stipulated that his munificence would end of either of the boys became clergymen. When William joined the De La Salles, financial supported for Daniel ended, but he was, nevertheless, well educated by the standards of his contemporaries and initially worked as a clerk. Daniel subsequently became a Hackney cab driver.
7 Centuripe remains very much as it did at the time of the Irish Brigade attack in 1943. Like many Sicilian villages, it occupies the peak of a hill and its approaches are extremely steep.
8 Taranto is one of the finest natural harbours in Italy. The town’s centre is largely unchanged from the time the Irish Brigade arrived in September 1943.
9 The walled town of Termoli occupies a headland on the Adriatic coast. The hotel that Ted O’Sullivan worked and lived in during the battle for the town remains at it was when he was there and provides and excellent base for exploring the Sinacra, Trigno and Sangro battlefields. The remains of the bridge across the Trigno that was destroyed during the Irish Brigade assault on the river in October 1944 can be easily found. Visitors should also try to visit the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery where Ted’s comrades killed in the region are buried.
10 Montenero is at the heart of the high Apennines close to the head waters of the River Sangro. The village is, like many of the scenes of the dramas of Ted’s experiences in the 2nd World War, essentially unchanged.
11 Eddie Mayo’s grave can be found in the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery in Cassino.
12 Trasimeno is the scene of the second greatest battle in the Italian campaign of the Irish Brigade and rivals the Liri valley for the loveliness of its setting. Development in the region since 1944 was been comparatively modest and many of the locations where the fighting was most intense can be found, including the cemetery north of Sanfatucchio where the London Irish fended off strong German counterattacks and suffered many casualties. Bullet and shrapnel holes dating from the battle can still be found on the high walls that surround the cemetery.
13 War cemeteries are invariably sad places, but there can be few more somber than the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery in Argenta in the Po valley which is the last resting place of hundreds of young Allied servicemen who died only weeks before the end of the war in Europe.
14 Villach is the largest town in the area where the Irish Brigade and the 2nd Battalion of the London Irish Rifles carried out occupation duties in May 1945-March 1946. The region is celebrated for its mountains, lovely lakes and peaceful towns and villages. In the time he was there, Ted was billeted in a hotel close to Ossiachersee, the largest lake in the region. Jim O’Brien, who took over as E Company quartermaster when Ted was promoted in the summer of 1945, tells a tale of the time that Ted was tossed by his comrades into the lake during a quartermasters’ party. O’Brien’s time in Austria was life-transforming. He met his wife there.