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.”