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Irish Brigade

The story of the 38th (Irish) Brigade in the Second World War

Faugh a Ballagh        Nec Aspera Terrent         Quis Separabit


Building Jerusalem


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.


 

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