On a sunny Sunday in October 2007, many of Pat and Ted’s family gathered at the Bourne End home of Bernard and Linda O’Sullivan to celebrate the signing of All My Brothers, the first volume of Ted’s memoirs of which this is the sequel.
It was a happy occasion though age has wearied the author. At Oxford House where Ted lived, his book was eagerly sought by those who work there. They hadn’t had an author to care for before.
At the London Irish Rifles Regimental Association (LIRAssn) in Camberwell, no more than a stone’s throw from where Ted was baptised in March 1919 and near the site of the dismal south London slum where his mother’s family had lived, All My Brothers has sold well. A copy has been delivered for permanent use at the Imperial War Museum and the British Museum. Today’s London Irish Riflemen, young and bold like Ted and his comrades, are still fighting, this time in Afghanistan. To mark this, a copy of Ted’s memoir was passed across to Ranger Jason Craig, who had just returned from a tour of duty in Helmand province, They have heard of Ted now and of his beloved 2nd Battalion. Their bravery and achievements during the war are being remembered in new tours that follow the road to Sinagoga where the London Irish Rifles had their finest hour in May 1944. The visitors tread softly. For they tread on many dreams.
Old comrades emerged. Sir Nicholas Mosley MC (Military Cross), a lieutenant in E Company of the London Irish at Cassino who had been wounded on the morning of the battalion’s attack on the Gustav Line on 16 May, made contact. Ted met him for the first time since March 1946 in his Camden home. Mosley had succeeded to a baronetcy on the death of his father Sir Oswald in 1980. Sir Mervyn Davies MC, a retired high court judge who was Ted’s company commander from the Adriatic to north Italy, wrote to send his salutations – he recalled that E Company were effectively run by Charnick, McNally and Rosie, as Ted was known to his comrades. Both Mosley and Davies were impressed by what Ted had done after the war, particular by his college education and university degree.
Jim O’Brien, a London Irish veteran of the North Africa and Italy campaign who succeeded Ted as E Company Colour Sergeant in the summer of 1945, paid Ted a visit. They had a happy three hours talking about their adventures together. Richard felt privileged to be able to listen into a private world of shared memory and camaraderie – a very special moment indeed. Letters came from the children of veterans who have since died begging for information about their parents’ wartime service. Ted always tried to help.
In the ensuing weeks, reports of Ted’s book were carried in local newspapers, stimulating orders from people who had met him in this post-war life. Sitting one morning in her home near Culmore in Northern Ireland, Teresa Rodger, sister of his son’s wife Maria, almost fell off her chair when she saw an article about All My Brothers with Ted’s photograph in The Universe, the Catholic weekly newspaper Ted read while serving in North Africa, Sicily, Italy and Austria. All My Brothers has a place on her bookshelf. It is entirely appropriate. Young men from the region, republican and loyalist, had been Ted’s wartime comrades, many making the ultimate sacrifice.
A piece was published in the Dagenham Express about Eddie Mayo, who originated from east London, in the hope of triggering a response from someone connected to Ted’s greatest war-time friend. No response came until 2014 when his grandson contacted Richard O’Sullivan, opening up another well of memory and pride.
And then the letters came: from Slough MP Fionna MacTaggart, from UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown and from London Mayor Ken Livingstone. There were letters from his old schools: Corpus Christi Primary in Brixton, where All My Brothers is lodged in the library, and from the Brompton Oratory where pupils at the school that Ted attended from 1931 to 1934 also have a copy of the wartime memories of one of their old boys – in fact they intend to quote some of Ted’s memories as they commemorate their 150th anniversary in 2012.
Paul Donovan, an ordained Catholic priest and former St Anthony’s pupil who as at the time Chaplain to the Royal Navy, sent his best wishes.
Thrilled by the discovery of an account of what it was like to be employed in Gieves & Hawkes before and after the war, the firm’s Chief Executive Officer, Mark Henderson, wrote to say the book would help as an additional source for the tailor’s archives and museum that were being updated.
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster, said he found many parallels between Ted’s story and that of his own family who arrived in England in the 1920s. A letter was also received from the President of Ireland Mary MacAleese, a Northern Ireland Catholic like many of Ted’s riflemen.
One day, another came, this time with a royal seal. It was from Queen Elizabeth II, who had volunteered, like Pat, to serve in the ATS during the war. Soon after, a letter congratulating Pat and Ted on their 61st wedding anniversary arrived from Buckingham Palace. It is a lovely expression of respect between Britons of such different rank who became equals in time of war.
In January 2008, an email arrived from Trinidad from Peter Clarke, son of Sir Ellis Clarke who had been a member of the Corpus Christi youth club Ted had helped run and Pat attended in the 1930s. He was one of the first non-white people many at Corpus Christi had close contact with though Ted sat next to an Abyssinian boy named Tedros at the Brompton Oratory. Clarke was then a student at London University. He subsequently became governor-general and then president of the independent Commonwealth state of Trinidad & Tobago. Initially treated with circumspection, Clarke made many friends and charmed the girls of Corpus Christi with his excellent dancing. The hobby is being maintained in his 10th decade, as Peter Clarke said in his reply to a letter about All My Brothers (in which Sir Ellis Clarke is mentioned) that was sent to his father by Ted’s youngest son Richard:
“He [Ellis Clarke] was thrilled to receive your letter and most certainly remembers your mother and father. My father celebrated his 90th birthday on 28 December 2007 with a large party at which he danced with many of his guests. He has been blessed with good health both mental and physical and spends most of his days attending meetings of organisations in which he is involved, dispensing advice to visitors at his home and entertaining friends and family.”
Then in May, a moving letter from Ellis himself arrived for Ted.
It is quite a thrilling experience to be in touch with a fellow parishioner and clubmate after 70 years without contact.
Psalm 90 says that “Seventy is the sum of our years, or eighty if we are strong”. Fortunately, we are very, very strong. I must congratulate you on an achievement which is way beyond my own capability. To publish your first book at age 88 must be something of a record. I am in complete amazement because I find writing to be a most difficult – I might almost say repugnant – undertaking. Over the years, dozens of friends and acquaintances have begged, besought and tried to bully me to write my memoirs but all to no avail.
So you can understand with what admiration I received and read the gripping account of your interesting and exciting life. My own has been full and satisfying but not as adventurous as yours. I practiced law for some 13 years before becoming Solicitor General, Attorney General, Chief Justice Designate (one never assumed duty) and on to a diplomatic career as Ambassador to the USA and Mexico and Permanent Representative to the UN and the OAS. I returned home as Governor General and then President…It would be wonderful if at some time and place we could see each other again. Please give my best regards to Patricia and may the Good Lord who has blessed us so richly continue to envelop us in His loving embrace.
Sir Ellis Clarke wrote to Pat and Ted in 2007.
There were more memorable moments. Ted’s grandson Gavin with his wife Carolyn visited with their first child Owen in the spring of 2008. But he was becoming weaker with the passage of time. Ted was hospitalised in February 2009 but had recovered sufficiently to return to Oxford House in time for his 90th birthday at the end of the month. He was visited by his younger brother Tom and sister Lillian. Bernard, the sixth of his siblings, flew from Shelley Beach in Australia to see his “big brother” one more time despite the serious illness of his beloved wife Pam.
Spring in Britain in 2009 was exceptionally lovely as the final part of Ted’s life story unfolded.
The London Irish Rifles, prompted by Ted’s tale of courage and sacrifice during the Battle of Cassino, organised a parade to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the Cassino battle along the road to Sinagoga, the route the 2nd battalion took on 16 May 1944. Richard O’Sullivan, representing his father, joined the few remaining veterans and the growing number of their descendants behind the London Irish pipers. They were greeted by the Sinagoga family who had lived in the village for hundreds of years. They included Alessandro Sinagoga, then 87, who had been there in May 1944 when Ted and his comrades broke the final section of the Gustav Line.
Bernard called Richard to tell him to come home quickly. Richard flew from Rome and travelled directly to be with Ted at Oxford House on the evening of 23 May.
Several times, he showed a digital recording of the march to Sinagoga. Ted watched intently and a tear streaked down his cheek. Richard stayed as late as he could, kissed his father tenderly and returned to his home in Windsor just before midnight.
At 615 the next morning, Oxford House called to tell him that Ted had left us while he slept just after dawn.
It was Ascension Day and Ted had been called, at last.
On a beautiful morning on Thursday 4 June, about 150 people gathered at St Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church in Farnham Royal, south Bucks for Ted’s funeral mass.
The mourners were greeted at the porch of St Anthony’s by Ted’s grandchildren: Gavin McLain, Marian’s eldest son who lives in Edina; Bernard Graham, Bernard and Linda O’Sullivan’s eldest son; Andrew McLain, Marian’s second son, also from the US; Michelle O’Sullivan, Bernard and Linda’s eldest daughter; David O’Sullivan, Bernard and Linda’s youngest son and Euan Rabbatts, (Edmund) Gerard’s son.
At 1130, the funeral cortege arrived and the mourning party led by St Anthony’s parish priest Father Moroney was piped into the church by Peter Doughty, a London Irish Rifles piper in saffron kilt and caubeen whose father-in-law had served in the 1st Battalion of the London Irish Rifles in Italy. Ted’s remains were placed before the altar. The coffin was covered in the Vatican flag; gold and white with the keys of the kingdom of heaven symbol. A floral arrangement of red roses, in remembrance of Ted’s army nickname Rosie, were laid on top. Richard O’Sullivan, Ted and Pat O’Sullivan’s youngest son, then placed items associated with Ted’s long life, achievements and beliefs: Holy Scripture; the green caubeen (baggy hat) with silver harp and hackle feathers in St Patrick’s blue, the headdress of the London Irish Rifles in which Ted served from 1939-46; Ted’s service medals and the first volume of his memoirs, All My Brothers. The mass began with the hymn Praise My Soul the King of Heaven. The readings were from the Book of Wisdom, read by Gerard O’Sullivan, and the Letters of St Paul, read by Richard O’Sullivan. David O’Sullivan read Psalm 23, the Lord’s My Shepherd. The gospel reading was Verses 1-16, Chapter 5 of The Gospel according to St Matthew: The Beatitudes from Sermon on the Mount.Marian Johnson, Ted and Pat’s eldest daughter and mother of five who lives in Edina, Minnesota, then delivered the eulogy. It reminded the congregation of Ted’s key characteristics: his faith, his public service, his love of family and his sense of humour. When it was finished, the congregation erupted into applause.
The bidding prayers called on the congregation to pray for Pat O’Sullivan, Ted’s widow; his children; Ted’s brothers and sisters; St Anthony’s parish; the staff at Oxford House where Ted lived from 2004 and for Ted’s dream of a just and peaceful world. The prayers were delivered by Bernard O’Sullivan, Pat and Ted’s eldest son; Stephen O’Sullivan, Pat and Ted’s third son; Gavin McLain, Bernard O’Sullivan Jr, Andrew McLain, Michelle O’Sullivan and Euan Rabbatts.
It was then the turn of St Anthony’s Primary School choir. As silence descended over the church at the start of the Offertory, 25 young voices rang out like angels with Christ Be My Light, a hymn of hope and dedication written by Bernadette Ferrell. For those who had witnessed, or heard about, Ted’s service to St Anthony’s as a teacher, it was a moment of intense emotion.
The mass continued with the Eucharistic Prayer, followed by the Kiss of Peace. At communion, Victoria Wood, a local soprano, sang Panis Angelicus and Schubert’s Ave Maria. She was accompanied on the organ by her mother Sara Wood After the ensuing silence, Canon Frank O’Sullivan, Ted O’Sullivan’s cousin, 88, rose to the lectern to share his memories of the man he had known his own whole life.
Frank said the three things we could see today that he knew mattered most to Ted were the cross, the scriptures and the flag of the Holy See. Frank told the story of how, when Ted’s father Mick was working on Sundays, he would walk from Brixton at 6am for mass at Westminster Cathedral and from there to Paddington, where he was a shunter. This dedication to the church had been passed on to Ted and his brothers and sisters.
Finally, Father Moroney shared his own thoughts about Ted O’Sullivan.
“He was a presence, everyone who met him remembered him,” Father Moroney said. Ted was a remarkably well-informed man when it came to matters of faith and theology. Father Moroney said he would talk to him about the implications of Vatican II and Ted was always insightful and interested.
The final hymn was Bread of Heaven. After, Father Moroney carried out the ceremony of the Final Commendation and farewell. The piper led Ted out of the church, and he was buried at Slough Cemetery to the haunting sound of an Irish piped lament.
At Stoke Place, more than 80 mourners were greeted and refreshed. Michelle O’Sullivan had compiled a DVD containing almost 100 photographs of Ted and his family which diverted and entertained everyone there. The story of Ted’s life was told, using photographs and words with a special emphasis on the role of his wife Pat who was noisily toasted. In a remarkable moment, Pat Guerin, one of Ted’s former pupils, now married with three children, spontaneously expressed the thoughts of many of those that Ted had taught. In a letter he wrote earlier, Guerin summarised his feelings: “He made such an impact and I am not sure he knew how much I and many others appreciated him, his methods, his standards and his ways. A truly great individual of whom I am sure you are very proud.”
Richard O’Sullivan told the story of his visit to Cassino and Sinagoga in May and called for three cheers for Ted and an Irish roar. Peter Doughty let rip with the London Irish marching tune: the Garry Owen followed by the Killaloe with the party clapping in time to the rousing sound of the pipe. It was an uplifting end to a remarkable day.
Ted would have loved it but would have said there was no need for all the fuss.
They are like that, the ones that served, gave, fought, toiled and laboured so much.
They were doing their duty for God’s glory and the love of all their brothers and sisters; for all their sons and daughters.
But their work is done.
It’s our turn now.
Ted’s second book is finished.
But the story still goes on;
A stream of thoughts and feelings
B’tween what’s done and what’s to come;
An endless river of love
That will take us safely home.