At Ease in London

“I had arrived on a Saturday. Next morning, I went to Mass and met many people that I knew, mostly elderly civilians but a few servicemen on leave. My brother Danny, who had been flying in India and Burma, had been sent home to train with new planes. But as the European war was finished and he had but a short time to serve, he had been retained at Croydon as warrant officer in charge of the officers’ mess. It was a well-deserved cushy number after hazardous service in the Far East.

My sister Lillian had become a young lady. She was working in the civil service. Bernard was in Newquay in west Wales completing his final year at the Rotherhithe Nautical School. Luckily, he was not old enough to have been engaged in the dreadful war at sea. Tom was with the RAF somewhere in Europe. Bill was in the Mediterranean. Ellen was living in Morden with her husband Laurie. She was very ill but managing to live almost a normal life.

Many of my cousins, both Hanlons and O’Sullivans, had served in the various services. All had survived though Percy Thurston had lost a leg at Arnhem with the Parachute Regiment. His father, Percy senior, had found a niche in the army and commanded a depot with the rank of lieutenant colonel. Miraculously, most of the club had survived, despite a service record of almost 100 per cent. The sole exceptions were Raymond Tuff, Nelson Smallbone and Jack Thornton. I visited Hawkes and discovered that the sole civilian fatality was Lester W Kato, a cutter who was deferred from service but killed in an air-raid. Leonard Panarrio, a shirt cutter and territorial, was killed in Egypt with his tank unit. Edward White, son of Wilfred White, had died in north Italy.

One of my father’s colleagues at South Lambeth depot had served with the London Irish Rifles during the 1st World War. He had asked if he could meet me, so I went to the depot on the second day of my leave on Monday morning and chatted with him. I felt a little unwell and called in at the local doctor. He told me that he could not treat me but gave me a chit for the military wing of King’s College Hospital at Denmark Hill. I was examined and told that I was probably suffering another attack of malaria. This was confirmed and I was in bed for a week. I was discharged but collapsed as I reached the door to the ward and was put to bed for another week. I was sent to a barracks at Aldershot and given a 14-day extension to my leave.

I returned home with 26 days of unexpired leave in front of me. The first days were occupied visiting relatives and meeting Joan Wyatt, the lady who had written to me regularly. This friendship was not to blossom. Somehow, the news of my leave had become known to officers now in England. Major Costello asked me to call on him at the offices of the English Speaking Union. He was just out of the army and greeted me effusively. He said that he had an appointment but had arranged for Major Diarmid Conroy to take me out to lunch. Johnny Young, a sergeant from F Company who had been with me at Barker’s in 1939, appeared. Together, we went to Overton’s at Victoria where we were regaled with a sumptious meal. Major Conroy was to become a QC, a judge and a knight. Costello kept in touch through Hawkes, now his tailors.

On Sunday morning, I went to Mass and afterwards saw a smartly-dressed young lady whom I recognised as Pat Webb, a member of Corpus Christi club. We chatted and I walked her home. I found that she was in the ATS (Royal Corps of Signals) and worked at the War Office in Whitehall. We had a lot in common. She had been at school with me at Corpus Christi and in the Oratory girls’ school. As a civilian, she had worked as a clerk at the South Lambeth depot. Her brother Denis had joined the Royal Navy with my brother Bill in 1941. They had previously served together in the Home Guard.

During lunch, I told my mother of the encounter with Pat and said that I should have asked her to go to the cinema.

She said: ‘Why don’t you go round now and ask her?’

This I did and that evening we went to the Astoria. We arranged a few more dates and one was with her mother and her uncle Richard Halligan at the London Palladium where we saw The Night and the Music starring Vic Oliver. Pat’s leave expired but she kept me company in the evenings. We met at a restaurant in Sloane Square near to her billets on several occasions. Pat made my leave and I was very attached to her. When it expired, I said goodbye and promised to write.”